Thursday, 23 July 2015

A tour of Glasgow Central Station

On Saturday morning, I gathered with a bunch of colleagues, Tam and a few strangers for a tour of Glasgow Central Station.  We'd had it on our work social calendar for a while and it finally got booked a few weeks ago.  Imagine a bunch of film historians getting a backstage tour of a building most of us use every week.  Yup, we were excited (and not just for the cake that followed the tour.)

The tour started unofficially with a group photograph thanks to Tam, then we were met by tour leader Vic.  This guy was a proper Glaswegian and therefore automatically awesome.  He loved that our 'social secretary' (she also has a real job!) had cut out our tickets into the shape of train tickets.  We didn't see anything weird about that, but I think we won the Most Enthusiastic Visitors award that day.  We were given hard hats and safety vests to wear and Vic told us a bit about the history of the main station - it was built in two parts, with the oldest area opening in 1879 (on my future birthday, oddly enough).  It was expanded between 1901-1905 and the difference in eras can be seen in the roof beams - one set are straight and the others curved.  We were also treated to a lovely story about how child labour was used to make the riveted pillars - the kid would be inside the hot pillar, ready to bang the rivets into place when someone on the outside pushed them through.  To stop them from getting too hot, they wore hessian sacks soaked in cold water.  Interesting working conditions!

The tour then moved backstage and down below the platforms.  We saw where trucks used to come in to collect grain and coal brought up the Clyde in ships and visited a room that had multiple ghostly sightings in the first half of the twentieth century.  I was burning to know more about that area, although I thought there would have been far more creepy occurrences in a place like the catacombs of a train station.  Especially when we got to the next area and learned that it was once used as a collection point for the bodies of soldiers killed in the First World War.

During the first half of the war, bodies were sent home to be claimed by the soldier's families, but they weren't cleaned up or anything, just wrapped in a blanket and laid on a stretcher.  The soldier's widow/mother/whoever got a note telling them where to pick up the body and they had to come to the station, walk along the rows inspecting each man until they found who they were looking for, and take him home.  As in, carry that stretcher out themselves.  It was such an awful part of history to hear about, especially so close to home, that almost no one knows about now.  It's become just another war story lost in time.  There are plans to paint a mural down there to commemorate the events, so hopefully that will appear soon.

After making us all thoroughly miserable, Vic took us to what was easily my favourite part of the station - the remnants of the Victorian lower level platforms.  At the moment, they can only be looked down on from a small platform accessed from the current lower level walkway, and there's not a lot to see, but there are plans to make it more accessible in the future.  I was desperate to get down there and poke around.  There's even a radio room with equipment that was bricked up in the 1960s - my nerdiest friend would have a field day in there.  We also learned about the waiting areas used by Victorian women when they got on and off the trains - while waiting for the smog to clear they had to stand in an ante-room to the side of the platform to avoid being robbed or having their reputations sullied.  You know, from daring to be on a train unaccompanied.  I'm not even kidding.

Would I recommend the tour?  A million times, yes.  Go now.  Run.  At £13 for an hour and a half, it was well worth it.  Vic was the best tour guide I've ever come across and what I mentioned here is only a tiny portion of the stories he told us.  That guy knows his history!  Sadly we didn't get on to the roof due to the weather, but anyone else I know who's visited has said the same thing.  Thanks, Scotland.


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