Friday 21 January 2011

Cumbernauld 68

For our latest installment of the round-Britain 68 tour with C.E. Fudge, we head up to Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire's new town and home of Cumbernauld Shopping Centre. I must warn you now, the first couple of photographs are a little ... bleak.

For a long time I wondered what this picture reminded me of. Now I have it - it's like the colony where Ripley discovers the little girl in Aliens. A bizarre mix of hospital crematoria and the Royal Festival Hall on stilts, bear in mind that this building was under 10 years old when this photograph was taken.

C.E. describes this as 'a sombre scene'. Locals shelter from the rain while the children stand outside and challenge it. Note the cavalcade of prams parked outside, pre-stranger danger era.

Nicely framed by C.E. and I think it has stopped raining. Look at the bleak, block-house type dwellings lurking in the background.

More elevated walkways and flyovers.

Look once and then look again. The shoes, the brooding boy up on the walkway above Galbraiths and a middle-aged Michael Caine peering through the smeary windows.

Meet me outside the fish and chicken bar at two. Rain settles in the sagging floor, and even the barbershop's pole has stopped turning.

Scan books. "It is the oasis in a desert of concrete." (C.E. Fudge).

As a couple is wed in the background, three wee boys mug for the camera. When did children stop looking like this? Black shorts, wrinkled socks and woollies. They could have stepped from the Blitz, into this concrete playground.

The main hall captures some weak sunlight as the jazz band play. Previously unknown cigarette brands No.1 : Kensitas.

A jolly illustration by the talented C.E. - note the little Alan Bennett inserted shiftily at the front. Cumbernauld - modern, complex, damp and unprepossessing, but extremely interesting nonetheless. A brief flit down south next, before heading back up north to a place I have visited in a previous post. Be seeing you...


  1. I liked your tour de brutalisme through 1968. I learned a lot.

  2. Liked best the one with the high heels and the boy on the walkway, almost as if posed. Cumbernauld of course is the setting of Gregory's Girl? Also it appears to have done most of its aging in the first 10 years - it looks sort of the same. Kensitas = "Kenny Clubs", I believe, though I'm no expert.

  3. dispo - many thanks.

    Jack's Tray - you are quite right on both counts!

  4. great stuff, especially photo no.5!

  5. Outstanding. Three and four particularly appeal. Oddly abstract.

  6. Is it still standing? I'd like to keep those strange flats on stilts with portholes.

  7. I believe most of the shopping centre pictured is still standing, albeit in much modernised form. I read somewhere that there are lots of empty penthouses there, with nobody ever being tempted to move in.

  8. I'm impressed by how weathered the place looks even though it's relatively new.

    When I was a boy I loved places like this because they seemed futuristic - that's probably because the budget-starved crews of Dr Who used them for locations.

  9. I remember going to a place just like this. Weekly shop at Fine Fare.
    We were living in the Jet Age.
    Lovely Fine Fare ad on youtube

  10. following the fine fare ad comes this gem of 1972ness
    which shows what the designers expected cumbernauld centre to look like - the sketch above brought to life! sadly in france.

  11. Great photos and commentary. I grew up in Glasgow with the Gregory's Girl setting in my head. There's a fantastic film in the BFI Mediatheque from the late 60s that I saw that shows it all new and colourful-looking. A friend whose other half was working on a sheltered housing scheme there recently said there's some amazing house interiors still as they were in the late 60s - that needs to be documented somewhere, somehow. Those empty penthouses sound a bit tempting.

  12. Love the YouTube clips. Would love to get some pics of those Cumbernauld interiors.

  13. This is the weirdest thing I've ever felt, a strange mixture of horrified fascination and affectionate nostalgia. I was born in '69 and grew up in those "block-house type dwellings" 'till i was 19 and could get away from the place. I know every nook and cranny of that monstrosity of a town centre, and yes, as of 2011 it's still standing, the penthouses are going for £10k, and no, and no one's buying them.
    Janet Street Porter did a show on channel 4 a few years back getting architects to redesign it but the council just ignored the plans and bolted on more of the same, only this time with a franchised McDonalds-esque, aluminium and plastic theme and, for good measure, a 24hr Tesco. I think they just didn't want to give back the award for "Worst Place to live in Scotland" to Airdrie, They'd won it from them the previous 2 years running.
    My folks had been lured there by the promise of safe, modern living from the slum clearances in Glasgow's Blackhill and Robroyston in the 60's. Same as every other poor sod who had the where-with-all to get out tho, we all ran screaming straight back into Glasgow with our first paycheck, where something called counter-culture and a "night-life?" seemed to be happening, hehe. Trust me folks, it was just as concrete-gray and ennui-inducing as it looks. Fitting that those pics were taken in the rain 'cos it very rarely didn't.
    The council tarted the place up for Gregory's Girl and Bill Forsyth picked his locations with care in the newly built housing of the late 70's and early 80's, (Eastfield, Westfield and the nicer parts of Seafar, Abronhill and Kildrum), and you'll notice also they got as many of the greenspaces as possible in there too. We used to joke that if Gregory actually walked the route to school he did in the film, it would have been a convoluted 6 miIes there and back and would have added well over 2 hours to his day. I don't think the 45 bus went thru Eastfield in them days right enough.
    I got linked to this page by a friend on a facebook site called "I survived growing up in Cumbernuald", mostly folk who lived there in the 80's, so that should say it all really. Not sure from the comments how many of you are from Cumbernauld. Half the male population of our street were on the dole at one stage and we were getting handouts from the EEC beef and butter mountains to survive while dear old maggie was abolishing free school milk. I read somewhere once that Gregory's girl was Reagan's favourite film and it was shown weekly in the Whitehouse for him. Not sure quite what that says about anything, but there it is. The film certainly forced us all off the streets and into the local youth theatre group in search of fame and fortune, but unlike Craig Ferguson most of us are content with just not living in cumbernauld anymore. I've noticed on his show even he's a bit reticent about mentioning his hometown when asked and uses "near Glasgow" as shorthand, as we all do to avoid having to explain the ability to function in mainstream society.
    It was my home for nearly 20 years however, with all the "firsts" that you encounter in adolescence. I got a good education and learned to play golf on our improvised course in the field where Clair Grogan gets her spaceman. And there's still a strange, unspoken camaraderie among anyone you meet who experienced the place, and a haunted/grateful smile that says "I remember, I was there...". It's a bit like i imagine being jewish, it's only Cumbernauldians who are allowed to slag it off.

    Cheers, Stephen.