A GOVAN CHILDHOOD – The 1930s
Primary school – The strap! – Joys and hazards of school days – St. Constantine’s pupils put on a show – Visit by the Lord Provost – The Vogue cinema – Govan High School 'Ranch' - MacLean's boat yard – Govan's public parks – Learning to ride a two wheeler – Elder Park - The children's playground – Other Facilities - The Pond – Fun on the ice – The Linthouse Mansion portico – Summer Storm - Park keepers – Elder Park Library – Health matters
Provision of schools by local authorites became mandatory by law in 1872, and in the 1930s, like the rest of the country, school buildings in Govan dated mostly from the previous century. Greenfield, Elderpark, Fairfield, Harmony Row, Hills Trust and Broomloan Road and many others around the city were built of sandstone as enclosed units. The older buildings generally had classrooms on both sides of a central open assembly space within the building. Sir John Maxwell's in Pollokshaws and Shawlands Primary are just two of many others in the city that were of this design. There were no nursery schools for infants until the 1960s. Returning home after a four month period in Mearnskirk hospital in early March 1937 (described in the next book IN PEACE & WAR), after a few days Mum took me along to St. Constantine's Primary in Uist Street. After an interview with the headmaster I was put on the attendance roll and told to start there next day.
St. Constantine's in Uist Street at the Nimmo Drive corner, and Drumoyne Primary in Shieldhall Road in West Govan, were comparatively new; having been built in the late 1920s as the city expanded. They were of a modern, open design, and in more recent decades the older sandstone buildings have been regarded as Victorian in a derogatory sense and were looked on as being antiquated. However, after a further passage of time a few of them are still in use, and now it is clearly seen that they were well built and substantial, and a few survivors are likely to outlast some schools put up after WWII, even some that were built as late as the 1960s.
St Constantine's Primary was a ground-floor plus two-storeys building constructed of red brick and concrete in the form of a broad flat U ground plan. Stairs and the headmaster's office, staff rooms and cloakrooms were in the wings of the truncated arms of the U, and access to the classrooms was by railed verandas on the upper levels on the base of the U, with the stairs and verandas originally open to the elements (above). That arrangement went from one extreme, of the old enclosed design with its implication of a lack of fresh air to the other, the open one with adequate fresh air which was subjected to weather penetration and deterioration and was expensive to heat in winter.
Considered now, the older buildings were definitely the better of the two types, because they had windows that could be easily opened to let in fresh air, whereas the 'modern' design with the open veranda part facing west, could be adversely affected by wet and windy weather in winter. By the 1960s the stairs and verandas of St. Constantine's, and Drumoyne Primary, had been enclosed behind glass (above).
In the 1930s the double desks in all classrooms were laid out in rows facing to the front. On the first day I was put in a class below the level I should have been in according to my age. No doubt that was because a look at my record of attendance at St Anthony's would have shown that in addition to the period in Mearnskirk, how much more time had been missed by recurring illnesses. The Classroom sequence commenced with room 1 low down at the south end of the main part of the building, and I was put in room 2. This lasted for only a few weeks until the school authorities decided that I hadn't missed as much as had been thought, or I had caught up somehow, and I was moved up to the level for my age. Memories of this school are pleasant but hazy. The headmaster, Mr Docherty, was a pleasant individual with short grey/white hair with a bald patch and a jutting forceful chin, who wore a bowler hat on his rounds.
Of the staff, the assistant head teacher is the person who remains most clear in my memory, because young as I was I recognised that he was skilful and efficient at his job. Most teachers only managed to get through a few subjects in any one day, but this man, Cameron I think was his name, always managed to take the class through all the important subjects every day. While others struggled to teach composition, for example, as a weekly subject, he made us do it daily. Somehow we managed it, most of us anyway, and thought nothing about it. He did not normally teach, but covered our class for a sick colleague for an extended period. I consider myself fortunate to have been taught by him even for that short time. He had that special requirement of all good teachers, an understanding of the nature of juveniles and the ability to make the lessons interesting.
More than half the names of the faces seen in the 1938 class photograph below are recorded, and each individual seems reasonably well dressed. It was taken in the north-east corner of the playground but it is regretted that our teacher Miss McLellan did not join the group. Other fleeting memories are of carrying a slice of toast in my school bag as a play-piece, and the janitor ringing the school bell, a large hand-bell, at start and finishing and playtimes.
In winter a trench coat, blazer, short trousers, a tie and skullcap was the uniform boys were required to wear with stockings reaching to just below the knees. On very cold days a helmet with earflaps of the style worn by pilots of the open cockpit aeroplanes at that time was favoured. Short trousers were invariably worn by all boys all the time whatever the weather until attending Secondary School. A few of the class were from families who could not afford the full rig-out and were somewhat haphazardly clad. Children then had no choice of what clothes were bought for them. Unlike today it was a case of, as with food, eat or wear what was provided whether you liked it or not; you were not consulted and there was seldom any discussion about it. Food fads and wearer's choice didn't enter into it until you could afford to buy your own. The first item of clothing I bought at the age of eighteen was a brown dress suit with a waistcoat, and was surprised at the number of favourable comments made about the choice by adults.
The skullcap was a prize oddity, the very name confused me as to whether it referred to 'school' or 'head'. It was made from slim triangular panels of thin grey felt stitched together, sometimes with a lining, and a covered button on top at the point where the panels converged. Having a small skip stiffened with card it was an ideal item for teasing the more retiring boys. Around half of them had one, but in playground rough-and tumble they were easily snatched off and thrown from hand to hand by a mischievous group, which sometimes left owners in tears after a long chase-about. It only happened to me once, after which in the vicinity of the school I carried mine in the school bag.
At that time school playgrounds were divided with the section nearest Nimmo Drive used exclusively by boys. That reference may appear pointless, but while most present day playgrounds seem to have no rule of separation of the sexes, then it was a division strictly enforced by children themselves. There was no need for any supervisor to keep them apart, as no boy or girl would have been seen dead in the other playground, a strictly observed custom that remained during all of my school days.
If there was a ball game in progress, one or other of the two priests from the adjacent church, Fathers John Battel and Bart Burns would hop over the dividing railings between school and church and join in. The latter was the most enthusiastic, but sometimes he had to look for the janny (janitor) to retrieve the ball, invariably a tennis ball, from the flat roof of the school building where it had landed after a demonstration of his high kicking ability.
Pupils sat in pairs at the double width wooden desks on a black steel tubing frame with two lids over the compartments for jotters and text books and individual tilt-up seats of plain heavy unpainted wood. The same rigid division of the sexes applied here as in the playground with an imaginary line down the centre of the classroom, and girls and boys keeping each other at arms length and barely on speaking terms. We boys were a curiously inhibited lot who coloured up if it became necessary to speak to a girl. There was an occasion when during a full class attendance and every desk was occupied there was an odd number of boys and girls, I was the one chosen to sit with a girl!
On top of each desk on each side, at the front on the narrow transverse section forward of the lid, there were two small china inkwells, one at each corner sitting in recessed holes. One was for blue ink, and the other was for red which never saw any. Red was never used except by teachers from their own supply when correcting written work. It had a long groove running from one side to the other in which writing implements that were liable to roll about were confined. Normal written work was done with pencil and paper at first then it moved on to pen and ink for composition. At infrequent intervals someone deemed responsible was delegated by teacher to go round with the ink bottle and top up the inkwells.
Learning to write with ink created the serious difficulty of the need to get it right first time! There was no possibility of correcting mistakes by rubbing out as can be done with pencil. The normal means of formal writing was with nibbed pens which were dipped in ink. The dipping pen was a development in metal of the quill (goose feather) pen of an earlier age, for which a sharp knife was required to cut a fresh point when the current one had worn down. Small knives for this job with blades which folded away so that they could be safely carried in a pocket, were called 'pen knives' because that was what they were originally made for. Most boys usually had one, but today it would be risky to have such an implement on your person as it would be regarded as a weapon. In that less violent age of the first half of the 20th century, like most boys, youths and older men I carried one. No occasion can be recalled when one of these knives was used in a quarrel to cause or threatened to cause a wound. Below are examples of nibbed pens and a bottle of ink.
Pens with metal nibs work on the same principle of capillary action as the quill, as does the ball point, but unless handled carefully they were liable to be extremely messy to use. The nibs were made of brass or steel and fitted into holders attached at the point of a slim handle (above) and were easily changed when the point became distorted. That usually happened through misuse, so that they would not hold the reservoir drop of ink in the narrow slot at the top of the split designed to perform that function. In class, however, replacement was mostly made necessary by rough usage of the nib and seldom by normal wear. One dangerous prank when the teacher's attention was diverted was to use them for dart practice.
Fountain pens were by no means a recent invention, but the cheapest kind were the most modern in writing technology available to us. I had one which was a treasured possession, with a gold tipped nib the smoothness of which made it a pleasure to use. Inside the pen body there was a sac of rubber material connected to the nib, and when the nib was held dipped in ink and the sac squeezed by means of a side lever to expel air; on being released ink was drawn up into the sac. This formed a reservoir to supply the nib, doing away with the need for frequent dipping. But buying a cheap fountain pen was a lottery because they could leak.
