Airdrie Town, what can I say, a lot has been written about this wee town, not all good I am afraid, BUT, at the risk of being expelled from Coatbridge, I like the place. All banter aside, when I told some people of Coatbridge that I was going to do a wee photowalk and blog on Airdrie, they told me it was a waste of time, “People from Airdrie can’t read!” they said. Well I know this to be untrue having went to St Magaret’s high school for a few months before the head teacher suggested that maybe it wasn’t the school for me . So I can confirm that the people of Airdrie can read a wee bit, and anyway there will be pictures ;).
Airdrie & Coatbridge share banter as well as a border, it’s always been a bit of a banter between the two towns, like sibling rivalry , we tend to kiss and make up as long as you don’t talk football (section B 🙂 ), religion and politics. That is a golden rule for life never mind for the at times unruly siblings of Coatbridge & Airdrie, but these two towns tend to take it too far at times, both share the equal faith as mentioned in my previous blog on Coatbridge, my home, of being Catholic and protestant atheists, where Sunday is the day of rolls and sausage and a bottle of Irn bru, rather than a day of determined Godly spirituality.
I consider myself to be a duel national of both towns, although native to the brig, from my early teenage years right into my fleeting 20s I spent a huge chunk of my life, and met some of the best people to grace my life, some of whom are my closest and cherished friends to this day. I also received and enjoyed some of the best beatings I have ever had in Airdrie also, fun at the time of course.
So where is this wee town, Airdrie (ˈɛərdri/; Scottish Gaelic: An t-Àrd Ruigh) is a town in North Lanarkshire, Scotland. It lies on a plateau roughly 400 ft (130 m) above sea level, and is approximately 12 miles (19 km) east of Glasgow city centre. Airdrie forms part of a conurbation (a city area containing a large number of people, formed by various towns growing and joining together with its neighbour Coatbridge), in the former district known as the Monklands.
A large contingent of Airdrieonians fought at the Battle of Bothwell Brig during the Covenanter Rebellion of 1679; their banner can still be viewed at the local library.
A significant event in Airdrie’s history was the 1695 passing of a special Act of Parliament in the Scottish Parliament allowing Robert Hamilton of Airdrie to hold four fairs yearly and a weekly market in the town of ‘Airdry’. This helped develop Airdrie from a ‘farm town’ into a thriving ‘market town’.
However, Airdrie Town really came to prominence through its weaving industry. Airdrie Weavers Society was founded in 1781 and flax was being grown in sixteen farms in and around the burgh. In the last decade of the eighteenth century, coal mining was in progress and around thirty colliers were employed. Weaving continued to flourish making up a substantial part of the population of over 2,500 around the turn of the 19th century. Given its large number of weavers, its geographic location, and a large number of unemployed soldiers following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Airdrie became a major centre of support for the Radical War of 1820. The rapid pace of population growth continued and by 1821 there were 4,862 inhabitants. At this time the number of houses being built increased dramatically and in 1821, by a private Act of Parliament, Airdrie became a free and independent Burgh of Barony. Due to the fact it was ‘independent’, it had all the powers of a Royal Burgh.
Airdrie Town Walkabout
I started my walk at the Airdrie Cenotaph, on possibly weather wise, one of the most bitter coldest days of the year so far, the sky a whitely pale, fringing on grey, almost smooth with little or zero cloud formations, the light was harsh and hazy, drizzle (the drizzle that gets you wet as my gran used to say) fell from the sky and the wind would have made the dead weep, icy and numbing.
This probably set the tone & mood for the walk as the people who were out living life running around Airdrie were sombre and reflecting. However I couldn’t have been more taken aback at the sheer friendliness of the kind Airdrie folk, stopping to chat and give me stories on the state of the town, and the hurt they have watching their beleoved wee town crumble and decay. A complete opposite to my walk around my own town disappointingly, here in Airdrie they were proud to be vocal and encouraging of what I was doing. “Here’s hoping you shame that shower of useless sods into doing something, (referring to North Lanarkshire Council, however i don’t think my wee blog with have them quivering just yet 🙂 ) the empty condemned buildings that fill this once bustling town is terrible” was just some of the feedback received. I then heard some fantastic stories that warmed me and made me forget about the piercing coldness that had made my camera feel like an Iceblock. it’s safe to say the only regret I have about me wee walk around was forgetting to ask the amazing people I had been speaking to for a photo, school boy error noted and lesson learned.
