Richard Chivers and Alex Currie recently spent a week in Glasgow, one of the main objectives for the week was to visit and capture photographs of the Red Road Flats in Glasgow. The Flats were built between 1964-69, they consist of eight high rise blocks. Two are “slabs”, much wider in cross-section than they are deep. Six are “points” more of a traditional tower block shape. The slabs have 25-32 floors, the points 30, and taken together they were designed for a population of 4,700 people.
During our visit we meet up with Jonny Howes from redroadflats.org.uk and he kindly gave us some archival images of the Red Road during construction. The images have been supplied by The Glasgow Herald who hold the copyright.
In contrast to the housing estates we have been investigating for our Degeneration project, Simon Carruthers has been investigating the Barbican in London. Which is an example of post war modernist architecture that has been invested in over the years and so still offers its residents a well maintained home to live in.
Before we visited the Red Road Flats we made a contact with a community arts Organisation at Red Road. http://www.redroadflats.org.uk This was so we could really research the area and learn a bit more about what was going on at the flats. We met Jonathan Howes who showed us around and gave us access to the Community Flat on the 23rd floor of one of the blocks. On their website they are asking for people to give their story about the Red Road. I have posted one here:
John McNally – resident for 30 years
John McNally (86) is one local Red Road resident who was amongst the first tenants in the Red Road Flats when they opened in the 1960s. His memories share a time of new beginnings and new hope for the area, giving an important reflection on the current plans for demolition. They provide a valuable insight into life on the estate from its very start.
I watched the flats going up every day on my way to work. I have to say I never thought I’d see them coming down. The land used to be cabbage fields – it was the old Barmulloch Farm. The Red Road was just a path before Springburn was extended. We shifted up here in 1953 when they started knocking the old tenements down. I seen the lads drilling and I came home and said to my wife, ‘They must be going to build there’. In the end it was the sixties before the flats actually went up. It was easy enough to get one of the flats though they were meant to be quite something. Executive flats they called them. There was one Tory – I was always sorry that I never kept this cutting – that said these flats were too good for the working classes. When I was growing up housing conditions were really bad. There were ten of us and we had two rooms and the toilet was in the stairheid.
Springburn was known as a respectable working class area – there was no trouble here. There was plenty of industry then with the railways and the cable works and the steel works. When we moved out here it was like the country. The real reason we shifted to Red Road was because it was near our work – the Scottish Gas Board or Provan Works as it was then. I started out as a labourer but ended up as the Purification Foreman. When I started I said, I’ll no stay here long’ and then I ended up there for thirty-six years. My wife worked there as the canteen cook. When we first moved in to Red Road the spirit of the old tenements was still here. People talked to each other, the women were out there on a Friday night to do the cleaning, they’d do the windies before we’d go down to the pub. But then everything changed and they got a bad name. What do they call them now? The notorious Red Road flats’? Apparently at one time there were 600 flats that they couldn’t rent.
But I love the flats. The first day I moved in I was amazed at looking down and seeing birds flying –twenty-seven storeys up. I really like the view. On a clear day you can see the hills of Arran. You get great sunsets and sunrises. I’ve never had any bother in the flats. The one thing is I don’t know my neighbours now. I’d say it started to change quite a few years back. I lost my wife in 1999 and even then she’d know most of them. Now they’re mostly refugees and asylum seekers. We’ve got every nationality living here now. We were Irish and we were asylum seekers at one time too, some of them have had a terrible time.
When I got the letter to say that they were knocking down the flats mine wasn’t mentioned and at first I thought I would be OK. It was only afterwards I found out my block was going to come down too. When they first came to ask me where I wanted to go I said, ‘Just knock me down with the building. Don’t bother shifting me.’ But I suppose I’ve got no choice. It’s knocked the heart out of me though. It really has. Now who knows what will happen to this place when the flats come down.
I recently had the pleasure of showing work in the same exhibition as Marc Wilson at Lucy Bell fine Art in Hastings. I have added a few of my favourite images of his work here.
All these landscapes (because one is dealing here with landscapes even if they are far from the usual cliches of green meadows) have a story in common – the story of their abandonment by man…What Marc Wilson allows us to see is their survival, revealing their intrinsic beauty”(Mouvement French magazine)
Also while I was at the Photographers Gallery and had a spare hour to waste I came across Guy Tillims ‘Avenue Patrice Lumumba.’
Jim James at Lens Culture writes “South African photographer Guy Tillim creates lush, complex, interweaving photo essays that seem more like nonfiction novels than photojournalism. Indeed, to my mind, his photographs and stories are best encountered in the several excellent books he has authored.”