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.
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