Lost Glasgow: The Changing Face of Charing Cross

Earlier this year plans were unveiled to cover a stretch of the M8 motorway at Glasgow’s Charing Cross – to ‘heal the wound’ (as the Herald calls it) opened up in the city as the road was constructed in the 1960s. The National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive (housed here at Kelvin Hall) holds more than 1500 films of Glasgow – including several of the Charing Cross area. The M8, arguably the defining piece of infrastructure in Glasgow, cuts the city in two as defiantly as the Clyde. Let’s take a look, then, at the development of Charing Cross – with the help of the Library’s digital collections.

Taking Shape

Today, Charing Cross is defined by the motorway which bisects it – but for more than a century it sat at the edge of the city. In the early 19th century the Cross began to take shape at the convergence of ‘Saughyhall Street’, Sandyford Road and the road ‘from Woodside to Glasgow’ (now Woodlands Road) – as seen below in John Wood’s 1822 town plan (available on the National Library’s Maps website here).


By the 1930s Charing Cross stood at the heart of a metropolis of over a million people – a bustling crossroads between the centre of town and the city’s fashionable West End. In the still below (from the 1934 film Glasgow’s Police, available on the Moving Image Archive catalogue here) children dodge a tram in front of John James Burnet’s iconic Charing Cross Mansions.

At the heart of the Cross during this period was the Grand Hotel. Constructed in the 1880s, the Grand famously played host to thousands of Glaswegian wedding receptions – including my own aunt’s on St Patrick’s Day in 1961. In the still below (from the film GLASGOW TRAMS, 21 MAY 1960, available here) a Number 10 Tram winds round a row of shops at the back of the Hotel towards St George’s Mansions at the top of Woodlands Road.


During the first half of the 20th century Charing Cross changed little. The image below (created with the National Library’s Maps website’s interactive Side by Side feature) shows that there was almost no change in the built environment of the area between 1896 and 1958. In the 1960s, however, planners drew up proposals to ease congestion in the city – primarily through the construction of a new Inner Ring Road.

Construction of the North and West Flanks of the Inner Ring Road began in the late 1960s – and resulted in the loss of whole swathes of the city. Parts of Anderston, Charing Cross, Cowcaddens, Kinning Park, Townhead and St George’s Cross were only some of the casualties. In the image below (from the documentary Highway Over the Clyde, available onsite at the National Library of Scotland at Kelvin Hall) planners pour over a model of a redeveloped Anderston – as the Kingston Bridge and its approaches glide into Charing Cross.

Despite the best efforts of campaigners, the Grand Hotel was demolished in 1969 to make way for the new motorway – as depicted below, beside the Charing Cross Mansions, in Oscar Marzaroli’s DEMOLITION OF GRAND HOTEL (also available onsite at Kelvin Hall).

Charing Cross was hollowed out as the motorway cut across it – and as construction (pictured below in the documentary Glasgow 1980, available here) was completed in 1970 Charing Cross and St George’s Mansions were left facing one another across a wide chasm.

The Kingston Bridge opened in June 1970. Four years later the Economist reported that Glasgow was ‘almost the only city [in the UK] to put its motorway plans into effect unaltered; and it has few regrets’. Congestion and pollution, it claimed, had all been dramatically reduced. Its assessment, however, was optimistic. Amid widespread popular protest, plans for the East and South Flanks of the Inner Ring Road (pictured below in original plans in Highway Over the Clyde) were abandoned in 1980.

At the opening of the Bridge in June 1970, protestors (seen in Radio Scotland, Pirate Radio Ship, available onsite at Kelvin Hall) carried banners reading ‘This Scar Will Never Heal’. Ultimately, as planners continue to mull over proposals to ‘heal the wound’ nearly 50 years later, their concerns have proved justified.

A special free screening of films looking at the post-war redevelopment of Glasgow will take place at Kelvin Hall on the 22nd of April – for more information, and to book click here.

The Changing Face of Charing Cross – 1896-2017

All research for this post was done using the National Library of Scotland’s digital resources.

Most of the films referenced above can be accessed at home on the Moving Image Archive catalogue. The rest can be viewed onsite at the National Library of Scotland at Kelvin Hall. A range of titles are available for hire or purchase – please email us at movingimage@nls.uk for more information.

The National Library’s Maps website has more than 180,000 digitised maps and a range of interactive features. Maps workshops are available regularly at the National Library in Glasgow and Edinburgh – keep an eye out at our What’s On page here.

Newspaper archives (including the Economist Historical Archive, referenced above) can be accessed onsite at the National Library in Glasgow and Edinburgh – along with a wide range of ebooks and digital research materials.