Tenements, trams and towering cranes: the stories behind a Clydeside street
Industrial expansion of the river city of Glasgow saw the diverse population housed in the city’s iconic tenements. High rise and new luxury apartments came later, and we explore the development of Dumbarton Road in the west end of Glasgow.
The story of Dumbarton Road introduces some of the fascinating social and political history of the city.
Dumbarton Road, Partick, Glasgow
Click each image to find maps, pictures and stories from Dumbarton Road, Glasgow.
Dumbarton Road, Partick in the 19th century
From the late 19th into the early 20th century the village of Partick witnessed a transformation into a bustling burgh with a diverse community, including many migrant workers. To house this expanding industrial community the iconic tenements were built. These became increasingly overcrowded.
There was a clear class distinction in the Partick area. The poorer working-class lived south of Dumbarton Road, towards the River Clyde, with more skilled working-classes being found north of Partick. The mansion houses of shipyard owners and merchants were built in areas such as Partick Hill. The industrial growth of Partick coincided with the Highland Clearances and the Irish Potato Famine. The area attracted migrant workers from the Scottish Highlands and Ireland, resulting in a vibrant community shaped by different cultures.
Industrial growth and population increases
Industrial growth, from weaving and milling to shipbuilding, saw Partick expand north of Dumbarton Road with a rapid increase in population resulting in densely populated living conditions.
A significant feature of Partick’s expanding community, particularly between the mid 19th century and 1900, was migrant labour originating from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, as well as Ireland. Heavy industry, such as shipbuilding, attracted Irish migrants particularly during the great famine of 1846-1851, and over twelve weeks in the summer of 1847 Glasgow received 33,000 Irish migrants.
Reproduced with permission Cassini Historic Maps
Big Rachel, a remarkable woman
With the expansion of the industrial community in the 1880s came tensions, particularly amongst Irish migrants over the Irish Home Rule debate.
‘Big Rachel’ is an iconic image associated with the riot, ‘The Battle of Partick Cross’, which broke out on the centenary of Daniel O'Connell's death: ‘Mrs Rachel Hamilton (nee Johnston) was originally from Ireland but lived in Partick. She was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed around 17 stone. She worked as a labourer in Tod & MacGregor shipyards, as a forewoman navvy at the Jordanhill Brickworks and latterly as a farm worker at Anniesland. Big Rachel was sworn in as a special constable during the Partick riots in August 1875.’
Growth of shipbuilding on the Clyde
The burgh of Partick existed independently of the city of Glasgow until 1912, and the motto within Partick’s coat of arms is Industria Ditat meaning ‘Industry enriches’.
It was primarily the development of shipbuilding on the River Clyde that saw the transformation of this village into a burgh in 1852. As this type of heavy industry attracted migrant labour, the population of Partick tripled from just over 17,000 in 1871 to 54,000 in 1901.
The 19th century was the heyday of shipbuilding with famous names such as Harland & Wolff, D & W Henderson, and A & J Inglis expanding shipyards along the Clyde.
Partick flour mills, 1827
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the village of Partick developed as a weaving village, bound by the River Kelvin on the east and on the north by Dumbarton Road. Due to the close proximity of the River Kelvin, there is also a long history of milling in Partick.
It’s said that milling has existed in the area for over four hundred years including flint, flour, silt, and wheat mills.
Ticketed houses: an attempt to control overcrowding
Due to the rapid expansion of the industrial community, overcrowding became a cause for concern. The authorities introduced the category ‘ticketed houses’ and placed a small metal plate onto doors indicating the number of people permitted to sleep in a house. Local authority inspectors were authorised to enter at night to check numbers sleeping against the 'ticket'.
The authorities in Partick resisted this practice, but from the 1890s pursued greater surveillance of overcrowding. Whilst Partick was a densely populated burgh, a study in 1911 highlighted that overcrowding was less prevalent than in other areas of the city.
Dumbarton Road, Partick in the 20th century
Two World Wars stimulated heavy industries on Clydeside. At the start of the 20th century, Partick continued to attract migrant workers. Industrial politics on Clydeside have long been associated with political radicalism, particularly during the era of ‘Red Clydeside’ when Glasgow was said to be on the brink of revolution. The wider social and class conflict was epitomised by rent strikes, starting in Govan and Partick in 1915 and the dustmen’s strike in 1975.
