Tag Archives: Glasgow

The Gorbals Boy Who Went to Oxford

This is a writer that I would love to have met.

Ralph GlasserRalph Glasser was famously the Gorbals boy who went to Oxford.

Glasser was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who lived on the top floor of a three-storey slum tenement in Warwick Street in the Gorbals, Glasgow. He was left motherless at six, cursed with a father who was an incurable gambler, and abandoned by two older sisters who fled the house. He left school at 14 to became a soap-boy in a barber’s shop and then presser in a garment factory. After each 12-hour day, Glasser would head for the Mitchell Library while his father headed for card schools or the illegal gambling dens that prospered in Glasgow. Glasser studied diligently at night school and won a scholarship for Oxford University. He famously cycled the 400 miles to the land of the dreaming spires. From Oxford, Glasser went to work for the British Council and later into public relations and Third World consultancy. He became a distinguished psychologist and economist. Glasser’s life can be traced in his writings.

“The streets were slippery with refuse and often with drunken vomit. It was a place of grime and poverty…The Victorian building, in red sandstone blackened by smoke… was in decay. Splintered and broken floorboards sometimes gave way under your feet. Interior walls carried patches of stain from a long succession of burst pipes. Rats and mice moved about freely….”

Bert Hardy Gorbals 1948His life had all the cliches of a tale of rags to some kind of riches, but it had substance, too. Glasser could never have been accused of living a life that was unexamined. Those who read his trilogy of Growing Up in the Gorbals, Gorbals Boy at Oxford, and Gorbal Voices, Siren Songs as simply the tale of the physical journey of a Jewish boy to manhood, missed the greater significance of his work; Glasser was capable of producing an enduring narrative, but it was his self-searching that made much of his work irresistible. This spirit of indomitable inquiry was shown to its greatest effect in Gorbals Legacy, almost an afterword to his Gorbals Trilogy. If the reader is looking for tales of black sannies, dispirited men huddling on street corners, or the consolations of poverty, Gorbals Legacy is not the place to go. It is, rather, the chronicle of an inner journey. It pays no service to the conventions of time. No dates are mentioned. The mundane world of jobs and money are ignored. It is a psychological, even spiritual, investigation of an individual psyche and its motivations and desires. There is a tide of human experience and Glasser produced a singular, spectacular wave in his last words in print. Gorbals Legacy looked back at a life that contained too little happiness but had ultimately produced a gentle acceptance of existence and more than a degree of contentment.

“In pre-war days for a Gorbals man to come up to Oxford was unthinkable as to meet a raw bushman in the St James club, something for which there were no stock responses. In any case for a member of the boss class, someone from the Gorbals was in effect a bushman, the Gorbals itself as distant and unknowable as the Kalahari Desert.”

“…Self-inquiry has taken me deeper than I ever imagined, to show me that nothing, no perception, no vision will ever answer the questions that possessed me when I left the Gorbals to cycle to Oxford.”

The search for these answers included a stay in San Giorgio, a small Italian village, and in Acharacle in the Highlands where Glasser, an adviser on environmental matters for the UN, attempted to find solutions for the wasteful way many communities lived. This was typical of the restless seeking that so characterised Glasser.

“…the Gorbals at my shoulder always, like the Hound of Heaven”

Dark, heavily bespectacled and softly spoken, Glasser had an elusive, magus-like quality in person, and on the printed page: acquaintances longed to learn more, and felt that he had not only done and seen a great deal but might also have some of the answers.

Ralph Glasser, writer, economist, environmentalist; born April 3, 1916, died March 6, 2002

Excerpted from The Sunday Herald.

More at The Telegraph.

Image: Bert Hardy, Gorbals Boys, 1948.

Glaswegian

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The Forgotten Gorbals

Forgotten GorbalsIn January 1948, the illustrated magazine, Picture Post, published an article about a working-class district of Glasgow which it described as “The Forgotten Gorbals”. The article advocated urgent social reform and was accompanied by thirteen photographs, three by Bill Brandt and the rest by Bert Hardy. This photograph of Mary, a sixteen-year-old bakery worker, was the most powerful of all the images. As Picture Post’s caption suggested, Mary’s future – like the salt on the Sifta packet – was pouring away: “futility and frustration stretch ahead her dreams are losing their battle against reality”.

Image: Bert Hardy, silver gelatine print, National Galleries of Scotland

The Gorbals

The Glasgow Art Club

We in the colonies are delighted to discover, via the Intertubes, that there really is a Glasgow Art Club in the European City of Culture, 1990, akin to the famous Willow Tea Rooms but with artists who lunch…

Glasgow Art ClubGlasgow Art Club, which has occupied its existing Bath Street premises since 1893, was founded in 1867 by William Dennistoun, a young amateur artist who had been forced by ill health to leave the city. His friends who used to sketch with him at his cottage in rural Old Kilpatrick and Dennistoun proposed that they should form an art club. He and 10 others, all amateur artists, held preliminary discussions in a tearoom above a Candleriggs baker’s shop before launching the club in the Waverley Temperance Hotel in Buchanan Street.

At their monthly meetings each member would bring a painting, usually a watercolour, and the others would comment. At times there could be fiery disputes.

Membership grew in the 1870s, professional artists began to join, and exhibitions were held. Not surprisingly, the limitations of a temperance hotel began to be felt and in 1875 the club moved to a Sauchiehall Street hotel, also called Waverley, where something stronger than tea was to be had and annual dinners could be held in suitable style.

“The Art Club is my sanctuary, paradise in the middle of bubbling Hell of businesses, trendy bars, killer traffic, over priced restaurants and horribly crass shopping malls.”
~ Peter Howson

Glasgow Art Club

The continuing need for cash  helped to propel the club towards a critical move – the admission of lay members, which in any case was in tune with Glasgow’s awakening interest in the arts. This proposal was strenuously resisted at first but by the mid-1880s the painter James Guthrie was among influential members arguing successfully for change and male lay members began to be admitted, although women had to wait until 1983.

Two adjacent town houses were bought in Bath Street. There is recent evidence that the young Charles Rennie Mackintosh had a hand in some of the gallery’s ornamental details.The scene was thus set for countless dinners, dances, concerts, lectures and not least, exhibitions.

Taking Tea with Mackintosh

More at Glasgow Art Club