Then and Now – Springburn No More

We are very lucky in Scotland in that we have such a wealth of resources to draw upon in researching personal family histories. From the Scotland’s People website which offers parish and statutory records dating back to the medieval period, to the digitised historic maps of the National Library of Scotland. We can even access historical tax records at Scotland’s Places and learn about the smallest details of our ancestor’s life.

For the amateur genealogist, websites like Google Maps are also proving to be an extremely useful resource for travelling to multiple locations around the world in the space of an afternoon from the comfort and convenience of your own desk.

So I thought it might be a good idea to put together a series showing locations that had relevance to my ancestors and how many of the buildings have been transformed or disappeared in more recent times.

  John McDonald (born 1892)

My Great-Grandfather John McDonald was one of a long line of my family to be born in Springburn, Glasgow. He was born at the height of the British Empire and worked in the locomotive works at a time when Springburn constructed approximity 25% of the world’s locomotives and railways. It declined steeply during the 20th century and nearly all of its fine Victorian buildings have been demolished, leaving patches of grass and flat open spaces full of rubble, where grand buildings and a vibrant community once stood. John McDonald was born at 7 Springvale Place, Springburn in 1892. It took me a while to find this, but I finally found it on a map dated 1913.

SpringvalePlace1913
Site of Springvale Place from a 1913 publication. By 1932 it had been demolished and appears on a map of that time as a public park.
Springvale Place in 2013, now the site of Springvale lesiure centre and an off-ramp from the A803. The remains of Union and North Streets can just be made out. As can be seen, there has been a significant changes to the road lay outs and nearly all of the buildings have been demolished.
Springvale Place in 2013, now the site of Springburn Leisure Centre and an off-ramp from the A803. The feint remains of Union and North Streets can just be made out. As can be seen, there have been significant changes to the road lay out and nearly all of the original buildings have been demolished.
The rear of Springburn Leisure Centre, from Kay Street which shows what would have been the approximate location of Springvale Place.
The rear of Springburn Leisure Centre, from Kay Street, which shows what would have been the approximate location of Springvale Place. It would have run horizontally from left to right in this picture.

It is difficult to understate how much Springburn has been decimated in the last 40 years. My family of MacDonald’s lived in a number of streets throughout the area over 5 generations and most of the area in 2013 would be unrecognisable to them. Reading through forums of former residents of the area shows the horror and disgust of how much has been lost, and how a respectable community has had its pride taken away. The death of  the town centre is hardly an isolated incident in Scotland, but the sheer decimation of Springburn is particularly striking.  Government and local authorities are currently struggling to find solutions to our empty town centres, which have been absolutely ruined by the disastrous town planning of the 1960s and 1970s.

A vibrant Springvale Road in 1977, with Kay Street to the right.
A vibrant Springburn Road in 1977, with Kay Street to the right.
The same view today, an empty street full of pound shops and bookies, with Kay Street to the right.
The same view today, an empty street full of bookies and cheap shops, with Kay Street to the right.
Springburn Road in 1977. The park that replaced Springvale Place can still be seen to the left of the picture.
Springburn Road in 1977. The park that replaced Springvale Place can still be seen to the left of the picture.
Springburn Road today, marking the approximate location of Springvale Place, roughly where Springburn Leisure Centre is located.
The same location at Springburn Road today, marking the approximate location of Springvale Place, roughly where Springburn Leisure Centre is situated.
Northcroft Road at an unknown date. John McDonald lived here in 1940. The street to the left is North Street, where John is listed as living with his father Neil McDonald in 1901. He also married my Great-Grandmother there in 1916, as she lived on North Street at the time. It was later renamed Lenzie Street.
Northcroft Road at an unknown date. John McDonald lived here in 1940. He also lived at the street to the left of the ‘Brandies’ sign, which at the time was known as North Street (later renamed Lenzie Street). He is listed as living there with his father, my Great-Great Grandfather Neil McDonald in 1901. 
The same view today, none of the original buildings survive but some of the road that was at North Street can be seen under the grass to the left.
The same view today, none of the original buildings survive but some of the road that was at North Street can be seen under the grass to the left.
Lenzie Street, from Springburn Road in the 1950s, this would have been a familiar site to John McDonald.
Balgrayhill Rd (now Lenzie Street), from Springburn Road in the 1950s, this would have been a familiar site to John McDonald.
The same view today would be unrecognisable to John McDonald.
The same view today would be almost unrecognisable to John McDonald, although a single building to the right of the picture remains.

