Queens Park is Strathbungo’s vast and verdant “garden”, stretching out along Pollokshaws Road and forming a natural boundary with our blond and red sandstone terraces. In this section, we have a brief overview of park facilities, a guided walk round the park for you to print out and use for exploring, and a fascinating history of the park including an Iron Age fort, a Roman camp and the ghosts of soldiers who died in Mary, Queen of Scots’ army at the Battle of Langside.
Hundreds of people walk or cycle across the park every day to go to work, school or shopping. On a good day staff from the hospital and surrounding businesses have their lunch in the park. Several park officers and a large number of staff work in the park while about 20 people actually live there in luxurious flats within Camphill House.
Recreational facilities in the park itself include tennis and pitch’n’putt golf while on the boundaries there are bowling clubs and Goals, 5-a-side football pitches. Park staff also stage periodic activities and events, particularly around school holidays. To find out details of all the sport and leisure activities available in the park, click here for the Recreation section.
But for most of us by the far the most common use for the park is walking in all its various guises, including jogging, dog walking and airing the children. A walk up to the flagpole at the top of the park (Camp Hill) rewards the effort with a panoramic view of Glasgow laid out before your eyes – indeed, on a clear day you can see beyond the Camspie Hills to Ben Lomond.
A guided walk round the park
Thanks to Bob Marshall of Friends of Queens Park for this guided tour.
Starting at the north west gate on Pollokshaws Road we pass the children’s playground with the tall spire of the Balvicar Drive church behind, now, obscured by the construction of new flats in 2003. The playground is always busy but is in need of renovation. We then pass the large pond with swans and usually seagulls, and occasionally kids fishing and adults with model boats. There used to be real rowing boats here and the ticket office remains.
Next is the small pond laid out to encourage wildlife with an island and reeds. In the spring there are a families of ducklings and moorhen chicks. Every year hundreds of frogs march down from the adjacent hill to spawn in the pond. To do this they have to cross the main thoroughfare of the park from Govanhill to Shawlands, full of shoppers, schoolchildren and cyclists and quite a few of them (frogs, that is) do not survive.
Hidden away between the large pond and Pollokshaws Road in a largely overgrown area with a small ditch, bridge and paths is the old ice house where ice was stored for the family of the original estate. We then come to Camphill House, still very handsome in blond sandstone. In front is a pear tree and in springtime crocuses.
Behind the house at the Shawlands exit is Goals, a set of privately run hard football pitches, always very well used. Next door is the Camphill Bowling Club, a much quieter affair. On the corner is The Langside Halls.
Turning to walk along the south side of the park we enter a broad beech avenue, originally part of Camphill Gardens. Below this are the old gardens themselves. Until recently these were neglected. As part of Glasgow: City of the Rose 2003 there has now been a major renovation of this area. A new rose garden has been planted with the theme of Scottish poets and writers, with a number of quotations on sculptured stones (by David Lindsay of Edinburgh) – “the little white rose of Scotland that smells sharp and sweet and breaks the heart”, Hugh MacDairmid, 1892-1970. Part of the original garden wall has been retained. There is a magnolia and also some magnificent yew trees. This has now become a pleasant and increasingly popular strolling and sitting area on a sunny afternoon.
Passing the gate opposite Camphill Avenue the path goes steeply up towards the Battlefield Monument, site of the main fighting in the Battle of Langside (1568), and then down towards the Victoria Infirmary gates, passing a mass of crocuses and daffodils in the spring. At the highest point are the renovated Glasshouses. Even in inclement weather, this is one of the most popular features of the park with adults and children alike. After walking round the hothouses and admiring the exotic plants, spiders and reptiles, visitors can relax in the cafe or sit outside, weather permitting, with a coffee or ice cream. The Glasshouse is open daily from 10am to 4pm.
Turning to the left before the Glasshouses we enter a large natural area of grasses and native trees with bluebells in late spring on a steep slope with views to the Renfrewshire hills. The Council policy is to allow this area to regenerate as naturally as possible. It is popular with dog walkers and sunbathers as it catches the afternoon and evening sun. It is also a well-established meeting area for Glasgow’s gay community.