The cap had a clip for the pen to be carried attached to the inside or breast pocket of a jacket, and if a leak did develop it could be disastrous for the jacket and other items of clothing. It was essential to screw the pen body securely into the cap because if it became detached while in the pocket it could leak and leave an indelible black stain. But the main defect of cheap fountain pens was that after a time the rubber reservoir sac could perish, and when that happened with a newly filled pen, ink could flood out, ruining clothes. Having seen it happen to others, I managed to avoid any serious disasters with mine.
The desk's round china inkwells were small, were made with an overlapping disc top to give a supporting shoulder, and had a small hole in the centre just big enough to admit a pen. When placed to sit flush in the hole in the desk top front, in use an ordinary pen was replenished by being dipped frequently so as to carry a drop or two, but it needed controlled and careful handling or drips could drop off onto clothes and hands, and a page of work could be spoiled. When fitted with a new nib it had to be used at the correct angle. If held too steeply it could catch on the paper, as the initially sharp point was liable to dig in then spring free and spray ink over the page. If the angle was too shallow the reserve blob on the underside might touch the paper and flood out, causing that bane of everyone's school life, teachers and pupils, an ink blot.
After one dipping, a good nib of an ordinary pen could write a sentence or two, but frequent replenishing was necessary. Ink writing did not dry quickly and if a written-on page was handled too soon it smeared. Drying was aided by the use of a sheet made into a pad of thick absorbent blotting paper. When folded into several layers, the pad also served as protection to lean on and help prevent sweat or dirty smudges from hands being transferred on to the paper. While pencil marks are easily erased with a rubber, there was another writing implement for business use that looked like an ordinary pencil that sometimes came into the hands of children that you had to beware of, the 'copying ink' pencil that couldn't be rubbed out. Ball-point pens began to appear after 1945.
St. Constantine's had been opened nine years before I went there and the equipment was relatively new. Teaching aids were of the latest type, although they were still primitive compared with the schools of today. The main item was a tall slim blackboard mounted in a wooden U frame on castors so that it could be easily moved around. The part of the frame with the blackboard was mounted at mid point so that it could be turned over in the horizontal plane, giving a fresh surface for other work. But usually subjects were set out on one side in advance, then the board was turned round on the castors to present another one laid out on the other side. In the frame below the board there was a ledge for chalk, duster, and a pointer like a short billiards cue.
Teacher's desk was of dark varnished wood, tall and narrow with horizontal wings on either side of the lidded compartment that projected out about six inches, one of which was a convenient parking place for the Lochgelly strap, making it visible to all the class. The front of the desk frame was a tall shallow cupboard for storage of text books. The seat was a high spindly chair with a back, and a foot rest about six inches above floor level, giving teachers a good vantage point to oversee classes of over forty children. In the 1980s when visiting the school with the hope of getting access to get some information required for this biog, I was able to have an interview with the then 'headmaster' – (head-mistress actually!). When shown the class photo above she said she could hardly believe the number of 42 pupils in the class. I think the average number then was around 30.
Classroom conditions were very different from those of today in that rigid discipline was enforced, to the extent sometimes of severe regimentation. During lessons we were required to sit up straight and remain silent for lengthy periods, keeping perfectly still with arms folded or by our sides, then submit to inspection for dirty hands and fingernails.
There was an unusual feature incorporated in the layout of the classrooms which may have been present in other new schools of that time. On each floor the divisions between the rooms were full height walls in the form of moveable hinged partitions of panelled varnished wood with the upper half of panes of glass. The complete wall between each classroom could be folded aside concertina-like, to open up the whole of a flat or as many rooms as were required. There was an occasion when I was one of more than sixty children sitting the qualifying exam, for which three classrooms were opened up to accommodate us well spread out.
What children of today will know of only as an exhibit in museums of education, the three-tail Lochgelly strap (below) was a dreaded reality for all of us including the girls. To receive it you stood facing the teacher with an arm held out at full stretch towards her for a good whack on the palm. Certain seemingly sadistic teachers insisted on having both hands held one on top of the other. We wondered if they really thought it doubled the punishment. Some children, mainly girls, had great difficulty in maintaining the position when faced with the descending leather, and would draw their hand away just before impact. They would then be made to stand with their back to the teacher and hold their hand out to the side. My parents said that use of the cane was the norm in all schools during her time as seen at bottom left below. I do not know for certain but it is possible that in the 1930s the cane had been banned from those of local authorities, but it was still in use in private schools.
After being moving to above infant class level any pupil was liable to be punished with the belt. To have it administered for serious misbehaviour was understandable. But for getting a sum wrong, for being unable to say the seven-times table etc., or for reading or spelling errors, or for a blot on our writing, one or two of the belt was an everyday fact of life, just part of the enforcement of learning as well as discipline in the system. The worst dose of punishment was known as 'six of the best!' Despite statements by people who agitate against the use of corporal punishment on children, I feel I benefited from it. However, I know it is wrong because it allows the tiny percentage of individuals who have a sadistic streak, and who lack the intuitive ability to control a class of possibly difficult and rowdy children, to be unprofessional. The common punishment today, writing out lines, was also used in some schools, but only once, later in St. Gerard's Secondary was I ordered to write out fifty lines for failing to produce homework.
If asked what would be the most abiding memory of school days I would say it was the rote learning of multiplication tables at the primary level. The rhythmic chanting in unison of a whole class, 1 & 1 is 2, 2 & 2 is 4, 3 & 3 is 6 & so-on could be hypnotic, almost as if the ritual was designed to make it difficult to remember the information it contained. Sometimes it seemed to free your mind from the task of taking in the message carried by the recitation, until the next round-the-class test when you wished fervently you had paid proper attention. St. Constantine's Primary School closed during the 1990s and has been converted to private dwellings.
JOYS AND HAZARDS OF SCHOOLDAYS
A particularly happy memory of schooldays does not belong to the school, but to a woman who lived in the last close on the west side of the Elderpark Street tenement about a hundred yards away. She made toffee and sold it from her ground floor kitchen window to passers-by, mainly school children attending the two nearby schools. It was the best kind of toffee, candy of the type used for toffee apples, which she poured on a tray in a thin layer. When it set it was brittle and was easy to break up into small pieces to be sold in small paper bags in `guesstimated' quantities for a halfpenny a bag. I was seldom able to afford it as my pocket money was generally doled out daily after school at the rate of a halfpenny a day which was soon spent. It was only if an event intervened to prevent this, or an out-of-character oversight caused me to have something left, in the manner of `finding' a halfpenny during school hours perhaps tucked into a corner of a pocket, enabling me to buy some of that delicious toffee.
|Money - old pennies and shillings were replaced in 1971|
Very occasionally a gift of money, never more than 3d, was slipped to me by a benevolent aunt, uncle or a friend of my parents who had paid a visit the previous evening. If this was observed by either of my parents it was confiscated 'for my bank' at the first opportunity after the visitor had gone. Once or twice I was lucky and the gift went un-noticed and next day, with a sum in my pocket equal to a week's normal pocket money, I was able to buy some toffee. The pre-decimal currency above is from the top double row with both faces shown – farthing (¼d), ha'ppeny (½d), penny (1d), old silver threepence known as a thrupp'ny bit and the then new eight sided brass threepence (3d). Below are sixpence (6d), shilling (1/-), two shillings known as a florin (2/-), then the half crowns (2/6) and the notes not shown – 10/- & one pound etc.
Greenfield Primary School was just a hundred yards away, and the proximity of the two schools, Catholic and non-Catholic, might have been expected to have caused some friction, but like other unpleasantness, while there were a few stories circulated of serious battles in the past between certain children, I never witnessed anything other than the infrequent shouting match and name calling. But an election campaign gave rise to a comical situation when a car cruised past along Nimmo Drive at 4pm as the schools were coming out. The occupants must have been canvassing for the Conservative candidate, because most of the older children from both schools lined up quite spontaneously along the edge of the pavements and booed. Although the home I came from caused me to be in sympathy with the sentiment, it seemed so very odd coming from a crowd of youngsters. Apart from technological advances, the main difference I see in the schools of my grand and great-grand children's day is in the numbers attending. During assembly and playtime today, there is less than half the number of children present in the playgrounds than what there had been in the 1930s, and even this is after so many schools have closed including the three I attended although replacements have been built.
School hours today seem flexible in that pupils can be seen sauntering along for up to 15 or more minutes late, quite unconcerned, showing no sign of the apprehension we would have felt in that situation. Mothers of the youngest accompanying late-comers are equally unfazed. In times past we would have dashed along breathlessly with worried expressions as starting times were rigidly adhered to, and if you arrived after the last of the playground 9am line-up had trooped into their classes, you had to queue up with other latecomers for the strap. The main difference between the 1930s and today's hours of attendance were a later finish then. Infant classes finished at 3pm and primary and secondary at 4pm, so that in December and January, on dull gloomy days we walked morning and evening in darkness. However, summer holidays were longer. Because of the habit then of taking five days off for saints' days over the rest of the year, catholic schools were off for seven weeks while other schools had eight weeks.
