Archives for posts with tag: Hamiltonhill


I took my Mum on a drive the other day to the old streets where our extended family used to live. Mary is 87. The shock of seeing that Hamiltonhill had vanished, its once busy streets now vast expanses of green grass and emptiness took a wee while to sink in. ‘It’s really sad’ Mary said. That wasn’t the half of it yet it conveyed all of what we were both feeling as we sat in disbelief. I took photos to prove to myself and other family members that it really was true, that there was nothing left.


ellesmere st new build

Mary had moved into her Granda and Granny’s house in 112 Ellesmere Street in Hamiltonhill in the north of Glasgow when she was 14. She could no longer stand living in Bridgeton with her mother Annie and her stepfather – that’s another story. Grandpa Johnny had moved there in the 1920s from the Anderson area with his wife and their unofficially adopted daughter Agnes. Agnes wasn’t her real name, but why it was changed will forever remain a family mystery. The two room, kitchen and bathroom flat was also, at times, a regular temporary home for Annie, Mary’s wee sister and baby brother when they needed refuge from the house in Bridgeton – at times seven people in two rooms.

By the 1950s Agnes was the only one left and she married the boy next door – well, down the stairs actually. James lived in a similar two room, kitchen and bathroom flat with his parents and five siblings. As Mary recalled, ‘ the two rooms were just a’ beds.’ Agnes outlived her husband and remained in the same flat at 112 Ellesmere Street until her death in 2008 aged 89 years.

Hamiltonhill is linked to Possilpark by Auckland Street. The smarter four-in-a-block houses with gardens on the long street remain but the ‘slum clearance’ houses at the Possilpark end are now also gone.

Rehoused in 228 Auckland Street from an overcrowded room and kitchen in the Calton in the 1930s Ned, my Dad, moved to the three room, kitchen and bathroom flat with his parents Cash and Alec, his sister Annie and brother Willie. Cash had emigrated to the east end of Glasgow with her widowed mother Annie MacAteer and brothers from Belfast in the 1920s. Alec came from Edinburgh at about the same time. Cash and Alec refused to let their children be evacuated during the war, ‘if we’re gonni die, we can a’ die thegither…’ they remember her saying. Annie married Jim from across the road in Burmola Street, Willie courted Bessie from downstairs but her family put a stop to it because she was a Protestant and he was not….. Ned was one of the first generation of Catholic boys to get an apprenticeship and became a bricklayer. Willie being older had not had that chance. Willie never did marry.

So Mary, aged 14 from Ellesmere Street, met Annie aged 16 from Auckland Street whilst electro-plating metal components during the war in a miserable factory in Port Dundas at the end of a long dark daily walk from Saracen Street along Craighall Road. Mary met Annie’s wee brother Ned and they later married and rented a room in one of the four-in-a-block houses in Auckland Street. The landlady was mean and the room unheated so they moved in with Ned’s parents until they found a better place to live.

Alec’s nephew from Edinburgh, just out of his national service, turned up alone looking for a bed until he could find somewhere to live with his new wife who was living with her parents. Cash said to bring her to 228, she wouldn’t hear of them being separated and them just married. They lodged there until they found somewhere to live.

228 was full of the comings and goings of streams of friends and relations mostly from Glasgow’s east end. At weekends and new year when drink was taken, sentimental renderings of boys Danny andWild Colonial, of mountains and homes in Mourne and Donegal, of barnyards in Dalgety, sightings of the Forty-second coming doon the Patteraw reminded them all where they came from…

These are brief snapshots from the lives of one family of migrants in those now vanished schemes. There is nothing there now but ghostly grid-lines bordering where once rich lives were lived in small, poor houses. The emptiness cried out from the quiet of memory, seeking shape and sound for those stories, their gift to the present.

IMG_1565my red road flat

The block housing asylum seekers at Red Road.

