Saints and gangsters: In search of a lost burn (Part 3)

The final part of searching for the lost Molendinar Burn.

 Catch-up with Mossad conspiracy, brothels and myth (part 1) and Gangster edgelands (part 2).

This part of Glasgow has a strange atmosphere. Residential areas are isolated and hemmed-in by old industrial wastelands, gasworks and distilleries, motorways, railways, and endless main roads that bend time and defy purpose. The east is under-populated by expanses of ex-industrial land with poisoned soil.

The Molendinar Burn flows from under the burnt out gangster pub and burst out of the side of a hill, zig-zags through some landscape gardening, nets some disposed children’s tricycles and performs its disappearing act through a grill. It is the burn’s finest moment and the one time the city forms around it.

The Molendinar Park is eerie and deserted, cut adrift by the M80 and random bits of forlorn grassy wasteground. At the park’s edge the last remains of a shrine flutters in the breeze, the colours of the Irish tricolour. These shrines, often featuring both colours of the Old Firm in respect, spring-up around the city to mark the spots where someone has fallen.

The Molendinar is forced back underground as we walk down Royston Street. It is a street that hungrily absorbs energy and leaks bad dreams of walking for hours to go nowhere. The gasworks just to our left, a familiar sight driving into Glasgow, are just on the other side of a straggling wall. The partially-demolished Red Road tower blocks hunker down to the north. There are shops with an air of struggle and grey 1930s rehousing zones for those cleared from 19th century slums.

On this road Arthur Thompson Snr drove his car at a van, causing it to crash into a lamppost, killing both men inside. The reasons why contradict each other. One version says it was a gang feud over betting shops territory and debt. In revenge for their deaths, the gang planted a bomb in Thompson’s car which killed his mother-in-law but left him unhurt. The other version places the incident after the bombing, and Thompson Snr, seeing the two men he thought involved, presses his foot hard on the pedal.

Royston Street is in the kind of the street where all versions of the story are true and the incident replays over and over again.

GC is delighted by these streets, they are new even to him. He’s snapping away for his photoblog of interlinking drifts across the city. The posts present a time capsule of early 21st century Glasgow. If Glasgow disappeared they could re-build it from GC’s blog. Each post carries hundreds of photos that induce screen tabdown nausea and exhaustively document drab streets, grand crumbling Victorian terraces, squalid parks, shops, warehouses and ruins. It’s an archive to peel back the layers of the city, preserve near-eradicated history and decode something mythical and forgotten from its forgotten corners and dark moods.

He rarely explains but every now and then inserts a wry observation, splinters of verse, dark Scottish mutterings. It’s not just streets – he’ll faithfully log demonstrations, forlorn figures in empty streets, Sikh processions, a couple kissing with the energy of a demonstration swirling around them, dogs left tied-up outside supermarkets, the marks on the walls, faded shop signs, strange winter light turning the streets into impressionist dreamscape. Sometimes they capture truly fragmented, marvellous and haunting, other times they are an obsessive archive recording the streets

We pass by collapsing walls, illogical staggered bus stops, undetermined ruins, fenced-off industrial land. On the other side of a busy road a marooned muddy plaque, barely legible with mud and dirt, proclaims through the roar of traffic and hiss of trains that the Burn runs underneath it. A gesture of such little respect from the city it is actually insulting.

We leave behind the gangster edgelands and transport links and approach the city centre. We turn left into Wishart Street and walk through the sacred heart of the city, where it all began. Where once there was a beautiful wooded valley that gave Glasgow its name, dear green place. Where the Molendinar was a meeting of early Christians, saints, pagans and druids crossing the burn to worship in the sacred groves of Fir Park. Where essential water was provided for the mills and craft industries of early medieval Glasgow.

In the 6th century the patron saint and founder of Glasgow, St Mungo, came to this spot to minister to the local Picts. He built his church next to the Molendinar Burn, where the present medieval cathedral now stands. For thirteen years he preached while living an austere life in a small cell.

He was buried where Glasgow Cathedral now stands, his tomb is in the lower crypt. His shrine was an important Christian pilgrimage until the upheavals of Scottish Reformation, Scotland’s break with the Papacy in 1560, broke the spell.

The Necropolis looms over us as we walk under the Bridge of Sighs, built over the burn, and onwards to Drygate. This is GC’s childhood territory, he remembers playing in and around the Burn as it once flowed, unculverted, down John Knox Street. It may only in fading memory and photos but The culverting of the burn allows for a different interpretation, where it can be reclaimed by subterranean explorers following it through cramp, stalactite-lined tunnels.

