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Garngad & Royston

The name Garngad is said to derive from the Gaelic word ‘Garn’ meaning rough ground. The Gad Burn on old maps ran from High Balornuck Farm to the old Barnhill Poorhouse (now a housing estate), prior to joining the historic Molendinar. Although many residents claim Garngad to mean the Garden of God, it is also known as ‘The Good and the Bad’. The name of St Roch or Rocue or Rollox has been associated with this area for nearly 500 years.

Saint Roch was born in Montpellier, France in 1295. Whilst on a pilgrimage to Rome, he visited a hospital which cared for victims of the Plague. He was reputed to have cured many patients by prayer and by tracing the sign of the cross on their foreheads. His reputation followed him to Rome, where he was held responsible for further cures from the Plague. After his death he was canonised in recognition of these miraculous cures. It was widely believed that by building a church in his name, a town might be spared the worst effects of the Plague. Those who died form the disease were often buried in a cemetery beside the Church of Roch. In 1506 a Church of St Roche was built was built close to Garngad, the site is thought to be between what would later be Glebe St and Castle St. The adjoining cemetery, probably for Plague victims, may have been between what became Kennedy St and Tennant St. St Rollox is a corruption of St Roch’s Loch.

The name Rollox was given to Tennant’s Chemical Works; the original Royston Primary School, the local Co-operative Society, the Parliamentary Constituency and a Denniston Bowling Club as well as St Rollox Church. The name St Roch was given to St Roch’s Church, St Roch’s Primary and Secondary schools, St Roch’s Junior Football Club and indeed to the late Carlo Barsotti’s fish and chip shop in Millburn St!

In 1942 a campaign led by Mr. McGrath, headmaster of St Roch’s Advanced (now Secondary) school, resulted in a change of name to ‘Royston’. Overnight Garngad Rd, Garngad Hill and Garngad Square became Royston Rd, Roystonhill and Royston Square. Part of James Nisbet St was called Garngad Avenue and the entire street was renamed James Nisbet St. The campaign was opposed by Co. Jean Mann and others. The name Royston is simply an abbreviation of the nearby district of Robroyston. The late Glasgow writer Jack House said that this area was a favourite haunt of Rob Roy, the Highland rogue, and that he often visited an old tavern near where the Cander Vaults now stands, when in the area. However the old name is still widely used. Garngad, a few hundred yards north of the 12th century cathedral and the original university was often known a ‘Little Ireland’. Many Irish navvies had worked at the digging of the Monkland Canal which was opened in 1790. These men also worked at the building of the first Scottish railway, Glasgow to Garnkirk (near Stepps), the Glasgow terminal being St Rollox (Townhead). The Co. Donegal writer Patrick McGill, who had worked as a navvy himself described these men as ‘the desired army of labour’. Many of them eventually settled in the city, as tenement districts sprung up in districts like Garngad, Gorbals, Calton and elsewhere. The Monkland Canal Basin was at the foot of Garngadhill at Castle St. This canal linked up with the Forth and Clyde Canal, nearby at Port Dundas.

The much older Townhead district had grown around the Cathedral and the University, to the North, South and West. The top end of Castle St was known as the Howgate (or Howgate St) and Garngadhill was known as ‘High Garngad Rd.’ or ‘Old Road to Provanmill’. A road existed here prior to 1600. The Howgate, then just outside the Glasgow city limits, was the scene of public hangings from at least early in the 16th century until 1781. The exact spot of the executions was believed to be just behind the old Carlton cinema at the corner of Garngadhill and Castle St. The most famous of those executed at the Howgatehead were the covenanting martyrs, James Nisbet, a farmer from Louden Parish in Ayrshire, and James Lawson and Alexander Wood, who were executed in 1684. A stone was erected to ‘The Townhead Martyrs’ in 1818 and it was renewed as part of a fountain in 1862. This was removed with the building of the Carlton cinema and the memorial stones were incorporated in the cinema walls. When the cinema was demolished during the destruction of the old Townhead, the stones were re-located in the M8 motorway walls near where Townhead Library once stood. They are now in the Martyr’s Church, Townhead and Martyr Street was named in their memory. The old ‘Martyr’s Stone’ was placed in the Southwest corner of the old tenement at 60 Garngadhill (now demolished). It is said that the old stone was then built into the property of Mr. Alex Stewart at 50/52 Garngadhill near the old canal bridge. James Nisbet is also commemorated by the street that bears his name and there is a monument in his memory in Newmilns Churchyard in Newmilns, Ayrshire in his native parish.

The opening of the Monkland Canal in 1775, the giant St Rollox chemical works in 1800 and the Glasgow – Garnkirk railway in 1831 ensured that the entire pave of the district would change.