The obvious theme here is that nearly every site associated with my family and Springburn has been knocked down. Many of the streets no longer exist and all of the industrial sites that they worked at are now gone. It’s a sad indictment on those that were tasked with regenerating communities such as Springburn that they remain broken and soulless. The building of the A803 has been the architectural equivalent of an execution. Nothing is left of the areas affected by this infrastructural project, literally nothing. Just to finalise the point, I’ll leave you with one final pair of pictures which epitomises the area. It really is sad to see so much of my family history bulldozed in the name of ‘progress’.

The junction of Elmsvale Street and the old Springburn Road. The Elmsvale School can be seen at the left of the picture, on what was the right hand side of Elmsvale Street. This junction was just 50m from where Springvale Place once stood.
The junction of Elmvale Street and the old Springburn Road. The Elmvale School can be seen at the left of the picture, on what was the right hand side of Elmvale Street. This junction was just 50m from where Springvale Place once stood.
The approximate location of the junction today.
The approximate location of the junction today, with the Elmvale School to the left.

30 thoughts on “Then and Now – Springburn No More

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    1. Hi Gary, I see the mistake now and I am always grateful for corrections. I will be sure to get that changed. Glad to hear the school is still going strong, I hope the children get to learn a bit about their local history.

  1. Hi Colin, My GGG.Grandfather Charles Bell born Springburn 1819 & worked at Eagle Foundry in 1838-1840 as an Iron Moulder. Sadly he and his mate in 1840 Robbed a Watchmaker Jeweller in William Street Greenock. The owner was Patrick Devlin . My GGG Grandfather and his mate Francis Smith were transported to Tasmania for 14yrs..In the 1841 census they were both in Paisley Prison before they were tried and sentenced in Edinburgh..Love looking at the old photos..Thankyou

    1. I’m really glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve had a lot of nice feedback to the Springburn article. Your family history is fascinating. I seem to also have a connection to all of those places as my paternal grandfather was born in Spingburn and my maternal grandfather was born at William St, Greenock! I also lived in Australia for a long time, so it is a small world. Incidentally, Paisley prison was once a very fine building, but was pointlessly demolished during the 1960s or 1970s.

  2. Hi Colin, I enjoyed reading your story and seeing the photos. I luvved that part of Springburn where I grew up, went to Elmvale primary and Albert high school. Nowadays I hate the look of it. Your photo: “Lenzie Street, from Springburn Road in the 1950s” actually shows Balgrayhill Road. The Quinn’s Pub is at the bottom of the hill on the left, had a pub on the Springburn Road entrance plus an entrance to the top pub just up the hill. It was my favourite pub until I became a ‘pub tourist’ in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

    1. Thanks Robert I always like hearing about peoples experiences in Springburn. I see now that Balgrayhill Rd as it exists today had changed to being an extension of Edgefauld Rd, with the new Lenzie St being what was the old Balgrayhill Rd. I hadn’t previously noticed that.

  3. Hi Colin, above, near the top right side, the spelling of Elmvale needs changed:
    Information
    This entry was posted on November 8, 2013 by Colin MacDonald and tagged Elmsvale Street,

    Thanks,
    Robert

    1. Hi Robert, I live in Greenock, just ‘down the road’ from Springburn when compared with Toronto! I’m afraid Springburn is a very pale imitation of the place it once was. I’ve had a look through that particular site before, there are some great photos. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, it has been extremely popular.

  4. Hi Colin, my family had a caravan up the hill from Cloch Lighthouse in the late 50s/early 60s, tremendously good views from there. Some anti-aircraft gun sites were still there, dug into the hill with concrete around them. We have great sunshine here but freezing when a wee breeze happens…!

  5. Hi Colin love looking at your photos I was brought up at 26 Elmvale St and went to St aloysious primary at the bottom of the street I loved my childhood have moved around a bit but am still in springburn area I agree with other comments though springburn has had the heart taken out of it so sad

    1. Thanks Kathleen, I’m glad you liked it. I’m in agreement with you, Springburn – like many towns in Scotland – was ruined by awful urban planning and short sighted ideas.

