The Society now has a sister site dedicated to the history and architecture of the Strathbungo area. Much of the content here has been included and updated, but there is much, much more to explore besides.
Please visit the Bygone Bungo website.
by Andrew Greg
1-10 Moray Place
1859 and 1860 are the dates of the feuing dispositions granted by Sir John Maxwell of Pollok to the builder John McIntyre and quarrier William Stevenson for the development of the new Strathbungo. 1-10 Moray Place was the first block to be built in the new Strathbungo, in about 1860, to the designs of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson.
Although Alexander Thomson is sometimes referred to as a partner in the enterprise, the feuing disposition was in the names of John McIntyre, builder and William Stevenson, of the Giffnock Quarries, only. However Thomson was then, and was to remain, a regular associate of McIntyre on many significant projects (McIntyre was the builder of Thomson’s Queen’s Park United Presbyterian Church, and the builder and developer of the great Eglington Street tenements of the late 1850s etc). It is more than likely that he was responsible for the plot layout of the development, though it is not particularly innovative.
In the design of the 1-10 Moray Place we can see many of Thomson’s characteristics at their best. The stylistic origin is Greek; it is strictly symmetrical but avoids the traditions of the classical terrace by not having any central focus and it is rigidly repetitive with the potential for infinite extension in design. The facade pattern is made up solely of rectangular pillars and beams, articulated by subtle recessions and variations in the vertical planes of external walls surfaces; the details of the incised carving of Grecian motifs are, as ever in Thomson’s work, delicate and refined.
Thomson was concerned with all aspects of the decoration of his buildings; the plasterwork and woodwork of his buildings is as distinctive as the exterior. He provided elaborate lamp standards outside the front doors, tragically now all missing. The unusual sunburst ceiling centre motifs in Moray Place can also be seen in his flats on Nithsdale Road and in the detached villas of Langside. The care with which Thomson designed his facades is illustrated in the window layouts. The evenly spaced first floor openings are placed precisely above both the ground floor window and door openings and the wall spaces between them. Where the party wall lies the opening is blank and decorated with a palmette, but without interrupting the sequence of openings. In fact the facade clearly reflects the design of the top two storeys of Thomson’s West Nile Street warehouse of a couple of years earlier.
1-10 Moray Place was first occupied in 1861, Thomson taking No 1 for himself, and John McIntyre No 3.
The ‘new’ Strathbungo
Sadly Thomson’s involvement with the architectural development of the ‘new’ Strathbungo seems to have ended with 1-10 Moray Place. The three further terraces along the railway line, built around 1864, 1873 and 1877 respectively, have more architectural pretension than the squares themselves, but lack Thomson’s disciplined classicism and scholarly detail.
The next parts of the development to be built were 11-17 Moray Place, both sides of Regent Park Square and the north side of Queen Square, which were all built in 1864-1865, and the northern-most two tenement blocks of Regent Park Terrace on Pollokshaws Road, first occupied in 1865 and 1867.
These streets are remarkably plain, with no architectural trace of Thomson’s involvement. Indeed, in style they look back 40 years to the late Georgian period. Like Georgian terraces there is the faintest echo of the so-called ‘palace front’ in which the ends and centre of the terrace project slightly to echo the pavilions and portico of the Georgian country house or grand urban square. They are larger houses than 1-10 Moray Place, which are modest two stories, with only three rooms on each floor. These are three storeys with half sunken basements, conventionally paned windows (compared with Thomson’s characteristic three pane windows). The basements and rear elevations are paned with small Georgian style panes, cheaper than the sheet glass used in the formal and public front rooms.
The whole development was initially styled Regent Park and calling the streets ‘squares’ and demarcating them with gates and gate piers at the Pollokshaws Road end was a way of defining them as select streets for the upper middle classes. The gate piers in Regent Park Square survive. There was clearly one also planned on the north side of Queen Square judging by the attractive curve of the boundary wall, but by the time the street was completed over ten years later the idea must have been abandoned — there is no such curved wall on the south side.
The pedestrian bridge over the railway at Regent Park Square is presumably contemporary with the development. There were originally two bridges, the second roughly lined up with Marywood Square.
Building progress then slowed down considerably (McIntyre had died in 1872, to be buried under the tomb Thomson had designed in 1867 for McIntyre’s son in Cathcart). The next two ranges of Moray Place were built around 1873 and 1877.
The south side of Queen Square was not occupied until 1879-80, a date supported by the date inscribed on the urn placed above the front doors half way along the street. This side of the street is quite different in design to the earlier north side. Its broad bays and front doors are more obviously Victorian than the more old-fashioned north side.