Passing the allotments on the right the walker reaches the ancient camp at the very top of the park. From here, despite the trees, and especially in winter, there are spectacular views across the city and to the west to Argyllshire – an obvious site for a fort. This is where the real sense of the history of the site of Queens Park is felt and the visitor can imagine herders, farmers, travellers and soldiers standing here looking out across the Clyde Valley in the same way over thousands of years. It is in this area we are most likely to see rabbits, foxes or an occasional kestrel or hear a woodpecker hard at work.
The Queens Park allotments are a major asset to people living in the tenement flats around. Most have vegetables and berries and some are little gardens with seats and flowers. Up to the 19th century Langside hill, woods and village was “a favourite destination for ramblers from Glasgow keen to escape for a few hours the noise and smoky breath of the city” (1) The place was famous for apples and gooseberries. Glasgow people came out to eat them with milk and cream supplied by the villagers. Enclosed and peaceful, the allotments recreate this rural haven.
Next door is the flagpole area (no flag), again with magnificent views to the city centre and north. This is one of the natural public congregating sites of Glasgow. People choose this part of the park to come in their hundreds to witness eclipses or Hogmanay fireworks, hold alternative political or music events or just to have an impromptu picnic in the summer sunset. It is also popular with film directors trying to capture a Glasgow scene.
Moving down the hill to the east is another play area and picnic tables leading to the City Parks Department offices and depot (the old Pathhead farm site). On the way we pass a memorial tree to the victims of gas poison at Halabja in Iraq. This part of the park has many rhododendron bushes providing colourful displays in May and June.
The land to the east of the park offices is where most of the recreational facilities of the park are concentrated. There is a pitch’n’putt area, tennis courts and two (largely unused) bowling greens. Lower down towards Queens Drive is where children and teenagers play football or set up cricket pitches. There are no laid out grass or hard pitches as such in the park although plenty across Langside Road in the adjacent recreation grounds.
From the council depot there is a broad avenue north to the terrace of flowers beds. Apart from the rose garden this is the only formal part of the park. Early in the morning you may see people practising tai-chi or other martial arts here and later in the day people sitting on the benches reading or just enjoying the sun. The steep area beyond the gardens to the west is where on the occasional snowy winter days children and adults alike bring their toboggans, sledges and plastic crates to slide and tumble down the hill.
At all times of the day in Queens Park, even in wet weather, there are dog walkers and little gatherings of dog owners chatting. There are always cyclists, skateboarders, joggers and walkers, including whole groups of local Asian women out for exercise. Like every park, Queens Park has its characters such as the man who brings a dish of nuts to the squirrels every morning.
From the flower beds the avenue continues down a grand stairway towards the Victoria Road gates and from here we can walk past the old pony track and Wellcroft Bowling Club. This ground here is often flooded (it is the original marsh or De’il’s Kirkyard). To the left is the old bandstand and arena, now sadly neglected and derelict. The ponds come into view and we reach our starting point at Pollokshaws Road.
History of Queens Park
Thanks again to Bob Marshall of FoQP.
Queens Park was the third public park to be created in Glasgow and is one of Scotland’s best surviving examples of Victorian park design. Originally to be called the South Side Park, Queens Park was formally opened in 1862, the year of the Silver Jubilee of Queen Victoria, after whom it may have been named.
Some think, however, that is commemorates Mary, Queen of Scots. The site of the Battle of Langside is on the south-eastern edge of the park. This was where Mary’s forces fought those of the Regent Moray in 1568. It was from here that Mary, who viewed the battle from Cathcart, fled Scotland to England and finally to her capture and eventual execution.
There is a story that the Catholic soldiers who died in the battle were buried in the marsh area in the north side of the park (by the bandstand area) known as the Kirkyard Park or De’il’s Kirkyard. In 1831 the wife of the lodge keeper at Camphill is reported to have seen the ghosts of the Langside dead rise up from the marshes. While that may or may not be the case, it is beyond dispute that the battle of Langside was a major turning point in Scotland’s history.
Many of the streets in the area have been given names associated with the period and the Queen – among them, in Strathbungo there’s Moray Place, Regent Park Square, Queen Square and Marywood Square, while across the railway in Pollokshields is Darnley Road.
Originally the land of Pathhead farm, the park area was bought by Glasgow Corporation from Neale Thomson of Camphill Estate in 1857 for £30,000. The original farmhouse became the rangers’ house and is now the park offices. At this time the park was a mile from the built up edge of the city and the main road from Glasgow to old Langside village ran through the site (now the tennis courts and bowling green).
