Express Boat Train to Wemyss Bay

by Chris Jones on February 28, 2017

Express Boat Train to Wemyss Bay, 1922

An express boat train from Glasgow Central bound for Wemyss Bay is shown passing through Cardonald Station on the fast line in June 1922. Looking at this photograph, I am reminded of the fierce competition that used to take place between the railway companies in an effort to achieve the fastest journey times between Glasgow and the Clyde resorts.

Long straight sections of track were laid along parts of the Caledonian Railway’s Inverclyde Line, including through Cardonald, to enable higher speeds and faster journey times to Gourock and Wemyss Bay. Once the railway companies owned their own steamers, then the races could begin in earnest. Time was of the essence, and the sooner the train could arrive at the railhead and passengers be rushed onto the waiting steamer, then the race could continue on the water. Depending upon your constitution, this part of the journey could be either thrilling or terrifying.

The competing steamers would often be in close proximity to one another, sometimes even side by side. One can imagine the captains yelling instructions to their engineers to give them more speed, and the heat generated down below as the stokers were busily shovelling coal into the furnaces. Passengers would be moved around the decks if the master thought it would improve the trim of the vessel. The companies recording the fastest times to their destinations would use this in their advertising to promote their business and try to gain an advantage over their competitors. This fierce competition reached its peak in the 1890’s and continued apace into the new century, tailing off around 1909 for budget reasons, and then the Great War intervened. The races resumed briefly during the 1930’s, but to a much lesser degree.

It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that a myriad of boat trains used to depart Glasgow daily for ports on the West Coast. There were trains from Glasgow Central bound for Gourock and Wemyss Bay; from St. Enoch’s for Greenock Princes Pier, Ardrossan, and Stranraer; and from Queen Street for Craigendoran, Helensburgh, Oban, and Mallaig. There was even a named boat train, the “Irishman”, which ran from St. Enoch’s to Stranraer Harbour and back between 1933 and 1967.

For reference, the locomotive featured in the photograph is No. 955, the last in a class of 12, 4-6-2 passenger tank locomotives designed by William Pickersgill for the Caledonian Railway. It was built in 1917 by the North British Locomotive Company at their Hyde Park Works in Glasgow.


From the Top Deck of a Glasgow Tramcar

by Chris Jones on December 4, 2016


We are in the Trongate approaching Glasgow Cross from the west on the top deck of an open-top tramcar, circa 1900. Facing us, is the statue of King Billy ( William III, Prince of Orange ) upon his charger. King Billy’s statue was in the Trongate for 163 years before it was removed, placed in storage for a few years, and then erected in the Cathedral precinct in 1926. Behind the King is the Caledonian Railway’s Glasgow Cross Station serving the Low-Level Line out of Glasgow Central. The ornate station building with its green roof was designed by J. J. Burnet and completed in 1896, just a few years before this scene. To our left is the Tontine Hotel, established in 1783 after the Tontine Society purchased the original buildings and converted them into a hotel. As well as catering to travellers, the Tontine Hotel was renowned for its coffee room which proved very popular as a place to conduct business, while its assembly rooms hosted regular social meetings and dances. Next to the hotel is where the original Tolbooth building used to stand, housing the Town Clerk’s office, the council chamber, and the city jail. The building shown here is a redevelopment designed by David Hamilton after the original Tolbooth building was sold in 1814. The famous Tolbooth Steeple, dating from 1626/27, has survived to this day and it is interesting to reflect that the Tontine Hotel and the original Tolbooth formed the very heart of Glasgow before the Victorian era.

The road forks in front of us, with the left fork continuing along the Trongate, through Glasgow Cross, and into the Gallowgate. We are about to take the right fork into London Road. Riding on the open top deck of a tramcar must have been an exhilarating experience in those days except, of course, when it rained. Roofs were introduced on the tramcars between 1904 and 1910 but the front and rear balconies were not completely covered and enclosed until later. Between 1898 and 1902 the Glasgow tramway system was electrified but there is no evidence of overhead wires in this picture. It is possible that they may have been carefully erased during the production of this colorized postcard, or that the trams in the scene were actually horse-drawn, pre-dating the electrification. The postcard itself was not printed until the very early 1900’s but the image from which it was manufactured could have been obtained a few years earlier. ( Postcard published in the Charmette Series by Raphael Tuck & Sons, London. )


Glasgow Police Public Call Box

October 30, 2016

Another First for Glasgow – the Police Public Call Box This postcard shows a police public call box on Hyndland Road, circa 1905. Glasgow was the first place to install such boxes in the British Isles, beginning in 1891. The reason they were called public call boxes is that trusted members of the public could […]

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Glasgow’s Crosses

May 28, 2016

In the course of collecting old photographs and postcards of Glasgow, I realized that the City has a good many Crosses; key intersections and road junctions which, because of their importance, were given the special title of Cross and named after their location. I thought it would be useful to compile an illustrated list. Most […]

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Two Fine Clydebuilt Ships

April 24, 2016

Can anyone identify these Royal Navy ships?

