Graceful, stylish, and dominating a thriving spot at the heart of a bustling city crossroads, the Grand Hotel’s revolving doors welcomed visitors from far and near.

Inside were wide corridors, shiny floors and ceilings adorned with ornate cornicing, with elegant rooms that played host to countless weddings, celebrations, and well-heeled guests.

Yet Glasgow’s Grand Hotel was destined to become just one victim of a massive construction project that would see communities torn up and buildings which today would be cherished, sacrificed at the altar of the motor vehicle. 

Construction work on the Kingston Bridge, the M8 and the city’s Inner Ring Road meant time had run out for anything that stood in its path. And demolition teams would mount an assault on red sandstone, bricks, and mortar, along with the tight-knit communities that held families close, their schools, much-loved shops, busy workplaces, and precious parts of Glasgow’s heritage. 

Although not directly a victim of the construction of the Kingston Bridge itself, the Grand Hotel, and a host of buildings in Charing Cross were part of the same audacious plan to revolutionise transport through the city.  Standing in the path of progress – but not for long - stood swathes of Anderston, Townhead, Cowcaddens and Kinning Park. 

Some, of course, were rotten with poverty, overcrowded and in dire need of action. Demolition was probably regarded as a blessing.

But others, such as the elegant tenements that stood on the southside at Kingston – which gave its name to the bridge that would transform travel and the city –  or at Charing Cross, where link roads would plough through the site of the Grand Hotel, the loss would be mourned for decades to come. 

By the time the Kingston Bridge was opened by The Queen on 26 June, 1970 – almost exactly 50 years ago - communities which stood in the way of its ramps, access roads and the city’s new transport map dominated by its inner ring road, were long gone. 

“Glasgow was almost a testing ground for inner city motorways,” says Norry Wilson, the writer and historian whose Lost Glasgow Facebook site and accompanying website documents the changing face of the city. “It was the scale and sheer destructive nature of it all. It’s interesting that after the Glasgow experience no other inner-city motorway was built like that.”

Even those whose homes and businesses escaped the hammer, knew change was happening. “Every day your nostrils would be full of black snotters, the whole city was engulfed in soot because so much was being demolished,” he adds.

“Children would go to nursery or school and come home with clothes black because there was so much soot in the air.”

A new bridge across the Clyde had been proposed as far back as 1945 when the controversial Bruce Report looked to regenerate the post-war city.

Ruthless in its outlook, it suggested clearing slums along with a major new roads network that placed some of Glasgow’s architectural gems including the Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow City Chambers, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and Central Station in its crosshairs.

“The Bruce Report is remembered for advocating wholesale demolition of the city centre and rebuilding it in some kind of 1950s eastern bloc style,” says Stuart Baird, chairperson of Glasgow Motorway Archive.

“There was a lot of austerity after the war, and they couldn’t agree on where the development should happen.”

It took over a decade before an agreement was reached that 20 inner-city areas should be earmarked for comprehensive redevelopment, paving the way for a pared back version of the Bruce Report’s road plans.

While some historic gems were saved, the delivery of Glasgow Inner Ring Road, the M8 and the Kingston Bridge would see others met their end.  Swathes of Townhead were flattened, including Parliamentary Road, which ran from Sauchiehall Street to the East End. 

And tenements in Cowcaddens, an area blighted by high child mortality rates, slums and low life expectancy, were razed to make way for new concrete  corridors.  As the new road network crept towards the Clyde, it gobbled up communities which formed when the land was still being farmed and homes were clustered in simple villages.

Hardest hit was Anderston. 

By the late 18th century it had grown to become a bustling community of weavers, with bleaching, printing and dyeing industries alongside potteries, breweries and once dominated by the 120 feet high cone of the Verreville Glassworks. 

Many within its community of around 32,000 residents were told to clear out to make way for the Inner Ring Road and bridge plan. 

Not even Anderston Relief Church in Heddle Place, erected in 1770, nor the area’s three cemeteries – the one linked to the church, another a Catholic cemetery at St Mark’s and one more at North Street – would dodge the demolition teams. 

“There are still horrible folk tales of how old graveyards dating back to the 1600s were removed, with heaps of bones taken away and dumped in unmarked graves in other cemeteries,” recalls Norry. 

Indeed, some ghostly tales still suggest that the bones of the long-departed are remain trapped beneath the bridge’s foundations, doomed to lie forever beneath the rumble of overhead traffic. 

There was similar devastation on the southside.

 “Opposite Kingston Halls on Paisley Road West were once beautiful gardens and tenements leading up to Scotland Street School,” recalls Norry.

“It was a very populated area, with good working-class communities. These were decent tenements, not slums, but they were swept away along with pubs, schools, and shops.  The people were almost cast to the wind, shunted out to places like Easterhouse, East Kilbride and Castlemilk.”

As work began on the Kingston Bridge, rubble from properties which once stood by the edges of the Clyde poured into its foundations.  While at relatively well-to-do Charing Cross, a fashionable and busting junction drew people to its markets, shops and cafes, stylish buildings would also be washed way by a tsunami of demolition and construction.

They included properties on North Street and the Grand Hotel, described by Stuart as “probably the biggest casualty of the Inner Ring Road”.  Designed by architect James Thomson, it opened in 1882, it had 105 rooms, a ballroom, a cocktail bar and nine function rooms. In its prime, it entertained wedding receptions and lavish assemblies of debutantes and bachelors, and, of course, guests from around the world.

Among its most famous was Colonel William Cody – Buffalo Bill – who strode through its wood and brass revolving doors in December 1891 as guest of honour of the city’s 1390 Club.

Lunch consumed, the party retreated to hotel’s grand ballroom where Native Americans performed and a cowboy band played.  Few would deny that by the 1960s it was a little dated, but nothing a little attention couldn’t solve. 

The irony, adds Norry, is that communities and heritage were sacrificed for roads and a bridge in a city where cars were not king for most. 

“It was never designed to help the people of Glasgow; it was to get people from one side to the other without going through Glasgow. 

“Glasgow compared with a lot of other British cities has a very low per capita car ownership figure. 

“When you talk to older people about what was lost, they are full of stories and talk of it as a criminal act of destruction,” he adds.

“Younger people just ask why we ever allowed it to happen.”