Back to where I started my walk at Airdrie Towns Cenotaph, the war memorial, this is where teenage boys & girls of Airdrie lived out their romantic fantasies and dreams, where they would arrange to meet their Coatbridge Capulet’s, to sweep them off their feet, as it was an easy and historic landmark that both forbidden lovers would meet. For a fellow South Coatbridger this place was a double edged sword with a bitter sweet sting, As this fabulous landmark meant you had made it to the outskirts and NEAR safety of your own stomping ground without being a Coatbridge scallop for the surrounding young teams.
The euphoria was often short lived, as the next hurdle was entering Young Dykes territory. Yes Young Dykes, you read that correct, hardly a gang name that would strike the fear into the famous gangs of Glasgow or the deadly ones of America, but to a teenager from Coatbridge their reputation far outweighed the reality, a young team from Coatdyke Coatbridge, that no matter what route you decided on, either the main street of Coatbdyke past Monkland Pharmacy or the stealth path of the Airdrie Viaduct, always seemed to know and would be waiting to kick 7 colours of shite out of you. It was a gantlet that had to be run, because the young team of the neighbouring scheme of Winhall, for some reason had sensed the scent of Coatbridge blood, so there was no running back. The bitter sweet sting I briefly highlighted was that if you did get captured by the Young Dykes or the equally brutal Winhall young team at least you were right next to Monklands district hospital should your kicking be one that required medical attention.
Airdrie Town Viaduct
I then venture down a bit to snap the impressive Airdrie Viaduct , and impressive it is, built as part of the Bathgate and Coatbridge Railway for the Monkland Railways from Sunnyside to Armadale to link with the line from Bathgate and also spanning the South Burn (now partially submerged). Monkland Railways was formed in 1848 with the merger of the Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway, the Ballochney Railway and the Slamannan Railway, all of which were built to service the regional coal and iron industry. The viaduct follows the form of engineers, Thomas Grainger and John Miller’s earlier designs (Hurlford, Kilmarnock), though Miller had ceased to practice by 1849. Grainger and Miller were the engineers for the Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway (1823-1826). Latterly the property of the North British Railway and LNER, prior to the nationalisation of the railways, the viaduct still serves the line between Drumgelloch and Glasgow Queen Street station . Coatbridge and Airdrie were once heavily industrialised communities and their history is based on the great expansion of coal mining and iron smelting during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The rail networks were extensive and responded to this great economic development. The layout of modern day Coatbridge and Airdrie is still defined by its various railway viaducts and bridges and it is their architectural design which now act as landmarks, contributing greatly to the town centre and its periphery. The viaduct at Centenary Avenue acts as a gateway feature of the area, particularly from the Coatbridge’s eastern approach from Airdrie (Source: Historic Scotland)
My walk took me right into Centenary & West End Parks, (follow link to learn more about this impressive park.)
The parks have several notable features which include:
- The cenotaph for the people of Airdrie, located at the main road junction.
- ‘The Sentinels’ artwork feature at the bottom of Centenary park
- The heritage plaques located throughout both parks
- The Robert Hamilton (the man who is recognised as the founder of the town) memorial fountain in West End park
- Several lighting features such as the Boulevard of lights and the viaduct illuminations
- Children’s play area at the top of Centenary park
This is a fantastic park and defo worth a visit. however those same teenage dreamers from above would not be in a hurry to have wedding photos taken at the awkward and embarrassing Airdrie centre piece that sticks out like a sore thumb across the road from the actual cenotaph, personally as a photographer I think it’s rank, and would Photoshop it out of any wedding photos, unless requested not to. (I have never been asked not to ) I understand that in times long ago the Airdrie sign was proudly planted for all to see, but NAH, I’m not a fan of this awful sign, sorry Airdrie.
Airdrie Town Fork Road
I am then left with the option of taking the fork road toward top cross or bottom cross, I opt for bottom cross as I still haven’t forgiven the Winhall Young Team for turning me into an athlete. I am immediately impressed by the architecture of the houses , some real crackers, well done Airdrie. My only frustration is that where the mad flowery Horse statue now stands was a totally stunning building , think flatiron-building in New york and don’t get ahead of yourself, it was a wee tiny but like this. you can still make out its awesome shape by the shape of the wee wall that protects your hippy horse. I’d swap your hippy horse for this building back any day. For the record I am not slating your horse or the Ready, Steady, Gallop initiative and art, I am a firm fan of art no matter how random or pointless it is or seems, I like your hippy horse and I like the point and backstory of the whole collection….I just preferred the building that should have still been standing here. Move the horse and replace the awful welcome to Airdrie sign on the other side of the road.