Nethan, Shaw and Wanlock Street tenement properties in West Govan (west of the Cross that is) were old and the poorest families lived there. Otherwise it seemed to have been a reasonably prosperous working class district. There was a certain number of children who, living in these streets, from their ragged and unkempt appearance (and smell), could be regarded as neglected. One boy in my class never had dinner. He passed the time walking members of the class home as the fancy took him. What stays in my mind is that the first time he came home with me he was pathetically pleased to find that I lived farther away from the school than most of the others he had gone with previously.
The sad aspect of the occasion escaped me at the time, and I thought he was doing it by choice. It is quite obvious now that it was more than likely that there was probably no-one at home or anything to eat there. Of course I quizzed him about his seeming lack of need for a mid-day meal, but accepted without question the statement that there was 'naeb'dy in' at home. An expression for this heard with remarkable frequency, when asked `whit did ye get fur dinner the day?' the answer, perhaps in jest but quite likely to have been true in the worst cases, was `a run roon the table and a kick at the cat!' What my acquaintance was probably hoping for was to be invited into the house to share the meal. Then, I had no thought of doing it and was aware that while my mother would have been sympathetic, she would also have been wary as she might have been landed with the boy every day.
ST. CONSTANTINE’S PUPILS PUT ON A SHOW
In 1938 or 1939 a show was organised by the school authorities to be staged by pupils in South Govan Town Hall, for which individual classes were encouraged to 'put on a turn', as it was termed then. Led by teachers of course who had the job of organising the entertainment for their charges to do a playlett, sing as a group or perform a mini pageant. A few teachers were fortunate in having in their class some with good singing voices or could recite a poem, and something could then be organised round them to bring in the rest of the class. South Govan Town Hall below at the corner of Arklet Road and Langlands Road was demolished c2000.
As there was no talent in our class or anyone willing to take it on we were coached to sing a song, actually a nursery rhyme, the first lines of which were 'Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake baker's man, Bake me a cake as fast as you can' etc., and perform actions in unison signified by the words, for which the boys were dressed in white blouses and shorts and the girls in white dresses. The material of the garments is recalled as being silky-smooth and shiny.
|South Govan Town Hall sketched by Chris Fletcher in 1977|
The main hall of the Corporation owned building which had been built around the same time as the school, was small but well fitted out with an elevated fully lit stage. It was packed to capacity by parents and friends, and we did our stuff with few calamitous but with hilarious moments. However, I was uncomfortable and had a feeling of impending disaster, and could hardly wait to get off the stage when our turn ended with no mishap having occurred. My parents where in the audience and their first words to me later were `What was wrong with you; why did you fidget so much? You seemed to have been afflicted by St. Vitus Dance!' Well, perhaps I was more round-shouldered than the others for I seem to have been the only one so troubled, but my braces, of white silk like the rest of the attire (if silk it was? although it is more likely to have been a cheap substitute), were slipping off my shoulders so that I was terrified the short pants would end up round my ankles. (An uncontrollable twitching, St Vitus Dance is now known as Huntingdon's Chorea.)
VISIT BY THE LORD PROVOST
On a day of frost and wintry sunshine the whole school was in a ferment of anticipation for a visit by the city's future Lord Provost, Paddy Dollan. From the Golden Jubilee booklet of St Gerard's Senior Secondary School, it is known he conducted the official (late) opening of this school on the 20th of December 1937, and the Scottish Film Archive has in its collection a very brief film of the LP visiting three schools in Govan at that time. Also, a still photograph of him with pupils in St Anthony's has been seen which was taken at that time, so it seems likely that St Constantine's would have been the third school visited. His arrival there was supposed to have been around mid-morning, and while we were full of enthusiasm and were looking forward to the event, it wasn't really due to any appreciation of his position. Through the teacher we heard that at the end of the visit we would be sent home for the day, so as far as we were concerned the sooner he departed the earlier we might get away. But the time for his visit passed and there was no sign of him.
Thinking about it now makes me wonder about communication between schools. Were they connected by telephone, so that the location of the visiting party might be known and his arrival anticipated? Perhaps local school authorities of the time were reluctant to make use of such information, considering it 'unfair' to take advantage of what was a by no means new medium, that they should simply hold themselves in readiness by habit. When the lunchtime release passed with still no sign of him we were told to 'go home and don't come back'. As the crowd of younger children went surging down Uist Street in the slanting sunshine of the day before winter solstice, revelling in our release and excited by the prospect of the half-day off and the Christmas holidays due to start within a couple of days, the official car appeared from the Langlands Road direction.
Going on past us we saw it draw up at the school entrance. Having been released first we younger ones were in the lead, and most of us dutifully made to turn back as we fondly imagined would be expected of us, only to be carried on by the dense throng of the older children rushing along behind who had no such intention. Except for a fleeting glimpse through a window as the car went past of Paddy's quite distinguished looking head, with gaunt features, deep set eyes and flowing white hair, this was the only time I saw him. He was a catholic and a socialist, his reputation with the far left at that time had been tarnished and his name was mud with the Independent Labour Party. In particular, my father was very scathing about him, although in this case I suspect religious intolerance of that time and the fact that Dad was of protestant extraction and was now atheist, might have had something to do with it. John McGovern and Willie Gallagher were other prominent socialist political figures that were regarded in the same light.
In early spring of 1937 work began on the vacant area at the corner of Langlands Road and Crossloan Road to build a cinema which was to be opened during the summer of 1938. Behind the site, McLean's boatyard occupied most of the northern section of the other part of the site on the west side of Uist Street. It was to be a first class cinema on a par with the Lyceum, and would be the last of the four cinemas to be built in Govan, and may even have been the last one designed in art deco style in the country. Walking to and from school I passed the site most days and was able to watch the progress of work from ground preparation, through the foundations being laid and the building going up, until it was completed. The activity was looked on in a sort of half interested way without knowing that it was to be a palace of enchantment and the last word in entertainment which we would enjoy attending many times.
Scotch derrick cranes were used for lifting and moving heavy loads on large building sites and in building contractors' storage yards, timber yards and steel stockholders etc. One of these cranes was the first items to be installed for ground preparation and the unloading of construction materials. As the Scotch name suggests, it was a cable operated local invention, usually by a geared hand crank, with the larger ones driven by a steam or primitive internal combustion engine. They were static and depended on a long jib that was cable deployed to give reach. Constructed of heavy timber beams, cranes of this type had a central post set vertical in the ground or a prepared moveable base, with two others in inverted sloping V formation as bracing at the rear. The point of the V was fixed near the top of the vertical post and the legs were spread well out behind and firmly anchored in the ground. The jib's winding, luffing and slewing machinery for the jib was located at the base of the vertical post on the opposite side from it.
Brief spells of watching the construction work was fascinating, and once or twice I was late for school or returning home when some operation of particular interest was under way. In that pre-mechanised age a squad of men with shovels mixed batches of cement on the ground or a wooden platform, and when working on a large quantity, the mixing was tackled by a group of half-a-dozen or so individuals surrounding the heap of dry constituents. To mix them the men walked round it in procession, shovelling the dry mixture non-stop, and when it was thoroughly mixed, the heap was pulled away from the centre, forming a low sided depression. Then water was poured in from a bucket so much at a time, and the mixing continued with water added as required until it was of the correct consistency.
Barrow loads of the mortar and bricks were carried up a series of ramps incorporated in the wooden scaffolding of the time to the places where the bricklayers were working, using a curious device called a 'hod'. The hod was employed on all building sites using bricks until mechanisation brought in the first man hauled and then motor driven lifts or hoists. Made of hardwood, it was a stout right-angled V shaped channel with one end blocked off, mounted point down and braced with stays on the end of a pole. The length of the pole was such that with its end on the ground the channel was just below shoulder height. With it carefully balanced, the labourer loaded it up with around a dozen bricks. He was then able to place a padded shoulder under the V and lift and carry it, with the channel at an angle having the blocked off end down and slightly over the carrier's back to retain the load. A load of bricks would weigh close on a hundredweight, but balancing it was easily controlled on the shoulder by the pole.
When the cinema opened at the beginning of July 1938, to celebrate, the owner Singleton held a gala day in Pirrie Park off Langlands Road. Pirrie Park was Harland & Wolf Shipyard's employees' sports ground, which had been set up on land that had been part of East Drumoyne farm, and named for the company's managing director Lord Pirrie. One of the displays that was part of the gala, a member of the Vogue's management team was a well built young fellow who I think was one of the owner's family. He was involved in what should have been a spectacular event in a marquee, entry to which a nominal charge of something like a halfpenny or a penny was charged, and dressed only in shorts, he had a circular cage of shiny metal rodding lowered over him by a light insulated crane until it was about six inches above the ground.
A power cable attached to the cage was connected to a d.c. generator, so that with the power switched on and probably set at a suitable low voltage, he held a metal rod which he was supposed to run up and down the bars, so that the current passed through him to earth. With him standing barefoot, this should have produced showers of sparks while delivering only a mild kick. Unfortunately for him the voltage regulator must have developed a fault, because with sweat pouring off him, he was receiving plenty of kicks but there were no sparks. We got a refund.