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Memories of the Grand Hotel

February 20, 2016

Memories of life at the Grand Hotel by Neil McPhee This is a wonderful site of Charing Cross and especially the Grand Hotel. I worked there as a page boy alongside my brother (second head porter) and school friend (porter) in the period just before it closed down. Latterly, the hotel was owned by Glasgow […]

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“The Elizabethan” Express

February 14, 2015

Ever since railway companies were established there has always been intense rivalry between them, on land and even on water, and this was especially true for destinations on the Clyde. Fast trains would depart Glasgow for the railway company railheads where passengers would board the steamers and the race would then continue on the water. […]

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The Railways

December 30, 2014

Coming from a family with service on the railways dating back to the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) and possibly even to the London & North Western Railway (LNWR), I could not resist including a chapter on railway history, with particular reference to Scotland and the Glasgow area. Railways, in the form of waggonways, […]

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Film – Clyde Shipping 1938

August 14, 2011

Here is a film of shipping activity on the River Clyde in 1938. There are scenes of excursion steamers heading “Doon the Watter” and into the Firth, the launch of a new vessel, a ship being coaled, cargo being loaded by the giant Stobcross crane and a passenger liner leaving for Canada. A Scottish Films […]

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Film – Glasgow Belongs to Me.

August 6, 2011

An inebriated Englishman has just got off the train at St. Enoch Station and is asking a cabbie to show him around the city. Naturally, the cabbie is happy to oblige and the visitor gets to see Glasgow first hand. The song “I Belong to Glasgow” made its composer Will Fyffe famous. A native of […]

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Glasgow Cross

March 12, 2011

In its earliest days, Glasgow was a small fishing village by a shallow and easily forded River Clyde and it remained this way until the Sixth Century AD when Saint Mungo founded a religious settlement by the Molendinar Burn on the hill to the north. A monastery was built and as the settlement grew, it […]

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Sailing Down the Clyde: “Doon the Watter”

July 18, 2010

From the Broomielaw Wharves on the north bank or from Clyde Place Quay on the south bank, we begin our journey down the River Clyde, or “Doon the Watter”, as Glasgow folk would say. This will be a journey through an industrial empire, past shipyards famous for building many of the world’s greatest ships and […]

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Buchanan Street

May 22, 2010

Buchanan Street was named after Andrew Buchanan, a Tobacco Lord, who envisioned that Glasgow would spread westward. With this in mind, on the 15th of February, 1763, he acquired the first portion of “five acres or thereby of ground in the Burgh of Glasgow, in the part called Palezeon’s Croft, on the North side of […]

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April 7, 2010

Named after the Brumelaw Croft, a stretch of land running along the north bank of the Clyde, the street known as the Broomielaw extends from Jamaica Bridge to Finnieston Quay. It was Glasgow merchant Walter Gibson, “the father of the trade of all the west coasts”, who financed the building of Glasgow’s first quay, at […]

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Glasgow Bridge/Jamaica Bridge

March 15, 2010

This tranquil scene of the Broomielaw quayside viewed across the river from the Bridge Hotel was captured by Thomas Annan in 1865 and, judging from the absence of people, it was probably taken early on a Sunday morning. Glasgow Bridge is on the right and the steamers Vesta (left) and Eagle are moored beside the […]

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Why Glasgow and Why Me?

February 21, 2010

Why Glasgow and why me?  Because I grew up in the city. When you spend virtually all of your formative years in one place, a deep bond is established.  They say you can take the boy out of Glasgow but not Glasgow out of the boy. My first home was a tenement flat on Prospecthill Road in […]

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A Quick Note

February 16, 2013

A quick note to say that I’m continuing to add photographs and descriptions to the current Chapters while I’m working on new ones. I’m also endeavouring to reply to as many of your comments as possible. Thank you for visiting and for your interest in Glasgow history.

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April 9, 2012

The Trongate was originally known as St. Thenew’s Gait because it was the way to St. Thenew’s Chapel, named after the mother of St. Mungo, and situated where St. Enoch Square is today. It should be noted that the term “gait”, also spelled “gate”, does not refer to a gated entry but is instead an […]

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