What is it about?

Grahamston vanished beneath the foundations of Glasgow Central Station more than 100 years ago, but its memory lives on in buildings, in street patterns and not least in the urban legend of an abandoned village beneath the platforms of Scotland’s busiest station.  In this fascinating book, local historian Norrie Gilliland brings Grahamston back to life and shows the important role it played in the development of Glasgow.

Grahamston was first noted on maps of Glasgow around 1680, and grew over the next two hundred years from a row of thatched cottages to an important commercial and industrial centre at the heart of Glasgow, before it was demolished in the late 1800s and early 1900s to make way for the Caledonian Railway Central Station.

Hasn’t it been done before?

Most books on Glasgow mention Grahamston in passing - at most a paragraph, and usually just a few lines.  This seems odd, given that Grahamston was not some obscure, far-flung part of the city.  It occupied a very important location and was to play a significant role in the development of the city. From its earliest years, it stood en route between the city and the main towns of central Scotland.  It was served by all modes of transport - horse and cart, sedan chair, tram, bus, canal boat and seagoing ship.  It stood on the main east-west route and in later years on the main north-south link between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Broomielaw, the south side of the city and Paisley.

This crossroads - Union Street and Jamaica Street with Argyle Street - became one of the busiest in Europe, perhaps in the world.   It was perhaps best known to Glaswegians as the location of ‘Boots’ Corner.

Norrie first became interested in Grahamston when, in 1973, he read a book called “Glaswegiana”, by the late William Barr.   Willie wrote:

“Going west from Glasgow along Anderston Walk (now Argyle Street) one would have passed the village of Grahamstown which possessed only one street, running north and south, known as Alston Street.  This is where the first permanent theatre in Glasgow was built in 1764.  Grahamston is now covered by the Central Station, but it is thought by many people that Alston Street still exists beneath the foundations of the station.  It is also reputed that quantities of silver were left abandoned in the shops of this street and never claimed!”

There are other, more fundamental reasons for Norrie’s interest in Grahamston:

  • First, because very few people know of its existence - all over Glasgow, and for that matter the world, you can find people who declare with pride that their ancestors hailed from the Calton, Bridgeton, Anderston, Springburn, or the Gorbals.  But you have probably never met anyone whose family came from Grahamston.  Odd, when you consider that the village finally disappeared just over 100 years ago.  (The village's main street, Alston Street, survived until at least 1873, and some of the buildings, including St Columba's Gaelic Church, which stood in Hope Street, survived until the early 1900s).

  • The second reason is that you can go to any of the other villages of Glasgow and actually see remnants of the old buildings and the line of the streets on which they stood.  Go to the library or to any decent bookshop and you will find volume after volume describing these areas in their early days, complete with pictures of the buildings and accounts of the people who lived there over a period of several hundred years.  Grahamston is so near, yet so far. Millions of people pass through or by the Central Station each year, and never give a moment's thought to the fact that they are virtually in Grahamston, walking above Alston Street, the site of the first theatre in Glasgow.

  • Third is Grahamston’s wonderfully ephemeral quality.  Of all the illustrations and sketches of this part of Glasgow, there are very few that actually show the village.  It is usually just out of sight, just over the hill, just behind the trees.  There is very little pictorial evidence of Grahamston, apart from the odd photograph of demolition work and the building of the Central Station.  There are numerous shots of Union Street, Argyle Street, Hope Street and so on but Grahamston is always, at best, just edging in to the left or right of the lens; like the ghost in the camera.

  • Fourth, is the fact that no-one seems to care.  The only thing that marks Grahamston’s existence is a small aluminium plaque mounted at the top of the escalator at the Hope Street entrance to the Station. This was erected June 1990 as part of the Glasgow Theatre Trail and unveiled by Rikki Fulton.  With the greatest respect, Grahamston deserves better.

The village that stood in what is now the heart of Glasgow for 250 years - through the whole of the industrial revolution and the Scottish Enlightenment, the village that served the city so well during the most important period of its growth, has been allowed to slip from the consciousness of citizens and visitors alike.  This seems ungrateful given the importance of its location, the industry and commerce that once flourished there, the vast volumes of people and traffic that passed through it, and the fact that the name of Grahamston continued in use right up to the end of the 19th century - even though by that time the area had long since been brought within the extended Glasgow boundary.

What’s interesting about it?

  • The story of Grahamston’s growth from a mere huddle of cottages on the outskirts of Glasgow to an important commercial and industrial centre at the very heart of the city.

  • The first theatre in Glasgow actually lay a few yards outside the Glasgow boundary and the reason it was built in Grahamston is because the city fathers would not allow the house of the devil to be built within the city.  The theatre was ransacked by a mob on its opening night in 1764.  However, it operated successfully until 1780 when it was destroyed by fire, almost certainly the work of arsonists.

  • The odoriferous smells of rural Grahamston with its six market gardens and acres of garden ground in the mid 1700s, long before Copenhagen Street (Hope Street) was opened up.

  • The odd lie of the Grahamston feus, which played havoc with plans to build the second new town of Glasgow around Blythswood Hill and Blythswood Holm. This is why Hope Street, Union Street and Mitchell Street all lie at an odd angle to the regular Glasgow grid pattern.

  • The people who lived in Grahamston (just under 2000 at its peak) and the businesses that operated there (just under 300 before the demolishers moved in).  Not just ordinary folk, but well known people like William Quarrier, James Cleland, James Beaumont Neilson etc.

  • The street that disappeared under the demolishers hammer (Alston Street), with its sugar refinery, warehouses, carter’s yards, pubs and houses.

  • The two Grahamston buildings that still survive are Duncans Hotel (currently the Rennie Mackintosh Hotel) in Union Street and the Grant Arms in Argyle Street.

Why should I read it?

The book is required reading for everyone who thinks they know Glasgow, for those who use Central Station and for everyone who likes a good detective story.  Norrie Gilliland has unearthed Glasgow’s buried treasure - the forgotten story of Grahamston and its vital role in the Glasgow story.  And, your granny might have lived there!

Where can I get it?

From the website at www.grahamston.com - online orders accepted with credit card, or download an order form and send with cheque or postal order to the publishers address shown on the website.

Where can I hear Norrie talk about this?

Norrie gives regular talks to clubs and other groups on Glasgows Forgotten Village.  His book is normally available for purchase at these events.  If you want Norrie to give a talk to your club or group, please contact him through the website at www.grahamston.com