GOVAN HIGH SCHOOL 'RANCH'
|Govan High School at the corner of Langlands Road and Drumoyne Road 1930s|
South of Pirrie Park but separated from it by a hedge, the land here must have belonged to Glasgow Corporation Education Department. It was laid out as sports pitches and was entered from Ardshiel Road by a hedge lined path that passed between gardens of the Corporation houses there. On this land there was an interesting building, a large low wooden structure with a pitched roof and covered stepped veranda similar to the British Legion pavilion in Holmfauld Road. It was an outbuilding of Govan High School (above), which was used as a sports pavilion and was known as 'The Ranch'. The name probably derived from its resemblance to the wooden buildings of the type seen in the 'western' cowboy films that were popular at that time.
THE BOAT YARD
McLean's Boatyard in Uist Street closed around this time, and there is a vivid memory of walking on one occasion in Langlands Road opposite the old Govan High school (above) at Drumoyne Road with Grandad Chambers who was smoking his pipe. A traction engine hauling a large trailer carrying a boat was seen approaching. It must have been during the year 1935. We stood at the pavement edge to take in every detail of the spectacle, of this seemingly enormous white boat with ropes dangling in even loops round the outside from the gunwales. Grandad took the pipe from his mouth and pointed with it. `That's a lifeboat, and it's going to Clydebank to be put on the Queen Mary (seen in AGC part 3 page 18), the first of two Cunard's largest famous passenger liners. This story raises two questions. It must have been a Sunday when we would be heading for the church, otherwise he would have been at work at John Brown's, and why was it travelling west in Langlands Road? The picture I retain is of the bulk appearing to fill the road as it moved past Govan High School. From Uist Street it should have been heading for the town centre to cross the river by KGV Bridge. Perhaps it was being taken to KGV Dock or Shieldhall Quay to be craned into the water there for onward movement by the river.
There were three nearby safe recreational and play areas, the smallest of which was in the form of a right-angle triangle with a railing round the border, at the junction of Moss Road and Langlands Road with Langlands Drive (now the end of an extended Skipness Drive) on the third side. It really was too small for ball games needing a lot of space, but it had a grassy central area surrounded by a made-up path and, like most other parks, it had a border of bushes and trees which made it ideal for hiding games. At its southern tip there was, and it too may be still there, a small electricity sub-station surrounded on three sides by bushes, which I remember creeping round in the course of a game.
The second park was nearby, between Greenloan and Greengairs Avenues. Larger than the first park described, and oval in shape, it too was bordered all the way round by railings and dense shrubbery. Its size and shape meant it was better for ball games. At that time there were four trees standing four-square in the centre of the grassy area that were set at an ideal distance apart, so that it was possible to pick two opposing pairs of trees across the oval to use as goals for football. This gave a choice of either setting up a pitch for a small game with a few players by playing across the narrower centre, or along the long axis for a big game with a lot of players. Three events at this park and the surrounding roads come to mind.
LEARNING TO RIDE A TWO WHEELER
The first event was when approaching the age of nine I had been asking Dad to let me ride his bike. He agreed eventually, no doubt with reluctance born of the knowledge that he would have to put up with frequent requests to borrow it. It was an older model of Raleigh make with a heavy frame and the straight-across handlebars he favoured, that were midway between the older upright type and the newer drooping sports style. The photo below, taken at 70 Carnock Road Pollok, is the modified form of that bike in 1951 with a Cyclemaster petrol engined wheel installed. In late 1939 he acquired the sports model referred to in the story of the pulleys in the cloak-room of the Skipness Drive house, a Daytona Elite with droop handlebars. Both bikes originally had Sturmey-Archer 3 speed gears in the rear wheel axle, the changing of the gears of which was done by a cable that operated from a small lever on the handlebar.
While I was well experienced in riding my simple 2-wheeler 'fairy cycle' with its small wheels, he chose the Greengairs and Greenloan Avenues, a quiet area with little traffic, for my first attempt on a full size bike. This was probably because he thought that if I was going to be a failure it would be better to find out in a quiet place overlooked by strangers. Anyway, we went there and he put me on by myself. I had gone with him before on his bike on runs sitting on the crossbar, known then as a bar, or `baurie', but they were brief and were governed by how long it could be tolerated before my backside and thighs became too painful even with the bar padded. The three miles to Renfrew and back was about the farthest I could manage.
We started off with him walking alongside supporting me with a hand holding the rear of the saddle, and helping with the steering and giving instructions. After going what seemed like a few yards I got the hang of it and he disappeared out of sight behind, but I sensed that his steadying hand was still holding the back of the saddle. Then, becoming more confident I asked how I was doing, and getting no answer after a pause asked again, this time turning my head partly round. Still there was no reply. In addition I could not see him, and diverting my attention was making me wobble a bit. After regaining control I snatched a quick look back, only to see him walking about twenty feet behind. Realisation that I was on my own gave me a start for an instant, but then, with a surge of elation realised I was actually `going' a full size two wheeler. Soon we were venturing together on longer journeys to Barrhead, Uplawmoor, Erskine Ferry, Campsie Glen, Stewarton, etc.
The bike in the photo above is the Raleigh cycle that Dad continued to used for work and pleasure until 1950. He then bought one of the latest innovations, a wheel with a tiny 25cc engine known as a Cyclemaster which was installed in the Raleigh. (See the story of the Cyclemaster in the folder in Documents titled Early 1950s autocycles, motor cycles and cars.)
Unlike the bikes of today, virtually all cycles then were equipped with an audible warning. Most had a small bell clamped on the handlebars, which are currently seen and heard in road scenes in films from the Far East, in particularly China and India. Every bike over a certain size had a bell and their musical trill was a more tolerable warning than the strident contemporary motor horns. Fixed in a position convenient to a handlebar grip, the bell was held by a screwed clip. When the thumb operated lever projecting from the side was pushed, a fairly loud tinkling sound was produced by rotating weights striking the inside of the bell cap which had a return spring when released. The delux model, which I longed for but never acquired, was two-toned with two opposing 'cups'. It produced a very musical 'in tune' trill from double top-and-bottom or side mounted domes.
However some cyclists, usually older people, still had the small air operated horns worked by squeezing a rubber bulb seen at the top (and shadow) in the above photo, which generated a high pitched hoot-hoot sound. Cycles of an older vintage than this used to have what was called a `back step'. Because of adult usage the term had persisted, and often youthful cyclists on up-to-date machines, were asked by their bikeless pals for a ride using the phrase, `Gie's a hurl on your back step?' even although there was nowhere for passengers to sit or rest their feet. But a passenger could sit on the seat while the one doing the work stood on the pedals.
The second event at Greengairs Park was going to that park with a group of pals to play football, and finding a team of older boys already there, playing with what appeared to be a full-size ball. There were mutual acquaintances between the groups so they agreed we could join in. But my first kick brought disaster as the bladder proved much too heavy. On my first contact with the ball, in attempting a kick with it coming towards me fast, I sprained my foot and limped off home in agony.
The third event happened during the war when, like many things, cultivation was mainly done for vegetables and fruit was scarce including the poorer quality home produce. While playing there with pals on a warm early summer evening, a certain weed with a small yellow flower in full bloom was much in evidence. After a while we lay down on the grass to rest, and I had plucked one of them and was absent-mindedly rubbing the flower between my fingers, when I caught a whiff of the scent it gave off. The smell was of apples, not ordinary apples, but the distinctive sweet smell of Macintosh Reds that we hadn't seen for a couple of years. We lay on the grass in the warm evening sunshine enjoying a smell none of us had experienced for a while, and trying to recall the taste of the apples from Canada.
This 1885 view looking west towards Linthouse with the main gate off Govan Road at lower right was taken from high up in the new tenement in Elderpark Street, or Thompson Street as it then was. It shows a sector of the park from the flag pole at top left to a point on the right just inside the main entrance and gates to be seen and described below. One of the notice boards with extensive rules and regulations for users of the park can also be seen. The superintendent's house and the original transverse hot-house is in the middle distance at the top near the centre in the print. The replacement hot-houses, built at 90º to the first ones, are seen in the photo below.
Behind the trees in the background of the 1885 picture above, in a view unimpeded by the tenements to be erected in Drive Road and beyond, is Merryflatts Poorhouse with its clock tower and boiler house chimney prominent. It had been opened just thirteen years before this time and is part of the old original main building of the Southern General Hospital. By 1900 the left background changed when the first tenement after Linthouse Buildings to be constructed in Linthouse were built along Drive Road behind the trees. These buildings were probably in the planning stage at that time because a paternal great grandfather is recorded in the 1891 census living at numbers 3 and 13 at what was then Royal Terrace before it became Drive Road. Visiting that area today produces a feeling of `belonging', and it is strange yet somehow comforting to consider that the scenes in the pictures of Elder Park in the late 1880s and '90s would have been familiar to my ancestors.
In the 1880s the park was given to the people of Govan by Mrs. Isabella Elder, widow of a local industrialist connected with ship building, to be cared for by Govan Town Council. It was taken over by Glasgow Corporation Parks Department in 1920. Except where they were originals, the furnishings and fittings were of the same standard design in all parks and green areas however small throughout the city, with the possible exception of major items like boundary railings and bandstands. If, like those in Elder Park they dated from the days of the independent burghs before they were taken over in 1912, there were usually some differences.
