“ROCKVILLA?” says Auld Tommy, wiping an oily hand on his blue work-coat. “No, you don’t hear that name much these days.”

You can take Tommy Finegan’s word for it. Now in his mid-70s, he’s had the garage in Possil Road, Glasgow, for about half his life – Rockville Auto Services, one of the few remaining manifestations of a name by which this whole area was once known.

It is perhaps fitting that the company which prides itself on creating “theatre without walls” should call its new home after a place that has disappeared from the map. Rockvilla, the headquarters of the National Theatre of Scotland, will open in 2016. It was once the familiar name of a district in the north of Glasgow, clustered and thronging around the busy canal.

Rockvilla appears for the first time in a map of 1860 – an iron triangle of power looms and sawmills, its boundaries formed by a wishbone of streets, Possil and Craighall Road, and the timber basin at Spiers Wharf. But come the Great Depression and Rockvilla begins to fade from view, along with the fortunes of the industrialists and their workers; an all-but-exorcised ghost, it appears only in the title of individual buildings – a school, a church – which have, now, either changed name or vanished entirely. Rockvilla Primary School was demolished, following a fire, in 1996. Rockvilla United Presbyterian is now Possilpark Parish Church. One day, perhaps, the ink will bleach from the old maps, the word from memory, and Rockvilla will be no more.

But not quite yet. A resurrection is underway. The old steel cash and carry warehouse by the Forth & Clyde Canal at Spiers Wharf is being redeveloped by the National Theatre of Scotland, providing the company with 3,700 square metres of space and allowing it to bring all of its creative energy and behind-the-scenes activity – including rehearsal space, costume and set-making – under one roof.

The decision to call the building Rockvilla came about, according to Artistic Director Laurie Sansom, “because connecting the National Theatre of Scotland with the heritage of the site, and trying to reclaim that name and heritage, felt really attractive. I hope people might talk about going up to Rockvilla rather than to the National Theatre of Scotland headquarters. It’s snappy and has a kind of cheeky irreverence. I really love the rock ’n’ roll name”.

Locating by the canal, in one of Glasgow’s debatable lands, somewhere with a grand past and uncertain future, also fits with the National Theatre of Scotland’s philosophy of telling the untold stories of Scotland’s communities.

Talk to those who lived in the area before the sharp de-industrialisation of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and there is a strong sense of paradise lost. “For all the poverty and dirt, they were happier times,” says Eleanor Bain, 69, who grew up in Cowcaddens, a little to the south, but spent a year of her early married life two up in a flat on Borron Street, just north of the canal. Many of those who experienced the last days of that tenement life, before the slum clearances and the high rise flats, take a similar view. This Glasgow is a lost world of lost weans and lost words. What Glaswegian child now knows what it was to rake a midden for luckies? Were you very fortunate, you might find an old pair of roller-skates which would allow you to catch a hudgie, an unauthorised pulling along, on the back of the coal man's lorry. Middens, hudgies, coal men – all gone.

Evelyn Smith, 67, a retired music teacher now living in London, grew up at Saracen Cross, sharing a flat above the Standard pub, in her earliest years, with her grandparents, great-grandparents, her father, her uncle and a great aunt. She was born in 1948 and baptised at Rockvilla Church, where she later taught Sunday School and played the piano for the Boys’ Brigade. The Reverend Robert Ross had been a founder member of the Iona Community, and made a regular visit to Evelyn’s home on a Sunday evening for his tea. The wider family was so enormous that dinner was served in three sittings. On Saturday evenings, after eating, everybody had to do a turn. When Evelyn played piano, the close would echo with Beethoven and The Beatles. “It was a very happy place and a great time to grow up,” she recalls. “The closes were well-kept, and we were very proud at that time to come from Possilpark.”

The rest is unspoken. Possil is a part of Glasgow which, fairly or not, has become associated with poverty and crime. That wider area to the north of the canal has seen enormous change over the last 200 or so years, going from farmland to a furnace-lit industrial zone to a post-industrial wasteland to the present situation in which artists and innovators are clustering in a creative hub.

“When the canal first opened in 1790, there was sudden growth of industry,” says Richard Millar, Director of Heritage, Enterprise and Sustainability at Scottish Canals. “Buildings were constructed on a scale that had never been seen before. Port Dundas, Speirs Wharf and the area of Rockvilla were the logistical centre for the growth of Glasgow to become the second city of Great Britain. The area the National Theatre of Scotland are moving into was really an important industrial hub and is now switching to become a place where creativity is delivered on an industrial scale.”

