Wednesday, August 8th 2012
The sun is shining again today and the weather forecast is optimistic too. It may turn out that these last few days of the Glasgow trip are the halcyon days. Today we want to visit the Scotland Street School Museum, having tried to do so on Monday only to find it closed.
Getting there isn’t easy because we are north of the river and Scotland Street is in the south side. We started by taking a longish ride on a 38 bus, changing to a 90 that seemingly returned along the same route. Then we discovered that the bus didn’t take us where we wanted to go. We were now in the diametrically opposite part of town! Eventually we got off the bus at Hillhead where there is a subway station. First, though, we stopped off at Starbuck’s to drown our sorrows.
Our ride on the subway took us to Shields Road station, the nearest stop to Scotland Street School Museum. Note once again how discreet these little stations are in comparison with our London tube stations.
Scotland Street School was built between 1903 and 1906 to serve the communities living in the area. It survived as a school for some 70 years but building of the nearby motorway required the demolition of scores of tenements, reducing the local population from which pupils were recruited. This led to falling rolls and the school closed in 1979. Glasgow became European Capital of Culture in 1991 and in honour of this, Scotland Street School was refurbished and reopened as a museum.
Admission to the museum is free and photography is permitted throughout. While the museum uses Scotland Street School and its histpry for illustrative purposes, its remit extends further than the study of a single school and embraces the wider topic of education in Scotland.
The school was designed and built by Scotland’s famous and unique, if sometimes controversial, architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Included in the design are two “Scottish baronial style tower staircases”. The work came in over-budget but Mackintosh got his way. One of his priorities was to make the building light and airy and, in my opinion, he succeeded.
The staircases, strategically placed at either end of the building, provide important sources of daylight for the interior as well as being attractive features of the design.
An important element in the design of these staircases is that the stairs were deliberately separated from the outer shell. As a result, the windows can be continuous from top to bottom and their light is not obstructed anywhere. However, one of the main reasons for this was apparently the insistence of the school authorities that space be left to facilitate cleaning of the windows.
Everywhere, there are large windows whose purpose is to coax in the largest amount of daylight possible. I don’t know what purpose this room originally served but it is now part of the museum’s cafe.
The interior is finished in white tiles which are easy to clean and whose main purpose is the make the most of the incident light, thus creating a light and airy feel.
What was taught and how it was taught would have changed considerably over the 70-year lifespan of the school. Rooms would have changed their purposes as old activities were replaced with new ones. The museum seeks to preserve something of the old along with the more modern.
When the school was opened, an important subject for the girls was cookery. Just how important this was considered to be can be deduced from the size of the cookery kitchen. (Click for larger images.) The work tops are laid out for pastry-making and beside the old fashioned range stands a blackboard showing the ingredients for “fish soup” and for “Savoury meat pie with potatoes”. The ingredients are priced at 1908 prices. If you want to try adding up prices in old pence, there is an enlarged version of the blackboard here. (In the meat pie recipe, add the bracketed sums to find their non-bracketed totals, then add the totals to find the final sum. I thought at first they had got it wrong but it is in fact correct.)
In line with its remit to be a museum of schools and education, Scotland Street provides recreations of classrooms from different periods. Above we see a Victorian classroom (note the dunce’s cap) even though the school was actually designed and built in the succeeding Edwardian era.
In this classroom, the inkwells show signs of being used but there are also slots in the desk for storing pupils’ slates. The tip-up seats and their cast-iron frames (somewhat reminiscent of those built to hold sewing machines) are another feature of Victorian school furniture though, in fact, similar styles continued in use up to and beyond the Second World War. Note also the stepped flooring.
The 50s and 60s classroom could well have appeared in Scotland Street School during its working life. Although the slots for the inkwells remain (probably because desks would have been machine made to existing patterns), the inkwells themselves are absent. By now pupils would have their own pens, first “wet ink” fountain pens, later ball-points. The slates have disappeared and so, thankfully, has the humiliating dunce’s cap.
Some displays are more hands-on than others. For example, two cloakrooms, boys’ and girls’ respectively, have been supplied with slightly archaic garments, thus providing an invitation for visitors to dress up.
Tableaux, or mock-ups, add a lively note, creating scenes of school life. Above, we see the headmaster at work in his office, staring dynamically at a board with pictures on it. His costume could date from almost any post-war decade while his desk is rather old-fashioned in design. Another tableau suggests that relationships between pupils and caretaker are not always happy.
All in all, it is a very interesting museum, well worth a visit. Some aspects of school life remain constant and others change. Thus, as you walk around the museum, you are reminded of your own school days and at the same time challenged by the differences.
After the museum we took a bus to start our journey to our next destination. We had to change buses and the bus driver not only explained which bus we had to take but even got off the bus to show us the way! This was but another example of Glaswegians’ kindness and willingness to help visitors to their city.
We now found ourselves in Paisley Road West, a district that was new to us, and we were drawn to the above building (built 1885) which was named the Angel Building after the winged angel sculpture that stands on top. We also noticed that on the ground floor was an Italian restaurant called La Fiorentina. We reckoned it was near enough lunchtime by now and so went in to investigate. We found a good restaurant, staffed by friendly and charming staff, and enjoyed a tasty lunch.
