Bothwell Street offices

Glasgow has always been a city of pulsating energy. In times gone by, there were the thuds of incoming grains and outgoing trains, of incoming tobacco and outgoing whisky. There were the hammer-beats of shipbuilding, the memory of which has come back to me as HS2 preparations continue in earshot across the canal. The noises of iron-working and (to borrow from Birmingham) the thrum of a thousand trades. But it always had a strong finance sector — banks to handle the money from import, export and manufacturing, insurance to cover against loss at sea or in the workplace, and assurance to provide for widows and orphans after the death of the wage-earner.

The docks and the shipyards are silent, and heavy goods tend to be made elsewhere. The smelly side of Glasgow is gone — there are neither gasworks nor tanneries, and the bonded warehouses which filled the St Enoch railway arches with maturing whisky (could I hold my breath the full length of the tunnel?) are all in leakless sheds on out-of-town estates. The warehouses and factories on the north bank, which claimed many lives (notably when workers were trapped behind barred windows as fire raged through the building) have been razed, and the financial district has moved from solid St Vincent Street to shiny new buildings in Anderston, built for the computer age, rather than for men in suits wielding quill pens and looking up actuarial tables in books.

Through all this change, the one continuing pulse of energy has been the Glaswegians (city-born and incomers alike). The City Council’s tagline is “people make Glasgow”, but from Sir Thomas Lipton to Sir Alex Ferguson via Ali Ahmed Aslam (“Mr Ali“), Glasgow makes people. I am a product of Glasgow (which shows that Glasgow sometimes makes mistakes). Many on my father’s side of the family were born and/or based in Edinburgh, so I am able to claim dual nationality.

Why visit? The architecture, the parkland, the shops and restaurants … and the people. Always the people.

The city centre can be divided in two — the merchant city and Blythswood Hill, divided in time by the Napoleonic wars. In the older part, the important streets ended opposite an imposing building (or the river), but after those wars, the romanticism of people like the Wordsworths demanded views out towards nature, and Glasgow gained a gridiron pattern of streets with views across the Clyde and downriver from the vantage-points of Blythswood Square and Garnethill. Southside followed suit later, and Glasgow swallowed up independent burghs such as Partick and Govan in the Edwardian era. After the Great War, the suburbs expanded rapidly with solid council housing covering the land. In the 1960s (as elsewhere), the buildings went up and up (and those are now coming down and down).

There is also a summary of the logistics of a break in Glasgow.

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