I walk past the Tudor Hotel where many Coatbridge Capulet’s have stolen and married some of Airdries fine maidens, in this very decent hotel, Harry’s bar is not to shabby either. This is when you see Airdire in all her wonderful splendor. Airdire often gets neglected when it comes to “Progression” (cough cough) off the building vandals and neglectors known as North Lanarkshire Council, or passed over when some big leisure based facility is being touted about Lanarkshire. Sometimes it seems poor Airdrie is the town that is forgotten jammed between Coatbridge and Motherwell who seem to always be the benefactors of elaborate building plans and investment. But don’t get angry fine residents of Airdrie, this may actually have worked out in your favour, as your town remains virtually in tact (to a point) and still holds its past historic charm, unfortunately Coatbridge and Motherwell have been butchered to almost unrecognizable shells of what they once were (Thanks NLC and your appalling almost criminal taste in selecting architects, and your famous and professional ability to sit back and let nature destroy the veins and pulse of our towns).
I am envious when looking at your gorgeous buildings in Airdrie, the amazing Sir John Wilson Town hall, were I strutted my stuff on stage many a time, when I attended the much loved Youth Theatre. The building had its 100th birthday in October 2012 and this milestone was marked with a £3.6m makeover, just as Tennent’s launched a new series of adverts with John Wilson among its backdrops.
While the town hall might have been the venue for celebrating the relationships of friends and families in Airdrie and beyond, it is also a permanent reminder of the town’s relationship with one of it’s well-loved sons. Sir John Wilson was born on June 26, 1844, son of James Wilson, a coalmaster. After being educated at schools in Glasgow and Airdrie, he went on to be the chairman of the Wilson and Clyde Coal Company, a business which at its peak employed more than 3000 people. In 1895, age 51, he entered the political arena, being elected as Member of Parliament for Falkirk Burghs – a seat which included Airdrie, Hamilton and Lanark. Sir John served as MP for the burgh until 1906. He was recognised for his work by Kind Edward VII when he was bestowed the title, Baron of Airdrie. In September 1910, Sir John wrote to the area’s provost to announce he would make a gift of £10,000 to the town for the purpose of building a town hall. After being designed by Monklands architect, James Thomson, the new town hall in Airdrie opened on October 16, 1912.At the opening, it was recorded that Sir John Wilson said: “I have always, as I have said before, had a love for my native town.”At the opening of the town hall, a portrait of Sir John was unveiled. Provost John Orr said: “The portrait will be hung in the entrance hall of this beautiful building and will be a reminder to generations yet to come of the munificent gift which was handed to them by Sir John Wilson of Airdrie.” One of the many proud sons of Airdrie.
Just a fleeting glimpse across the road on Stirling street you see the other magnificent buildings including the impressive Airdrie Savings bank, wow. A wee walk around the corner brings you to a fine achievement and amazing bit of Scottish history, Anderson Street, Airdrie a street that Scotland should be proud of, In August the Public Libraries Act (Scotland) 1853 was passed, and in November Airdrie Public Library became the first in Scotland. So Airdrie Scotland thanks you.
A look over your shoulder see the old West Parish church or the New Wellwynd Parish church, The West Parish Story began in 1834 when the ‘Friends of the Church of Scotland’ were motivated to build a church to serve the town. This is now the building used by The New Wellwynd. Lovely building also.
I am itching to get round to see BANK STREET, THE TOWNHOUSE, The decision to build ‘a small Town House and a jail’ in Airdrie was taken in 1822, a year after the town had become a burgh of barony. Previously, courts and council meetings had been held in the Masonic lodge. Following a dispute between the Town Council and local Heritors regarding the site first proposed, the present building was begun in June 1825 and completed eighteen months later to the design of Baird, the burgh treasurer. His plans were chosen preference to those of George Waddell, a former councillor, and the contract for £1075 was awarded to James Orr, who was also a member of the council as were the three unsuccessful tenders. To celebrate the official opening of the town-house the town crier, George Gentles, was provided with a new blue coat with red collar. A further public subscription allowed the addition in 1828 of a bell cast by Stephen Miller, Glasgow, and a clock which was replaced in 1954. A new council chamber was added to the rear of the building in 1948, doubling the depth. When built the town-house had a police office and cells on the ground and a court-room, also used as the council-chamber, on the first floor. Few original internal features survive since both floors have undergone extensive reworking from the late nineteenth century onwards. The town-house has also served as a cholera hospital and barracks and in 1854 the Fiscal’s room was shelved to allow its use as Scotland’s first free library, later moved to form Airdrie Carnegie Public Library later in the nineteenth century, itself superseded by the present library in 1924. Baird went into partnership in an architectural practice with George Arthur in 1871, Arthur took over the practice in 1884 as “Mr Baird by then being much involved with the coal trade” to become Airdrie’s leading architect in the late nineteenth century.