The dominance of heavy industry continued into the 1970s when international competition and declining markets accelerated de-industrialisation. Concerns about overcrowding and the condition of dilapidated tenements resulted in slum clearance and the re-location of many residents to new housing schemes both inside and outside the city’s boundaries.
Partick Cross, Dumbarton Road, 1910
Tenement flats are an iconic feature of Glasgow housing, lining the streets surrounding Dumbarton Road and many other areas of the city. Built during the 19th century to house the industrial community, which expanded from just over 5,000 in 1850 to more than 54,000 in 1901. Overcrowding was a concern by 1902 when Partick had become the most densely populated local authority in Scotland, estimated as holding 66 people per acre of its land. The tenements were extremely overcrowded, and poor sanitary conditions were prevalent until the 1960s and 1970s, when the demolition of buildings saw many Partick residents relocated to areas such as the Drumchapel Housing Scheme outside the city.
TRANSCRIPT: Well I believe it had affected the community you know, a lot, because a lot of men used to work down by the, you know, the docks in the ships and you know, there was a lot of workers go down there, went down there and worked everyday. When that stopped you could see the difference, you know, the place was a lot quieter, you know. But ehm, there’s still work down by the rivers, a lot of the, you know, right down to Clydebank but it’s not the same, it’s not as busy as it used to be. No.
'Red Clydeside' political radicals
The 'Red Clydeside' era refers to political radicalism in the west of Scotland during 1910-1932. There's debate about the significance of this radicalism, however, the Glasgow rent strikes in Govan and Partick provide some evidence of its strength. The strikes were a result of collective organisation and direct action by working class women in the face of wartime conditions, falling wages and increased rents.
This collective responsibility cut across social divisions linked to class, political party affiliation and religious background. One local woman who remained a life-long Tory and Orange Leader reportedly played a prominent role in mobilising local tenants, borrowing a fishmonger's bell as her alarm.
Luftwaffe reconnaissance map
During the 1930s the German Lufftwaffe started reconnaissance missions to the UK to undertake aerial surveillance. The areas of Partick, Scotstoun to the east and Govan just south of the river, made for attractive targets due to the concentration of shipbuilding and aircraft manufacture in these areas.
During World War II the area was targeted, particularly Clydebank shipbuilding to the east of Partick, most notably during the ‘Clydebank blitz’ of March 1941.
This plan marks the key targets, naming the docks and providing detailed information in the key for A – F.
Strikes for increased pay: the dustmen
For 13 weeks in early 1975, dustmen in Glasgow were on strike for increased pay, resulting in piles of refuge in the backcourts of Partick’s tenements. The city council provided householders with bags to store and dispose of their refuse, but growing piles of rotting rubbish became a public health concern, especially as a breeding ground for rats.
The Army was called in to help clear and dispose of the refuse and their first priority was rubbish collections from tenements.
Social housing: tenements and 'high rise'
Following World War II new types of social housing were developed to address overcrowding. In this photograph we can see the juxtaposition between the architecture of the Victorian tenements and the Art Deco features of Crathie Court.
Completed by Glasgow Housing Corporation in 1952, Crathie Court was the first Glasgow ‘high rise’ building of eight storeys, and paved the way for future ‘high rise’ developments in the city. The building is unique in that it comprised 88 single-person apartment blocks for unmarried women and at the time it won the Saltire Award for best-designed flats in Scotland.
Visit Remember when? a short film from Glasgow in 1963.
TRANSCRIPT: -S e mise Donaidh Dòmhnallach à Uibhist a Deas. Tha mi a’ fuireach a-nis ann am Partaig ann an Glaschu. -I am Donnie MacDonald from South Uist. I now live in Partick, in Glasgow. 1968 I came to live in Partick but I came to Partick years before that, before I got married and settled down in Partick, I used to travel from over in South Uist and I used to come to live in Partick because I had an Auntie and an Uncle there and I used to stay with them. -Can you describe Dumbarton Road in the 1970s, what was it like? -Dumbarton Road was a great place in the 1970s because there was hundreds of shops and there was thousands of people walking about. Plus the smog, it wasn’t as clean then, now it’s a smokeless zone but it wasn’t at that time and if there was any fog and the smog got together it was, it didn’t seem very clean at the time but eh it did clean up. And after the tenement houses that were there then, they’re all gone now. See the likes of Hyndland Street, round that square where the park is, that was all tenement houses so it was all tenement flats all the way down to Scotstoun. -Did you ever use the trams? -Yes, yes we were always on the trams. You’d hop on and hop off anytime. They were good the trams. We missed them when they stopped.
