Exploring Dear Green Place Glasgow

Since long before Glasgow's George Square became our main civic centre, Glasgow Green has been a place for rallies, concerts, rowing regattas, athletics, football, and even soapbox races. It was here too that the Glasgow Fair was held after being moved from the grounds of Glasgow Cathedral in the 1800's. A stone also commemorates the place where, in 1765, James Watt was said to have come up with his ideas for a condenser for the steam engine so starting the age of steam.

The River Clyde at Glasgow Green. (Author's collection, A-Z of Glasgow, Amberley Publishing)

As a child, I was taken by the hand by my father round the People's Palace. The Palace at that time, like many museums, was a dusty mausoleum of stuffy old artefacts locked up in glass cases. The museum now reflects Glasgow's social and industrial past in interactive and very interesting exhibits - Glasgow in wartime, the cinema, Red Clydeside and fashion.

The Winter Gardens with their extensively glazed panels and foliage draped paths make this a delight to walk or sit in. I wonder what the air quality might have been like when it was built. While it is set in the expansive Glasgow Green it would still have been in the middle of one of Glasgow's busiest and dirtiest areas. Now though, 100 years after its opening, the Palace was given a new lease of life with a £1.2 million refurbishment and this gives us the space for the new café. With a redeveloped Green and against the backdrop of the Doge's Palace and with the newly restored Doulton Fountain, it is a joy to visit.

The People's Palace and the Doulton Fountain. (Author's collection, A-Z of Glasgow, Amberley Publishing)

There can hardly be a Glaswegian who doesn't know about Templeton's carpet factory on the Green. James Templeton, its founder, was a Highlander from Campbeltown in Argyll, who along with many thousands of his ilk, left the poverty of the Highlands to find fame and fortune in Glasgow.

By the time he was 27 James had set up a business in Paisley making shawls and with William Quiglay worked on a patent for the machinery for 'a new and improved mode of manufacturing silk, woollen, cotton and linen fabrics'. Buying out Quiglay he was joined by his brothers-in-law and moved to King Street in the Bridgeton area of Glasgow to expand his business. Production started in 1839 and by 1851 the company was employing 400 people. By the start of the First World War it was reputed to be the biggest carpet manufacturer in the United Kingdom. By the 1950s it was Glasgow's biggest employer with 7000 workers in this and other mills in the area.

Templeton Building modelled on the 'Doge's Palace' in Venice. (Author's collection, A-Z of Glasgow, Amberley Publishing)

It is said that the nearby residents in Monteith Row, which was then a very desirable area objected to Templeton's building plans for a new factory a number of times so he was forced to come up with a dramatic design which would guarantee acceptance. He recruited architect William Leiper who emulated the Doge's Palace in Venice to produce what must be one of the most unusual industrial buildings in Europe. Leiper is also known for Glasgow's Gothic Dowanhill Church, now home of the Cottier Theatre. The design of the factory also guaranteed its listing and survival as a business centre. Its opening in 1889 was tinged with sadness as soon after a freak gust of wind combined with alleged bad building work caused a partial collapse of a the main facade killing 29 workers. It was rebuilt and re-opened in 1891.

At the end of the 1960s, the Guthrie Corporation, a rubber plantation owner, was looking for a foothold in the British flooring market. They succeeded with a takeover of Templeton's in 1969. Guthrie was ambitious and in 1980 they acquired a £1.5M stake in Stoddards. It subsequently closed down the Templeton factory and transferred production to the Stoddard mill in Elderslie.

Following a takeover and then closure of Templeton, the redundant building was re-opened as a business centre in the 1980's with architect James Anderson winning the Regeneration of Scotland Design Awards. It now also houses a popular micro brewery, restaurant and bar, West On The Green. Highly recommended.

West on the Green in the Templeton Building. (Author's collection, A-Z of Glasgow, Amberley Publishing)

Although the area round Glasgow was sacked by Vikings from their Kingdom of Dublin in the ninth century, it was generally of little interest to invaders. For much of its early years it was simply a fishing village on a crossroads. Even Prince Charles didn’t bother. The Green at Christmas 1745, on his way back from an abortive attempt at invading England, his army camped on what is now part of Glasgow Green, Flesher’s Haugh. Charlie demanded that the city ‘donate’ £15,000 to his campaign as well as provisions, clothing and footwear.

Glasgow had been doing rather well under the existing regime, and the Provost wrote back saying that as his citizens didn’t support the cause, he couldn’t help. He was actually more afraid of the reaction in the area than he was of the Jacobite army. A smaller contribution than asked for was given even as the citizens prepared to defend Glasgow against attack.

While Charlie dined well with supporters his army made do with camping on the Green, some of them round the church of St Andrew's in the Square, just off the Green.

Michael Meighan's book A-Z of Glasgow is available for purchase now.