Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Life in the Gorbals | Bert Hardy

with 15 comments

While it revealed only a small segment of the society, the above photo of two filthy street urchins walking arm-in-arm nonetheless became one of the most famous icons of post-war Glasgow – a symbol of renewal and regeneration amidst the decay and ruin that was the Gorbals.

The Gorbals was often referred to as Europe’s worst slum, and the most dangerous place in the UK; poor design and low-quality construction led to many social and health problems. Street gangs and casual violence were rife, and the infamous Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, was born in the Gorbals.

In 1948, Picture Post first assigned a feature story on poverty in the Gorbals to Bill Brandt; Bert Hardy, who grew up in equally deprived Blackfriars, claimed he could shot the story better and got the assignment. The above photo was Hardy’s favorite: the depiction of misery lifted by the cheeky playfulness of the children perfectly captured the spirit of his own difficult childhood. However, the magazine’s editors declined to publish it, choosing instead to include grittier shots of Gorbals life than the smiling “street urchins”; indeed, it was those haunting photos of vandalized tenements and tattered curtains that won Hardy the inaugural Encyclopaedia Britannica Photographic Awards.

The picture was taken on the city’s long since demolished Clelland Street. The identities of two boys were unknown until an Evening Times campaign to trace them in 1985; Les Mason (boy on the left) and George Davis were reunited for the first time since primary school. Back in 1948, Mason and Davis, both aged seven, were running to the chemist on errands for Mason’s mother. Davis died in 2002 and Mason died in July 2011.

(See also: the other controversial pairing of Hardy and Picture Post)

as always, follow me on Twitter.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 30, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Culture, Society

Tagged with , ,

15 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. My wife’s family was from the Gorbals. Though a harsh place, it was a brilliant community in it’s own right, and spirit.

    I loved listening to the stories of her parents of what The Gorbals was like back when.



    December 14, 2011 at 6:59 pm

  2. Filthy Street Urchins! Take the Silver Spoon out of your mouth, seems to me were dealing with either a member of the privledged class, or a wannabee social activist.


    March 14, 2012 at 7:27 am

  3. i was born in the Oatlands area of Glasgow and my street Fauldhouse street [where Saint Bonaventures school and the “steamie”=wash-house was situated] was just a five minute walk from the Gorbals. I was born in 1948 and our tenement buildings were the same as the Gorbals, the majority of people were working class and money was tight all round but the community spirit pulled us all together, very few familys had tv’s or fridges or household appliances that we take for granted nowadays. Yes it was rough and ready[I’m not looking through rose tinted glasses] but my upbringing in those far gone days helped shape me into the person that I became and in my travels as a bricklayer halfway round the world I never ever forgot my backstreet upbringing and the people who might not have much money but were the salt of the earth.
    My tenement building collapsed due to old age in 1961 and my family were moved out to one of the new housing estates being built on the outskirts of Glasgow and Iv’e got to say that I hated living there, I lost all my friends in the south -side of Glasgow and to me life was never the same again, this happened to a lot of familys who were “shipped” out in the slum clearance of the ’60’s and 70’s to these new housing estates and life-long friendships were lost but we still have our memories and that’s one thing that cannot be taken away from us.
    Danny Gill.

    Danny Gill

    June 6, 2012 at 12:48 pm

  4. my mam was brought up in oatlands and her sisters they were josephie mcgeechan and rachel mcgeechan mary and brother john anyone remember them

    william moule

    September 6, 2013 at 8:02 pm

  5. I was living in waddell street and went to hayfield primary school,got comics from scabby maggies and got broken biccies from the co op.i also went to the new adelphie sec school.what fun.

    carole copping(nee rae)

    September 29, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    • I lived in Waddell Street during the 1950’s with my brother James. We both went to Hayfield Primary school then on to Adelphi Terrace Sec. school. I remember going to dirty Maggies for comics and the co-op for broken biscuits. Our pals were Hector Haazen, Norman McNeil, Thomas Rankin and John Rankin (not related) Harry McIlwraith and Bill McBride. Now live in England. Do any of these names ring a bell?