The border of greenery was particularly dense at the swing park corner at Drive Road and Govan Road, especially when the trees were in the full leaf of summer. In this area we were shielded from the noise of traffic on Govan Road, and the nearby residents were protected to some extent from the sound created by many youngsters enjoying themselves. During the 1960s, road improvements connected with the Clyde tunnel cut away this corner, taking with it the swing park, and a poor substitute with swings and other amusements was provided near the tennis courts on part of one of the most extensive grassy areas.
|The main entrance to the park from Govan Road with Elder Park library in the background c1910|
In the 1930s the park had a deep border of bushes and mature trees inside the boundary fence that was cut through only by entrances. It was the nearest and largest park in Govan. There was a bandstand, putting green, the swing park and pond for sailing model boats and catching 'baggie' minnows in summer, and bowling and tennis we could watch, extensive areas of grass and flower beds, and the two hot-houses with plants being brought on until they were ready for planting out.
The swing park, then situated in the north west corner which made it very convenient to Linthouse, was the biggest attraction with ideal facilities for children. It was closed off from the rest of the park by chest high railings with a single entrance gate. The main attraction was a pair of large frames of tubing, each of which contained four swings with wooden seats suspended by a pair of chains with inverted `Y' sections at the seat. One frame stood on each side and to the rear of the centrally placed attendant's building, a small substantially built pavilion of red brick with a pitched tiled roof topped with red coxcomb ridge tiles. It contained a central room for the attendant with toilets either side for boys and girls. There was also a maypole, a roundabout called the joy-wheel, and an area of grass with a scattering of benches for adults accompanying younger children. The one item missing was a chute. Only the sand pits, paddling pool and joy-wheel at back left are visible in the 1930s photo second one below. The rest of the ground was a large grassy area.
Most of the larger parks around the city had cast iron drinking wells like the one below which stood in front of the pavilion. It was about four feet high, with a black, thick heavy shell having vertical ribbing. A domed overhanging top, also ribbed, was surmounted by a knob shaped like a large seed, possibly an acorn emerging from its shell. Another knob, with ridges polished smooth from being twisted by generations of little hands, projected horizontally from the rim of the dome turned on the water which ran into a catchment. It came from a spigot moulded in the shape of a lion's head set under the edge of the cap at the front. There was a cast iron cup, very thick and heavy to withstand constant rough handling, which imparted a repulsive metallic taste when you drank from it. The cup had a rounded base with a loop moulded on, to which a chain was attached with its other end securely fixed to the well cap from which it was left to dangle. To avoid the unpleasant iron taste the cup had to be held below the lip and the water 'sooked' in. At the base of the shell, near ground level beneath the spigot, there was a semi-circular catchment moulded as part of the body for animals to drink from which was kept permanently filled by drips and spillages. In photo below the boy is drinking from the cup while holding the water turned on for the girl!
The maypole was an enigma for me. I could go on it only for a short period because it made me squeamish. It wasn't motion that caused it - it seemed to have been the smell from the rope of the harness. The tall pole was like the old-type tall heavy steel lamp-post, with a cap under which rotated a ring with six metal loops. To these were attached lengths of chain long enough to reach to about the shoulder height of an adolescent. The lower end of the chain had a loop of heavy rope attached, into which the upper torso was placed, and this rope had a distinctive and peculiar odour similar to but not quite the same as creosote. It was probably the smell of the preservative that affected me. The puzzle was I seem to have been the only one affected in this way, having to go off to recover after a couple of minutes then stay well away from it.
Once or twice after standing near it for a time watching others having fun, and seemingly out of reach of the smell, the same twinges of nausea were felt. This now makes it seem that as well as having a physical effect it also had a psychological one. After a time even the ringing noise produced by the chains continually striking the pole which occurred with normal boisterous use, threatened to bring on the same symptoms when the sound reached the far end of Skipness Drive. It might have been caused by an allergy in my system to some chemical element in the preservative.
The design of the joy-wheel roundabout was different from later versions, in that the current ones are built for riding on by standing on board a low platform close to ground level and holding on to radially set rails. The older design was of a flat topped open tubular construction, built to flare up outwards from the centre pivot with the faceted, segmented outer rail at about waist height. This open frame allowed a number of children to position themselves within the frame and run, pushing on the bar ahead, permitting a somewhat dangerous speed to be worked up, which was another activity the attendant had to look out for and put a stop to because of the risk of injury to younger ones.
The circular paddling pond (below) was bordered by a ring of sandpits divided into four sections by access paths to the pond. The pond was a great innovation not seen in any other park on south side. It had a smooth concrete lining and easy sloping stepless sides which in summer was filled with water to above ankle depth. It allowed the youngest children to paddle safely with a minimum of supervision, and in good weather it was well used. But the nearby sandpits meant that it had to be emptied frequently for cleaning caused by sand continually being walked into it on children's feet, and thrown in too when the attendant's back was turned. Throwing balls of damp sand at someone standing in the water was a favourite pastime, but anyone seen doing it was banned from the park, because the sand accumulated and blocked the drain. In wet weather the pond would flood and became a hazard. After the summer season was over and it was taken out of use, its sloping side made an ideal scooter or fairy cycle track, a `fairy' cycle being the smallest kind of bicycle.
The area was closely supervised by an attendant, usually a deeply tanned old soldier with a good supply of stories of army life in distant lands. He used to hold us, well me anyway, in awe with tales of their experiences in India or South Africa. It might have been noticed earlier in these reminiscences that an interest in discovering what the rest of the world was like was growing. I liked to get around and was always keen to go with anyone, family or friend, who went walking or on a journey by tram, and holidays and other events which took me farther afield were looked forward to with growing awareness and anticipation. This interest in new places was manifesting itself in a liking for and an exceptional ability at school geography lessons. Too bad it was the only subject I was good at. At secondary school, when a particular set of end-of-term results was announced I had scored 95% for geography, which carried my overall average one point over the 50% minimum needed for me to be moved up a class, otherwise that half-year might have had to be repeated.
A feature of the larger parks was low shin-high single-bar railings. These had broad uprights with a sleeved hole at the top through which a horizontal heavy square section rail passed, and were installed around grassy areas from which people were excluded from walking on by a bye-law, of which there were plenty in the parks of old. Higher (waist high) fuller railings, nicely designed in thin rodding, the tops of which were a pair of harmless double concentric semi-circles, were all of a common design, which was repeated in railings fronting all council housing built during the period between the 1920s and mid 30s. On one occasion in the 1980s, I was amazed to see some sections of these railings still doing duty but embedded in a hedge in Househillwood at certain corners near where the demolished old Peat Road library had been. Also, there were the numerous signs requesting you to `PLEASE KEEP OFF THE GRASS', with lettering in relief on low broad cast-iron plates placed spread out facing the paths in the forbidden areas.
Perhaps the most distinctive of all park furniture was the many bench seats spaced out along path edges, other than in the flower bed area which had seats of a different design. The more common benches glimpsed in the photo below were rustic, with a pair of supports near the ends, uprights of cast iron with two legs, and an extension at the rear which angled up to form a support for the bench back. Cast in irregular but identical shape, they were intended to resemble trimmed tree branches with a simulated rough bark surface which over time regular coats of paint had rendered smooth. Photographs of scenes in parks dating from before this period show simple single-plank seat-and-backrest benches. In the 1930s they were about eight feet long, with the single-plank backrest, and a double-plank seat with an unfortunate narrow spacing between them that could trap fingers. Modern park seats are of similar design but are made from pressed sheet steel.
Seats in the flower beds were of the slatted kind, with the narrow slats fixed horizontally close together in continuous rounded flowing curves, supported at the extreme ends by intricately cast iron supports containing a moulding of a coat of arms. The arms would probably have been those of Govan Burgh.
The bandstand was used for concerts regularly on summer Saturday afternoons and evenings and occasionally during weekday evenings, and when a performance had been arranged, a union jack flag was flown from the tall flagpole which stood to the west between the bandstand and tennis courts. Simple folding seats were laid out on the broad path surrounding the bandstand before the concert started, appearing and disappearing mysteriously. The bandstand itself was located roughly at the park centre where the six paths seen today converge. It was an ornate octagonal cast iron structure with a pagoda type roof supported on eight round columns. Its floor was set about four feet above the level of the surrounding path, the performers' platform had a waist high cast iron screen round the edge running between the columns, with steps up to an opening in one of its facets. In the 1930s that screen was fretted as can be seen in the photograph below. Note the Goliath hammer-head crane in Fairfield Shipyard seen on the right between the structure and the poplar tree.
When viewed from a position away from the platform entrance, the screen gave the musicians a slightly comical appearance, with only the top half of their bodies visible. The sloping area between the foot of the screen and the surrounding railings was banked up with earth and laid out as flower beds, with a gated entrance in line with the bandstand entrance. A number of bands and concert parties gave performances, but the only ones recalled now are the Salvation Army Govan Citadel, SCWS (Co-operative) and Govan Burgh brass bands.
