Streets of Glasgow: Queen Street

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Psychogeography is a funny thing. It is a concept about trying to understand cities better. Perhaps not at 8.30 on a Saturday night, though, especially when the only person sober within a five-mile radius. I had some time to kill before my train home and on the spur-of-the-moment I decided to do a quick Streets of Glasgow walk, this time Queen Street, which leads from George Square to Argyle Street. Very swiftly, though, I had a very powerful feeling of being ‘other’. I’ve experienced that a fair bit in my life. I am an autistic, library-assisting, Hibs-supporting, Glasgow-dwelling person after all so it’s hardly new but particularly when all these things come together and I’m trying to see a city street as if for the first time as merry folk shuffle and hustle past. It’s especially hard standing by the statue of the Duke of Wellington when two guys out their faces imitate my photo taking but a glare seemed to have done the trick. But we persevere and eventually I managed to forget it was Saturday night in the centre of the biggest and busiest city in the land and just get down to business.

Strictly speaking, George Square isn’t on Queen Street but I like it anyway. The City Chambers is the nicest civic building in the country. Look for the statue of Liberty below the flagpole. That night the street was mildly busy but earlier in the day it had been jumping, according to the news, with folk marching in favour of Scottish independence. The remnants were still there of the recent vigil in remembrance of and solidarity with the victims of the recent terrorist attack in Manchester. I am writing this post the next morning having just been hearing about another attack in London. All I can say about that is that we cannot ever let the darkness win. George Square is where our city gathers in times of joy as much of sadness and sorrow. I cannot help but think that those times of sadness and sorrow are coming a wee bit too often.

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George Square

The traffic lights at the junction of Queen Street, George Square and St. Vincent Street seemed to take an age. That wasn’t a bad thing as I could start my walk properly and just look up. Queen Street is barely a half-mile from one end to another and so I could quite clearly see Debenhams on Argyle Street and most of the street’s buildings. At the time I wasn’t sure how much of an essay I could get from such a short walk but then I looked above Greggs and found that the building is rather handsome in yellow sandstone with railings half-way up it. My lovely new Pevsner’s guide to Glasgow tells me that it is called Olympic House and describes it as a ‘speculative office block of 1904-6 by James Miller, with the popular Edwardian formula of tower-like outer bays flanking colonnaded upper storeys’. James Miller designed quite a few prominent buildings in the city and beyond, including the Grand Central Hotel and Clydebank Town Hall, incidentally. Something being described as a ‘speculative office block’ is an absolute beauty and sums it up succinctly. It isn’t really trying to be an office block, especially with some of the others down the way not even bothering to be speculative about it.

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Olympic House
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Queen Street. The white building is Debenhams on Argyle Street
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Olympic House again

I wrote about the Gallery of Modern Art in the Ingram Street post so won’t duplicate that but will rather write about the statue outside it. Not so long ago, it came out that Glasgow City Council was spending a staggering sum of money trying to remove the traffic cones that are ever appearing on the statue of the Duke of Wellington, either on his head or that of his horse or both. Now said statue (complete with cone) appears on much of the city’s marketing, some of it funded by that same City Council and its agencies, as an example of how our great city is pure dead brilliant and a bit quirky. I approve of a lot of what the City Marketing Bureau does. They make a virtue of highlighting the lesser-spotted pleasures of our city, including street art. People Make Glasgow is a nice, neat slogan. I’m not bothered about applauding what is essentially vandalism but surely there are better bits of our city’s character to show in our promotional materials, like wit or rain, to name but two. Anyway, I digress. The statue didn’t have a cone on top this time, I think for the first time since I moved to Glasgow, rather an umbrella since it had been raining and hailing earlier in the day, indeed the pavements were still wet from the last downpour. A cone did sit underneath the horse, though, for later reinstallation.

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Gallery of Modern Art
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Duke of Wellington statue
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This is on the steps outside GOMA. Not sure what it’s about yet but I like it

The best architecture on Queen Street comes at either end, at George Square and GOMA or nearer Argyle Street. There’s a building just by Primark and Next which houses offices, a branch of Subway, a coat shop and a bookies. It was another of those buildings with railings but in red sandstone and bearing quite a few elegant lintels and features around each window of its seven levels. Queen Street here is a wee bit run-down with a few shops up for sale or otherwise vacant. It is one of those streets which is purely a thoroughfare, a street you use to go somewhere else. It isn’t the finest street in the city but shows another side, particularly on a Saturday night with the dark, decadent and downright debauched very much on show. It is just another facet to Glasgow. It is a very busy place at night. That isn’t a bad thing, as long as people are happy and safe. In these times, joy should be cherished all the more, whether that is found in a bar or a club or indeed walking a city street looking up and down and recording what is there.

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40 Queen Street, reminiscent of much of the Merchant City

Sources and further reading:

Searle, Adrian and Barbour, David, Look Up Glasgow, 2013, Glasgow: Freight Books

Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press

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