An Clachan at the 1938 Empire Exhibition

'An clachan’ is a Gaelic phrase meaning small village or hamlet. During the Empire Exhibition held in Bellahouston Park in 1938, 'an clachan' was an imitation Highland village consisting of nine different buildings over two and a half acres, designed by the architect Colin Sinclair. The village contained a ‘Chief’s Castle’, a smithy, a weaver’s cottage, a black house (a traditional stone-built house), an inn and a cottage that acted as a Post Office. There was also a ‘mountain burn’ ending in a 150ft loch. The interior of the Chief’s Castle was used as a concert hall and played host to a ceilidh or two.

The site was one of the most popular at the Empire Exhibition with over one million people paying to visit. The Post Office was a main attraction where visitors could buy specially designed postcards to send to friends and family.  The popularity of the clachan at the 1911 Scottish National Exhibition held in Kelvingrove Park meant that it would be included in the Empire Exhibition twenty seven years later. During the Exhibition An Clachan was home to genuine Gaelic-speaking Highlanders who carried out daily tasks as if they were at home. One of the Highlanders, Mary Morrison from Barra, worked at her spinning wheel while singing Gaelic laments.

In Alastair Borthwick’s book, ‘The Empire Exhibition Fifty Years On: A Personal Reminiscence,’ the author discusses the clachan’s popularity and provides an excellent quote by the general manager, George, who did not seem to be as taken by the village as the visitors were, “While I have yet to be convinced of the desirability of displaying to the world at large, houses of the type in which no human being should be expected to live in the year 1938, there can be no doubt as to the drawing power of the Clachan.”


The Post Office with Tait Tower in the background


A postcard from the Post Office


The Chief’s Castle and the loch with the painted background

The weaver’s cottage


The Inn


A boat on the loch


The cottages


The ruined kirk


The bridge over the 'mountain burn' was a popular spot to write postcards


The location of An Clachan today at Bellahouston Park





Isabella Elder


At a time of industry, engineering, international trade, and the related economic boom experienced by Glasgow in the late 19thcentury, the contributions of women are, if not overlooked entirely, often muted by the achievements of their male contemporaries. While one could not say that the achievements and philanthropy of Isabella Elder (1828-1905) have gone unnoticed (she was the first woman to be recognised with a statue in Glasgow, other than Queen Victoria), her contribution to Glasgow, and in particularly Govan is worthy of further commemoration.

Born Isabella Ure in 1828, she married John Elder in 1857. At this time John Elder was a partner in the marine engineering firm, Randolph, Elder & Co. However, by 1868 the firm was known as John Elder & Co, and had moved its premises to Fairfield Shipyard in Govan, where it was recognised as one of the world leaders in shipbuilding and marine engineering. Mr Elder died at the age of 45 of liver disease, leaving Isabella the sole owner of his business – which she ran single-handedly for 9 months after his death, until she entered into a partnership with her brother who took over its day to day operation.  Following this, Isobella decided to spend some time abroad where she contemplated how to create a worthwhile legacy for the Elder family. Her husband was described by Professor Rankine as “a man of genius whose marine engines enabled ships to travel further and so opened up the shipping trade.” He goes on to note the social conscience evident in Mr Elder’s character, and his desire to provide opportunity for the poor living in Govan. It is clear that Mrs Elder shared her husband’s philanthropic ideals, as after his death she spent the rest of her life making provisions for disadvantaged groups such as the poor and women in Glasgow.

In 1883, Isabella purchased 37 acres of land beside Fairfield shipyard, where her husband had made his fortune, naming it Elder Park in memory of her late husband and father-in-law, David. She laid the land out as a public park so that the people of Govan might have a healthy recreational space, and she paid for an annual display of fireworks for many years to come.

To support the poor living in Govan, in 1885 she established the School of Domestic Economy to teach women how to darn, stitch, sew, starch, mend and other tasks deemed essential for running a household on a limited budget. Under the tutelage of Miss Martha Gordon, the school was also able to provide classes twice a week about the importance of nutrition, clothing, ventilation, care of children, and the prevention of the spread of infectious diseases. In 1890, Mrs Elder employed a district nurse so that home visits could be made to local families, furthering the outreach potential of the school.

To celebrate her husband’s achievements and in recognition of his enthusiasm for the promotion of scientific principles in industry, in 1873 she gave a supplementary endowment of £5000 to support the Chair of Engineering at the University of Glasgow. And later (1883), £12,500 to endow the Elder Chair of Naval Architecture. She also contributed to the building fund; and to the provision of lectures in Astronomy at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College – the forerunner of the University of Strathclyde.

