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A Scots Boy's World Sixty Years Ago
Chapter III. Home on the Old Paisley Road


IT was in 1856 that my father removed to a large old-fashioned house with a delightful bit of garden on the Paisley Road about a furlong west of its junction with the Govan Road, where stood the old toll-bar. Four such houses ranged themselves along one side of a broad "avenue," as it was facetiously called, branching off to the south and having no thoroughfare. Entrance to this select retreat was through handsome iron gates hung on imposing stone pillars. It figured in the city directory as "Park Grove," but was always familiarly and lovingly spoken of by its inhabitants as "The Grove." The avenue, which was almost equally divided between a spacious red cinder drive and a stretch of grass, was common to all the houses, and proved a veritable paradise to the children connected therewith. Among these youthful companions we soon came to enjoy a certain prestige as oldest residenters, and friendships then begun have matured through a lifetime. We were perfectly conscious even then of our supreme advantages and, looking back, still think there was no place like it. Our own particular house could boast of its verandah in front and its balcony above, off the "boys' bedroom," while its end position gave commanding outlook on the Paisley Road from several windows.

The garden at once introduced us to new interests and to new visions of beauty. The sense of admiration, as well as of proprietorship, was quickened as we beheld the dazzling tassels of laburnum spreading their golden glory before the oriel window of the dining-room. The lilac trees were scarcely less enchanting. Pheasant-eye lilies twinkled everywhere, and fragrant wallflower sprouted alongside the garden wall. Then there was the large "round plot" well stocked with sturdy rose bushes, whose perfume was wafted far beyond our own precincts according to the direction of the wind. Space was reserved in a secluded corner for individual juvenile allotments, but, as seed and bulbs were not bestowed with equal liberality, these did not always reflect much credit on the owners. Behind the house a rhubarb patch flourished, highly esteemed by us children for the sake of its wholesome produce, and over-looking it was a sunny slope where we could lounge lazily conning the pages of "The Young Marooners" or "The Arabian Nights." In one corner was the "goat house" which was sometimes requisitioned for rabbits.

East of "The Grove" stretched an extensive farm, worked by the irascible "Old Meikle," who was popularly believed to shoot hot porridge from an old blunder-buss at all trespassers. To the west were waving fields of golden corn. Walmer Crescent was still unbuilt, and Bellahouston was innocent of villas, school or kirk. To the north lay the yet unbroken estate of Plantation, enclosed within high walls. To the south, and reaching as far as the Glasgow and South-Western railway, were yet more fields, partly under cultivation by the aforesaid Old Meikle, but in part belonging to the Clydesdale Cricket Club, whose nightly practisings were a source of unfailing interest. This reached a height, of course, when a great three-day match was in progress with the "Eleven of All England." With what rapt admiration we would then squat by the hour watching the swift tortuous bowling of Tarrant, or the deft batting of Grace, regarding them as perfect heroes what time they strode forth from their tent, duly accoutred in the panoply of the game, yet always buttoning a last glove. We were even more elated, however, when our own M'Neill or M'Arly stood well up to the Englishmen and showed them what the West of Scotland could do.

The portion of Paisley Road lying between our house and the toll-bar was then of the loneliest and darkest after nightfall. About half-way one passed what was called "the wood," where stood the first milestone from Glasgow Bridge, and where the wall was in a chronic state of disrepair, affording easy cover for undesirable characters. Beyond this in the direction of the city stood Park House, a crow- stepped mansion, withdrawn from the road in its own grounds, and occupied by Captain Macdonald, who was credited with some pretensions to a Highland chieftainship. Close to the toll itself were two rudimentary tenements, the forerunners of miles to follow. On the one side was Craig's dairy, where one might also procure "The Daily Bulletin," should any- thing necessitate the purchase of an additional paper between the bi-weekly issues of the "Scottish Guardian" and "Witness," which came regularly to the house. Almost next door to this was the shop of James Murray, bootmaker, father of David Murray, the Royal Academician. Facing these, across the street, were the "Spirit Vaults" of one David Stobo, who periodically renewed the decorations on his door posts and lintels with marvellous representations of green and purple clusters of grapes encircled by the mysterious legend, "Families supplied" Nearer town than the toll was another rustic public-house known as "Roseneath Cottage," to whose inviting parlour one descended by a gentle incline. (Facilis descensus Averni.)

