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Exploring the Abandoned Glasgow Central Low Level in 1967

When people mention exploring the abandoned or urban exploration (for want of a better phrase). Most people believe that this is a modern hobby born from the rise of accessible photography. Anyone that has bought a phone in the last 10 years will most likely have a camera attached to the back of it which can transform anyone into an amateur photographer. Up until recently I also believed that it was a modern phenomenon, that was until coming across a thread on a popular forum Urban Glasgow.

Nowadays people may not even realise that in 1964 under the beeching cuts much of the Glasgow Low Level railway network was abandoned and only later reopened in 1979, when the lines were modernised and electrified.

So when coming across Ian Russell’s photographs my jaw literally dropped. This is a historic and rare glimpse into a 15 year period that many thought were never documented. I was lucky enough to message Ian to ask him about his experiences from exploring in the 60s.

Ian and Dave

Abandoned Glasgow Central Low Level 1967
The author Ian Russell and his colleague Dave standing on the station platform at Glasgow Cross in 1967. Photograph taken by Ian’s colleague Alex.

“The offices above this area had railway paperwork strewn all over the floors. Silent telephone intercoms were still affixed to the wall. Behind us on the platform (to the right of where we are standing, behind the centre stairwell) a clutch of old carbide gas lamps lay hidden in a corner. These items left there many years ago by station staff.
The wood straps on the tunnel wall behind may have supported advertising or a station nameplate, possibly the latter. Advertising might necessitate non-railway personnel stepping over the railway to get access for pasting work, so less likely.”

Glasgow Green Station

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“This picture was taken in 1969 from just inside the west tunnel at Glasgow Green Station looking east toward Bridgeton Cross. From Bridgeton Cross station the tunnel profile was ‘cut and cover’ up to GG. Today, since 1979, the platforms have been cut back into a series of steps at either side. This photograph captures the essence of how the station once must have looked. The platforms going west entered the tunnel for several yards into a wide mouth that resolved into a standard semi-circular profile as the platforms tapered down to meet the rail bed. Conventional tunneling was used here as it passed under the tenements of Monteith Row. The station closed for the last time in 1953. Adjoining ‘cut and cover’ tunnel roof profile began just before reaching Glasgow Cross, the next station on the line. Here the tunnel lay directly below the street. The tunnels after the Green were the blackest and sootiest I have ever seen. Like a horizontal chimney stack. Inside the refuges were black as pitch too. Contrasting this were strange dry looking, white, dome shaped blisters, about an inch in diameter and height, that grew out of the bricks here and there. Also the tunnel walls provided a strange ‘anechoic’ suppression of sound effect to the ears as we walked along the route. All we had for illumination was a battery lamp to see the way ahead. I would have never ventured there alone.”

Glasgow Cross Station
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“This photograph was also taken in 1969 when I was about 26 showing Glasgow Cross station building. As a schoolboy I recall seeing this building in its operational life on Saturdays in the 1950’s. Puffs of smoke would sometimes emanate from the triangular vent behind. It was as if it wasn’t there as far as I was concerned. It never occurred to me to take a train, visit the platforms or find out where the line went to. I could kick myself for not taking an interest then. The station closed in 1964 as part of the Beeching Axe. Sadly in 1969, when it was nearly too late, I scrabbled about trying to get shots of the building before it finally disappeared. I realised of course later that most people treated it with the same disinterest as myself thus its economic decline. It had limited but positive functionality in transporting shipyard workers from east to west during the heavy engineering boom years where sooty suburban coaches were marked ‘WORKMEN’ to separate the ‘overall’ clad workers from office types. There was a waiting room and benches on the platform in these days but they had been removed when I made the first tunnel exploration. Possibly only recent to my visit.”

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“This is a picture taken in 1967 by myself. It shows the area where the Westergate building now stands. In early days it incorporated crossings and sidings for coaling locomotives. I think there was the remnants of a coal chute on the far right of the picture. You can’t see it properly, but there was a small concrete hut with two windows and a side door tucked in on the far right next to the wall. On my visit there were luggage barrows still standing on the platform behind the toilets and waiting room on the left. Up above there were a row of shops facing on to Argyle Street on the northwest side of the Heilanmans umbrella. En-route between Glasgow Cross and the Central LL we came upon a huge arched opening on the south side of the tunnel wall. This connected to what was a steam operated pumping station next to Lewiss’s department store. There was a tall square section chimney sited there to expel smoke from the tunnel. At the time I did not recognise its function and I thought it was a coaling bunker. You could see the workmen’s service lights of the Central station from its position. It had a flared opening and was made from brick that was absolutely blackened with a thick soot deposit. There was a four foot climb to reach the base of it. Regrettably I did not explore it further.”