      George Fenwick

      November 10, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      • Hi George,
        this is my last attempt at replying to your post as I seem to screw up when I tried to post it.
        I remember you and Jim well, he was in my class at school and I have posted on friends reunited a class picture of us.
        I remember changing comics with Jim and he even painted my airfix models for me as well. Hector was the guy who got me hooked on cigarettes as we used to buy five woodbine and smoke in the Greens. I also remember his brother, Edward?. Do you remember the Caldwells? They moved to down to England in the 50s. they lived in the same close as you I think (top flat).
        I do also remember your Dad and the ambulance taking your mother to hospital, sad.
        You did not mention greasy Peters or a pennys of scrapings.
        Anyway George I do remember Tom Ranking and last saw him when he was working in the Locarno I think part time.
        Best regards, Peter Warren

        Peter Warren

        November 21, 2014 at 4:55 am

      • Hello Danny, Carole, George
        I lived in 314, Rutherglen Rd across from St Augustine Church and Tallies ice cream shop.
        We lived one up above Whytes fishmongers shop. Between Lawmoor St and Mathieson St. I remember Greasy Peters, Maggie’s. My first school was Mathieson St primary, then Hayfield, then Adelphi. I always thought I lived in the Gorbals until yrs later my friend who came from Oatlands told me that I came from Hutchenson Town. Will someone please tell me, where I came from? I have been living in Los Angeles for 50 yrs I will never forget where I was born. Good ol’ Glesca
        Jean Wilkie Donovan

        Jean Donovan (maiden name Wilkie)

        February 28, 2016 at 6:41 pm

      • Hello Jean [ Wilkie ] Donovan
        At the time you were born Jean the Gorbals ended at Crown st everything east of that [ heading towards Rutherglen ] was officially known as Hutchesontown until you came to Braehead st which was the boundary of where Hutchesontown ended and Oatlands began. Yet you have the Southern Necropolis graveyard on Caledonia rd which has always been classed officialy as in the Gorbals Jean.
        It was always widely accepted for the last 150 years that Hutchesontown and Laurieston was part of the Gorbals, see Benny Lynch the World boxing champion who was born in Florence st is always rightly spoken of as a Gorbals man [ yet officially speaking when Benny was born Florence st was in Hutchesontown] Nowadays the Gorbals is extended to Braehead st.
        So from Bridge st [ where the subway is ] to Braehead st is nowadays officially in the Gorbals and it says this above all the metal street name plates. I hope that explains it to you Jean if there was any “doubt” that you were a Hutchesontown girl as opposed to a Gorbals girl [ which I would have classed you as anyway] you are now today classed as a Gorbals girl.
        I have wrote 2 books, one called “Gorbals and Oatlands ” which is a compilation of different peoples stories, explaining where they are from and everyone from Lawmoor st etc up to Brahead st class theirselves as a Gorbals person and rightly so in my estimation. I have donated all proceeds form this book to go towards the upkeep of the Southern Necropolis graveyard on the Caley rd. It also has 70 of my short poems in it Jean and songs we sang as weans in the streets. My latest book Emah Roo [ say it backwards ] is my life growing up in the Gorbals/Oatlands area and more poems of mine, plus Glasgow jokes. I have donated all the proceeds from this book to go towards helping get a statue erected in memory of Benny Lynch. If you were interested in purchasing these book s Jean you can buy them as a paperback from amazon and Lulu.com or as an e book [ Kindle ] from Amazon online.
        Take care Jean and God Bless.
        Danny Gill. x

        Danny Gill.

        February 29, 2016 at 9:49 am

  6. Is it really necessary to call them filthy street urchins. They look like two happy little boys to me, well fed and energetic. I loved getting “filthy” as a little girl, maybe why I love gardening so much today. I was a well dressed wee girl most of the time. Thank goodness my Mum (bless her) let me get dirty sometimes.

    Margaretr Urquhart

    May 23, 2014 at 10:09 am

  7. Hello Danny Gill,I’m Older James,left Wolseley St in 1954,Re:Emily said to Contact you maybe wanna Talk a bit,I’ve been in Canada,since 1965 and was 5, years in London area Uk Before here,been’now Starting,but not sure about,an ‘iffy,Facebook,? for Friends,here and’ UK also and some Relatives,Possible! Regards,James.