A little off the thoroughfare stood Kinning Cottage, a pretty little house with garden, where by invitation of the hospitable owner, we were wont to repair once a year for "May milk." Nearly opposite this again, but close down by the river, was a substantial mansion belonging to Mr. Higginbotham, whose gateway would open and close magnificently to make way for a goodly equipage setting out for some society function, or on Sunday returning from church. All its glory, however, has long since passed, giving place to docks and sheds and endless chains of pig iron trucks. For several winters in the early sixties, Kinning Dock was in tardy process of construction and many exhilarating, if somewhat dangerous, hours did we enjoy in crowded skating over its icebound surface. In threatening thaw it had an uncanny faculty of giving way at the edges, involving a dexterous leap over the awkward gap—child's play, however, when we recall later experiences in success- fully reaching Inchmurrin on Loch Lomond.
Still nearer town were other eligible self-contained houses in Maxwelton Place and Kingston, with open outlook towards the river. Gray, Dunn & Co.'s Factory (where an assortment of broken biscuits could be had for a penny!) Bailie Macgregor's Cooperage and the Terminus Coal Depot were precursors of greater developments later, while Cochrane the Baker, Drysdale the Grocer, Wyllie the Butcher, Ralston the Fruiterer, White the Druggist, Miss Thorn, Stationer and Postmistress, together with "Coal Johnnie" always on the prowl for a job, were unforgettable personalities in our daily environment.

When we had to drive to a railway station on the north side a cab had to be secured well in advance from the one-horse garage of Murdoch M'Lean, taking all risks as to punctuality and tariff. Then the sum of twopence was exacted at the boundary toll-bar, and again on crossing the Jamaica Bridge. I can still see the nimble little taxgatherer there, standing in mid-stream of the double traffic, dodging in and out between carts and carriages, yet managing to collect his dues with commendable precision.

Tartan omnibuses, with musty straw in the bottom, ran out from town every half-hour, making a fine semi-circular sweep just under the nose of the tollkeeper who might have reaped a considerable harvest had they but proceeded a dozen yards further. They plied alternately between this point and St. Rollox or "The Crescents" The fare was a uniform twopence for any part of the distance, and as often as they passed the office of the proprietor, Andrew Menzies, at the corner of Argyle Street and Buchanan Street, the guards changed bags with a businesslike swing over the shoulder. At uncertain intervals an inferior 'bus took up the traffic beyond the toll on the Govan Road. It was common report that its three horses had only two eyes among them, that in the centre being said to be totally blind, while the outside steeds had a right and left eye respectively. It is astonishing how children enjoy such a story and how little they care to probe its accuracy. Not that this particular one was inherently impossible, but it reminds me of another originating from almost the same spot, where the probabilities were distinctly less. A cab was alleged to he frequently seen at a certain door where lived a gentleman of unwieldy proportions. The story was that while he could not reach town without a cab he could only get into it by running all the length of his entry so as to force himself inside. It told well, and no one cared to ask how, if he could not walk to town he could yet run to the cab, or how, if he required such impetus to get in, he could ever hope to get out.

It may be added that at the time referred to practically all the 'buses in the city were controlled by the said Andrew Menzies, and it was considered something of an innovation when a rival established a superior service on the Partick route. The new omnibuses were more commodious and better appointed than anything hitherto dreamed of. Themselves painted a vivid green, their drivers and guards were liveried in brilliant scarlet, and I think a brass trumpet heralded their approach along Dumbarton Road.


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