Life in the Gorbals | Bert Hardy

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)

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28 thoughts on “Life in the Gorbals | Bert Hardy”

  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.


  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.

  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.

    1. Hi Danny,
      I was looking for pictures of my old school,Wolseley Street primary when I stumbled on to this site. I wonder if you remember me, I lived round the corner from you at 51 Wolseley Street, the close between the dairy and the fruit shop. We used to pal around with each other, I have a memory of you and I going to Calderpark Zoo one day but we spent our bus fare home on ice cream and had to walk all the way home to Oatlands. Some going for two kids around 10 years old. I believe we moved to Nitshill before you did, but I remember meeting you there once. Our mothers must have kept in touch because my mum seem to know how your family were getting on. I emigrated to Canada in 1981, now living near Toronto. By the way I bought your book Gorbals and Oatlands .
      Hope your keeping well
      Billy Graham

      1. Hello Billy,
        I certainly do remember you, yes you lived up the close between the dairy and Cathys fruit/greengrocers shop. What a great childhood we had Billy, in fact I met Robert Fulton and his brother William at an Oatlands reunion do about a year ago in the Glencairn club (just past Shawfield stadium ). Yes Billy our Ma’s were good friends absconded do remember meeting you when we moved to Nitshill. I hope life has been good to you over in Canada Billy. I mentioned you by name in my latest book ” Emah Roo ” (Oor hame ) Billy. Isn’t this internet a wonderful thing. I’ll speak to you later , take care for now and God Bless all. Your auld pal Danny. I have a couple of photos of Wolseley st school, the Steamie etc. Perhaps I can send them to you.

      2. Bill and Danny,
        So glad I accidentally stumbled upon your discussion. I literally just started researching where my great grandmother grew up. She lived on Wolseley Steet. Too bad the records don’t indicate the flat number. I’ll be going to Scotland for the first time ever this October for a short visit and wanted to go to where she grew up. Turns out, I think, that whole street in under construction. Danny, I browsed Amazon and see your books there. I am going to buy them now and get myself some history of my gg. She was born in 1889, so a bit before your time (LOL). Maybe your parents or grandparents knew of George and Jane Waterston, and their daughter (my great grandmother) Jenny.
        Scott Hewitson

  4. 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.

    1. 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?

      1. 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

      2. 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

      3. 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 or as an e book [ Kindle ] from Amazon online.
        Take care Jean and God Bless.
        Danny Gill. x

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    1. 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. 🙂

      1. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. 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 🙂

      1. Hello Margaret. Just came upon your wee memories of the Oatlands. I went to school with Phillis and Laurence Tartaglia whose parents owned the Picadilly ice cream shop ( the best ice cream) I posted a school picture taken about 1945 at St. Bonaventure’s wee school with Phyllis and Lawrence. Just wondering if you knew them. i remember the older sisters were quite glamorous and beautifully dressed. I have seen postings of the Picadilly, so perhaps your window would be in the picture. I am sure Danny would be able to find it if you were interested. Anne Ravizza nee Docherty formerly 101 Logan Street now living in Aurora, Ontario. Cheers!

      2. Hello Anne ,apologies for late response!
        I went to Logan st primary
        I Remember the McQaurries that lived at the corner of Logan st and Rutherglen rd
        I chummed around with her, also Morag who stayed in the top flat of my close (Ice cream shop)
        Afraid other than that not too many memories? Remember we were always lining up at doors to take the babies out for walks over to the park. Still looking for the picture of the Piccadilly
        Thanks for reaching out, will keep my eye on the postings

  8. Hello folks, stumbled across this great site! Brought back so many memories, my name is Margaret Kiener
    Nee McCulloch, stated st 696 Rutherglen Rd, above the Italian ice cream shop across from the park entrance, I went to Wolsley st, 1948-53. My older brothers name was Albert. Would love to see some old photos,
    I trained as a nurse at stobhill then onto midwifery at rottenrow and Redlands.was a midwife for a few years
    in the gorbalshappy memories. Kind regards Margaret

    1. Hi Margaret, I see you were born above the Piccadilly café on the corner of Polmadie rd / Rutherglen rd [?], if you wanted to see photos of the Gorbals / Oatlands area’s then there are thousands of them on the facebook sites= “Oatlands Memories” “Old Gorbals Pictures” and “The only way is Gorbals”. All these are facebook-sites Margaret.

      I was born in Fauldhouse st where the Steamie used to stand and Big Bonnies school [ where I attended] but I had lots of wee pals who also attended Wolseley st school, you can reply to my message if you need any furthes info Margaret. I have written 3 books= One my autobiography and the other two about life growing up in the Gorbals/Oatlands area, I will be getting another book about Gorbals and Oatlands later this year [ 2017].

      Take care Margaret. x

      1. I meant to say I will be getting another book published about Gorbals and Oatlands this year [ 2017]

  9. How marvellous to find all this information has brought back so many happy memories
    I lived in 95 Logan st Went to st Bonaventures our house looked into I think a chicken slaughter house ? Later Lawsons of Dyce There was a paper factory . I remember my mother getting tick from the wee shop at the bottom of the street near rutherglen Rd My name is Maureen Stevens nee Breen
    I’ll be thinking about this all day

    1. Hope Maureen,
      I lived at 40 Fauldhouse st and attended wee Bonnies primary school. There is a face book page called “Oatlands Memories” where people who once lived on old Oatlands have chats and leave comments and photos. My latest published book is called “Once upon a time in Glasgows Oatlands” where I take us all on a walk down the streets of old Oatlands, mentioning shop names, pubs schools, etc a d a few photos. I hope you are doing well wherever you are Maureen.
      Danny. 😁 x

  10. Hello Drew,
    Wee Bonnies and big Bonnies schools =wee Bonnies was in between Braehead st and Alice St. Big Bonnies was situated between Alice St and Fauldhouse st. Go to face book and join Oatlands Memories Facebook site Drew. There are photos of the schools in its photo collection. Any probs Co tact me on Facebook with a PM. 😊

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