The fourth Streets of Glasgow post was also the first one that actually involved research beforehand. I had a training course in the city centre one morning recently. The day before, I had the notion to fit in a Streets of Glasgow on Ingram Street, which adjoins Brunswick Street where the course was. The Merchant City is a part of the city I know vaguely, mostly for eateries and walks to other places. Many of its streets are named after eminent Glaswegians of the 18th century, many of whom earned their fortunes from tobacco and slavery. I wasn’t sure if Ingram Street was one of them though I discovered that it was named after an Archibald Ingram, the Provost of the City of Glasgow in 1762 and 1763. He was a Tobacco Lord and seems to have been involved in various city businesses in his day. Whether slavery was involved somewhere along the line, I am not quite sure. The street was originally named Back Cow Lane, which seems splendidly unlike the Ingram Street that exists today, which is grand and houses some of the city’s dearer retail establishments. It is one of the most picturesque streets in Glasgow and I don’t find myself along it very often, usually just en route to training courses, since I have little business to do in Armani and Hugo Boss.
One of the reasons I started this project was because my head is always getting turned by some fantastic bit of architecture I had never seen before. Usually above my head. Ingram Street is looking up central. There was no real point in putting my phone back in my pocket for this walk since every few seconds it came out to snap another picture. It was a sunny and pleasantly warm afternoon, right at the height of the day, and around me were workmen and office workers out for lunch or otherwise taking the fresh air. I started the walk from the eastern end of Ingram Street, less rarefied than the end nearer GOMA with flats and a chippy on the corner of the High Street. I stopped almost immediately to admire some of the carvings on the doorway of an estate agent. By Albion Street was a car park, behind which was a mural, one of many fine examples around the city, though this one might possibly be my favourite since this one shows various animals, insects and plants through cracks and holes in the stonework. That description does it absolutely no justice but trust me, take a look.
Across the road was the Ramshorn Church, now owned by Strathclyde University, after the church’s congregation declined and closed in 1982. It now houses a theatre group. I don’t normally do graveyards and I had already been in one that week – Edinburgh’s Grange Cemetery, in fact, as written about in the post Hibstory – so I passed by. On the church’s steps were a gaggle of workmen eating their pieces in the sunshine.
Facing the Old Sheriff Court’s pillared frontage was Wheatley House, an office block named after John Wheatley, a Labour MP who had a key role in putting in place the welfare state in the late 1940s. He later became Solicitor General, Lord Advocate and Lord Justice Clerk as well as leading a review of safety at sports grounds following the Ibrox disaster in 1971. Given that Labour no longer controls Glasgow and indeed Wheatley’s native Shettleston now has a Tory councillor, I wonder what he might have thought of the state of things in this city today, or indeed a company bearing his name owning the city’s housing stock.
The Hutchesons’ Hall is easily one of the finest buildings in the city, once a hospital and now a restaurant, all white and topped with a tower. Two statues stand at either side of the front of the building, of George and Thomas Hutcheson, merchants and philanthropists who founded the Hutchesons’ Hospital in 1639. The present building came later in 1802, designed by David Hamilton. This part of Ingram Street is where the street gets stunning with railings atop Wheatley House and statues above the buildings on the corner of John Street. That’s not considering the old Trustees Savings Bank across the street, which is apparently ‘an interpretation of the Roman Baroque style’ with a dome on the top but not even above the level of the surrounding buildings. It now houses a branch of Jigsaw, a posh clothes shop, and I was tickled by the figure above the window surrounded by the one word ‘Frugality’, something it isn’t really possible to practise on Ingram Street, especially when not far away are Armani, Hugo Boss and other temples of Mammon, though there was an empty space where Agent Provocateur was until recently.
My walk soon finished outside the Gallery of Modern Art, once Stirling’s Library, before that the Royal Exchange and the Cunninghame mansion. A traffic cone inevitably appeared on the head of the Duke of Wellington outside GOMA. Ingram Street is only half a mile long and GOMA dominates for most of the way. It is not the only building that stands out, however, with the Ramshorn Church, Hutchesons’ Hall and the old Trustees Savings Bank just three of the buildings that compete for attention and that’s without considering the other architectural gems above the ground along the way. My walk lasted barely 15 minutes from start to end and I wasn’t even going that fast. It was, though, the most fulfilling of these walks so far, spending the entire time with my head aloft, very much in the heart of the city and its history, the best with Hutchesons’ Hall and perhaps the worst with many of the buildings around me built on the backs of slaves. This part of our city’s past is becoming more acknowledged with time, if not accepted. Ingram Street is a place of contrasts, at its western end full of privilege and money, offices and outlets of fashion houses, while at the east is less flashy and more humble, still nicer than some other parts of the city. It is amazing how a place can change within half a mile. I look forward to the next instalment of this series and what further insights can be found pounding the pavements.
Sources and further reading:
The Glasgow Story – Archibald Ingram – http://www.theglasgowstory.com/image/?inum=TGSE00950
The Glasgow Story – Hutchesons’ Hospital – http://www.theglasgowstory.com/image/?inum=TGSA01086
The Glasgow Story – Industrial Revolution – 1770s-1830s: Buildings and Cityscape by McKean, Charles – http://theglasgowstory.com/story/?id=TGSCF
Ross, Donald M., ‘Wheatley, John Thomas, Baron Wheatley (1908–1988)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessible via http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/40379?docPos=8
Searle, Adrian and Barbour, David, Look Up Glasgow, 2013, Glasgow: Freight Books
The University of Strathclyde – St. David’s Ramshorn Church, Glasgow – http://atom.lib.strath.ac.uk/st-davids-ramshorn-church-glasgow