In pictures: The changing face of Glasgow’s Charing Cross

Charing Cross in 1958. The Grand Hotel stands on the left, with St George's Cross Mansions in the distance
Charing Cross in 1958. The Grand Hotel stands on the left, with St George's Cross Mansions in the distance
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FOR drivers it’s just another intersection on the M8 motorway. To Glaswegians, it’s a border line between the city centre and west end.

But Charing Cross was once a fashionable Glasgow district in its own right - somewhere to be seen rather than to merely pass through.

A view of Woodside Crescent from Sauchiehall Street in 1966. A side entrance to the Grand Hotel can be seen behind the Cameron Memorial Fountain, which still stands today. Picture: Gerald England

A view of Woodside Crescent from Sauchiehall Street in 1966. A side entrance to the Grand Hotel can be seen behind the Cameron Memorial Fountain, which still stands today. Picture: Gerald England

It remains the most visually striking of the city’s many crossroads - from Partick to St George’s - but not in the way Victorian planners may have hoped.

The impressive Mitchell Library still dominates the skyline. The building celebrated its centenary in 2012 and the largest public reference library in Western Europe.

A short distance away to the north-east is Charing Cross Mansions, once considered the grandest tenement building in the city. The apartment complex was completed in 1891 and was the work of Sir John James Burnet, a noted architect who would later oversee a major extension of the British Museum in London. Built in a then daring French-Renaissance style, the building majestically curves around St George’s Road to connect it with Sauchiehall Street. Sadly, its clock centrepiece has been allowed to fall into disrepair.

At least Charing Cross Mansions still stands. Its neighbour, the Grand Hotel, was not so fortunate. This impressive pile was used as a wedding reception and works party venue by generations of Glaswegians. Opened in 1882, it was second only to the Central Hotel in the city centre in terms of its reputation for attracting well-heeled guests.

The Grand Hotel at Charing Cross is demolished in February 1969. Picture: Alan Milligan

The Grand Hotel at Charing Cross is demolished in February 1969. Picture: Alan Milligan

The Grand would share the fate of innumerable buildings in Townhead, Cowcaddens, Anderston and Kinning Park when the route of a new urban ring road was approved by councillors in 1962.

Glasgow Corporation appointed Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick & Partners in 1960 to draw up a radical set of plans which would revolutionise the road network and dramatically change the face of the city.

The local authority was simultaneously preparing a major program of slum clearance which would sweep away much of Glasgow’s poor housing stock. Like other cities across the UK, this was a time of forward thinking and bold redevelopment.

But the plan to carve a motorway through the heart of the city - and flatten much of Charing Cross in the process - was controversial to say the least.

The M8 motorway in 1983. Charing Cross Mansions stands on the right. Picture: Allan Milligan

The M8 motorway in 1983. Charing Cross Mansions stands on the right. Picture: Allan Milligan

There was no doubting that rising car ownership and years of city gridlock had to be addressed, yet many wondered why a new road had to pass through this particular district.

The Grand Hotel closed in 1968 and was promptly raised the following year.

The section of M8 through Charing Cross and on to the new Kingston Bridge was completed in 1972. It was officially opened by Gordon Campbell, then secretary of state for Scotland.

A group of 20 architectural students from the nearby Glasgow School of Art held a protest at the opening, carrying placards proclaiming “People not cars” and “This scar will never heal”.

An aerial view of the M8 motorway. Charing Cross can be seen in the centre of the picture

An aerial view of the M8 motorway. Charing Cross can be seen in the centre of the picture

One protester, Hunter Reid, a fourth year student, told the Glasgow Herald: “The main point we are making is that the motorway is completely despoiling the city. It has been rushed through without any regard to the effect on the surrounding area.”

READ MORE: What next for Scotland’s motorway network?

The protesters believed the motorway cutting should be covered over, allowing a public space to be created above.

More than forty years later a Glasgow City Council-commissioned report reached a similar conclusion.

Proposals unveiled in 2015 to regenerate the Charing Cross and Garnethill districts included creating a raised public garden above the motorway.

The report stated: “The uncovered M8 cutting contributes the negative qualities of severance, noise and air pollution, while the three-lane slip roads on either side discourage anyone from doing any more than scuttling through as fast as possible.

Charing Cross Mansions in 2012. Picture: Robert Perry

Charing Cross Mansions in 2012. Picture: Robert Perry

“Change is needed to make this part of the city more pleasant and easy to walk and cycle through and to enable it to make some positive public realm contribution.”

Although uncosted, and with no definite timescale given for completing the project, it looks like the face of Charing Cross could soon be given another makeover.

Woodside Crescent and the Cameron Memorial Fountain in 2012. Picture: Robert Perry

Woodside Crescent and the Cameron Memorial Fountain in 2012. Picture: Robert Perry