Walk along the canal now, on one of those rare and blessed days when raintown escapes the rain, and it is hard to visualise this peaceful place as it would have been from the late 18th to mid-20th centuries. But a good tug on the tow rope of one’s imagination soon brings it to mind.

First, try to see the masts. The canal, built from Grangemouth to Bowling, the cinched waist of Scotland, would have been full of tall ships, as many as 200 at a time, reaching from Port Dundas to Speirs Wharf. Raw materials – iron ore, coal, clay, wood – came in and finished products went out. It was vertical landscape, awesome in the true sense of the word. Stand on the bank, at Rockvilla, in 1842, and look north-east. You will see a forest of chimneys, lumopolis, and the greatest among them is “Tennant’s Stalk”, newly-built for the St Rollox Chemical Works, and at that time the tallest chimney in the world.

All of this was intensely practical, of course – structures built for work and money – but there does, too, seem to have been something about the gargantuan scale of the factories which fired the imagination of locals, especially youngsters, who found themselves living in one of the most industrialised areas of the planet.

Children's nicknames for parts of the area persist, even now, when the mills and drills are long gone, and give some sense of the weird rough magic of the time. The “Stinky Ocean” was a vast sulphurous pool of chemical effluent, and the name continues in use among the older folk of nearby Sighthill today, many of whom claim that the stench can still be detected if one is in a nostalgic frame of mind and the prevailing climactic conditions are just so. Another well-remembered feature of the landscape is “Jack’s Mountain”, a high, steep bing, said to be heaped bone and slag, much favoured as a playground by local boys despite, or perhaps even because of, the rumour that the devil lived at the top. Rockvilla School, a grand Victorian building which once loomed high and Gormenghastly at the corner of Possil and Dawson Road, was known by generations of cowed weans – perhaps with a nod to Alcatraz – as “The Rock”.

A walk to that corner now reveals the ruins of The Rock. The words “Boys” and “Girls” are still carved into the stone, but the entrances are barred closed. Those with a tolerance for shoogly rubble and choking brambles can find a way down the steps from above, and this time the imagination needs only the slightest of tugs to provide a vision of the children trudging unwillingly up and belting happily down on their way to and from school. On snowy days, kids sledged down the hill, reckless of the trams, and free milk froze in bottles. That’s all away now, as is the nearby Oakbank Hospital, where so many of those children were born, and the 3,000-seater Astoria cinema, where winchin’ once took place on a mass scale and – no doubt – kept the midwives of Oakbank busy.

Willy Maley, a professor in the English Literature department of Glasgow University, grew up in Possil, in Finlas Street, part of an area known as “The Jungle” which in the 1970s became notorious for drugs. His mother went to Rockvilla School. He remembers walks along the canal and looking up at the school, high above the aqueduct. To a wee boy, it seemed a sort of castle. It is one of a number of beautiful and personally meaningful buildings in the area which have been demolished, existing only in nostalgic reverie and in the black and white photos shared online by popular websites such as Lost Glasgow. Recently, Professor Maley was in Córdoba, marvelling at the way that city has preserved its built heritage and despairing at what his own town has done with its.

“I must be one of many working-class Glaswegians empowered by education who can only point to a piece of waste ground now and say, ‘That's where my life was turned around’,” he says. “Both my primary and secondary schools have been reduced to rubble, a world of memories flattened by the wrecking ball.”

Where Rockvilla school stood there is now a car park. It is used by the inhabitants of The Whisky Bond, a bonded warehouse converted for use by around 200 artists, designers and other creatives. They enjoy fine views across the canal and over the city, unobscured by the smoke of chimneys. You could sneer and call this gentrification, or you could smile and call it regeneration, even hope, but either way it is certainly radical change. The National Theatre of Scotland, when it moves into its new headquarters, will find among its neighbours Scottish Opera, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Glasgow Sculpture Studios. Perhaps a few phantom bargemen, too, gliding the towpath at midwinter midnights.

So many stories, that’s the thing. The stories of Rockvilla, Possil, Glasgow, Scotland. It is to be hoped that the writers, directors and other makers of the National Theatre of Scotland will be inspired by these, that they will look out over that water flowing west, and create work worthy of both the name and history of a part of the city once lost but well worth putting back on the map.

Due for completion next summer, Rockvilla will provide an important creative hub of theatrical activity in Scotland, with more than 3,000 writers, artists, school students, teachers and community participants expected to use the facility each year. With £4.579m of funding already been secured, a fundraising campaign has been launched to raise the remainder of the estimated £6.475m building costs. To this effect, the National Theatre of Scotland is inviting friends and supporters to light up their favourite part of Scotland by buying a beacon in a unique new map that will be situated in Rockvilla’s entrance area. For more information visit www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/Rockvilla