Stephen Millar, author of Edinburgh’s Hidden Walks, guides us through the Gorbals’ hidden past. This tour starts on Gorbals Street, by the Central Mosque. The Mosque (opened in 1984) stands on the site of the Gorbals village that sprung up on the south side of a bridge built over the Clyde in the mid-14th century. The medieval St Ninian’s leper hospital was also built close by. Allan Pinkerton – born in 1819 – lived in a street once located on the site of the Mosque. This Gorbals kid went to America, and ran the intelligence service for Abraham Lincoln, ultimately foiling a plot to kill the President. He also founded the Pinkerton detective agency and chased outlaw Jesse James. A diverse cross section of society Walk south to join Ballater Street. The Gorbals village hugged Main Street (renamed Gorbals Street) until the 1790s, but the area was soon transformed by the construction of huge numbers of factories and tenements. Waves of impoverished Highlanders, Irish, Jews and then Lithuanians arrived during the 19th century, and slums conditions prevailed for many.
The junction of Main Street and Ballater Street was called Gorbals Cross. Developed from the 1870s, it was once the vibrant heart of the Gorbals, but sadly nearly all the buildings of that era have fallen victim to urban regeneration. The fountain in the centre of the Cross was a famous landmark, before being demolished in 1932. A local group has sought to create a replica, copying the fountain’s Victorian twin that still stands in the Caribbean town of Basseterre. The resting place of St Valentine Continue along Ballater Street, stopping at the Blessed John Duns Scotus RC church. Inside is a box containing bones of St Valentine, after whom Valentine’s Day is named. This relic was donated by a French family in 1868 to another local church before moving here, and this is one of 10 places in the world claiming to house St Valentine’s bones.
Head north up Waddell Street, passing Strathclyde Distillery. Founded in 1927, it produces grain whiskey and is a rare reminder of days when the Gorbals was heavily industrialised. When you reach the Clyde, turn right and stop at St Andrew’s Suspension Bridge. Built in the mid 1850s, it allowed thousands of factory workers to commute in and out of the Gorbals each day. The home of a multi-billionaire Walk south from the bridge down McNeil Street – crossing Ballater Street – and stop at a red brick former library. Opened in 1906, like many libraries in the area it was funded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Another Scot who succeeded in America, his fortune was worth (in today’s money) over $300 billion. Local author, Alexander McArthur, also spent many hours here. His infamous book, No Mean City, depicted the slums and razor gangs of the Gorbals, and caused such controversy it was banned (rather ironically) in Glasgow’s libraries. Continue south, along Turnlaw Street, then right by the Clyde, along Waterside Street, then Silverfir Street. In 1900, this whole area was dominated by huge print, dye, biscuit and iron works, and a ferry across the Clyde located nearby. From the 1950s, the council decided to clear the city’s slums. Tens of thousands of Gorbals residents were moved, their tenements pulled down and tower blocks erected. A population of 90,000 in the 1930s was reduced to 10,000 in the 1980s. Soon, the council would regret the tower blocks and pull many down, constructing much of what you see today. A vampire hunt and a ruined Thomson masterpiece Cross the busy Caledonia Road and enter the Southern Necropolis cemetery through the gatehouse. Opened in 1840, highlights here include the burial places of architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson and Sir Thomas Lipton, the tea magnate. In 1954 the world’s press reported on how hundreds of hysterical kids flocked here, hunting a vampire believed to be killing local children. Exit via the gatehouse, heading north up Cumberland Street, to reach the St Francis Community Centre – a former church and rare survivor of 19th century Gorbals. Continue along, passing the striking ‘Gorbals Boys’ statues by Liz Peden, inspired by Oscar Marzaroli’s 1963 photograph. Turn right at Jane Place and continue to Gorbals Rose Garden, originally the village cemetery. Look for old gravestones with symbols indicating the trades of their occupants.
Return to Cumberland Street, heading west, and passing Camden Terrace. Soon you will reach a busy road. On the left are the magnificent remains of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson’s Caledonia Road Church, built in 1856 and gutted by fire in the 1960s. Cross the busy road under the bridge, stopping by the Rover garage on the right. It is part of an abandoned railway station, trees seen above now lining the old tracks. Continue up Gorbals Street, passing on the left a 19th century tenement building – the Gorbals was full of these at one time. Once you reach the Citizen’s Theatre continue north to reach the mosque and the end of the walk.