Glasgow 2014’s proposed detonation of Red Road flats as entertainment had no appeal for sore eyes.   The city always gets into a fankle when it tries to show off. Like the Workers’ City Group who argued with the organisers of Glasgow City of Culture in 1990 about whose culture was being celebrated, this latest fiasco showed how the city still rates the ideas of outsiders higher than those screaming at it from under its very nose. Glasgow, ever in thrall to American pazzazz, was willing to lie down before the gods of shock and awe and turn the Red Road flats into a Hollywood special effect – a  ‘Wow’ factor – dear oh dear.

IMG_1599sighthill demolition

 Sighthill flats being demolished 2010

Glasgow’s citizens by way of a hugely successful petition by Carolyn Leckie were having none of it and have forced a climb down. Objectors to this ridiculous stunt had history on their side. The City of Glasgow has form when it comes to failed housing schemes.  Not known as ‘schemes’ for nothing, the word hides a stark truth about the background ‘scheming’ of municipal social reformers.

Red Road flats are a very tall, infamous and ultimately failed social experiment. It is one among many not so tall or famous but equally failed social housing experiments which have been appearing and quietly disappearing in ever-recurring cycles all over Glasgow for generations. Poverty, housing and unemployment have been a splitting headache for the City fathers for over a century and, as this latest wheeze shows, they are nowhere nearer to finding a cure for this particular migrane.


Since the 1990s, acres of ‘Slum Clearance’ or ‘Rehousing Schemes’ built in the 1930s in Possilpark, Hamiltonhill, Blackhill, Ruchill and elsewhere have quietly vanished and taken their people’s histories with them. These compact ‘two-up’ grey stone tenements, six flats to a close were built during one of the City’s recurring cycles of ‘slum clearance’.

ellesmere st new build

Hamiltonhill under construction 1930s

auckland st

Possilpark  derelict  in the 1990s

ellesmere St now

Ellesmere St. Hamiltonhill  cleared  2014

Described by Sean Damer as ‘cheerless barracks’ built on poor, marginal industrial land, with no amenities, ‘the schemes ‘were one step up from the overcrowded 19th century tenements they were replacing but a world away from the teeming life of Anderson, the Calton and Garngad. Mostly unskilled workers, among them many Irish emigrants, traded the slums for space, bathrooms, electricity and regular surveillance by housing and public health officials.

The front-line of the inspection regimes were the infamous ‘Green Ladies’ whose unannounced arrivals ensured folk, especially women, kept their housekeeping and parenting up to scratch and did not revert to the so-called ‘disreputable habits’ of slum living. This was social engineering pure and simple aimed at the poor. It failed because you cannot wash poverty away with any amount of Sunlight soap.   Working people, have always had to follow work, live where they can afford to live and have to trade settled attachment to one place for a rent book which always carries a risk of clearance usually within a generation (or nowadays by way of that gift to 21st century poor law reformers the ‘bedroom tax’).

After World War 2, Glasgow’s migraine continued despite its feisty population, fiery red credentials and a bit of economic renewal. New borderland schemes like Pollok, Easterhouse, Castlemilk, Drumchapel in the 1950s gave work and houses to many. Others were successfully exported to whole new towns built around the old villages of East Kilbride and Cumbernauld. The vertical, city-in-the-sky, multi-storey dreams of the ‘60s in Sighthill, Red Road, Cedar Road, Westercommon and elsewhere quickly turned sour as did the equally soulless horizontal mile-long alternatives such as Balgrayhill and Cowlairs. Glasgow never could accommodate all the people it needed and it certainly doesn’t know what to do with them now the work and any hope of it, for many,  is gone.

The ‘slum clearance’ housing of Hamiltonhill and  Possilpark is  now gone and the best the people made of living there, my own family included,  has been conveniently and quietly deleted from the landscape. All that remains are the few trees standing alone in what were formerly lively backcourts full of children, washing lines, middens and voices.  Who can tell what new schemes are being cooked up as I write.

The Red Road flats are another failure of reforming containment. A brief attempt at using them to house asylum seekers there and in nearby Sighthill has also proved a failure. We should not forget that winning and implementing that first contract from the UK Government was carried out – in true Council fashion – without consulting local residents. The result? Resentment, violence and murder until community organisations stepped in to listen to people’s concerns. The history of the asylum-seekers since relocated to Glasgow has been, at times, a tragic tale. Swept up in Glasgow’s existing housing headache, in time-honoured fashion in this city the old hands and the new wave of migrants have fashioned a new solidarity.