This area is humming with classic GC connections and anecdotes.

“In the 1990s, a boy I knew in the early 60s became a man who lived in one of these tombs for several years – a well-meaning person found out how he lived and got him accommodation, where he soon died.

The boy’s name was Hamilton. One of his brothers was jailed for murder. Another brother was Gordon Hamilton. In 2007, Gordon Hamilton (who died in 1996) was linked by DNA profiling to the 1977 ‘World’s End Murders’ of two girls in Edinburgh – also in 2007, the convicted murderer Angus Sinclair (who is unlikely ever to be released) was tried and acquitted for the World’s End murders and blamed Hamilton for the killings.

If these stones could speak their words would drown us.”

We head towards the Great Eastern Hotel, an old dosshouse now converted into flats. Round the back of the dosshouse the burn makes one last appearance before it is subjugated back to its circuitous flow under the streets, then under Glasgow Green and out into the Clyde.

We walk on but if truth be told the energy of the walk is quickly dissipating. The rain, the sapping nature of Royston Street and the approaching darkness are taking their toll. GC’s interest is plummeting fast, partly because a retina is, somewhat alarmingly, quietly detaching from one of his eyes. (Eye fixed with an operation soon after this walk). We approach the shopping centre which the city’s marketers seem desperate to promote as full of attractive women, shiny with happiness and good hair, parading with shopping bags.

We retreat to a pub for fortification and then a beeline to the confluence of the burn and the Clyde. Just as with the source of the burn our mission is thwarted by the recent heavy rains. The Clyde is lapping up to the edges of the sodden Glasgow Green, burying the burn’s outlay within its brown swollen waters. We stand at the edge watching branches and rubbish flow past with sinister into the tidal weir.

Even here the city usurps its dominance over the burn that helped form it. The original outfall was supposedly further downstream underneath the High Court. Perhaps it was diverted to avoid citizens crawling up the tunnel to blow up the courts.

Catch-up with Mossad conspiracy, brothels and myth (part 1) and Gangster edgelands (part 2).

Further information

The Glasgow Chronicler’s A Glasgow Album including his fine pictures of the Necropolis. You can also follow him on Twitter.

More pictures of the Necropolis and surrounding area.

The Glasgow Story

Glasgow Necropolis

Subterranean exploration of the Molendinar Burn from Transient Places

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12 thoughts on “Saints and gangsters: In search of a lost burn (Part 3)

    • Many thanks – never expected to find half as much stuff when we set out… Then again there are walks when you expect to discover much and find very little over and beyond the pleasure of a stroll.

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  1. Really enjoyed this and if anything was ever proof that the journey can be just as, or more worthwhile, than the destination, this series certainly is.

    Have you ever read Geoff Nicholson’s Walking in Ruins? I think you might enjoy it – similar concerns and interests…

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    • Many thanks for those kind comments! Glad you enjoyed the articles! Funnily enough my good lady wife gave me that book last Christmas and it is slowly making its way to the top of the reading pile. I am looking forward to it…

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    • Good post on that link. The Glasgow Necropolis is mysterious, gloomy and run-down yet also a tourist site. I remember once walking around the Greyfriars Kirkyard and at its further edges vagrants were drinking amongst the tombs as tourists explored metres away. Walk 5 mins from the genteel areas of both cities, and London for that matter as well, and you are in different, possibly even hostile, territory. Glad you enjoyed this post!

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  2. As usual, a fascinating account of the area…I had forgotten about Royston Street…it always depressed me, despite the fascination of the gasometers. I love the idea of a “Life on Mars” scenario where all versions of events replay over and over…but Glasgow is like that, more than any city I have known, it’s layers reveal themselves if you stand still and soak up the vibes. I was more familiar with the north Clydeside but it’s the same there, with clues to a million forgotten events flitting like shadows around the place. By the way, GC’s a brave man, photting those footba’ fans!

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    • Thanks teigl and I never realised I was channelling Life on Mars but you’re quite right. GC is a bit like a shadow himself flitting in and out. He seems to not get noticed unlike me and if he does people seem to leave him alone and let him get on with his photography. I find north Clydeside interesting for the same reasons. Always a good cycle ride that way – in fact not done it for a while so I might do that soon.

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