This story is about: Abercromby St (Calton Burial Ground)
Shared by: Kenny Turner
Gallowgate, in Glasgow’s east end; I was raised there in the early 1960s, in the block of tenements between Comelypark St and Belfield St. Yes, tough times, you’ve heard it all before, and you’ve heard ‘but we were happy’, too – and we were happy. We ‘ran-about’ our neighbourhood on the north side of the Gallowgate* until we became old enough to cross the big road to the south side.
*Always ‘the’ Gallowgate, never just ‘Gallowgate’ – must be old-Glaswegian?
Truth be told, we (me an Billy, my big brother) were well warned about crossing the treacherous Gallowgate as children, as it was hoaching wi’ traffic (it seemed that way), and, depending on how far back you go, trams were always unpredictable and offered the most horror-potential; “Ran-ower – wi’ a tram!!” a thousand heavy wheels slicing and dicing you into the tracks below… Gad.
We were happy, but we kinda missed-out, too, our schooling omitting the great and good, mostly, of Scottish history. We did learn about a Scottish king and a spider. Yes, that was about it. Oh, I almost forgot to mention Mary Slessor, we had that one for a day. I’m genuinely pleased with myself for remembering these famous and influential Scots.
A wee joy as a wee boy: chewing gum, Civil War chewing gum. These were little, flat and rectangular packages containing a flat and rectangular piece of pink chewing gum and a couple of American Civil War depicted cards – fantastic! Each card had a moment in the history of that conflict; battles, officials officiating, Presidents, generals etc. I really liked the battles best – all that slicing and dicing into the muddy battlefield. I think there were around 50 cards to collect and all the cards had a title describing the scene. The only card I remember the title of was ‘The Angry Man’ – this card was, literally, card #1 of the collection and depicted John Brown’s noble abolitionist rant against injustice. Back to the Gallowgate.
We had our hair cut at ‘wee Johnny’s’ barber shop** on the south of the Gallowgate, diagonally across from where we lived, so it’s not like the southern part of the Gallowgate was a complete mystery, we were familiar with it if only for that reason, and, the best chippie, Tommy’s, was on that side of the Gallowgate, too.
**wee Johnny’s: I have a load of memories of that shop – you’d be enthralled!
When my ma’ stopped escorting us to wee Johnny’s it meant we were big enough to venture out on our own. We did just that. We explored the whole southern side of the Gallowgate, broadening our horizons and finding cracking new streets and an absolute belter of a swing-park in Soho St (or was it Cubie St?) We even ventured as far afield as Abercromby St – a monumental moment, as it signalled the intersection of one busy road – the Gallowgate – with yet another busy road, Abercromby St/Bellgrove St.
And so we got older, and we went even further afield, and as the years passed, found we had school-pals who lived on that side of the Gallowgate – we even found employment on that side of the Gallowgate when we left school. Eventually, we found ourselves right down at the very bottom of Abercromby St, where busy Abercromby St intersects with busy London Rd, then out onto Glasgow Green and further advent. Wonderful! Growing, living and learning, expanding, developing, improving and then, ultimately, growing out of childhood and youth and into adulthood and beyond – but still learning, oh, yes, always learning. What have I learned? Not enough. I’ll never know as much as I would like to know. I’d like to think, with death (what drama!), then all will become known and my dead brain will be sated. Would I be satisfied? No-chance – cos then there’d be nothing left to learn.
Of some of the stuff I’ve learned over the years, what I ‘did’ learn – only around 8 or 9 years ago, and when I was well into my 50s – was that Dr James Smith is interred in Calton Burial Ground, Abercromby St. I lived around 5 minutes from this cemetery and never knew of it, I must’ve passed passed his grave a few hundred times and the significance of it was completely unknown to me. That rankles with me, of course it does. Every child within 10 miles of that history should know of it – before they get into their 50s. Can you possibly imagine that wee boy’s utter glee, as he impatiently tore open the wrapper of that Civil War chewing gum, to learn that a Scot was so important to the President of the United States of America during the time of the American Civil War – and that he was buried just 5 minutes away? God, I could greet wi’ frustration..
Still, better late than never.