Dumbarton Road, Partick in the 21st century
The Partick of today is very different from the quiet weaving village and the bustling burgh of industrial expansion and heyday of heavy industry. Now, the area is adjusting to its post-industrial existence and seeks to reconnect with the river in different ways, such as through the recently relocated Transport Museum. Tenements continue to dominate the skyline of this neighbourhood, but are intersected by a mix of 1960s and 1970s social housing as well as the more recent ‘luxury’ apartment developments that are privately owned. This has resulted in public debate about the ‘gentrification’ of Partick, which can be linked with resistance to particular types of ‘regeneration’ and ‘development’. Partick continues to have a prominent Gaelic community, although today the ‘migrants’ joining the community are mainly international students and Eastern Europeans.
Clydeside's iconic cranes
A river city, built on heavy engineering and shipbuilding, contemporary regeneration aims to reconnect Glasgow’s diverse population with the River Clyde. The Finnieston Crane, also known as the Stobcross Crane, is an iconic symbol of Glasgow’s industrial heritage. Originally erected in 1931, it is still in working order although today is more commonly used for charity abseils than heavy engineering work.
Watch the video from Clyde Waterfront Regeneration.
The steep incline of Gardner Street
Leading off Dumbarton Road is Gardner Street, a prominent landmark, and its steep incline poses a challenge to residents choosing to park their cars there.
Glasgow Corporation bus drivers took up such a challenge in the 1920s as buses were tested on the street. Gardner Street also reminds us of Partick’s strong connections with the Scottish Highlands and Islands. In 1905 Partick Gaelic United Free Church was established on Gardner Street, reflecting the growing number of Gaelic speakers in the community.
Migration into Partick, Gardner Street
Donald MacDonald, a resident of Partick who originated from the Highlands of Scotland, reflects on changes in the area.
TRANSCRIPT: Gardner Street’s changed as well. It has. Used to be a lot of Highland folk on Gardner Street as well but eh, there’s one or two there yet so I think there’s a couple from Tiree and the rest of them, on the other side, the other side now, they’re Irish, they come from Donegal, some of them on Gardner Street.
Gaelic speakers in Partick
Mary MacDonald brought her children up to speak Gaelic within the home and offers these reflections on continuing to speak Gaelic whilst living in Partick. TRANSCRIPT: If you were among the Highland people yes, we used to speak it quite a lot but if we were in amongst a mixture of people we wouldn’t, you know, it would be different. But at home it was always Gaelic, you know, that we spoke. It was very important because that’s what we were taught by our parents, you know, our parents taught us Gaelic, and we got very little of it in school when we were, you know, when we were wee, when we went to school.
Campaigning against the high street giants
In the vein of the working class women's 1915 rent strikes, between 2008-11 residents of Partick collectively organised to resist a Tesco retail and residential development.
The successful campaign was called ‘Stop Tesco owning Partick’. It was an attempt to preserve the community and local character of the area and protect local businesses. There is a banner at the top of the new flats in this picture just off Dumbarton Road.
Visit the Tescopoly website to find out more.
Regeneration along the waterfront
Regeneration projects reflect changing times, for example the replacement of the landmark granary on the edge of the River Clyde with the huge Glasgow Harbour Development of luxury apartments and the new Transport Museum on the site of long gone shipyards.
Despite regeneration and ‘gentrification’, Partick remains a busy and thriving neighbourhood that retains its local character due to the many independent and family owned shops along Dumbarton Road. Altogether, there is a 'buzz' about Partick today that is in many ways reminiscent of the area’s invigorating past. To find more stories, visit the Clyde Waterfront Regeneration website.
Demolition as well as new building
Although there has been a major increase in the number of private developments and owner-occupiers, social housing remains a key feature of Partick, with a vibrant housing association at the forefront of many regeneration projects.
As part of their ongoing programme of improvements, Glasgow Housing Association is undertaking either demolition or partial refurbishment. In Scotstoun two of the numerous 1960s tower blocks were demolished between June 2010 and January 2011.
To see the demolition story in pictures, visit the Derelict Glasgow website.
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