The idea to do another Streets of Glasgow came on the train into town. I was due to go somewhere else but I had 40 minutes to kill before the train. Then the deliberation over which street to do. In the proximity of Central Station, I had already done Gordon Street, Buchanan Street and Queen Street, but that leaves quite a bit of choice. I ended up walking out of Central and happened to look left. I thought ‘hey, Renfield Street’. For those who don’t know, Glasgow city centre is arranged on a grid. On a map, Renfield Street is vertical, going from Union Street through the town up into Cowcaddens. From the junction at Union Street, I could see the top of Renfield Street, the offices of the Herald up there and all the traffic and people in between.
It was lunchtime on a weekday so naturally Renfield Street was very busy. I had to take particular care not to get in anyone’s road as I looked up or snapped away. My main impression of Renfield Street was of its scale. From street-level, the buildings seemed medium-sized, only growing towards the top, particularly when all the buildings are dwarfed by the massive Cineworld, which may well still hold the record for the tallest cinema in the world. The street seemed to be a hodge-podge of different styles, some red sandstone buildings with finials and stylistic touches, others more modern with advertising on the corner (Yorkshire Building Society at Gordon Street, Tennants Lager at Sauchiehall Street), still others grey office blocks. I also had a sense of a few more derelict buildings, including an old cinema which may well become offices. Given that Glasgow once had a very high number of cinemas and picture houses, it seems grimly ironic. Also on this walk I passed by the old BHS shop feeling sorry for itself and Sauchiehall Street, which always seems down-at-heel compared to Buchanan Street and Argyle Street.
When I reached the Pavilion Theatre, I looked at the listings, including a play about Paul Gascoigne and, since we’re marching through October, the Christmas panto. Over the door of the Pavilion are the words ‘Scotland’s National Theatre of Variety’, which I like as a selling point. About books, I’m of the school that as long as people are reading, it doesn’t matter what they read. On theatre, I am much the same. There are people who look down on variety theatre, just as there are those who think plays and productions staged at the Tron or the Citizens Theatre are not for the likes of them. As long as people enjoy it, then the job’s a good ‘un, as they say. The Citizens Theatre, which is in the Gorbals area of the city, does good work reaching out to its community, providing discounted tickets and running initiatives for folk in the Gorbals and beyond to get involved in drama. All too often we get hung up on these things without trying them. Whatever works.
At the top of Renfield Street are the offices for the Herald newspapers. Next door used to be STV until they moved to Pacific Quay, the site now occupied by Tesco Bank. From outside the Herald offices, a bit higher up, there was a great view back down to Union Street. I stood there for a few minutes watching the city move back around me. Right by the Herald offices is what I thought was a war memorial, looking quite like a mercat cross, topped with an unicorn. though it turned out it was a drinking fountain donated by the merchant and publican William Annan in 1915. It used to stand elsewhere in Cowcaddens until the whole place was levelled. Drinking fountains were once prevalent across the city with others in Townhead, Govan and Alexandra Parade, that I’ve seen.
I have had an interest in the media for a long time and I’ve noticed lately how a lot of newspaper offices in particular have been scaled down with the demise of print sales. The Herald offices also house advertising and web businesses, as do the Daily Record premises by the river. I noticed, however, that the front of 200 Renfield Street advertised that it was the home of The Herald, Sunday Herald and the Evening Times but there was no mention of The National, another of the Herald and Times Group’s newspapers, launched in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. I am unsure about what I think about Scottish independence and writing this in the week following the horrific events that surrounded the Catalonian independence referendum, I am quite firmly of the view that all views should be represented and listened to. The National fills a void since only its stablemate the Sunday Herald is also sympathetic to independence. Our politics is more polarised than ever before with a complete lack of empathy or listening. People get their news in a great variety of ways but their views still often come from their newspapers, or rather the way the news is framed in the case of online. Pluralism isn’t a bad thing.
Renfield Street was very busy when I was there, with constant traffic, cars, buses and people out on their lunch. It is one of Glasgow’s urban canyons, a long narrow street lined by tall buildings though not as claustrophobic as Hope Street, in my experience. It has a lot more to it than it seems, just like every other street in this great city, with more to be gained from looking in at what stands there as much as looking up. Not bad for a notion stood at the traffic lights.
This is the eleventh Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. Others about streets nearby include Gordon Street, Sauchiehall Street, Union Street and West Regent Street as well as Bath Street which is coming soon.