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Gorbals is located in Glasgow council area
 Gorbals shown within Glasgow
OS grid reference NS 59100 64000
Council area Glasgow City Council
Lieutenancy area Glasgow
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town GLASGOW
Postcode district G5
Dialling code 0141
Police Scottish
Fire Scottish
Ambulance Scottish
EU Parliament Scotland
UK Parliament Glasgow Central
Scottish Parliament Glasgow Shettleston
List of places

Coordinates: 55°50′55″N 4°15′08″W / 55.84861°N 4.25222°W / 55.84861; -4.25222

The Gorbals is an area on the south bank of the River Clyde in the city of Glasgow, Scotland. By the late 19th century it had become over-populated and adversely affected by local industrialisation. Many people lived here because their jobs provided their homes and they could not afford their own. It became widely known as a dangerous slum associated with the problems of drunkenness and crime. It was subject to efforts at redevelopment, which contributed to more problems such as homelessness and the spread of disease. In recent decades, much of the area has been demolished and redeveloped with a mixture of market and social housing. Some buildings are being refurbished and restored to a higher standard.

Currently there is an active campaign to reinstate the Cross, organised by locals and Facebook page, Old Gorbals Pictures (Heritage Group). The group have discovered that a copy of the original cross exists on the Caribbean Island of St Kitts & Nevis and are working to engage professional help to digitally scan this object to allow for the manufacture of another Gorbals Cross, No 3 to be built in the new development near to where it originally stood.

Meaning of placename[edit]

The name is first documented in the 15th and 16th centuries as 'Gorbaldis', and its etymology is unclear. It may be related to the Latin word garbale (sheaf), found in the Scots term garbal teind (tenth sheaf), a tithe of corn given to a parish rector. The taking of garbal teind was a right given to George Elphinstone in 1616 as part of his 19-year tack (lease). The placename would therefore mean "the Sheaves". The name is remarkably similar to a Lowland Scots word gorbal/gorbel/garbal/garbel (unfledged bird), perhaps a reference to lepers who were allowed to beg for alms in public. Any Gaelic form of the name is conjectural, since none survives from medieval times. Gort a' bhaile (garden of the town) conforms with certain suggestions made by A.G. Callant in 1888, but it is possible to produce a list of other interpretations.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the area was home to large numbers of immigrants from the Scottish Highlands, Italy and Ireland, attracted by the industrial jobs and leaving social problems and poverty in their homelands. It also housed the new wave of Jewish immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe, and housed the great majority of Scotland's Jewish population. The Jewish population moved out of the area as it rose in education and economic class; although the Irish-Catholic population has diminished to an extent, many have remained since the area's redevelopment.


Govan parish was one of the oldest possessions of the church in the region. The merk land of "Brigend and Gorbaldis" is referred to in several sources. The village of Brigend was named after the bridge which Bishop William Rae had built in 1345 over the River Clyde; it lasted until the 19th century. Lady Marjorie Stewart of Lochow was said to have had a hospital built for lepers and dedicated to St Ninian in 1350, although this year is contested by current historians' estimates dating her life and activities. The lands on which the hospital was built were named St Ninian's Croft, and they were later to be incorporated into Hutchesontown.[1]

Gorbals as it appeared in 2006. Much of the area has been redeveloped, and it now has a modern library and learning centre. Some tower blocks remain but the city plans to redevelop some and demolish others.

After the Protestant Reformation, in 1579 the church granted the land for ground rents (feued the land) to Sir George Elphinstone, a merchant who was Provost of Glasgow (1600–1606). The barony and regality of the Gorbals was confirmed in 1606 by a charter of King James VI, which vested Elphinstone and his descendants. These powers descended to Sir Robert Douglas of Blackerstone, who in 1650 disponed (legally transferred) the Gorbals to Glasgow's magistrates for the benefit of the city, the Trades' House, and Hutchesons' Hospital. The magistrates from then on collected the rents and duties and divided them: one fourth to the city, one fourth to the Trades' House, and the remaining half to Hutchesons' Hospital.[1]

In 1790 the lands were divided into lots for development; the City acquired the old feus of Gorbals and Bridgend, and also the Kingston portion of the Barony of Gorbals; the Trades' House obtained a western section; and the remaining section lying to the east and south was allocated to Hutchesons' Hospital. The Hutcheson's Trust then sub-feud a portion of their lands to an ambitious builder, James Laurie. (His grave, along with those of many other builders of Gorbals, is marked with well-carved masons' implements, indicating his Master status. The gravestones are visible at the Burial Ground, established in 1715 and now called the Gorbals Rose Garden). Laurie built the first house in St Ninian Street in 1794.[1]

The districts are now known as the Gorbals, Laurieston, Tradeston, Kingston and Hutchesontown. The Little Govan estate, including a small village of the same name, were replaced by the eastern parts of Hutchesontown and Oatlands. The Gorbals was a successful industrial suburb in the late 19th century, and attracted many Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Italy, as well as Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe. At one time this area had the great majority of all Jews in Scotland. Industrial decay and over-population overwhelmed the area, which became a centre of poverty.[1] Gorbals railway station opened on 1 September 1877. Changes in the area meant a decrease in business, and it closed to passengers permanently on 1 June 1928.