The bandstand came to an ignominious end early during WWII when, probably during the operation of scouring the country for any metal not doing an essential job, although it might just have been because it had become unsafe, it was pulled down. A rope was tied round a pillar and the other end attached to the rear of a lorry. One pull from the lorry and the structure collapsed. We heard about it later from someone who had seen the operation. It may be thought that during the collapse, the whole district would have been alarmed by the loud noise it created. But it was wartime, and anyway the surrounding industry most likely made sufficient racket to cause it to go unnoticed.
THE BOATING POND
The still existing boating pond is oval in shape and is smaller than ponds in most other parks. In summer it was a magnet for us, and may still be today for the young people of the district. With us it was more for fishing than sailing model boats, because the models we possessed, home made because few had parents who could afford anything better, tended to have a short life. After a couple of years' service my yacht, the present brought from Dundee by maternal relatives described earlier, had reached the end of its sailing life. Its mast was broken, so the hull was only fit for use as a pull-along model. With a length of string tied to a point on the deck edge called the 'quarter', it could be towed round parallel to the bank.
In the 1930s a two foot wide ledge a foot below the pond-side path ran all the way round the edge just above water level, providing a good platform for pond-side activity. On days when there were few fishers I could walk round towing the hull until boredom set in. At that time the pond sides below the ledge sloped down to the bottom at 45 degrees and the average depth of the water was around two feet. There were the stone piers seen in the third photo below, with low well worn square flat topped pillars at the outer corners at each end of the pond, which made ideal vantage points to lie down on to watch for minnows. These pillars were hotly contested for by fishers, because of the larger expanse of deeper water accessible from them.
|1920s looking west|
At the peak of the summer season there would be many children parading around on the ledge carrying their white nets fixed on canes, intently eyeing the water on the lookout for a likely prospect. Some days there were so many it seemed remarkable the pond wasn't fished out within a couple of hours. Fishing for minnows, baggy minnows we called them (shortened to baggies, no explanation is known for that term) could be very competitive among us to see who could catch the most and the biggest. In those days jam was sold in glass jars of a standard shape of one and two pounds contents. Every jam manufacturer used only those sizes, the larger of which was the best medium available for keeping the minnows. With a piece of string incorporating a carrying loop tied round under its neck, the jar provided the usual method of transporting home the catch at the end of a couple of hours fishing. Second choice was a milk bottle of the wider neck design of the period. Fishers would hold their bottle or jar up for inspection for the comparative arguments to rage as to who had the best catch.
The usually winners in this competition with no prizes except ego boosting were those with the most patience. Initially I was scornful of this method of fishing. The odd one or two to be seen moving their nets slowly and cautiously towards a likely catch were using stealth, when it seemed to me that speed was essential. However, they were the ones who invariably had the best catches, because their stealthy movements did not alert the fish, while allowing the net to retain its shape in not causing the wire loop stiffening to be bent back by a too forceful thrust. Moved slowly, the net retained its widest mouth setting and greatest catchment area, and I, slow in the uptake, never came to realise this until it was too late to benefit from the knowledge.
|1900s looking east with the Thomson Street tenements in the background.|
|1930s looking east again with Fairfield's fabrication shed in the left background.|
We rushers pushed our nets through the water violently in the natural urge to be quicker than the minnows, but were usually more successful in scooping up weeds, mud and debris from the bottom than fish. I used to look longingly out into the middle of the pond sure that, with no paddle boats for hire therefore no access for junior fishers, there would be plenty of fish out there. They would be the big more alert ones which never came near the edge and so survived longest. Then someone was observed using a device which opened up the possibility of getting access without a boat to what was fondly imagined to be a vast shoal of fish, possibly big enough to eat! The device was a lure.
The lure was in the form of a length of thread on the end of which a scrap of red cloth and a white shirt button were tied, and a nail to weigh it down attached about a foot ahead of the lure, which was thrown out a few feet and pulled in slowly with a slightly jerky motion. Although he had only a short length of thread, the boy using it seemed to make it work well enough, in that a few minnows followed the tiny piece of cloth and button to within netting distance. But the technique he employed with the net was less successful than it ought to have been, partly because he was working the lure and trying to use the net together.
After watching for a time it seemed to me that the operation could be improved. For example, by having a longer length of thread to get as far out as possible; trying other materials and different colours; tying the weight on farther away from the lure, because in being drawn along the bottom it stirred up sediment which tended to obscure the lure and probably scared off the bigger fish. Finally I should team up with someone else to share the tasks. Surely best of all, why not set the net up in advance laid flat on the bottom camouflaged with debris, and then pull the lure over it so that the fish following would pass over it and be easily netted with a quick lift. This last idea seemed to be the clincher, the one that would make us famous as the boys who could fill a jar full of fish in a very short time.
Like most juvenile schemes the reality was a bit different. After scrounging a bobbin with a full length of thread from Mum, and getting her to produce a short length of red wool, a button and a nail for a weight, the lure was made up. Then agreement was reached with a pal about operating the scheme, and we set off for the pond full of optimism, carrying a jam jars each in which we were confident might be insufficient to hold our catch. On trying the first cast, as far out as could be managed, it was found that the catch was unlikely to be anything other than weeds, clumps of which caught on the weight and deterred minnows from following the lure. Of course that was where weed had the chance to grow undisturbed by thrashing nets of the many fishers.
By trial and error with the lure we found the best distance was to throw it not too far out, a little beyond the four or five feet or so of the boy with the original lure was about right, and we got to know places where it could be thrown farther without snagging on anything. Also, the nail used was changed for a much smaller one which allowed it to glide above the bottom so as not to disturb the debris. We lost lures which had caught on obstructions from which the thread was too weak to dislodge them, or through tying components on unwittingly with a 'granny' knot which worked loose. But the biggest disappointment was that the minnows lured in were the same as anywhere else in the pond. Camouflaging the net, too, proved to be something of a dead loss, because fish were more difficult to see against it when it was covered with debris of the same colour as that surrounding it, except when it was sunny. Nevertheless, we had a few successes.
Experience showed us that minnows were unaware of, or indifferent to, the white net lying on the bottom, as there were the odd similar items like sweetie papers and the odd cigarette packet around for them not to show any awareness of a net. The result of this scheme was that sometimes we did well and others we didn't, and soon others were using the same technique with a variety of lures and varying success, so we abandoned our grandiose plan as a waste of time. At the height of its efficiency the lure would be drawn in with a string of fish following, so that we waited for the biggest to pass onto it before making the `lift'. But the excitement generated among the inevitable onlookers very often meant that an inadvertent premature movement of the net spoiled the operation and frightened the fish off.
Later that season during the school holidays another partnership was set up with an older boy Ivy McCalum, who was reputed to be the best catcher of baggies. Weather conditions must have been ideal for their growth, for the minnows were bigger than usual during the summer of 1938. We were, or he was, catching some exceptionally big ones, the largest of which we had trouble fitting into even the larger size jar. One monster, it must have been between four and five inches long, when put in the large jar seemed to occupy so much room that we tipped out the rest of the catch to accommodate it. It was a prize specimen, but because of a problem at home (his mother had threatened to put it down the lavy pan) Ivy decided that I should be entrusted with looking after it. I proudly showed it off to my mother and after negotiating with her about where it might be kept, it was agreed that it could sit outside on the kitchen window ledge of the top flat three flights of stairs up.
Next morning, when checking my charge I was dismayed to find the minnow had disappeared. What had happened to it I wondered, and Mum also for she too was mystified? Had a seagull snatched it, or had some envious youngster climbed up the drain pipe, up three stories, to steal it? If so, why leave the jar? Did he put it in a pocket? After more wild speculation we began to think sensibly about where it had gone. At that point I recalled hearing stories of people who kept goldfish being careful not to fill the bowl up too near the top, because they could jump out. There was no trace of the fish on the window ledge, but on going down to the backcourt sure enough there it was, dead. Obviously it would be after lying there for most of the night. My main concern was that Ivy would say about this. But in the event, after a bit of leg pulling along the lines of my `no bein' able even tae look efter a fush,' we went back to the pond to try again.
Because of the number and size of the minnows and continuing good weather, the pond was crowded each day, with many children milling around and causing friction by getting in each other's way. My friend suggested we go on an expedition to Victoria Park in Whiteinch where the pond was bigger than the one in Elder Park and might be less crowded. So off we went on what was for me a daring journey of adventure across the river on the ferry, to a place visited in the past only when accompanied by an adult, usually Granda. However, we found that conditions there were the same as in our own park and we were among non-too-friendly strangers, so the adventure was abandoned and we returned to our own park to fish among acquaintances. My first visit to the Fossil Grove in Victoria Park took place around this time.
The only time larger boats were seen on our pond was when sailing club members were active with their yachts at weekends or evenings during the summers seen in the photos above. The boats were kept in a nearby clubhouse, which again was built of the same pleasing red brick as most other buildings constructed by the Govan Council parks department, and which until recently was still standing among the bushes near the north-west corner of the pond area. Regattas were held during the summer, when club members' boats made a spectacular showing on days of suitable weather conditions. To my mind it wasn't fair that grown-ups had the privilege of sailing models that should have been the preserve of children, so why were there so few youngsters to be seen with them? Certainly there were some dads, granddads and uncles with children, but they were never permitted to use the pole with its rubber ferrule, to turn an approaching boat away from the pond edge on to the opposite tack. This was something I really wanted to do.
