Played in Glasgow

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Author: Ged O’Brien

1 Douglas Park Golf Club 1914
At Hillfooot to the east of Bearsden, the club was founded in 1897. The photograph shows a match in progress, on 23rd June 1914, between George Duncan and the famous Harry Vardon.

Played in Glasgow: the Architectural Heritage of a City at Play

In 2014 Glasgow hosted the 20th Commonwealth Games. It was the 17th city to have done so and only the second time the Games was held in Scotland. Glasgow hosted competitions in seventeen sports from Aquatics to Wrestling. In terms of the buildings that hosted various events, the Games was a mixture of the existing and new. For example, the opening ceremony was held at Celtic Park, first opened in 1892, whilst the cycling was showcased at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome opposite Celtic Park.

Glasgow has often been called the second city of Empire, stemming from its great days as a powerhouse of industry and commerce at the end of the nineteenth century. The rise of sport in Glasgow is firmly linked to the increasing entrepreneurialism of its citizens. This extended from the City Fathers down. The skills they used to build ships for the Empire or weave the cloth that covered us were put to good use in founding clubs and associations to regularise and standardise many games.

Sport has clearly always been part of the life of the city. Glasgow Golf Club was founded in 1787, seven years after the Town Council started issuing permits for playing golf. They built a clubhouse there and played in sight of Golf Hill where the Necropolis now stands and where golf was played in at least the 16th century. Glasgow Green was always a venue for sport. The great tradition of Glasgow boxing has its roots in the bare knuckle bouts of Glasgow Fair days. The soldiers from the Barracks on the Gallowgate exercised and played cricket on the Green. Football and such giants of the game as Rangers were born on or near the Fleshers’ Haugh. The City’s sport went from the swimming in the Clyde to only a few hundred metres north and the College Green of the old University.

In his 1927 memoirs, David Murray looked backed at his student years at the Old College and claimed football and golf to be equally popular ‘amongst all classes – men and women, boys and girls.’ Football was played on the College Green: east of the High Street and in the graveyards of local churches. The local Ramshorn Church on Ingram Street had banned football being played there. It would have been possible for a sharp passing game on the flattened ground: certainly not the streetwide brawls that many think of as pre nineteenth century football. No doubt the games would have stopped when the ‘Resurrectionists’ were robbing graves and the churchyard became a little too dangerous for both the living and the dead.

The first accurate population figures of 1831 show 202,426 people crammed into 883 hectares. Ninety years later Glasgow has passed the one million mark. This neatly parallels the rise of structured popular sport in Britain. The political and commercial reach of the Empire then ensured that what Glaswegians created in sports such as Football, Bowls, Rugby and less obvious sports such as water polo went to all corners of the earth.

Two hundred Scottish bowls clubs met in Glasgow in 1848 to found a national association. The first known bowling green in Glasgow had been run by Mungo Cochrane in Candleriggs in 1695. William Mitchell of the Willowbank Club produced a Manual of Bowls in 1864 with generally agreed rules but it was not until 1892 that the Scottish Bowling Association came about. This was four years after Glasgow had founded their own body and decades after the Wellcroft Club, founded in 1835, had produced their own set of rules. With Willowbank, Govan, Whitevale and Partick also founded before 1850, Glasgow can claim five of the oldest clubs in the world. In the Thomas Taylor Company, founded 1770 it also has the world’s oldest bowls manufacturer.

In 1870 Glasgow Accies Rugby Football Club (founded 1866) had become the first Scottish Club of either footballing code to tour England. It was no surprise then that the Glasgow Academy building on Elmbank Street hosted the inaugural meeting of the Scottish Football Union in 1873, with Accies and West of Scotland FC as founder members. West had provided the ground for the 1873 rugby international against England. Even greater is the fame attached to the cricket ground in Peel St, Partick. The 1872 Association Football match between Scotland and England, featured a team entirely made up of club members of Queens Park FC. It was this first international which saw Scotland give the passing and running game of the ‘Scotch Professors’ to England and the world.

Even less popular sports can claim Glasgow as their home. In 1877 William Wilson; Manager of the Victoria Baths in Butterbiggins Rd in Govanhill devised a set of rules for a game initially called Water Football. This became the more recognisable Water Polo. Known more as a Highlands Game, Shinty owes much of its heritage to Glasgow. In 1879 the Glasgow Celtic Society provided a Cup for a knockout competition between South District Teams. It remains the oldest competition in the sport.

As well as the peerless history, Glasgow has physical reminders of its sporting greatness. On the south side lies Hampden Park: the oldest continuously used international ground in the world. Built in 1903 and once holding almost 185,000 it is just to the south of Cathkin Park, once home to Queens Park FC and later Third Lanark. The international football and rugby ground of the 1880s and 90s still has its pitch and its terraces, unnoticed by passers by on Cathcart Rd, but still used by amateur teams.

Partick Curling Club’s curling house of 1901 in Victoria Park deserves listing as a historic monument. It would join the Arlington Baths buildings of 1871 designed by John Burnet Senior, who also designed the original University Gymnasium in 1872. Arlington is arguably the oldest private baths club in the world, but it is not alone. Off the Byres Rd in Cranworth St is Clarke and Bell’s Western Baths of 1876. In fifty years time I hope that the Chris Hoy Velodrome, the National Indoor Sports Arena and the Scottish National Arena at the SECC will be thought of with as much affection and will do their part in cementing Glasgow’s claim to be the greatest sporting city on earth.


2 College Garden Walk Men Bowling 1762 Engraving showing the north end of the College Garden Walk, the avenue that lay behind the main buildings of the University of Glasgow on High Street.


3 View of Glasgow Fair 1832 by John Knox Around 1190, King William the Lion granted permission for an Annual Fair in Glasgow. For many centuries the Fair was at the top of High Street moving early 19th century to Glasgow Green.


4 Partick Curling Club c. 1860 (Peel St) C. 1860


5 Stand, Old College, the University of Glasgow 1867 Possibly the oldest picture know anywhere in the world of a piece of architecture specifically built for sport: in this case football and cricket. Hunterian on the right.


6 Illustration of Alexandra Park 1893 A group of golfers, both adults and children, on an elevated green at Alexandra Park Golf Club, in Dennistoun, Glasgow. The tranquil scene contrasts strikingly with the factories and chimneys of Glasgow’s industrialised East End in the background.


7 West of Scotland, Cricket Ground 1872


8 Wellcroft Bowling Club Third Pavilion, Queens Park. Built 1876. Ironwork 1835


9 New Cathkin Park Built 1884 by Queens Park FC and used by Third Lanark 1903-1967. Stand on North side is gone but the terraces remain and the pitch is used for amateur games.


10 Springvale Golf Works, Cowlairs 1907 Women workers leaving the golf works (on the left) built in 1904-1906 for the oil manufacturers and refiners and golf ball manufacturers Hutcheson, Main & Co. In the distance are the huge Cowlairs works of the North British Railway Co.


1 © RCAHMS / Resource Rights Holder: East Dumbartonshire Council

2 © RCAHMS Engraving by Robert Paul 1762

3 © RCAHMS / Resource Rights Holder: Glasgow City Libraries

4 By courtesy of the Mitchell Library

5 ©RCAHMS / Resource Rights Holder: Glasgow City Libraries

6 ©RCAHMS / Resource Rights Holder: National Library of Scotland

7 Supplied by Jack Murray
8 Ged O’Brien
9 Ged O’Brien
10 By courtesy of the Mitchell Library

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