St Vincent Crescent, Glasgow G3

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This is taken from a magazine article which first appeared in Scottish Field, in September 1973.

Snaking westwards, St. Vincent Crescent seen from its junction with Corunna Street

Catriona Findlay

GLASGOW has often been described as the Victorian city; and certainly the compulsive building in that period successfully wiped out most of the stone and mortar evidence of its earlier Georgian prosperity - the latter a time when it was noted as being "one of the most elegant towns in Scotland".  Imagine, then, for a moment, that you are suspended above Glasgow during, let us say, the first half of the 19th century; suspended above a particular part of it, rather. What do you see? The River Clyde still sprawling widely as it passes the quaysides of the town, and meandering along the verges of the green fields of Stobcross, adjacent to the village of Anderston still, at this time, outwith the boundary of Glasgow; and from the village an avenue of old trees leading for about half‑a‑mile to the gates of Stobcross House which stands by the water. This house is at the heart of the lands of Stobcross, which originally formed part of the Bishop's Forest and later of the Great Western

St Vincent Crescent and the bowling greens, with the sheds of Queen's Dock beyond and the fingers of multi-storey flats south of the river thrusting against the horizon

Common, but which at some time, and some how, during the 17th century came into the possession of the Anderson family who were for three quarters of a century part of the ruling clique in Glasgow.  In 1735 the Anderson family sold the estate to John Orr, whose nephew 41 years later sold to David Watson, described as a Merchant in Glasgow. The price was £3000 for 62 acres and the mansion house. 

In 1783 David Watson died, and his children's curators sold Stobcross for £3750 to yet another "Merchant in Glasgow", John Phillips, who lived in  Stobcross House until his death in 1829.  Some 15 years later Phillips' trustees sold the estate and house for £58,246 to a syndicate headed by James Scott; who with almost 20th century promptitude sold off 20 acres to the Clyde Trust for about the same price as they had paid for the whole. On this site the Queen's Dock was constructed, though not until 1880. 

Such is the background to the part of Glasgow we are surveying from our bird's eye position. But now the scene begins to change: on this land in 1849 the Stobcross Estate Company began speculative building, following what was the current fashion in London and putting up tenements divided into flats, with communal pleasure gardens - the first in Glasgow to be built in this style. The architect was a Glasgow man, Alexander Kirkland; and for the Company he designed a beautifully serpentine crescent of four to ten roomed flats, three storeys high, that snaked along for almost half-a-mile.

From a top floor window, looking to the bowling green

"An important, useful and ornamental addition to our city," one writer described it. "The Stobcross lands," he continued, "have now (1851) been laid out with streets, terraces, and crescents, underlaid with splendid common sewers, which have no connection with any other property, at an expense to the proprietors of £7000. . . . Last year buildings to the value of more than £30,000 were erected. . . ."

The two acres in front of the principal crescent were laid out as pleasure grounds "enclosed with a highly ornamental railing" and even in 1973 part of the pleasure is still there, for in St Vincent Crescent there are three bowling clubs along the greater part of the frontage, with half-a-dozen greens among them; but

Tidying up of a back green; the borders by the wall are bright with flowers

the old boating and curling ponds, which some of the oldest residents in the area can remember, lost their "pleasure" aspect when taken over by industry and a timber yard between the two World Wars.

St. Vincent Crescent:  the name itself did not please everyone. At first it was called - appropriately, it would seem - Stobcross Crescent. But, to quote the author of "Glasgow, Past and Present", "a few weeks since some of the highly genteel people who have the management of the matter, transmogrified Stobcross into St. Vincent.  What these folks have to do with the island of that name in the West Indies . . . .we do not know; but we think they would have shown good taste in retaining the name by which the locality was known in the days of their fathers".

But in spite of his criticism, the author was greatly in favour of the actual development "for, combining the pleasures of a country residence with the advantage of proximity to the city, and from the liberal manner in which the grounds have been laid out, there is no doubt that this will soon become a favourite location for a desirable class of tenants".  Except for the matter of the grounds, that could well be true even today.

The "desirable class of tenants" who first moved into these "fine, middle-class dwellings" paid rents ranging from £40 to £70, and they tended to be people associated with the life of the waterside harbour and port officials, sea captains and the like. But the coming of the railway and the accompanying increase in industrial development around the area put an end to the original idea of extending the Stobcross building southwards to the river and northwards to link with the fringes of the highly fashionable Park area. What would have happened to St. Vincent Crescent itself makes a good guess‑it might have snaked forever westwards.

Instead it tended to come down in the world: slum landlords moved in, multiple occupancy became a problem, neglect and consequent deterioration of fabric ruined the visual delight of this sweeping row with its regular rhythm of tall windows with astragals, punctuated on the ground floor by square pillared porticos. The main cause of the deterioration was the zoning of land for commercial/industrial use - something that always tends to doom residential areas near by, and St. Vincent Crescent and adjacent streets were no exception to the rule. The buildings, indeed, were scheduled, not for preservation as might have been expected, but for demolition during the decade 1975-85.

Sunshine floods through the windows of this first floor sitting room

But in the mid 1960s St. Vincent Crescent began to revive: the New Glasgow Society office opened here, and into some of the flats moved people who appreciated the place not just for its architectural merit, but for some of the other qualities that the 19th century writer had found so praiseworthy and which they felt could be restored. In 1968, after considerable agitation by concerned residents, Glasgow Corporation helped greatly by rezoning the area and designating the foreground as permanent open space; the Health Department has cooperated in reducing the nuisance of multiple occupancies; the Parks Department has provided a garden and playground; and in Lord Esher's report on "Conservation in Glasgow", published in 1971, he made a special plea for the preservation of the Crescent, already the subject of a preservation order.
The residents themselves do much to preserve and improve their surroundings. The Crescent Area Association encourages a co-operative scheme for painting all woodwork white on windows, for restoring astragals wherever possible, for replacing iron railings (only a few houses retained the original railings intact, but the Association managed to acquire some two and a half tons of scrap railings of the same pattern, and these are available for anyone who can afford to erect them), and for tidying gardens and planting a uniform hedging of privet along the length of the Crescent. Trees have been planted in the pavement. Others have been planted by Glasgow Tree Lovers Society; and the University is helping by leasing ground in a common garden.

But at the moment they are dealing with a greater threat than rundown houses and gardens: the Electricity Board is planning to build its head office for Glasgow north, plus a park for heavy lorries and vans, adjacent to St. Vincent Crescent. The thought of 600 or so people coming daily to work and parking their cars in the area is understandably viewed with some misgiving by local residents and they are appealing to the Secretary of State for some alteration of the plans.

The outcome is uncertain. Nevertheless the people who live here are optimistic. And meanwhile there is always the consolation of lying in bed on Sunday morn­ings watching the ore ships slip silently past, or of listening in the night to the cheerful tooting of tugs, or a much rarer pleasure nowadays of seeing 15‑20,000 tonners riding floodlit on the high tide near the mammoth landmark of the Stobcross Crane.