Main Street, Gorbals, 1911
Eglinton Street, Gorbals, 1939

The Gorbals has long had a reputation as a gritty and rough area of Glasgow. In the 1870s, the City Improvement Trust cleared away the old Gorbals village and redeveloped the area to form the new Gorbals Cross, at the same time developing new workers' tenements around the former Oatlands Square.[2] Later on, industrial restructuring meant a loss of jobs, while old factories and support buildings fell into ruin. Glasgow Corporation's replacement of old, outdated and crowded housing with new high-rise towers in the 1960s did little to improve the area. In the 20th century, the problems of concentrated poverty and lack of jobs contributed to high levels of crime. Those people who managed to advance in education and economic status left the area for newer housing and work elsewhere.

Throughout the 1930s, the Gorbals was often referred to as the most dangerous place in the UK, as street gangs and casual violence were rife, particularly from the famous Glasgow razor gangs. The poor design and low-quality construction of the concrete, 20-storey flats led to innumerable social and health problems in the area; many of the blocks developed mold and structural problems, and the design prevented residents from visually controlling their internal and external spaces, adding to the social issues. The most infamous of the towers, the Queen Elizabeth Square flats designed by Sir Basil Spence, was demolished in 1993 to make way for a new generation of housing development. In 2004, Glasgow Housing Association announced plans to demolish more of the decaying high-rise blocks, and to comprehensively refurbish and re-clad others. As of 2011, all but one of the four Laurieston blocks had been demolished, with the remaining block at Norfolk Court currently condemned, and scheduled for demolition in 2015-16, however there has been discussion about the possible refurbishment of the block. The two Area "E" towers at Sandiefield Road were demolished in July 2013. Two of the four Area "D" blocks had also been razed, and in the longer term, these and the entire Area "B" estate (scheduled for a further refurbishment) will be the only tower blocks left in the Gorbals.

The Queen Elizabeth Square flats were demolished in 1993

Much of the area, particularly Hutchesontown, was comprehensively redeveloped for a third time, providing a mix of private and social housing. Earlier phases of this recent redevelopment tended toward yellow-brick reinterpretations of traditional tenements, in a post-modern style. More recent phases, masterplanned by Piers Gough, have employed noted modern architects such as Page/Park, Elder & Cannon and CZWG, resulting in more bold and radical designs, accompanied by innovative street plans and high-quality landscaping. They incorporated many pieces of public art. The Gorbals Leisure Centre opened in January 2000 and the number of shopping facilities in the area is on the rise. In 2005, fire destroyed the Catholic Church of Blessed John Duns Scotus as a result of a fallen candle. The church was restored and reopened for worship in September 2010.[3]

With much of the Hutchieston area of the Gorbals improved, the urban and social-regeneration program expanded into the neighbouring Laurieston area to the west.[4]

Since 1945, the Citizens Theatre has been based in the area at the former Royal Princess's Theatre, an historic Victorian building. The area also has a local newspaper Local News for Southsiders. The area is served by Bridge Street and West Street subway stations and numerous bus routes. Plans were unveiled in March 2007 to provide another subway station, in the heart of the redeveloped Hutchesontown.[5]

A controversial pub in the district is the Brazen Head, located at the northern end of Cathcart Road. Formerly a railway pub known as the Granite City, it is particularly associated with Irish Republicanism.[6] The pub is near the Caledonia Road Church, a derelict mid-Victorian structure designed by Alexander 'Greek' Thomson.[7]

Historical maps[edit]

A large selection of historical maps of the Gorbals is available from the National Library of Scotland.

Notable natives and residents[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Andrew Aird (1894), Glimpses of Old Glasgow, Glasgow Digital Library, accessed 22 Oct 2010
  2. ^ Smith, Ronald P A, 'The Gorbals & Oatlands - A New History, Volume 1: The Gorbals of Old', Stenlake Publishing, 2014
  3. ^ Flourish (UK)
  4. ^ ClydeWaterfront.com
  5. ^ Evening Times (UK)
  6. ^ Inside the Gorbals' hardest pub, Kenny Farquharson, the Sunday Times, 2003-09-07
  7. ^ Caledonia Road United Presbyterian Church, Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland.
  8. ^ Harvey, Ellie; Carson, Vanda (8 September 2009). "From a Glasgow slum to Sydney's north shore". The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 22 December 2010. 
  9. ^ Smith, Steve; Crooks, Lauren (2012-05-06). "Boxing legend Frank Bruno stuns neighbours after moving into Glasgow flat". Daily Record (Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail). Retrieved 2012-05-11. 
  10. ^ Review: "The Gorbals Story", New York Times
  11. ^ "Huntingtower", IMDB listing
  12. ^ Duct Soup
  13. ^ "Who", The Gorbals (LA) Website

External links[edit]