However, the cause that was arguably closest to Isabella Elder’s heart, was the provision of higher education for women. At this time, women were not permitted to attend universities in Scotland. In 1883, Mrs Elder purchased North Park House in the West End of Glasgow, and donated it to Queen Margaret College – the first college in Scotland to provide higher education to women. This was followed by a medical school designed by John Keppie and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, which opened in 1890, offering the opportunity for women to study medicine – with Mrs Elder agreeing to finance the first courses in Medicine at QMC. Indeed, the first female graduates received their degrees in 1894. The College merged with the University in 1892 and the premises continued to be used for women’s education until the building was sold to BBC Scotland in 1934. However the name of the College persisted with the Queen Margaret Student Union, the Queen Margaret Settlement and the Queen Margaret Halls of Residence in Kelvinside.

In her later years, Isabella Elder’s philanthropy in Glasgow was formally recognised with the award of an honorary LLD from the University of Glasgow. At this time, the Glasgow periodical, The Bailie described her as “a true woman, a wise benefactress of the public and of learning.”

After her death, in 1906, a bronze statue on a granite base, surrounded by a memorial garden, was erected in recognition of her achievements and her devotion to philanthropy in Glasgow, in Elder Park.

The Elder legacy remains evident today, and her generosity is further commemorated with a memorial window in the University of Glasgow’s Bute Hall.

Glasgow, Locomotives, and Empire


Glasgow may be most famous for its shipyards and the contribution she made to international shipping and the admiralty; but Glasgow should also be recognised as being home to Britain’s first works which built locomotives, carriages, and wagons at the same site. Cowlairs Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Works was built in 1841 for the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, and was named after local mansion house, Cowlairs. It was located near to Springburn, on the western side of the Glasgow-Edinburgh mainline at Carlisle Street. The land that was purchased for the works was largely unsuitable for purpose, due to its position at the head of a steep tunnel. However it was the only land available at the time, as local canal companies who owned most of the land in this area refused to sell, as they (quite rightly) perceived the introduction of rail as a serious threat to their carriage of goods businesses.

In 1844, William Paton produced the 0-6-0 ‘Hercules’, number 21; and the ‘Samson’, numbered 22. These 2 engines, used for banking, were considered the most powerful locomotives of the day; and indeed, they caused significant damage to the tracks, and to the tunnel whilst in use. In 1865, Cowlairs was taken over by the North British Railways (NBR), who ran it until 1923 when the NBR was amalgamated with the London and North Eastern Railways (LNER).

In the time that it was operational, the Cowlairs works produced many of the locomotives which were sent to different countries of the British Empire, such as India, Pakistan, Kenya and South Africa. Indeed by 1923, a total of 850 locomotives had been built on the 167 acre site. The Cowlairs’ contribution to Empire in this regard was significant, and perhaps goes further to validate the well-known Glaswegian accolades: “the Second City of Empire,” and “Workshop of the World.” This contribution is recognised in the latest art work to be added to Bellahouston Park. The Elephant for Glasgow by Kenny Hunter reflects the connection between Glasgow and Empire. It reflects the reach of Glaswegian effort and productivity around the world. It reflects movement, and progress.

The Elephant is the result of a long modelling and casting process. Work began in 2014 to coincide with the Commonwealth Games, commemorating the special bond that Glasgow held with many nations of Empire, and latterly, Commonwealth. The process began with a small clay maquette.  This was followed by a 3D printed model of the Elephant, allowing the sculptor and his team to accurately scale it up and create 2D sections. These sections were used to accurately plot the shape of the Elephant’s armature in 6mm steel bars; around which a solid, life size cast could be sculpted, using chicken wire and clay. The next stage was to create a plaster cast. To do this, plaster was applied directly onto the clay in sections – 36 in total. Each contained a fibreglass layer for strength, and was treated with resin. This was the cast that was dispatched from House for an Art Lover, and sent to Powderhall Bronze works in Edinburgh to prepare the mould.

The prepared mould was then sent to the Weir Group foundry in Todmorden, where the final cast was produced. The iron used was sourced from Glasgow built locomotives that had been exported to Empire, and had since been decommissioned. Twelve tonnes of locomotive metal was melted down, and poured into the prepared cast in under 2 minutes. It was then left to cool for 15 days before it could be removed and sent to the foundry’s fettling department to smooth the edges.

The Elephant, now installed in Bellahouston Park, reflects the industrious heritage of Glasgow and the bond that the city shares with other nations of Empire. She stands on the site of the 1938 Empire Exhibition – reinforcing the connections between Scotland, Empire and industry. A celebration of hard work, progressive technology, and continuity.

Below, sculptor Kenny Hunter standing beside the Elephant for Glasgow in her final resting place, Bellahouston Park.