Another occupant of the pond was a permanent resident that had become an institution, a one legged swan called Jock. Permanent because its disability meant that it could not fly off. To begin with I was rather afraid of it because it had a fierce reputation and hissed menacingly at anyone who came too close. Then one day I saw a dog having a go at it, growling and snarling in a frightening manner. It looked to me as if Jock could not possibly survive this, but I was reassured by Grandad who said that the swan was able to defend itself, and that its wings were powerful enough to injure or kill the dog if it came too close.
Jock's natural feeding area was very restricted but visitors brought scraps of food along to feed him, so that even restricted to this small area he was fairly well off. I used to feel sorry for Jock in the summer because visiting swans, with their cocked up wings, sometimes numbering up to half-a-dozen, arrived to occupy the pond for a time, and they always chased Jock off so that he had to spend much of the time on one of the nearby grassy areas. If there was a long enough spell of winter frost and the ice became bearing, the pond was turned into a fantastic playground, but Jock was always looked after. The park keepers kept an area clear of ice for him to bathe and drink.
The two greenhouses at the western end of the pond were usually locked, but during the spring you were allowed to walk through to look at the plants and flowers that were being prepared for planting out in the beds scattered around the grounds. Here's a group of children having a picnic on the grass next to the hothouses with the pond visible at upper right.
FUN ON THE ICE
Ice of sufficient thickness forming during a long hard frost with calm conditions gave a good sliding surface so that we could play safely on it. But if it became bearing after a period when the temperature fluctuated with partial thaws, particularly if there had been sleet or snow, the surface could be too rough for sliding. In the best conditions after a long period of frost hundreds of children and young adults thronged the surface skating and sliding, producing a phrase I remember grown-ups describing the scene set in the white landscape of winter, 'the pond was black with people'. On those occasions children formed groups which concentrated on a particular section, smoothing out a strip by sliding repeatedly over the same long narrow area which gradually became extended.
A serious hazard could be introduced in that before it became bearing and after it began to thaw, the ice was continually being broken up round the pond edges, pieces of which were thrown all over the surface. When the temperature dipped below freezing again, those pieces stuck in the surface, leaving obstacles dotted about on an already tricky situation. Minor injuries were caused by people sliding, tripping on a piece and falling, and their momentum causing them to slide on, then being injured by hitting another piece.
Two events that happened during prolonged frosts are recalled. The first of these was two periods of hard frost with a thaw between. The first freeze made the ice bear for a few days. Then a thaw set in for a few more days causing the edges to be broken up, the melting leaving a gap of about five feet of clear water between the pond ledge and the main body of ice. Frost then returned for an extended period, producing a situation to test the nerve of any adventurous youngster. With the ice left from the original freeze lying five feet out surely bearing by this time (or was it?), with the edge not quite thick enough to let us get out there.
Brave or foolhardy youngsters, the lightest in weight who could be persuaded to try it, moved out over the thin ice sideways slowly and cautiously, while holding on desperately to a pal standing on the pond ledge, each clasping tightly the outstretched hand of the other, and the brave one ready to fall towards the ledge should the surface give way. The action of trying to leap or scramble or make any sudden move would surely cause the ice to break.
Fortunately, if it was dangerously thin it usually gave out warning cracking noises before actually breaking. Anyone finding themselves in this situation had a hard decision to make, as any attempt at a sudden move to safety would increase the chance of a breakthrough and give them an icy dip. The best way to overcoming the hazard was to take a run at it so as to pass over the thin ice quickly, and this was what happened eventually, proving that it was quite safe out from the edge and that there were some brave youngsters around. Soon the area of thicker ice was full of the young and not-so-young, but it was quite hilarious watching the more timid who were desperate to get out to the safe ice, trying to pluck up courage to run across the thin stuff, and I was one of the latter.
When this cold spell ended there was a period of mild weather in late March, and a repeat of the weak-edge ice phenomenon caused the winter sports season to come to an exciting conclusion. It was apparent that the edge was becoming more and more risky but there were still a few people prepared to chance running over it, and even with the sun shining and the air mild nobody seemed to be aware that the centre might also be becoming hazardous. With quite surprising abruptness ominous cracking noises were heard, causing looks of horror and panic to appear on the faces of the large numbers still enjoying them selves. The surface began to clear quickly as everyone made a dash for safety, but over the whole area it had rapidly become unstable and one youth on skates went through. However, he managed to keep upright and found himself standing on the pond bottom up to above his knees in the freezing water.
Soon, many passers-by heard about the break-up and the excitement it was generating, so that as well as those who had got clear and were lining the pond, many others arrived to enjoy the spectacle. Wags in the crowd were offering advice to the unfortunate `paddler', telling him to swim or fly out, or look for so-and-so's model boat that had sunk the previous summer. Trying to climb up on to the edge of the ice a few times causing it to break again, eventually he was successful and found a temporarily safe region on which to decide his next move. After a quick inspection by onlookers - it had to be quick for he had to keep on the move because of the continual cracking they suggested he try a particular place. Taking a run to gather as much speed as possible, he flew across the thin section and on to the ledge. But his momentum carried him on to the high step, over the broad path bordering the pond, over the low railings and on to the forbidden grass where he had his leg pulled further about trespassing with 'Can ye no' read?'.
The other event which occurred during another winter was a couple of months of hard frost. The ice on the pond during the severe winter of 1940 was of unprecedented thickness, seven or eight inches if memory serves with the freezing conditions lasting well into April. After a couple of weeks of spring-like mild weather, which seemed to have little or no effect on its bearing other than make the surface slick, it became very warm for mid-April with the temperature climbing to over 60°f. The effect of this was that there we were clothed for spring and playing on ice. Soon after, to allow the yacht club's boating season to begin, it was reported that park employees had used chains to break it up to make it melt more quickly. The mild winters of recent times have meant the few people have had experiences like the ones described above.
LINTHOUSE MANSION PORTICO
A curious sight encountered in the flower beds section of the park which lay between the putting green and the path that ran past the old park superintendent's house, is what appeared to us to be a short flight of stone stairs and the entrance to a large house. But there was no house. The story at the time was that it was all that remained of the original Fairfield House, abode of Cumming a local landowner, which naturally we assumed had stood there. But further research indicates that it is the Italianate portico from Linthouse mansion which was part of the estate purchased by Alexander Stevens for the shipyard in the 1850s. In the early days the house was converted and used as company offices until 1914. By the latter date the yard had expanded so much that more accommodation was required, so a new building was put up in Holmfauld Road. When the old building was demolished in 1919, the portico above, if it is the original it must now be well over 250 years old, was considered to be of such architectural merit as to be worth preserving that it was carefully dismantled and re-erected in the park.
In the thirties the path leading to the swing-park from Drive Road continued beyond its entrance, to run parallel with and close to Govan Road and went past the boathouse to the pond. There was a group of old low buildings between this path, the pond and swing-park in one of which the park superintendent lived. Between this house and path there was a courtyard enclosed on the north side by a high wall of polished brick. A gate in the perimeter railings here was used by the public, but also by park staff and vehicles to gain entry to the courtyard through solid double doors in its wall. In this courtyard the buildings that had the appearance of having strayed there from the countryside. Linthouse Mansion had been built by the man responsible for establishing the lint producing industry there in the seventeenth century, and the district's name originated from this. The owner of the house at that time had the unlikely name Sprent Shortridge.
As described above there were two hot-houses backing on to the east side of the yard with entrances at each end. From looking at old maps the courtyard behind is now understood to be the original steading of Fairfield Farm and one or two of the original group of buildings were still there in the 1980s. Up to this time they were used to store the park's maintenance equipment and staff daytime accommodation. Before tenements in Linthouse were built, Holmfauldhead Farm was situated near the junction of George Drive East (Skipness Drive) and Holmfauldhead Drive.
A SUMMER STORM
When playing in the street with a friend the sky gradually became very dark and it began to rain heavily and thunder was heard approaching. We moved into the nearest close for shelter as the downpour increased to become torrential and the flashes and crashes came nearer. Considering ourselves grown-up and feeling brave, at first we enjoyed standing at the close-mouth waiting for the flash, then dashing into the middle of the close to escape the subsequent peals of thunder. It produced the kind of terror the sound of thunder used to generate in me when I was younger, when Grandma and Mum tried to calm me with 'Ach, it's jist the boats gettin' coal!' were firmly behind me. But during that cloudburst, with the sky at its blackest and the downpour of tropical intensity, we were awaiting the next flash, by this time not a little scared by the darkness and violence of the phenomenon. Then a dazzling flash and crash came at the same instant, the brightness of which momentarily blinded us. So loud was the sound we were deafened, which made us rush into the innermost recess of the close where we remained, petrified, until the rain eased off and sky began to brighten.
After the storm there was a report of a lightning strike in Elder Park. The avenue that ran from the bandstand to the main north-east entrance at Govan Road was lined with fine mature trees, one of which had grown with its trunk at a steep angle, and this was the one affected. Locals flocked to inspect the damage, a deep scar in the bark exposing white wood on the underside of the leaning trunk which ran from high up down to ground level. The scar remained visible for decades, but looking for it since then, because of the passage of time it could not be found. The puzzle then was why the lightning bolt took that path, but it is clear now that in the downpour, rain would run down the branches and merge, forming a stream of water pouring down the underside of the leaning trunk which would have been a perfect path for the electrical charge. Examples of this phenomenon have been seen on other trees similarly affected elsewhere.