So far my walk around Airdrie has been fantastic, what a wonderful historic and underrated little town, superb. However I catch something out the side of my eye which even writing this has left me with mixed feelings, right at the bottom of Bank street, or the bottom cross, luminous white catches my eye, the once gorgeous architectural beauty of the old Henderson jewelers is now White, a bright shade of white, MMMMM!!!!, to be honest I am not that sure of it, it has striped the very character from this iconic building for me, Henderson the Jewelers was first established in Coatbridge in 1886 by Matthew McLaren Henderson – the youngest of six children who started as an apprentice with a local jeweler at the age of 14. Twelve years later he fulfilled his dream of seeing the Henderson name above the door of his own premises. It wasn’t until 1925 that the organisation was incorporated into a limited company taking the name of the founder – M.M.Henderson Ltd. It was one of Scotland’s oldest jewelers and the building for me was/is one of the best in Airdrie. Of course Coatbridge is the proud owner of a Henderson clock an iconic symbol in my home town, and iconic jewelers of times long gone.
But honestly, I didn’t think this new overcoat of white would have been allowed as the building must surely be protected by all listed building laws imaginable, if it isn’t it should be. Fair play to the current owners, however out of touch their decision is, at least they believe that they have made an effort, and I wish them every success. But personally I feel it has been an awful mistake. The disappointment in my heart confirms that. maybe its sentimental pish, but sometimes things are just better left the way they are. 🙁
I walk across the road to take a look at one of my favourite clothing shop Mr H (matt) , love this shop and the owner loved me and my family, who have easily paid the mans pension, the fact he always smiled when he seen me makes my self efficacy soar, I like to pretend it’s cause he enjoyed my company.
My love affair with Airdrie main street ends at superdrug, as across the road I sense the same blind leprechaun spacemen who vandalized Coatbridge with their fecking awful architecture, took over the design of the back part of the Main Street, and so far I have been enjoying my walk, no point in wasting it now.
I zoom around the corner and quickly head down Hallcraig street and my smile returns, the place if you look hard enough still poses most of its wonderful historic feel. Thank god they saved the old bingo hall another cracking building, The building was originally built as a Corn Exchange in 1856 but was converted and opened in 1908 by Airdrie Hippodrome Company as a Theatre with a capacity of 1000 people. If you research you will find that Houdini played the Hippodrome on Hallcraig Street in Airdrie, in 1913, thousands of people were unable to get tickets, so he put on an extra show for free out front. A crowd of 7,000 watched him being chained and handcuffed by the local police sergeant on the front steps of the theatre. Officials tried keeping him in a variety of sacks and crates too, but he kept getting loose. Finally the Water Torture Chamber was wheeled into sight and the fire brigade filled it up. Harry had little problem escaping from that as well, naturally, but no one in the throng was complaining. Simply outstanding history for this town. What a glorious building and transformation it has undergone. For once I will acknowledge North Lanarkshire council for making it happen, well done, shame you can’t do it for all historically important buildings throughout Lanarkshire !!!.
My fleeting gushing admiration of this revamp is brought crashing down to Earth when I look across the road at the old John Orrs building, this is a sore one and should be for all Lanarkshire people and not just a heartbreak for our Airdrie peeps to bare. Orrs was a much-loved town centre institution for 150 years, as a family-owned department store carrying an enormous range of goods including clothing, homewares and furniture. It was a store that certainly played a part in not only my child hood, but the childhood of most of my clan from Gran to Mother. There was excitement when apparently Clyde Valley housing bought it to develop and replace it with a four-story property comprising retail space on the ground floor and basement and 15 social housing flats in the upper two floors. They even pledged to retain the distinctive “Orrs” signage on the gable ends of the new building in a nod to its predecessor.
After seeing what Clyde Valley are capable of, I must admit to bitter disappointment that this seems to have fallen through due to red tape surrounding safety and parking, it seems also that the pub the staging post was also a factor to not proceed. This is terrible news and I am convinced that NLC are patently waiting for “progress”, nature or a mystery fire to bring this buildings fading and past mighty life to an end. A wee walk up South Bridge Street, is frustrating and joyous at the same time, the old architectural mix and mash of strange but unique buildings, is pleasing even if it seems to be half dead, filled with charity shops or past sunbed shops , is this really what this once modern pride of the local economy has come to.
