Bridges of the Clyde I

In meteorological terms it's spring (though not astronomically), however I'm not sure that makes a lot of difference in Glasgow on some days. Two days ago it was snowing; today was just as cold, but dry and sunny. So sunny, in fact, I was happy to head into town early on only 3.5 hours' sleep. There were bridges to photograph.

The first time I visited Glasgow I was amazed at how bland everything looked. It could easily have been any reasonably large english-speaking town in the world. With repeat visits I began to soften this viewpoint, and after discovering the Clyde on a sunny day I was beginning to think quite differently.

Much of Glasgow's history can be linked to the crossing of the Clyde. As is the case with many river-based cities, linking the two parts of the city via bridges/weirs/ferries can have an incredible impact on the city's expansion and financial success.

In the last couple of centuries, the central section of the river - from Dalmarnock to the Exhibition Centre - went from having only a couple of bridges to a staggering 18. Today I contented myself with looking at six of these.

First things first. Early on a Sunday morning (up until about 10:00 - when most of the larger shops start opening), Glasgow is hungover. The few people to be seen on the streets are sleepy at best, and being sober in this situation is very surreal indeed. This is actually the best time - providing you don't actually want to go inside any of the buildings - to see the city's architecture as close as possible to uninhibited.

After grabbing a quick semi-healthy snack (semi-healthy is about the best you can do pre-10:00) it was through St Enoch Square, down Dixon St to Clyde St. As the name implies, this last is on the riverbank.

Crossing over to get as close to the water as possible, I was presented with two basic options. To the west (right) stood the Glasgow Bridge, almost immediately paired with the much later George V Bridge (one for cars & pedestrians, the other for rail). To the east - and just as close as the Glasgow Bridge to the end of Dixon St - was the far more impressive sounding South Portland St Suspension Bridge. East it was.

The South Portland St Suspension Bridge was first opened in 1853. Constructed under the watchful eyes of engineer George Martin, it only lasted until 1870 before being closed for extensive repairs. The South Tower had split from top to bottom; the chains and deck were completely removed and the timber deck replaced with a wrought iron framework.

The bridge was again closed for repairs in 1926, and the deck and hangers substantially renewed. However, much of the masonry towers remained untouched, and at 1853, they remain the oldest remnant of the Clyde bridges.

Crossing here I took a quick look at the highly unimaginative Glasgow Sheriff Court, before returning to the north bank via the Victoria Bridge. Victoria Bridge was built on the location of the Clyde's oldest known crossing, a timber bridge believed to exist in 1285. The new bridge was constructed in order to accomodate the growing traffic needs of the growing city - by 1851 it had a population of over 329,000 - and was one of the widest in the UK.

This is Glasgow's oldest surviving bridge over the clyde, and it remains an impressive sight. Passing the Central Mosque of Glasgow, I wandered along to the Albert Bridge; only a few hundred yards from the Victoria Bridge. True to form, older constructions were demolished in order to make way for newer ones, and the Albert Bridge is the fifth bridge on that site.

Opened in 1871, the traditional masonry methods gave way here to wrought ironwork in the form of elliptical arches. The widest of these spans some 114'. The arch ribs are masked by spandrels which have been adorned with various coats-of-arms; belonging to corporate bodies and of course Prince Albert. Crossing here I came to the southern end of Saltmarket, a street which (as well as the surrounding area) undergone a massive transformation since Victorian times. The result of the cleanup began with Glasgow Green, on the bank of the Clyde and east of the Albert Bridge.

Before investigating the next two bridges of my journey, it was time for a detour through the green. This began with the McLennan Arch, relocated twice before ending up in 1991 at the western edge of the Green. Through the arch can be seen the outlines of a fountain dedicated to Temperance Campaigner (later Provost) Sir William Collins. Beyond this stands the massive obelisk dedicated to Nelson's victories; the first monument for this purpose in Britain. The 44' high structure was designed by architect David Hamilton, and built by mason A. Brockett. The foundation stone was laid on 1st August 1806.

Back over to the river, and a look at the 1901 Pipe Bridge and Weir. Weirs on the Clyde have always been controversial, and no doubt there were a few smiles when erosion caused this one to collapse in 1941. However, it was soon rebuilt, and the accompanying bridge now carries a number of large diameter pipes across the Clyde.

A short distance past the weir lies the Glasgow Rowing Club (with plenty of appropriate 'you are approaching a weir' warning signs), and the last of the bridges for this brief trip. This is the St Andrews' Suspension Bridge, constructed in 1856 so that local factory workers could enjoy a safer crossing of the river. Repairs were carried out in 1997, including repainting in order to emphasise the St Andrews theme.

The final architectural investigation of today's trip was not a bridge, but the People's Palace and Winter Gardens; built in 1898 on the eastern edge of the Green. The idea was to foster a cultural growth in the city's poorer districts of the East End; initially holding concerts and now operating as a free museum of the city's social history. A fascinating place.

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