WITH its wide leafy streets filled with steadfast sandstone villas and tenements, Pollokshields is one of the most established areas in Glasgow. Indeed, there’s something about this vast and attractive south side neighbourhood that makes it feel as if it has been there forever.

It hasn’t, of course. The fact that Pollokshields was once nothing more than an ambitious and innovative urban vision makes it all the more fascinating – and worth visiting. Not that you should need much persuading to visit, since its beautiful architecture and parks, not to mention an abundance of cafes, restaurants, cultural venues and independent shops, make it an enduringly popular place to live, work and socialise in.

But, like so many of Scotland’s cityscapes, it is always changing and growing. And so, with the sheer scale, history and diversity of the place in mind, I’m splitting this Insider Guide into two parts – west and east – run over two weeks, starting with Pollokshields West.

Historic highlights

Situated around two miles from the city centre, Pollokshields West sits on lands once owned by the Church. By the 13th century it was owned by the Maxwell family, who would go on to have a significant influence on the economic and architectural growth of Glasgow.

In the mid-19th century, known as the Nether Pollok, the area was farmland. In 1849, Sir John Maxwell commissioned Edinburgh architect David Rhind to produce a grand residential plan, splitting the commission into east (more of which next week) and west.

The ambitious western plan took the form of a grand “garden suburb” the likes of which had not been seen elsewhere in Europe, never mind the UK, comprising multiple tree-lined boulevards with stone villas of individual design (though all had to have railings and privet hedges, lawns, flower beds and drives). Terraces of grand “town flats” were also part of the development.

Over the next 50 to 60 years, many of Scotland’s top architects, including Alexander Thomson, HE Clifford and Alexander Petrie, produced the homes, parks, churches and public buildings we still admire today. By 1890, there were more than 400 villas in West Pollokshields, taking in architectural styles from Greek and Italianate to Arts and Crafts. The Burgh became a part of Glasgow in 1891.

Though ownership patterns of land and homes changed over the next century, and some new development was allowed, Pollokshields West’s architecture and luxurious “garden suburb” feel has remained largely intact, mostly thanks to its status as a conservation area.

What to do

West Pollokshields is a true Mecca for fans of Victorian architecture, and the expansive, leafy streets make strolling a pleasure at any time of the year. My own favourite seasons to walk these drives and boulevards are summer and autumn.

After arriving at Pollokshields West station from Glasgow Central, head to nearby Glencairn Drive, admiring the lovely tenements along the way. Keep walking west, past Titwood Park (which has a nice wee swing park) and Titwood Lawn Tennis Club, noting the handsome club pavilion, which was designed by HE Clifford.

Clifford, who lived in nearby Strathbungo, also designed the magnificent Pollokshields Burgh Hall which sits just a little further up the drive. This stunning dark red sandstone building in the Scots Baronial style, complete with 60-foot tower and beautiful stained glass windows, was first opened in 1890 as a community meeting place. One hundred and thirty years later it performs the same function, as a venue for community and cultural events and classes, and one of the city’s loveliest wedding venues. The new BBC Scotland comedy Group, written by Glasgow’s own Denise Mina, is filmed there.

The Burgh Hall sits at the entrance to Maxwell Park, gifted by Sir John Stirling Maxwell, where generations of Pollokshields residents have enjoyed peace, tranquility and fresh air. On summer evenings, the place is always busy with families and promenaders. As well as the pond, which has a variety of wildlife, there’s a good children’s play area and well-laid lawns, paths and flower beds, one of which used to be the Hamilton Fountain. Many of the plants originally came from the gardens of nearby Pollok House, family home of the Stirling Maxwell family. Maxwell Park station is just a short walk away.

Turn on to St Andrews Drive and left on to Nithsdale Road, walking along to Sherbrooke Mosspark Parish Church, one of many attractive churches in the area. If you’re in need of refreshments, just across the road is the Sherbrooke Castle Hotel (housed in one of the grandest villas, built in 1896 for John Morrison and used as a radar training centre during the Second World War)) which serves a delicious afternoon tea.

From here you can either continue to Bellahouston Park, or why not turn around and walk the length of Nithsdale Road back towards Pollokshields West station, which offers an opportunity to appreciate the full grandeur of the vision realised by the original planners and architects.

Where to eat

Back at the east end of Nithsdale Road and Kildrostan Street there’s an impressive array of cafes and restaurants.

Jan MacIntosh recommends relative newcomer Six By Nico Southside on Nithsdale Road. “A great place to celebrate a special occasion or just enjoy a midweek treat. The standard of the food is exciting and memorable, and the staff are fabulous.”

For coffee and cake try Xpresso Lounge next door. One door along is cosy La Te Doh, which has tasty sandwiches and sells an enticing array of cards and gifts.

On the same row, brasserie Ollie’s is building a reputation with locals after a recent refurbishment. Helen Crosby says: “The brunch menu is excellent. I sometimes meet pals there for post-work pizza and a glass of Prosecco. And the decor is gorgeous!”

The local institution around these parts, however, especially for lunch or brunch, is Moyra Janes on Kildrostan Street. Their full Scottish – or stack of waffles for the sweet-toothed – never fails.

Where to shop

Still on Kildrostan street, the two neighbouring homes and interiors shops, Catherine Henderson and Marie Brown, offer great products and creative ideas. Neighbouring Floral Haven stocks a good selection of house plants and garden shrubs as well as beautiful flowers.

Another nearby institution is butcher W Cranston, on Nithsdale Road, which has been serving customers since 1885. People come from far and wide for the steak pie, sausages and haggis.

Next door grocer Zucchini has well-priced fruit and vegetables alongside an ever expanding array of deli and health foods.

Where to stay

The aforementioned Sherbrooke Castle Hotel offers elegant rooms from £135 and is just a five-minute walk from Dumbreck station.

You can stay in a lovely room in a beautiful Glencairn Drive tenement, just moments from the Nithsdale Road cafes, from just £20 a night. See Airbnb for details.

What to do nearby

Strathbungo, with its array of hip cafes and pubs, not to mention yet more stunning Victorian architecture, is just across the railway line from Pollokshields West.

At the opposite end of Nithsdale Road, Bellahouston Park remains one of Glasgow’s loveliest. It is also home to House for an Art Lover, Charles Ronnie Mackintosh’s masterpiece built off-plan in the 1990s and now a community arts space with excellent cafe.

Pollok Country Park, with its acres of urban wildlife, historic house and famous Highland cows, is just a short walk just about anywhere in Pollokshields.


Next week: Pollokshields East