Doors Open in Govan

Last weekend saw Glasgow’s Doors Open Day and we headed for Govan which is on the south bank of the Clyde. It was a lovely sunny day, so the views back across to the north were glorious.

First, we visited the Govan Stones in Govan Old Church. This is a collection of sculpture from the 9th-11th centuries which were carved to commemorate the power of the Kings of Strathclyde. The hogback stones are Viking and the sarcophagus is the only one of its kind carved from solid stone from northern Britain. However, my favourite is top right in the gallery, the Jordanhill Cross, so-called because it was presented to James Smith of Jordanhill in recognition of his contribution to the design of the new church in Govan in 1856. James Smith’s estate was the site of the library I used to work in – however, the cross had been returned to Govan in 1928 which, I must assure you, long predates my service there!

The exteriors of the next two buildings featured in a previous post (Elder Park and Govan) and I was looking forward to seeing their interiors. The Fairfield Shipyard Offices were designed by John Keppie of Honeyman and Keppie, the firm of which Charles Rennie Mackintosh later became a partner, and have recently been turned into workspaces, with a small heritage centre about the shipyards. I thought it would be a lovely place to work and will definitely go back at a quieter time to look at the exhibitions again – it was just too busy to appreciate properly.

Finally, the Pearce Institute has served the community of Govan for more than a century. It has several large halls for events and also houses offices of charitable organisations. Although it could do with some upgrading in parts, its magnificence was still evident.

Doors Open Day is a wonderful idea, and I discover something new about Glasgow every year.


Glasgow’s Doors Open 2013

Doors Open Days happen throughout September in different cities in Scotland – this last weekend it was Glasgow’s event and we went exploring on Sunday, concentrating our efforts on the area near Glasgow Green between the City Centre and the East End.

Glasgow Green

It was a lovely day so we wandered round the Green first – it’s home to a beautifully restored fountain, the People’s Palace and the former Templeton’s Carpet Factory (modelled on the Doge’s Palace, no less). The latter is now an office block and also houses WEST Brewery, which proved to be an excellent stop for lunch. So it was almost 2.30pm before we got going on Doors Open proper. Oh dear….

The Pipe Factory

As with Templeton’s above, this building features intricate and ornate brickwork. I’d never heard of it before – this was its first outing in Doors Open – but it was originally a clay pipe factory (nothing to do with bagpipes as I thought it might be) and is now home to a group of architects, writers and artist who are turning it into studios. The group has kept the Pipe Factory name.

Barrowland Ballroom

As we left the Pipe factory, I overheard a young woman excitedly telling her friend about another Doors Open she had discovered just round the corner: an old ballroom. I though to myself “new student, not been here long” because the Barrowland is a Glasgow legend. It’s now a rock venue, and as seedy as they come: even during the day, entering the black, windowless bar felt like descending into hell! This was a rare chance to see backstage – and to discover that the stars don’t enjoy much more luxury than the punters. I think the pictures flatter it (the exterior shot at night is from a previous visit). If all this sounds as though I hate it, I don’t, I love it. Our next date with Barrowland is next month (Nick Cave).

The Barony

The Barony, formerly a church, completed in 1890, is now the ceremonial hall of the University of Strathclyde. Despite having worked for the University for 20 years I had never been in, so this filled a gap in my education. By this time, everything was starting to close so we wended our way home to rest our weary feet.

Stained glass and puppets

We’ve lived in our present house for nearly twenty years, and every time we leave it we pass this at the end of the road, yet we’ve never been in:


Doors Open Day seemed a good chance to rectify this so we visited on Saturday morning. The Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre has existed since 1981 and has been in its current premises (an old council cleansing depot) since 1989. It’s a lot more attractive inside than it looks from the outside! They do puppet shows, birthday parties, workshops with schools, exhibitions, training and much more – check the website for details. We met founder Malcolm Knight, manager Sarah Lee and Ken Barnard who, at 90 years old, is still carving marionettes in the workshop. Definitely worth a visit, especially for those with small children.

The Theatre and the masks on its walls:




The Café and exhibition area:



In the workshops:






After this, it was on to Maryhill Burgh Halls, which I blogged about on an earlier visit. This time they had special events on for Doors Open Day and we went to a talk by Alec Galloway on the stained glass, old and new. When opened in 1878, the halls had 20 stained glass panels by Stephen Adam, depicting the trades then carried out in Maryhill. It must have been a hive of activity. Ten of the panels are now back on display – here are a couple of examples, the Iron Moulders and the Calico Printers:


What surprised me is that there seems to be no documentation from the time to identify the exact locations and the people depicted in the panels, and no pictures of them in their original positions in the Hall. Research has come up with some likely possibilities and there’s an interesting booklet you can pick up to read about it. There’s also a display in the foyer of miniature replicas of all 20 panels set against a map showing roughly where the businesses were that they are thought to represent. What is known, is that they were ahead of their time, as most stained glass at this time was in churches and showed religious subjects. I think their simplicity is modern too, and you would not be surprised if you were told these were the new designs.

