Grahamston: Glasgow’s Forgotten Village
Most Glaswegians at some point have heard the rumours of what lies beneath Glasgow Central Station. A brief glimpse of the subterranean labyrinth of tunnels and mysterious pathways can be seen from Hope Street which has led from tongue in cheek horror stories to outlandish claims of fully intact Victorian streets, complete with shops, street-lamps and cobbles.
These rumours stem from the village of Grahamston, a near-forgotten relic of Glasgow history which, more than 100 years ago, disappeared under the foundations of Scotland’s busiest train station, fuelling urban legends of a Victorian village stuck in time. There are even rumours of substantial amounts of silver left behind in the abandoned shops.
A Glaswegian Atlantis
A peculiarity of Grahamston is its lack of authoritative documentation, often only mentioned fleetingly in history books. This is made even stranger given its central location, its accessible routes to other main towns in central Scotland and the wide variety of transport it accommodated. The crossroads, or the infamous Four Corners as it’s known today, was one of the busiest in Europe. Glaswegians are a proud bunch and most take pride in where they or their families are from. However, Grahamston is virtually unknown to most, apart from the rumours of a forgotten village, which is strange for a place that vanished relatively recently. For example, the main street, Alston Street was in place 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. However, it’s certain you haven’t met anyone saying they or their families hail from Grahamston.
Another strange aspect is its architecture. Glasgow, the city which produced Charles Rennie Mackintosh, has a rich and illustrious tradition of proud architecture. However, unlike the rest of the city, Grahamston has almost no substantial relics to visit unlike other historic villages, which perhaps fuels the rumours of intact buildings underneath Central Station. Two buildings connected to the village still stand today, although with no acknowledgement to their past.
One more aspect which adds to the Grahamston enigma is its complete lack of visual documentation. There are few, if any, pictures which show Grahamston, and those which exist are often its demolition. Famous streets such as Union Street, Argyle Street and Hope Street are well photographed, with Grahamston always tantalisingly just out of frame. In addition, illustrations and sketches of the village always seem to depict it frustratingly in the distance or obscured by the hillside.
Grahamston was born of modest beginnings, a peripheral village emerging in 1680, however, the impending industrial revolution and Scottish Enlightenment ensured both its growth and value to Glasgow. As noted Grahamston was a small village and not always a hive of activity. Glasgow also as a whole struggled to compete, disadvantaged by trade deals forbidden by English law and rudimentary industrial skills. However, following the Union of Parliaments in 1707, the Act of Union opened lucrative avenues for trade with the Americas, with Glasgow particularly benefiting with access to open waters. By the mid 18th century, Glasgow was flourishing, the industrial revolution coupled with the Enlightenment providing the catalyst for an eruption of Scottish influence worldwide. Grahamston’s status as a peripheral village destined to boom in growth lies with the influence of shipping at Broomielaw. Taking advantage of the unrestricted trade laws, Glasgow’s merchants not only famously dealt in the influential tobacco trade but also rum, sugar, cotton, coffee, timber, tobacco, animal hides, grain and rice. Benefiting from its advantageous position beside the Clyde, many warehouses related to these commodities set up in Grahamston. Grahamston’s development served as a microcosm of Glasgow, growing from a provincial backwater to an integral member of world trade. Grahamston Theatre:
‘Let the devil’s hoose burn!’
Grahamston’s neglected status is surprising given it was the site of Glasgow’s first theatre, not to mention the controversy surrounding it. Replacing a theatre torn down in 1754 by particularly devout Methodists, who maintained the Reformation belief that performances were immoral, Alston Theatre was constructed in 1764. Although technically outside Glasgow, as the boundary remained at Union Street until 1830, the theatre was ‘outsourced’ to nearby Alston Street due to continuing religious opposition. Location of the Grahamston theatre, 1764-1780 However, the religious zealots ensured that the grand opening was mired in controversy. A rowdy crowd, led by a preacher, stormed the building trashing it and setting fire to the stage. Despite this, the theatre enjoyed popularity for over a decade, much to the anger of religious leaders who continued to voice strong opposition and warn of the theatres ‘dangers’ by its mere presence. In 1780 a suspicious fierce fire gutted the theatre and threatened to consume the surrounding buildings. Eyewitness accounts state the magistrate directed the firefighters to ‘save the other folks’ hooses an’ let the Devil’s hoose burn!’ The theatre provided an ominous foreshadowing of the eradication of Grahamston itself.
Just as the industrial revolution transformed and allowed Grahamston to prosper, Glasgow’s continuing advancement also required Grahamston’s demise. As Glasgow grew and approached the 20th century, railway syndicates competed against each other in a bitter conflict with the aim being to bring their lines to Glasgow city centre. However, in a large urban city congested with buildings there would have to be casualties…
This rivalry and unwillingness to work together resulted in pushing land prices up and poor integration and implantation of stations and lines. More importantly, however, is the completely avoidable demolishing of Grahamston and displacement of 10,000 people. This is particularly jarring as it has been stated that St Enoch and Central stations could have easily been built on one site. However, because of the rivalry, in the 1870s Central Station was built over Grahamston and acted as the main terminus for trains run by the Caledonian Railway Company and was built to operate in direct competition with GSWR’s St Enoch station.
Today Grahamston only lives on in hazy memory and rumour, a sad demise for a historically rich village that played a part in Glasgow’s growth and rise to prominence. Urban fables of Victorian streets and shops, stuck in time and hoarding riches beneath the maze of tunnels of Central Station are unfortunately just that; fables. Grahamston was (almost) razed entirely to the ground to accommodate the station. However rather than consigned to a footnote of Glasgow history, glimpses of Grahamston can still be seen today in the form of the Rennie Mackintosh Hotel and the Grant Arms.
Grant Arms is perhaps the most striking of the two remnants, with its appearance projecting dogged determination not to be swallowed by the ominous Central Station eating into its side.
There are also encouraging signs that Grahamston won’t be relegated to merely a myth. Alston Bar and Beef opened in recent years, and as the name suggests, takes pride in its heritage and sharing where the inspiration for its name came from. In addition, Glasgow Central station has been conducting tours of the station for the past few years and the mysteries of Grahamston are dealt with and illuminated. With actions like these, Grahamston may move from being a fabled, forgotten fantasy to a hidden gem of Glasgow history.
***By James Dunn, GlasgowLiving***