IMG_1587we belong to glasgow   IMG_1621campaign to welcome refugees  IMG_1605rr demo jmcd

Rally against deportations following the suicide of the Serge Serykh, his wife, Tatiana and stepson at Red Road 2010

And so, on it goes with this latest debacle over history, people place and memory. No amount of Mr. Smileys or bouncing thistles can wipe away the memory of lives lived in now vanished buildings. Glasgow has never known what to do with its failed housing ‘schemes’ but this idea was surely the daftest and most unkind scheme of all.


They always called them peeny roses.  Elspeth’s big sister Jean looked after them in the sloping ‘L’ shaped tenement  garden and that’s what she called them.   The O’Haras didn’t bother with their garden on the opposite side of the stairs to the close like Jean did.  Jean was an awful lot older than wee Elspeth, she worked but she didn’t stay in the house in Auckland Street.   She looked after the house and Elspeth, and liked doing the garden;  she was struggling to keep the brambles and weeds at bay. You could see the ghost of where the garden used to be, a gate and wee paths leading around  the slopes with a cliff dropping to a hedge at the bottom.

The peenies under the windows were the best though,  still blooming and strong amid the dark green tangle on the last clear bit of path in the used to be garden.  The big beautiful blossoms full of petals should’ve  had a lovely perfume but  didn’t.  Jean let Elspeth and her wee pal  Catherine play in the garden once when she was weeding and tidying.  She carefully cut two of the finest  red peeny roses and gave them one each. They failed to keep  them behind their little ears while they were pretending to be Spanish dancers,  they held them in front like brides,  each wee girl with her very own bouquet.  They   curtsied  low and graciously whilst holding the hems of their frocks out with the other hand-  beautiful  princesses accepting  them from their  adoring, imaginary subjects. Kidding on they were fainting  they breathed  in the pretend perfume from their one-flower posies then fell  about giggling at their own exaggerations.  In summer cotton dresses, white ankle socks and t-strap sandals,  the children pranced about, away with the fairies in a  garden labyrinth magicked  out of the sleeping beauty briars by the sumptuous crimson richness of the magnificent peenies and their glossy green petals.

Elspeth’s house always seemed really dark, Catherine didn’t go in there  much.  She  had never seen such dirty beds, unmade  with rough blankets and once-white sheets  now grimy black. She didn’t know where Elspeth slept.  There was a Daddy around somewhere, sometimes,  in the shadows,  and a big brother too.  They were big gruff Irish building workers  in rough working clothes who didn’t speak except to call ‘Elspeth!’ in their deep voices.  Catherine wasn’t sure where Elspeth’s Mummy was.  It had been a home once, she could make out ornaments on a sideboard, holy pictures on the walls, cold ashes in the living room grate.  Jean tidied up when she came, cooked food.  Catherine wondered if Elspeth was often in the dark house by herself.   Once, Elspeth asked Catherine and some other children to come into the house  to play strange games with their bodies.  Catherine didn’t want to and ran out.  It was  dark and horrible in the scabby living room.

Jean gradually stopped coming to Elspeth’s house.    When Catherine and Elspeth started school they used to look for each other at playtime from their own side of the high fence separating the playgrounds of St. Cuthbert’s and Saracen primary schools.  They both quickly made new friends and stopped going to the fence.  Elspeth didn’t come out to play down the back much after school. Then Elspeth moved to another house a few streets away in Hamiltonhill – to an ‘intermediate house’.  Catherine’s  Mummy and Daddy said she wasn’t allowed to go there to play with Elspeth.  She used to pass the house often on her way to visit her Aunty Agnes  hoping to see Elspeth but she never saw her again.

The peeny roses hung on for a few more summers before succumbing to the advancing  thorny darkness of the brambles.  The new people in the house didn’t rescue them.  The garden outside Elspeth’s new house was a flat dirt rectangle.  Catherine still thinks of Elspeth when she sees  peeny roses – she never calls them peonies.


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