At that same north-east corner entrance there's a monument in granite with an inscription which stirred a desire to find out what happened:
|To the memory of the 32 civilian and naval personnel who lost their lives in the Gareloch in the K13 submarine disaster in 1919|
Part of the history of shipbuilding on the Clyde, it is a tragic and harrowing story, but it is unnecessary to re-tell it here, as the details are accessible through the library, internet and the local history group. See also the book by Aileen Smart, Villages of Glasgow, volume II page 97 (in which AGC is mentioned on page 210).
Standing in the main flower bed area in the Langlands Road/Crossloan Road/Arklet Road corner, Mrs Isabella Elder's statue is a well-known landmark to West Govanites, and many families, including my own, have group photographs taken there.
THE PARK KEEPERS
During opening times all the large parks in Glasgow were constantly patrolled by one or two uniformed rangers or park keepers who were known as 'parkies'. Compared with the very few who do the job today who skulk around in vans and have two-way radios, in the thirties they walked about all day regardless of weather conditions wearing a uniform with a skipped cap, and were equipped with a whistle which was used often. The uniform, of ubiquitous Corporation dark green, gave them a kind of military bearing and made them stand out as 'official's'. Large areas of the bigger parks were strictly forbidden to all, such as the outer continuous boundary of shrubs and trees and some scattered clumps, the flower beds, and carefully manicured areas of grass which were fenced in with the low iron railings described earlier.
Anyone daring to put so much as a foot in these areas was whistled on as soon as they were spotted, and told off sternly. A vivid picture of one experience is of finding myself between the distant figures of a parkie on one hand, and a trespasser on the other, with the former blowing his whistle at the transgressor and shouting at him to 'keep to the path - or else!', the youth in question meekly doing what he was told with a sheepish look. All the parkies seemed to have an authoritative presence and an ability to confront anyone failing to keep to the rules, and command him to stand to attention to receive a dressing-down then send him on his way cowed.
In summer the shrubberies round the perimeter grew dense and were interspersed with many tall trees, where the gardeners turned over the ground regularly in season to keep down weeds. During a dry spell they were particularly suitable for children's hiding games, but they were no-go areas of which the parkies were exceptionally vigilant on their patrols. The border varied in depth, being quite deep along the Langlands Road section of boundary. Occasionally, it happened that on expeditions to the park with pals we found ourselves in that area, so the braver elements sometimes ventured into the depths for hiding games. Initially they kept a lookout for the keeper, but pressure of a game could soon divert attention. It took more courage than I possessed at first to do this, and I always pleaded that I had to go home for some invented reason.
But there was an occasion when on being joined by others unknown to me who were acquaintances of my pals, I found myself caught up in the enthusiasm of a game of `cowboys'. In the excitement caused by being part of so large a crowd, the presence of the parkie was forgotten. We played happily for a time, running through the bushes chasing each other without a care - until I became aware of muffled warning shouts and realised I was on my own. Suddenly a parkie appeared out of the dense growth and grabbed me - me, out of upwards of a dozen or more who had been milling about seemingly but an instant ago.
This ranger obviously had plenty of practice in scaring the daylight out of wee boys. He went on in a harsh voice about how he was going to report me to my parents and they were going to give me a leathering, and the polis had been told about me, and so on. After a while he let me go and I made my way home in trepidation on rubbery legs. My knees were weak as I went up the stairs, and cares of the moment stifled my whistle to have the door opened. I knocked and stood on the doormat expecting the worst. When the door opened and nothing happened my panic subsided and realisation came that I had been conned. Nevertheless I never ventured into the bushes again, as no doubt was the intention.
Opening and closing times of the parks were carried out strictly to time in the past. All the larger parks were completely enclosed by high railings and gates that were locked. The open hours were dawn to dusk in winter and 7am to 10pm in summer, and the times were displayed on large ornamental boards at each of the main entrances. The boards also carried an extensive list of by-laws, rules and regulations like No Cycling, No Gambling, No Consuming of Intoxicating Liquor, no walking on certain grassy areas, etc, etc. Two small movable panels in a corner of the board displayed the opening times that could be changed according to the season. Somehow a memory remains that the idea of being locked in accidentally was a cause for major concern, despite it being a fairly simple matter to climb out over the railings. Unless of course you happened to be very young, elderly, infirm, or a woman, for no women wore slacks then.
Why this impression should remain with me isn't clear. As closing time approached, in summer the keepers walked about blowing long blasts on their whistles to warn people to get out or they would find themselves trapped. All equipment in the swing-park was immobilised. The swings and maypole were chained and padlocked, and the joy-wheel was locked by lifting a rod which had one end fixed in the ground, the other end of which had a clamp which fitted over one of the spars.
In terms of size and mini-grandeur in respect of the surrounding district, the main entrance to the park in Govan Road, at the north-east corner next to Elderpark Street seen below, is in keeping with the Victorian age which produced it. Standing inset from the back line of the pavement, in a recess with curved inner corners, it has four ornamental stone pillars the middle two of which had lamps, which once carried heavy cast-iron double gates flanked by smaller pedestrian gates. Inside, the short length of broad drive for the few yards to the K13 monument, erected after the disaster in the Gareloch, was laid with cobblestones. Except for trees and shrubs, many of the features visible in photographs taken when the park was opened in the 1880s can still be seen there today. A few alterations have been made to the layout of paths and remaining ornamental cultivated areas since that time.
|This is overlooking the entrance seen below – the notice board is seen in both prints|
ELDER PARK LIBRARY
The building at the south east corner of the park was constructed with funds again provided by Mrs. Elder, and was opened in 1903 by Andrew Carnegie. Although its appearance today is somewhat careworn, it is still a remarkable structure with character and something worth pausing to admire. I first came to use its facilities towards the end of the 1930s and here opened up a world of previously unimagined interest. During the war, after school on cold winter afternoons I used to wallow in its warm comfortable atmosphere, where talking above a whisper just wasn't allowed. It was redolent of smells of the fine highly polished timber counter and bookshelves and the gleaming brass fittings to be seen around the interior and, I suppose, leather-bound books in the reference section.
The only books of fiction remembered are Richmal Crompton's Just William stories in the children's section. The adult non-fiction department had a great many books on foreign countries and their peoples, and there was a small number on astronomy and these interested me most. Among the specialist travel books were accounts by adventurers who indulged in that then fledgling sport, mountaineering. I read about Irving and Mallory on Everest with awe, and wondered if it would be conquered in my lifetime, resolving that if the opportunity occurred I would take it up, but later discovering I suffered from vertigo took care of that!
Life-threatening illnesses and serious infectious diseases such as scarlet fever and rheumatic fever and skin conditions that are seldom encountered today such as scabies and impetigo, were rife, and head lice too was common. Are there any children today who have to subject themselves to a degrading head-search? Back then, if any vermin were found they had to have all their hair shaved off and their scalp treated with a powerful lotion to kill the eggs that lice laid under the skin. This made them stand out like a beacon and a target for ridicule by others. It nearly happened to me on one occasion when a member of a group I had associated with was found to be infected with what were then called nits.
A special fine-toothed comb was used, and lying back down on a chair with my head over a sheet of newspaper or a basin of water, my mother used to run it through the hair many times. It was dug in with not a little force and had to cover scrupulously every fraction of an inch, so that any of the microscopic crawlers and their eggs present would be dislodged and easily spotted. Fortunately none was found. Cases of scabies occurred at intervals, and when I developed a rash with a crust, to querulous accusations of my mother that `You've picked it up from somebody', a visit to the doctor was arranged. Impetigo, only a marginally less repulsive infection, was diagnosed, for which I spent a week in purdah with hair shaved off and a large area of skin was covered with something called gentian violet. I don't think it was a treatment for the disease so much as to make anyone so treated reluctant to be seen in public, and warning others to keep their distance.
Anther pest encountered occasionally which is seldom seen today, except in circumstances usually involving pets, birds or animals, are fleas. The first time I became aware of having picked one up was when complaining to mum of a disturbed night in bed because of an itch. She promptly hauled me up, then and on other rare occasions, I was stripped and examined closely. Some-times the telltale signs were found. Red spots over an area of skin meant that there was a flea present which like mosquitoes punctured the skin to suck blood. Immediately Mother, after inspecting my pyjamas closely without finding anything, would rush to the bed and slowly peel back the covers, all the while studying intently the newly bared surface. `There it is' she would cry, making a grab for something that was invisible to me.
Fleas are so tiny that squeezing one hard between finger and thumb did not always dispose of it. She once made a great show of catching one, chasing it over the surface of the bed until, with a cry of triumph she appeared to catch something I still could not see. She then came to me aiming to display her `catch', saying the best way to kill it was to get it between the thumb nails and press hard. I have to admit to being somewhat sceptical, because I had seen nothing, and still think I saw nothing, except a tiny black dot in the centre of a spot of blood on her thumb nail. The nearest bugs found in this country to compare them with for size are midges.