Walking up the road to catch a bus and continue our journey, we encountered this very striking road bridge. Opened to traffic in 1969, it is officially called the Clyde Arc but most people known it as the “Squinty Bridge” because of the single supporting arch which crosses from one side of the bridge to the other. This, incidentally, demonstrates the habit of Glaswegians, like Dubliners, of finding often ingeniously humorous nicknames for features of their city. Who but a Glaswegian would have thought of a bridge that squints? The name is quite appropriate.
Around the corner from the Squinty Bridge was a bus stop. Eventually a bus came and took us to the Riverside Museum.
You may recall that we had wanted to come here on Monday but had been defeated at Govan by the heavy rain (see here). Finally, we have made it. This is the first glimpse we had of this fine museum, Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel, looking from this angle almost like a beached whale.
Before going in, we went for a walk around the outside, which is well worth doing. You get good views of the river, as in the above photo which looks towards our previous stopping point: if you look carefully at the square building on the horizon, you will see that it half hides the arc of the Squinty Bridge. The passenger boat in the foreground is being operated as a river bus by Clyde Clippers though the boat itself, called Rover, is owned by Clyde Marine Ltd.
We had already seen the Glasgow-built Glenlee from the Govan bank of the Clyde and now had our chance of a closer look. Here she is reflected in the glass façade of the museum. If you want a more conventional view, you will find one here and more details of the ship and its history in Monday’s post.
The museum is impressive and as you enter, an almost overwhelming sight meets your eyes of vehicles of all kinds and ages packed here, there and everywhere. Cars and motorcycles are stacked on shelves as in a giant’s toy shop. Note also the perambulator perched on high like some sort of monument. (Click to see larger versions of the images.)
You very soon receive the impression that the museum is already short of space. Vehicles are packed tightly together, often without any obvious order, whether chronological or by vehicle type. Only the most exceptional items can be given more comfortable lodging. It seems to be a law of nature that all transport museums, no matter how large they are to start with, eventually run out of space.
I don’t recall ever wanting to be an engine driver but I did have toy trains, like most kids, and steam trains in particular still fascinate me. This one was made by Sharp Stewart, Glasgow, to pull heavy trains between Perth and Inverness. It was provided with an extra long boiler to provide steam for the long climbs.
There is so much to see here that it is not possible to do more than show a few samples. While I can imagine the fun to be had in riding in the 1902 Argyle Model 6 (on the left) I would prefer the comfort and luxury of the 1934 Bentley Sedanca. In fact, I can just imagine myself lounging in the back with a flask of tea…
One of my favourite types of museum display is the reconstruction of towns or streets from earlier times in our history. When these are done well, you can half-close your eyes and almost imagine that you are a time traveller. Well, just for a moment or two.
All in all, it was an interesting and instructive visit. Admission is free and, as you can tell, photography is allowed.
Back in the centre of Glasgow, we enquired for buses to Paisley, which we thought might be an interesting place to visit. A number 9 would take us there, we were told. It was now what passes for the evening rush hour in Glasgow and the bus was crowded but it conveyed as safely to our destination. At Paisley, we walked along Gauze Street, High Street and a little way along Wellmeadow Street. We did not see all of Paisley but what we did see was pleasant and, I think, worth the visit, even though we only scratched the surface.
Above you see the Abbey, now used as a church. It dates its foundation from 1163 when Walter Fitzalan, the High Steward of Scotland, gave land and a charter for the founding of a Cluniac priory. In about 1245, it was upgraded to an abbey dedicated to St Mary, St James and a local saint, St Mirin. The Abbey, as well as being a religious institution and a place of learning, also became an important centre for trade on a European level. It has royal connections dating from when Marjorie Bruce, taken there after being badly injured in a riding accident and heavily pregnant, gave birth to the future Stuart king of Scotland, Robert II, dying during or after the birth (1316). Edward I burnt down the Abbey in 1307 but it was rebuilt. The monastery was disbanded in 1560 and the building suffered collapse and other damage to become virtually ruinous, but underwent restoration in the 19th and 20th centuries and in the decade from 2002.
The statue represents poet, Alexander Wilson (1766-1813). The son of a weaver, Wilson became a poet and emigrated to America where he became interested in ornithology. Like his near contemporary, John James Audubon (1785-1851), Wilson undertook the creation of a book on all American birds, writing the descriptions and painting the illustrations himself. He died while working on the 9th and final volume.
I was rather struck by the unusual figures on top of the old War Memorial. (I refer to it as the “old” one because a new memorial to those fallen in combat in more recent times has recently been unveiled.) Together with Great War style soldiers, whose demeanour expresses the misery of the conditions the war, there is a medieval knight in full armour mounted upon his charger, counterbalancing with his doughty vigour the languor of the soldiers.
Our thoughts were turning to supper when we had the good fortune to discover Allan’s Snack Bar. This popular and well run establishment is a 3rd-generation business with unusually fine decor in both the front seating area and the “Wee Room” at the back.
We went for a last walk in this pretty and interesting town. By now the sun was very low and its highlights and deep shadows were making photography a little difficult, so we decided to make for the bus stop. Just a final picture, perhaps…
We were now content to repair to the bus stop and from there be carried back to Glasgow and our hotel. It had been a long and busy day but extremely worthwhile, and we had greatly enjoyed it.