Alec went on to talk about the new panels which he designed and created. The brief was to reflect Maryhill as it is today, but not to replicate the style of the original glass. After much research and workshops with local people, not to mention time spent in Jaconnelli’s café, ten themes emerged for the panes. Techniques used included screenprinting photographs onto the glass with fascinating results – as with the original glass, you can pick up a booklet in the halls to find out more. Here are the Space Age and Regeneration panels:


The first has a QR code in the corner, which actually works, making it possibly the first interactive stained glass panel in the world.

Because we had other things going on over the weekend, that was all the Doors Open we had time for this year, but we made the most of what we had and learned a lot from both visits as well as enjoying them.

Doors Open Glasgow, 18 September 2011

So, day two of Doors Open and, in contrast to yesterday, a lovely sunny afternoon. I’d planned a route with seven sites, but in the end we only managed five. We had to fit lunch and cake in, you see!

We set off walking from home and called in at Kelvinside Hillhead Parish Church. Like yesterday’s visits, this is somewhere I have walked past hundreds of times but never gone in.


If you think the outline looks familiar, it might be because it reminds you of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris – the plans for the church (completed 1876) were modelled on it.

An interlude for lunch then followed. Wudon Noodle Bar on Great Western Road was perfect – quick, friendly service and tasty food. We shared edamame beans to start then I had veggie noodles. Scrumptious – it’s not the number five Glasgow restaurant on Trip Advisor for nothing then.

Stop two was the Red Hackle Building on Otago Street, the former headquarters of Hepburn and Ross whisky company:


Red Hackle was one of their blends. The building is now a carpet shop, but you can still see the heraldic ceiling and the frieze of famous Scots painted for Mr Hepburn by Alex McGregor in 1952.

Next up – Lansdowne Parish Church (1863). You can see its spire in this view of Great Western Road (the nearer spire is St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral).


Off all the churches we saw over the weekend, this was the only dilapidated one – a charitable trust has been set up for its restoration. You can get an idea of its potential magnificence by going up to the balcony:



A couple of stops on the subway took us to the next church, St Andrew’s Cathedral, which, in contrast, was the most splendid. Originally built in 1816, it has recently been renovated and is light, airy and magnificently decorated. It also boasts Peter Howson’s portrait of St John Ogilvie. The lighting made this hard to photograph without glare, but I’ve included the picture anyway.






Finally, we went to Sloans. This has been a Glasgow institution since 1828 – three floors of venues: pub, tearoom and ballroom. Again, I’ve passed the entrance many times without going in, but this time I was a little disappointed. The ingredients are all there: vaulted ceilings, marble fireplaces and stained glass, and you get the impression that the layout hasn’t changed much over the years so it’s quite atmospheric, but it seemed quite shabby and in need of some tlc to restore it to its former glory. I did like this ceiling though, and the tiling on the Argyll Arcade entrance.



So that was our day – apart from the cup of tea and cake before we wended our weary way home. We saw some of the best of Glasgow, but we also saw the worst. There was an Old Firm match today and we were unfortunate enough to share a subway carriage with two foul-mouthed, bigoted “fans” singing sectarian songs. I exclaimed many times over the weekend about how lucky we are to live in such an amazing place, and I refuse to let boneheads like that spoil it. I hope nobody else does either.

Doors Open Glasgow, 17 September 2011

Doors Open Days have been taking place in Glasgow since 1990. They are a fabulous way to see buildings, or parts of buildings, you might not normally get into and we’ve taken part most years. Occasionally we’ve booked tours (Scottish Ballet last year was particularly good) but usually we just wander round and see what takes our fancy. This year, I had been invited to a party on the Saturday afternoon so we needed some local visits to do in the morning, i.e. In the West End. We found two good ones.

St John’s-Renfield Church is just up the hill from our house and I’ve walked or driven past it many, many times but have never been in. It dominates the skyline in Kelvindale:


The church was built between 1929 and 1931 and is light and spacious inside. It is not terribly ornate apart form its beautiful stained glass windows. I particularly liked the series of small side windows by Gordon Webster, an elder of the church, which date from the late 60s and early 70s. My favourite is this one dedicated to the church’s women:


Next port of call: Anniesland College. Every day on my way to work I stop at a certain set of traffic lights and stare straight up the hill at it. I watched as it was rebuilt a couple of years ago and have been dying to see inside ever since.


We had tours from two different guides. Nicola took us round some of the more unusual classrooms, such as this one for practising the skills of an air steward (no drinks were served unfortunately.)


We also saw the library, which was of particular interest to me, and I discovered that as a local resident I can join it for free.


Finally, Paul took us round the different workshops – joinery, painting and decorating, engineering etc. Here, my favourites were the musical instrument and car workshops.



We spent so long there that I had to rush home to change to go to my friend’s and didn’t have time for lunch. But hey, there was cake at the party, so who’s worrying?