The Tennant family had built the St Rollox chemical works on the North bank of the canal, near where Sighthill housing scheme now stands. This was the largest chemical complex in Europe and was founded by Charles Tennant. He had been a radical weaver who supported the great Reform movement and his forbears were lowly farmers and millers from Glenconner, Ayrshire. He was a friend of Robert Burns, who immortalised him in verse as the Wabster (weaver) Charlie. By the time of his death in 1838 he was said to be among the richest men in the land. It was said that he still retained his radical views and rejected a knighthood. The rise of the Tennant family was a classic product of the Industrial Revolution. The family built the original St Rollox School near the works at Springburn Rd. The school later moved to Garngad Rd. In my youth the school was known as ‘Donald’ school after a much-respected head master, and is now Royston Primary. The family are also recalled in the name of Glenconner Park, the site of an old coup, which was gifted to the people of Garngad. Charles St bears the name of Charles Tennant.

The following poem, recited by Hugh Aitken Dow at a St Rollox school reunion in 1875 illustrates the change brought to a once peaceful scene by the chemical works – known by many locals as ‘Dante’s Inferno’!

“A busy, noisy, clam’rous spot
where trees, nor flowers nor fields are seen
where men by day and night are wrought
and holy calm hath rarely been.

Where fragrant zephyrs never blow
but smutty is its atmosphere.
When rains fall dense and winds are low
It’s sulphrous elements appear.

When winds blow south, a cloud by day
it may at once be seen and felt
for smarting eyes then own its sway
through muffled noises then ‘tis smelt.

There fiery pillars, gleam at night
from hooded chimneys, tow’ring high
and cast their vivid, fork’d flames bright
up to the troubled murky sky.

Thus fiery cross like, shineth clear
the cupolas of Charles Street
answering to McAndrew’s near
while Hamilton’s the call repeat.

There Vulcan’s strokes would fail to match
the Glasgow ironworks polka blows
his lurid fires would pace and din
‘fore Tennants countless furnace glows.”

The ironworks mentioned would be the St Rollox Malleable Iron Works, situated near the top of Villiers St at Charles St.

The Glasgow Malleable Iron Works were situated in the area covered by St Roch’s Secondary School and Gadshill St. A famous pottery, the Caledonian, existed at 43 Garngadhill on the north side of the hill, from 1800 till 1879. The first skilled potters came from Staffordshire, England, and formed the nucleus of the workforce. Thus there was a building in Garngadhill referred to as the English Building. Many of the products of the famous Delftfield Pottery were also made here. The railway workers in Springburn were to make that neighbouring district the railway workshop of the world.

The history of St Rollox School (Royston Primary) recalls that in the mid-nineteenth century most of the houses east of the potteries on Garngadhill were self-contained, enjoying a delightful amenity from the smoile and noise of the city. The works now plentifully scattered there (in 1875) had not existed then. The road at Garngadhill’s eastern extremity (Millburn St) leading south to the canal, and then known locally as the ‘Jaw-banes’, from the circumstances of a skeleton of a whale’s jaw forming a curious ornament of one of the garden’s there. This was a retired and genteel locality, in which were situated some private residences, all having their own walled gardens. The exception was the tenement at Townmill Rd. at the White Brig’ Pub. The canal Bridge here was known officially as Robertson’s Bridge but was always called the White Brig’, (in my youth the White Brig’ Pub was known locally as ‘Watery Willie’s). Beyond that, there were gardens, orchards and arable fields until the mill was reached (this was Townmill, which like Provan Mill was on the banks of the Molindar River). The Town Mill was erected by the Burgesses in 1446 as permission had been given by Bishop Cameron of Glasgow Cathedral in return for the donation of two pounds of wax per year to the keeper of the lights around St Mungo’s Tomb at the Cathedral. Beside the Town Mill was the Pump Well, the water of which was very pure and cold and was consequently held in high repute by the residents of the district. A walk to this well was an essential part of Sunday’s duty.

Some of the residents mentioned above would be at Bellevue Place, known locally as ‘The Avenue’. These cottages existed until the mid 1950’s and still resembled a Sylvan scene among the tenements. The self-contained houses on or off Millburn St would be Hillhouse and Millburn House. Hillhouse was occupied by various families over the years.

The McCauley family lived there in the 1920’s – 30’s as did the Strang family. William Strang was a local publican whose premises lay at Millburn St and Garngadhill. The pub was later owned by the Coffield family and that corner was always known as ‘Strang’s’ or ‘Coffield’s’ Corner. William Strang was one of St Roch’s F.C.'s early benefactors and was made honorary President of St Roch’s F.C. Hillhouse was latterly owned in the 1950’s by the Catanni family in the late 1940’s, early 1950’s. After the Catanni family vacated the house it was split into apartments. The last big house to go was the house occupied by the Chaplain to St Joseph’s Home. The convent, church and house were vacated by ‘The Little Sisters of the Poor’ when they moved to their new premises nearby at Robroyston. There were several large estates in the area prior to the changes wrought by industrialisation. Thrushgrove stretched from Castle St to Garnock St. Thrushgrove’s owner was James Turner, a well-known radical whose name was given to Turner St Bright St, Cobden St and Villiers St were all named after men who shared Turner’s radical views.