Glasgow Central
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“On the same visit I had my picture taken by Alex. I am standing next to the west-most station sign on the north platform. This platform is now gone due to the Westergate project. However this sign is redolent of the time, the architecture and the spirit of the low level station as it was in steam days. How many people would have seen this from out of a grimy suburban carriage window, under dim tungsten station lighting. Perhaps one might only get a glimpse of it through the smoke and steam. In those days the station roof was much lower than it is today as the rail bed was subsequently lowered in 1979 to accommodate the overhead wires of the electric service. I found out from UG that there were two signal boxes in the Central Low Level, one on the central platform at the west side and another in the tunnel on the east side on the north wall. The one on the west was tiled in yellow and white and that of east was a wooden planked box with the roof at the ceiling height of the tunnel. It had a wooden access stairway on the left side. How could any one survive the smoke in there? Of course it was gone when I checked out the area with Brian Gee in 1969. The corner where it stood was empty. Access to this box would have been from the end of what is now called the ‘Victorian Platform’ See today’s ‘Glasgow Central Tours’ The signalman would have needed to walk along the lineside to reach the stairway. I think this box was dismantled about 1935.”

Stobcross Junction
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Curious as to why Ian decided to explore the Low Level in 1967, I finally asked him what his motivations were behind exploring.

“The motivation to do an exploration on this (at the time) closed railway had several initiating factors. Firstly we had all belonged to a cycling club in north Glasgow from 1962. We detected (at weekends primarily) the phenomenon of the Beeching rail closures when out on rides. It was myself who often stopped to look at what was going on around our city, noticing trains pulling flat bed trucks, often up on embankments or in cuttings, busy consuming the very rails they had passed over. In 1964 I travelled to work from Croftfoot to Glasgow Central by steam train and afterward, by the gradual shift away from steam, on to diesel multiple units. This signalled the change that would see the end of an era.

The Central low level came into play when I heard a loudspeaker announcement made in the Central Station one morning in 1964 that the Low Level Station was to close. Some time later I saw a TV programme by the then named ‘Scottish Television’, broadcasting in early 1965, a clip on the local news in which a newscaster by the name of Bill Tennant was seen driving into a section of the low level tunnels from Finnieston in a Land Rover vehicle. I saw this programme on TV and it just ushered me to go and check these tunnels out for myself. A few forays were made by myself and a cycling friend in 1965 and 1966 but I couldn’t get a good enough camera then to record this place until 1967.

In those days 35mm cameras were expensive and you needed a good flashgun to penetrate into the pitch blackness. I noticed recently on urban websites that modern digital cameras, used in tunnels like this reveal a much greater color depth and detail. I think this is because the sensors in such capture more light than an emulsion film. Portable lighting is more efficient too. However I knew I had to somehow record this place quickly before it either degraded or was filled in. The track and signalling equipment had been lifted shortly after closure because of vandalism and theft. However this meant that you could walk the tunnels without encountering too much in the way of obstructions. To me these tunnels and stations were special in that they conveyed to me a glimpse of Victorian railway architecture that was on the threshold of extinction.

Walking through these tunnels was a much more different experience than you would get today, in that the walls in 1967 were still thick with soot, the acoustics and smell were still alive with a resonance of their recent use. Even the station platforms had a carpet of soot upon them. I had a feeling that I might arrive somewhere in another world at the end of the line. It was so peaceful and quiet and yet still in the heart of a city that buzzed 14 or 15 feet above. It felt as though this railway had operated in a time-warp for many years with almost no refurbishment whatsoever since its first 19th century time of construction. Built by The Glasgow Central Railway in 1890 it was soon incorporated into the Caledonian Railway before any trains actually ran on it, then the LMS in 1923 and finally British Railways in 1948.”

To read and see more from Ian’s amazing exploration of the Glasgow Central Low Level you can read the original thread on Urban Glasgow.

Author: Ian Russell April 2017

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