The original plans were drawn up by Sir Joseph Paxton (who also designed Kelvingrove) and included a lake and a lavish winter garden to house concerts and exhibitions. The site for this was prepared on a flat terrace looking down towards Victoria Road. The plans were modified by the Corporation’s Master of Works, John Carrick, and neither the original lake nor winter gardens were ever built. The site became the present flowerbeds laid out in the old Dutch style (with tulips every spring to this day). The work of constructing the park was undertaken as a project for the unemployed.
On the west side was Camphill Estate also owned by Neale Thomson. The land formerly belonged to the Maxwells of Pollok. The Thomson family owned a cotton factory in the Gorbals and a bakery at Crossmyloof and he bought the land to construct his mansion on the site of the farmhouse. Thomson sold this part of the estate to the Corporation in 1894 for £60,000. The beech avenue became the present carriageway from the Langside Avenue gate opposite the Ivory Hotel to the mansion (some of the original beeches survive), and the walled estate gardens became the area where now the new rose garden has been created. Here a conservatory and hothouses were built in 1895 and demolished in 1935, but the base and sundial area remains. The present ponds were excavated out of the lawns in front of Camphill House in 1905.
Camphill House itself was built on the site of the farmhouse, probably about 1820. It is a handsome listed classical-style building, probably designed by the architect David Hamilton (well known for Hutcheson’s Hall in Ingram Street and the Royal Exchange). After being sold to the Corporation it became a museum in 1896, containing costumes and other items including memorabilia from the Battle of Langside (in 1931 it attracted over 100,000 visitors). For a period there were plans to convert it into the Glasgow Museum of Costume, but this was not realised and the 10,000 costumes remain in store. The Museum closed in the 1980s and the house is now divided into nine privately owned flats.
The name Camphill itself comes from the circular earth bank and ditch at the very top of the park, which is an iron age fort settlement (about 2,500 years old). The outline of the fort is still distinct. This was also used as a Roman camp, possibly from around the time of the Antonine Wall (c140 AD). Roman and medieval pottery has been found here. From this commanding position and the adjacent flagpole area there are extensive views across the city and to the hills of Argyll and Ben Lomond.
The Glasshouses opposite the Battlefield monument were designed by Glasgow Corporation staff and built in 1905 with a dome and slated cupola. They are used as propagating houses and also have tropical, temperate, cacti and Japanese displays as well as a popular insect and reptile collection. The building, gardens and railings were renovated around 2000 and there is now also a cafe here. A venue at the rear can be hired for parties, seminars, etc.
The original gates at Victoria Road were low and plain but replaced in 1907 by the present pillared art nouveau entrance.
Nearby was an elaborate circular iron bandstand, which was removed in the 1920 to Duchess Park in Motherwell where it still stands. This was replaced by a new bandstand facing south with an amphitheatre style seating area. The layout remains but the bandstand has burned down. Redeveloping the bandstand as a venue is currently being considered, a contentious issue for many.
Within the park boundary are the Langside Halls, also listed. This is a rebuilding, stone for stone, of the National Bank of Scotland erected in 1847 in Queen Street. It was removed to this site in 1901/3. It is in a rich Palladian style with bearded faces representing five of the great rivers of Britain (including the Clyde). In front stood an ornate iron fountain, now removed to stand in front of the People’s Palace.
John Carrick, the City’s Master of Works, also laid out the surrounding street pattern and aligned Victoria Road with the main park gates. He stipulated that the churches should have tall spires. The impressive spire of the (now) Queens Park Baptist Church in Balvicar Drive, adjacent to the park, is in the French Gothic style.
The terraces of Strathbungo such as Moray Place to the west of the park are by one of Scotland’s most famous architects, Alexander “Greek” Thomson, who also lived there at No 1 Moray Place (c1858) until his death in 1875. Strathbungo is now a conservation area.
To the south the Langside Estate was also laid out by Thomson for villas and tenements constructed from 1880 to 1910. Much of this area also retains its original character with listed houses (eg Camphill Avenue) although a part of it around Lethington Avenue is now modern flats. On the east side of the park (also on the site of the battlefield) is the Victoria Infirmary (built from 1888 onwards) with several pavilions housing the wards.
All of this has resulted in an exceptional, largely intact and distinctively Scottish urban landscape of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. The area forms the core of Glasgow’s Southside and Queens Park is both its heart and lung.