The north side of Marywood Square, originally called Prince’s Square to conform with the royal theme of the development, was in fact begun slightly earlier and was first occupied in 1878-9. Here houses with bay windows alternate with flat fronted houses, an unusal arrangement that gives variety to the street. The south side was not built until nearly ten years later, being first occupied between 1886 and 1888. Here, unlike Queen Square, the design was kept as close as possible to the north side of the street, though there are in fact very small differences in masonry work that reflect the gap in time.
In Marywood Square is a lamppost possibly to a Thomson design. Whether the whole development was originally lit by Thomson lampposts is unknown, but it would be a worthwhile conservation project to reinstate them. It is completely in keeping stylistically. Suprisingly the earliest photoraphs show the railings of the squares to have been remarkably plain, in contrast to the bold and flamboyant cast iron railings of much of Glasgow’s late 19th century urban developments.
All four of the early blocks of Moray Place are deliberately more ambitious than the longer terraces of the ‘squares’ and they are deliberately different in design, both to the ‘squares’ and to each other. Though they all, like Thomson’s Nos 1-10, have terminal projections at the ends of the terraces, these are, variously, square ended, semicircular and with canted bays. The street as a whole then displayed symmetry and regularity balanced with a picturesque variety of outline and silhouette.
Meanwhile on the northern boundary of the present conservation area, Titwood Place (now Nithsdale Road) was being occupied in 1877, Nithsdale Street and Drive in the 1880s. From Titwood Place we can see later works by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, and architecture influenced by him. Across the railway on the corner of Nithsdale Road and Darnley Road is a tenement block of 1872-3 designed by Thomson for John McIntyre. On the north side of Titwood Place are tenements and shops of 1876, built after Thomson’s death by his architectural partner Robert Turnbull. Many of the architectural features of these tenements can be seen in Moray Place round the corner. Thomson’s influence is also very apparent in the boldly detailed block on the corner of Nithsdale Drive and Street, probably of c.1880. Pollokshaws West Church of 1875-9 (by McKissack and Rowan), with its rather undisciplined agglomeration of classical elements, was doubtless influenced by Thomson’s St Vincent Street Church.
Back in the ‘new’ Strathbungo itself there was now another even longer delay in building. In the 19th century developers’ ambitions to provide genteel middleclass housing often conflicted with the more pressing demand for working class accommodation. This seems to have been the case from the 1870s when the doubling of Glasgow’s population by the First World War was taken up principally by tenement building. The middleclasses, encouraged by the railways and later the motorcar, tended to move out to true suburbs, the industrial workers remaining in inner city tenements. The final streets of the ‘new’ Strathbungo were not built until the late 1920s. The ‘Gardens’ — Vennard, Thorncliffe and Carswell — together with 34-54 Moray Place and Titwood Road, were all ready for occupation in 1928.
The differences between the ‘gardens’ and the earlier streets reflect architectural and social changes. The houses are of the new red sandstone from Ayrshire and Dumfrieshire that replaced the blonde stone throughout Glasgow around 1890 as the Giffnock and other carboniferous sandstone quarries ran out. The houses are smaller, two lower storeys instead of three, reflecting the reduced availability of domestic labour after the Great War. They are shallower and the gardens proportionally larger; the terraces are broken up into shorter blocks of 8-10 houses. The masonry is partly ‘rock-faced’ and the bays have parapets above the eaves line. The overall effect is that the ‘gardens’ possess a less urban, more suburban, character than the ‘squares’. Windows have upper panes containing stained glass in a typically 1920s style; this has often been recreated where windows have been replaced.
The character of the ‘gardens’ shows the influence of the early 20th century Arts and Crafts and Garden City movements on domestic architecture, in which the ideal home was a semi with its own garden, a vegetable patch and touches of arty-craftsmanship in glass and plasterwork. An almost identical style of housing can be seen elsewhere locally — for example, on Haggs Road — presumably by the same architect.
What then were the desirable features of the ‘new’ Strathbungo?
- It was provided with a large public park at the City’s expense.
- It was on a major trunk route into the city centre with its horse-drawn, later electric, trams (and now frequent buses) and was served by four (now three) railway stations.
- It was designed and built with an architectural character unusual in Glasgow, combining a regular urban grid with useful sized gardens, front and back; terraced houses with middle class pretensions, in a sophisticated urban style.
- At its boundaries are the tenements that define the traditional Glasgow 19th century street, so that the ‘squares’ are both integrated into, and distinct from, the typical Glasgow streetscape.
For more information on Thomson’s work, click on Greek Thomson Society.