Mount Pleasant ran from Garnock to Glen St (now Brodick St beside St Roch’s Primary School). The last occupiers of Mount Pleasant were the McKay family. Alex McKay had a haulage business and was largely responsible for building St Roch’s F.C.’s first ground at Millburn Park. Mount Pleasant was originally a dairy farm. Rosebank Estate ran from Glen St to Darnick St at Germiston. Parts of Mount Pleasant and Rosebank became a coup, the site of the present football pitches at Glenconner Park.

Blochairn Estate, on the south side of Garngad Rd was owned by the church prior to the Reformation and was later acquired by the Hamilton family. The Dreghorn family built Blochairn House around 1765. This area would later house Blochairn Steel Works and is near to the present day Fruitmarket. In this area too Provan Gasworks opened in 19 (?) and tenement streets called Tower, River and Siemens were built to house the steelworkers. These streets lay on the east side of Blochairn Rd beyond the ‘Budgie Bar’. This little area was always known as ‘The Budgin’ and later ‘The Budgie’ and there has been no clear reason given for the name. There were a lot of people from Inishonen Peninsula, in County Donegal in the area at one time. There is a place near Buncrana, in Inishonen, that is known as ‘The Budgin’ and I believe this is where the name has its derivation. In 1924 Tower St was renamed Lewis St at a time when because of duplication and other burghs joining Glasgow there were several streets with the same name. There was also a street, to the west side of Blochairn Rd called Hannay St.

A private mental asylum existed on Garngadhill to the west of Townhead Parish Church with its famous spire.

Rosemount Estate was bought by John Alston, a Glasgow merchant, at the end of the American War of Independence and was composed of beautiful grounds and orchards. Alston was responsible for the development of the first blind asylum, in Castle St. The Royal Infirmary incorporates part of the site. It is interesting to note that the only statue of Jesus Christ on public view is still to be seen near the infirmary clock. The statue depicts Christ tending to a blind child. Millburn Estate stretched from Garngadhill to Alexandria Parade. Other notable properties in the area were Cloverbank House, Sandmill Cottage and Dunolly Cottage.

By the 1860’s such idyllic scenes as depicted in the History of St Rollox School were already becoming a memory, recalled only by beautiful street names, and the character of the area would be forever altered. On the south side of Garngad Rd the tenements of Middleton Place and Gourley Place had appeared and Thrushgrove’s green fields had been replaced by the tenements of Turner, Villiers, Cobden and Bright Streets. Braby’s Works near the ‘Blind Tunnel’ at Germiston and the Tharsis Copper and Sulphur Works were all established in the area and there were coal pits at nearby Robroyston and Hogganfield. As in the rest of west central Scotland, thousands poured in to take their places in these dark satanic mills. The main group of incomers to the Garngad district came from Ireland, mainly from the nine Ulster counties. Many came to Glasgow in the wake of the dreadfulI Irish famine and many others came from Ireland well into the twentieth century. Others came from the Highlands where savage policies operated by often absent landlords had driven the people out to make way for sheep. As names like Barsotti, Barkas, Capanni, Lurinski, Kaminski, Pierotti, Pisacane and the romantic sounding Romeo suggest, some came from further afield. Despite the potentially explosive nature of this mix, this did provide the rich racial mix which makes the Glaswegian of today what he or she is, and has greatly contributed to the warmth and humour to be found in the city. There is surely a lesson to be learned in the present day when so many asylum seekers from lands abroad are in our midst seeking refuge. Never forget many of our own ancestors were in a similar situation. Most of those from Ireland and the Highlands came from a rural background, and had to adapt to work in steelworks, mines and factories. Such was the influence of those that came to Garngad from Ireland, the writer and broadcaster Jack House, an expert on the lore of Glasgow, could write in the 1950’s that there was a distinctive Garngad accent. “As soon as he or she opened their mouth, I knew they came from the Garngad”. Half-Irish, half-polite they used to say. House’s own father was well-known to Garngad people as he was chief accountant in Blochairn steelworks. The tenements that were literally thrown up to house the incomers were built with little thought for hygiene, with no bathrooms and one outside toilet serving perhaps upwards of thirty human beings. The much loved red Clydeside M.P. Jimmy Maxton, who lived for a time at 65 Garngad Square (from 1919 to 1922), moving from the area after the death of his wife.

Garngad Square was one of the earliest council housing schemes in the country. The, as now, it is a neat, tidy area with well-kept houses. Maxton was later to refer in Parliament to the older houses in the Garngad-Townhead area as being among the worst slums in Europe. The T.B. statistics were horrific and life was a hard struggle for ordinary people. However, there was and is a strong community spirit in the area.


Read about Provanmill and Blackhill
Read about Germiston
Read about Garngad characters (Mick McLaughlan by Michael Keenan)
Read about politics in the area
Read about entertainment in the area
Read about sports in the area
Read about schools in the area
Read about churches and religion in the area
Read the 'Farewell to Garngad'
Read about a poet from 'Little Ireland'
Read the conclusion by writer James Friel


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