  6. My Dad was born in Springburn , 185 Edgefauld road to be exact. in 1916, i can’t believe its been 100 years ago. my Dada died at 93 years of age.. I went to Scotland in 2007 and loved it, and of course i had to go see where my Dad came from. Sadly the old tenements were torn down, but there was a house with the address 185. What a feeling i got. I found Springburn very nice and the people I spoke to were great. i visited the Library in town and the Ladies brought out three large boxes of old photos of how the town looked back. I then spent about two hours looking at photos, reading articles and did not get half way through them.. i will be back. I do hope Springburn the best and i hope to spent a bit more time visiting. bye for now George

    1. Hi Eddie,

      The (old) Lenzie Street that replaced North Street also incorporated Sutherland Street. Neither of these streets exist today.

      The (new) Lenzie Street that exists today is the old Balgrayhill Road.

  7. I lived in springburn and left in 1966 to go to India, we lived up the high road (I think), it was a street that had the broo, I remember the coop as someone stole my scooter from there. Outside toilet on the stair well I can recall.

  8. Fascinating old photos of Springburn, where I spent the first ten years of my life. Many fond memories. However, I am trying to find any photographs of the old Lenzie Street, running off the “Avenue”. Can anhone help?

    1. Hi Colin, I got these photos from Joe McGifford, he lived next to old Lenzie Street, Springburn and he played with my older cousins who lived at the corner of old Lenzie Street from 1938 to about 1945. (Glasgow messed up Springburn, now has a Lenzie Street etc in newer areas.

      Facebook has “Springburn Remembered” page, lots of local photos.

      All the Best, Robert McLeod Stewart from Springburn, Glasgow, now in Toronto area

  9. Hello I was born in Torrence St. in 1946, moved to Queenshill St. in 1955
    Then to Kirkintilloch in 1960.
    Left Scotland in 1967 forLondon and never returned to live until 12 years ago when I retired to the Orkney Islands
    Do you know if either Torrence or Queenshill streets are still there?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Esther,

      Torrance Street (Union Street on some maps) no longer exists, it’s now more or less a patch of grass opposite the Leisure Centre.

      Queenshill Street (originally Lamb Street) is kinda still there, but more as a lane-way between the medical centre and shopping centre. My family lived very close to you in 1955 as they were on Northcroft Road.

      Hope that helps.

  10. My family lived around the Balgary road and later moved to number 3 Auchentoshan Terrace at the corner of Springburn Road where my great grandfather ran a pub (can´t trace the name of this pub). I was born at number 9 Petershill Road and the McKennas (my family) all lived in the area. Some later moved to Balornock when reforms were carried out. My grandfather and some uncles worked in the St. Rollox railway yard. My mother and father later moved to Knightswood. I now live in Spain with my family but still have family in Glasgow.
    Loved the pjotos of old Springburn. Many thanks.

    MAUREEN

  11. sorry.. Hi Colin, I found your family history in Springburn quite fascinating, mainly due to the photographs you included.. A friend on a car forum had discovered your photo, opposite the Springvale Park looking towards Elmvale Street in 1977 and copied it as part of a ‘throwback’ thread that happens on there.. When I saw it, I realised the car in the photo is one that I bought near a year after you took the picture!

    Although I didn’t live in Springburn I travelled through it continuously from Bishopbriggs, heading for Glasgow on the Alexander buses from Kilsyth, Falkirk, and mainly the 177 from Woodhill.. and later from 1976 once I had bought my own car..
    that white Capri NGA318M was my 3rd car, bought in Ruchill Street on 13 December 1978.

    There was only one previous owner, the chap who bought it new from Skellys (Cumbernauld Road) He was a local Springburn man, the janitor at the Colston Wellpark school, just further north up Springburn Road, before the city boundary ..

    I sold the car in 1984, the day my daughter was born, and have never had a digital picture of it, and very few old 6x4s!
    I hope you dont mind if I copy into my files, purely as a memento of a former old car..

    Many thanks indeed, Keep Safe

    1. Hi Alan,

      Many thanks for this great piece of local information! I really enjoyed it. The picture in question was not actually taken by me, indeed in 1977 I was not even a twinkle in my father’s eye. I wrote this post about 8 years ago now so cannot for the life of me remember where I found the picture. I believe it may have been from one of the old, possibly now defunct, websites about Springburn’s local history. After hearing your story it would be good to know who took the photo! Anyway I’m glad you enjoyed the post and that there is still so much interest in Springburn’s history (this article still generates quite a bit of traffic).

      All the best.

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