I can’t wait to finish at my final two places to visit, the Clyde Valley partnership with NLC (HE BITES HIS LIP) renovated One Wellwynd, a perfect example of what you can achieve when mixing old and new, it’s stunning both inside and out, and they even managed to keep the historic grave yard considering the issues it had when the project was agreed. Old Wellwynd Church was built in 1847 and is C listed. It is situated next to Airdrie town centre and overlooks the associated burial ground which pre dates the church. One Wellwynd Church is notable as being the first public building in Airdrie and was continually in use until 1995. It then became redundant as a place of worship and also derelict. A wonderful and worthy project, so well done to all involved including NLC.
My final stop is the Weavers cottage, no visit to Airdrie is complete without it, By 1795 Airdrie consisted of about seven streets lined with single-storey thatched cottages, the majority of which were occupied by handloom weavers and their families. The weavers worked in loomshops set up either in their own homes, or in the homes of other, more prosperous weavers. Another remarkable feat of this town.
Airdrie Town Walk
I must admit to absolutely enjoying my whistle stop snapping session of Airdrie, a town I have a fresh new found admiration for, I have always had a soft soft spot for it (See Judith I do love your town 🙂 ) and grateful and encouraged by the warm welcome I received poking around with my camera.
Before I left, I had to pop into Yesterdays bar to use the toilet due to clan connections, it’s encouraging to see that the current owner enjoyed recent success as the best bar none awards where because of him and his management and his team of staff, the pub won a few awards, this tells me it’s in good hands. Congratulations Mr Sayle, keep up the good work. I was also hoping to meet the ghosts rumored to kicking about. Yesterdays ghost.
John White Local Historian
Obviously there is a far deeper and interesting history to this town, but like my Coatbridge, my home blog, I will hand over to the man who knew everything about Monklands, an unsung hero of Monklands. Mr John White local and much respected Historian, if you don’t know this mans legacy, then it’s defo time to tune into his archives, because of his passionate meticulous work we will all enjoy our roots forever, his attention to detail, knowledge and collection is phenomenal.
PLEASE follow the link to learn more about him and his lifetime body of work about your home town and surrounding Monklands, JOHN WHITE the legend. All this material John first housed in his home in Old Monkland. Then, for a time, he was given a room in the Carnegie Library where those interested could inspect the materials under John’s expert guidance. Finally, all this rich collection was housed in the History Room at Airdrie Library and in the Mitchell Library, for use by future researchers. In addition, John toured the Monklands area for years with cameras and slides, giving lectures to schools, church groups, social clubs, nursing home residents, and the like. Without his information I couldn’t even contemplate these blogs.
It’s also important that Friends of CENTENARY AND WEST END PARKS are mentioned for there hard work and amazing contribution to Airdire , well done friends
Coatbridge & Airdrie
My walk around both Coatbridge and Airdire was a fantastic historical and sentimental journey for me, hopefully for some of you reading this also. I love both towns and have immense respect for them, if I was an outsider looking in based on the history I’d be asking why both towns weren’t mentioned more historically and culturally because both played a huge role in the Modern Great Britain. Coatbridge for it’s Heavy industrial contribution along with Airdrie, but for God sake, Anderson Street in Airdrie should be landmarked for a world if not national heritage site, I mean this street gave Scotland it’s first ever public library, that must surely be up there with some of the amazing historical facts of this country. If marketed and celebrated properly would be a huge investment for the town. Not to even mention the observatory that the current library holds.
Both towns are in dire need of some urgent TLC, more than just a lick of paint and some grout , these towns
need some amazing marketing people, some creative minds, and a business guru. Even as the buildings fall apart with age and serious neglect the fact that our local authority lacks the vision and drive that it so badly needs is a scary prospect for all.
I think I can confidently state that our famous creators and visionary leaders such as the Bairds, Buchanans, Mr Hamilton, Sir John Wilson & architectural genius of George Arthur etc will all be turning in their graves at what has become of these towns. Most of our elected representatives are more concerned at retiring and getting a swimming pool, sports center or street named after them, but contribute nothing like the past fathers and mothers of these wonderful towns, I am not talking just financially, some of the names above only contributed wonderful vision, passion and an inspiring belief in potential for our towns and people. Most of the current breed of elected or employed leaders don’t even live here, and retire to their leafy suburbs away from North Lanarkshire whilst the rest of us have to walk about looking at the ghosts of our historical greatness.
Thanks for tuning in
Mark Mutch O’Hare