I grew up in this place:
The first photo is the ‘Works’ Corner. Lurking on the left of the photo – across from what had been the library and houses and shops – is the old derelict shell of the Shotts Ironworks. A massive complex of sheds and furnaces and chimneys. All gone now.
|Shotts Ironworks Corner taken by J Marzella|
Mum says it was a good place. A thriving town when she arrived in 1964.
I don’t remember much of that.
It was on the slide by the time I was old enough to form memories of it.
But I had nothing to compare it with. It was home. And magic. No place like home.
We moved to a tin-roofed ‘Cooncil’ house in Thomson Terrace in 1979. Constructed from the left-over fusilage of surplus airplane technology in the post-war Public Housing boom. Luxury. It was big – bigger than the two-up two-down schemie terrace we’d come from. And totally without central heating. That first winter the ice was half an inch thick – on the inside of the steel framed windows. We all cried with the pain of it and slept in our clothes, with huge piles of thick covers and patchworks. And Dad – unemployed and desperate to do something – dug up two Belfast sinks and a lot of scrap from the garden he was trying to make into something like from The Good Life. The root veg he planted got clubrot from the pigeon shit he inexpertly spread because it was cheap and we couldn’t get any better dung.
|Thomson Terrace – 1950s -World Pipe Band Championship Day taken by J. Marzella (local and very highly skilled photographer). My home was three up on the left.|
This was a happy home. Though money was scarce and the fights were legion. My Mother forever working nightshift overtimes in the local Mental Asylum. My Father visibly shrinking during the years of Nothing. A Car Manufacturer – a semi-skilled engineer casualty of the strikes at Leyland – finished off by Thatcher and castigated by Tebbit (‘get on yer bike’ Tebbit) and arriving at a place of shame where his rich siblings snubbed him. The heart attack came later. After the hidden half bottles in the garage and the tears. But before the good job and rebirth.
This next picture’s taken from the area of the Bing. The Pit Bing (Slag Heap for one of the Mines) which I scooted down sitting on a bread tray. Where we all lit the wee field fires and got a skelping for smelling of smoke. The vista is grim. But I could tell you every name for every door. And the football park still is the biggest in Scotland (just the field – not the stadium!).
This was also the Bus Stance. Where the buses finished their journeys from Airdrie and Glasgow and Motherwell and Wishaw. The prefabs went and were replaced in the late 60s/early 70s with a white all-electric (under-floor heating which nobody could afford to run) terraces.
It was when I was 19 years old that I realised that this was an ugly place. An architectural crime, perpetrated against people too poor to move away and too ignorant to demand more.
I began to understand the significance of our built environment.
I stayed in Crail for some time. And felt like one of the miners I grew up with – coming blinking out of the dark and into the light. A subterranean troll, I felt out of place and out of class. My beautiful boyfriend coaxed me into his world. But I really didn’t understand their language. It was the language of people who were the complacent owners of a transcendant beauty they took for granted. They were not tainted by dark industries. No factory workers. No miners. No steel workers. His people were hard working teachers and shop-owners and sea-people. Their horizons were wide as the world. They were free and outward looking, where in Shotts there was a grim and narrow insularity. And a sectarian violence.
This was his world:
|Crail – The East Neuk of Fife|
This remains a favourite place. The fossilised tree trunks on the shoreline. The ancient Pictish placenames. The Dark Age cross-slab in the Kirk. The Tolbooth. The Dutch red pan-tiled roofs.
But there was a time when it felt too sweet to be wholesome. A sugary confection.
It affects us – where we live. Buildings are signifiers. Why else build a Court that looks like this:
It is seeking to intimidate all those who come before it. The entrance doors are thick and heavy and bristling with security for this is the busiest court in Europe. They open into airport scanning. And then the highest reach of marble and steel and stone. And anonymous doors everywhere with the people like mites and ants and cockroaches.
For many years I moved between worlds. From Shotts to Glasgow University. I wondered why I often felt confused. And resentful. This formal institutionalising architecture which sought to impose and impress.
|Between the Quadrangles – the Undercroft – the area I went to every day for tutorials and lectures. Glasgow University.
I was sometimes stunned into a silent worship – the buildings are so beautiful. Perfect. They spoke of privilege. Of donors seeking a fitting memorial which would bear their names into perpetuity.
At other times all I could do was remember the builders and labourers who had sweated over their carved grace and sometimes died. Though they would be happy for the work and accept their lot as life.
There was a point to this post. It was about how we build people into their lives. How we show them their place. And keep them there by constraining their vision. Or how we gift grandeur to others and show them their place.
I am not so far away from Shotts in miles and it will never leave me – its stain of memories is indelible. It was my home. In some ways, though, I could not be further from Shotts as this place is another beautiful Crail. Though it is a peasant vernacular and there is a great mix of people. New Lanark – here:
|Looking down on the Village – Mum and Dad stay just under the Bell Tower|
I wonder at my children and how this place will leave its mark on them. I think I see their openness. They have grown up in the sunlight.