Glasgow, some might be surprised to know, has more than its fair share of parks, but Glasgow Green, gifted to the city by King James II in the 15th century, is by far the oldest.
Once upon a time, this is where the good folk of Glasgow would graze their animals, air their linen and dry their fishing nets. While none of these things happen there today (well, unless the Glasgow Agriculture Show happens to be taking place), the Green still offers a variety of attractions, from beer to ball games, monuments to museums, and play-parks to palaces.
While the area around the park, and much of the east end of the city, is a bit more gritty that the average tourist might expect, don’t be put off. The park is popular with locals and family-friendly, and pretty much everything is free, making Glasgow Green well worth the detour.
If the Green could talk, it would have a few tales to tell. Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army spent a few dark days here at Christmas, 1745, before heading north to be wiped out at the Battle of Culloden. Twenty years later, famed Scottish inventor James Watt came up with the idea for a separate combustable steam engine while strolling in the park, a moment which is commemorated with an engraved stone sculpture.
Over the years, the Green has also been home to Corn Law protests and Suffragette demonstrations, as well as public hangings.
The McLennan Arch provides a dramatic entrance to the park when approaching from the west. Once the rather grand front door to the Glasgow Assembly Rooms (sited elsewhere), it is all the remains of the original structure.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a column dedicated to that Napoleonic nemesis, Admiral Horatio Nelson, erected the year after his death. In 1914, the column was the site of one of the first anti-war protests in Scotland, led by socialist firebrand, John MacLean.
Created for the International Exhibition of 1888, the beautiful Doulton Fountain (the largest terracotta fountain in the world) was gifted to Glasgow and moved to the Green in 1890. Unfortunately, it celebrates Queen Victoria’s reign and the British Empire, particularly its invasions and subjugations of India, Canada, South Africa and Australia. While indigenous people in each of these countries continue to face huge difficulties thanks to the legacy of colonialism, Glasgow will play host to the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Makes you wonder how far we’ve come in 126 years.
The People’s Palace is something of an antidote to the pomp and imperialism of the Doulton Fountain. It’s a small, homely museum about the social history of Glasgow; the common Glasgwegian man and woman really are its central focus. While there are some child-friendly exhibits and light-hearted installations (Billy Connolly features more than once), there are also some serious points being made about class and social justice. A popular feature is the reconstruction of that typical tenement dwelling, the Single End. Both my parents were (un)lucky enough to be born into single ends in the 1950s, but as most ‘slum’ housing was demolished by the early sixties, it won’t be long before the single end slips from living memory.
For those of a political persuasion, make sure you give yourself time to read the information on the top floor exhibition. It details the various protests and demonstrations that helped the area earn the name Red Clydeside.
Admission is free and the museum is open every day except Sunday. 10am – 5pm Tuesday – Thursday & Saturdays, 11am – 5pm Fridays & Sundays.
Microbreweries are on the rise in Scotland, and WEST in one of the most well-established in Glasgow. You’ll find their St. Mungo on tap in many a Glasgow pub, and while their own bar is a very casual affair, with big wooden benches and burgers, don’t think they don’t take their beer seriously; they the only UK brewery to adhere to the German Purity Law of 1516.
The brewery is housed in the former Templeton Carpet Factory (pictured), a mad but wonderful construction based on the Doge’s Place in Venice. On a nice day, the expanse of grass on WEST’s doorstep comes into its own, with plenty space to sit if the picnic benches are all taken, and, as the sun sets, it really is one of the nicest spots in the city. The pub serves food until 9pm, and is open from 11am until 11pm through the week, and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Mine’s a pint of Munich Red, thanks.
If the kids get bored at the People’s Palace, you can bribe them with a visit to the Play Village. There is a smaller play-park near the western entrance to the Green, but the Play Village itself is at the eastern end, beyond the Templeton building. The main play-park consists of tall climbing towers, linked by walkways and bridges, with metal tube helter-skelter slides worming their way to the sandy ground below. There’s a second play area for tots, and there are also various bikes and trikes for hire. Open 8.30am until dusk.
From the city centre, Glasgow Green is a 10 minute walk along the historic streets, Trongate and Saltmarket, or the banks of the River Clyde. The nearest subway stop is St. Enoch.
All year round, but best enjoyed in dry weather.