    james Barclay

    March 30, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    • Hya James, Glad to hear from you [I take it you mean Emily Biros ?] , there;s so many of us scattered to the four corners of the Globe , I live in London now in sheltered accomodation and go back to Glasgow once a year now for a wee holiday but the Gorbals and Oatlands has changed so much now. All the Tenements have gone now James and when I went back a few years ago to visit the soo-side I stood outside the Hutchensontown Bowling green and looked over at Fauldhouse st [Fauldhouse way now it’s called after the Oatlands regeneration] and I felt like greetin. I wrote my autobioraphy “Have Trowel Will Travel” as I was a bricklayer for over 46 years and built bricks halfway round the World but happily retired now James🙂 ha ha. What a. great life we had as weans growing up in Oatlands and the Gorbals. I actually went into a bar in the Gorbals 3 years ago and the 2 brothers who own it are called John and James Clancy who lived in number 63 Wolseley st oppositte the “hoat wa'” of the steamie well we had a great old talk. I am now in the process of writing another book called “Gorbals and Oatlands” and it will have 80 poems of mine all about the soo-side and it will be interspaced with peoples own short story’s and a few pages of songs we sang as weans and a few jokes, I have to get a publisher first but ‘am hoping it will bw published by this Xmas it will be in paperback and as an e book for a Kindle. I hope your enjoying your life in Canada James and hope to speak to you again, it’s almost 2300 o’clock now and I’m heading for the sack, Good night mate and God Bless.🙂

      Danny Gill.

      March 30, 2015 at 9:53 pm

      • I sent you an email,but never made it’so Hello again Danny,the # 63,close my School’class pal and play mate was Chrissy Maxwell’ with also James McLean from your St,(later married moved out before 1955),she was great fun with others,O’oops got to go, more forr you later it’s still easter with 2 G/kids here,regards,James.

        james Barclay

        April 6, 2015 at 4:53 pm

  8. Hello again Danny,I wondered if you knew the Boiler Stoker at Steamie,who lived round corner from you,at Varietty Store’close..Alex,had 2,xtra thumbs growing,would alwys ask sending me’n’my Cart to Carter Jackson’s,Coal Yard for Huge Bag’o’Sawdust,to keep Dust down on Boiler floor,makin a few coppers!one,’O’ the lassies I was in contact few years ago says he dad was the Boilerman there,thik she was,where’Robert Mccurley,lived,n’Close accross from Elmfoot,forgot her ID? Sent me 1,email,also your a Soccer follower,i take it,my class mates,Davey Holt,Roseberry’n Crammond st,made’top Pro,first with Queens,Park, then Hearts O Midllothian,many International’Caps.(Jam Tarts)Peter Dalas,Logan’n’Wolsely,3,Rd,Lanark,and Preston North end etc: made Tp Pro too,Billy Russell,Wolseley,also.Did you know Chemist Called Clymie,round corner,Ruglen Rd,Dan Mooney Milkman Dairy on Polmadie rd,(made Xtra coppers during summer months)Heard he sold out bought into some Boarding House Franchise’n’ “Bucks rd Douglass Isle’O’Man”! Was Great’Man for giving kids helping’all’took Even turns to help him,sore back,Main top floors needed Help.Ok all for the nooo Danny,should need more,i’ll be checkin back,reards,James barclay.

    james Barclay

    April 7, 2015 at 2:03 am

    • Hi James, well you have a great memory, I wonder where Jackson the coal merchant’s yard was ? was it in the wee buildings beside where Fullertons had a wee store/lock up ?. I know that Jackson’s coal had a yard in the pen between Sandyfaulds st and Moffat st in the Gorbals. I never knew the Boilerman in the Steamie but sometimes as a “dare” from my pals I would walk into where the boiler room was and walk along the metal stairway always on the look-out in case the Boilerman caught me ha ha. Robert McCurley used to send me e mails with funny captions in them [although I never knew Robert] he now lives in the channel islands. Was Clymie the Chemist’s in Rutherglan Rd almost opposite the Sonny Pon ?,. Yes 3rd Lanark the hi Hi were a great wee football team. My pals and I used to go to Shawfield park and get a “lift over the gate” to watch Clyde fc play, then as we got older we went either to Ibrox to watch Rangers or Parkhead to see Celtic.There was a bit of “spare grun” at the back of the Steamie in Wolseley st where we held out football matches and many’s a skint knee and bruised shins ha ha,cant say I remember dan Mooney the milkman. Will finish fr now James, speak to you later pal. Best regards , Danny🙂

      Danny Gill.

      April 12, 2015 at 8:37 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: