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Glasgow Garden Festival

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1988, Fox

The Glasgow Garden Festival took place between April 28, 1988, and September 26, 1988, and was the third of five similar events which were held throughout the United Kingdom:

  • 1984 Liverpool
  • 1986 Stoke on Trent
  • 1988 Glasgow
  • 1990 Gateshead
  • 1992 Ebbw Vale
1988, Fox

Glasgow's proposal for the site was made in 1983, the same year in which Laing Homes Ltd had purchased the site for £2.5 million, and in November of that year the Scottish Development Agency (SDA) accepted the proposal and leased the site from Laing, and became the main funding body and organiser for the event.

Much of the event was located on a 100 acre site which had been created in the eastern part of Prince's Dock on the south bank of the River Clyde, opposite the Scottish Exhibition + Conference Centre (SECC). The north, centre, and south basins of the dock were infilled, and several thousand tons of top soil were dredged from the river, allowing the site to be landscaped with over 300,000 trees, bushes and garden plants to create six themed areas for the event:

  • science and technology
  • health and well-being
  • plants and food
  • landscape and scenery
  • water and maritime activities
  • recreation and sport
1988, Fox

Two special feature areas were created: the High Street, which was decorated with outlines of Glasgow's best known spires and towers, containing more than twenty single storey shops, and Bell's Bridge, installed to provide access from the opposite bank of the river.

Five main rides were featured on the site: the Clydesdale Bank Tower at 240 feet (64 m), which also marked the bank's 150th anniversary; the Coca-Cola extreme roller coaster; the tramway rides along the river bank, featuring Glasgow Corporation Tramways tram No 22, built in 1922 and in active service until the end of 1960, and which covered nearly 4,000 miles during the festival;[1] and the Festival railway, a narrow gauge train service which ran around the site. There was also the biggest teapot in the world, and a new footbridge, the first for 120 years since the 19th century, which connected the SECC car park with the festival site. This was Bell's Bridge, with a 124 metre span sponsored by Perth distillers Arthur Bell to the tune of £250,000, with an opening section in the centre to allow the passage of ships, the bridge being supported on piles driven into the riverbed.

Coca-Cola roller coaster, 1988
Coca-Cola roller coaster
© Carol Walker

Catering was essential, and over the months, the visitors consumed more than a 100 tonnes of chips, 20 miles of hot-dogs, 350,000 hamburgers, 400,000 ice-creams, 130,000 doughnuts and 300,000 pints of beer.

The festival was popular and attracted large crowds with many people purchasing season tickets which allowed the holders to visit as often as they wished. The only thing which marred the five month success of the festival was an accident involving a mortar during the firework display on the closing night. Six people were seriously injured, and five others injured by hot metal from the explosion. A firework technician had to have his injured left leg amputated following the accident, and a woman's life was saved by her dentures, which surgeons said had stopped a metal fragment measuring almost five inches square from reaching her throat and killing her, after striking her in the mouth and knocking her off her feet.[2] The location and timing of this incident, at the end of the event, meant that most of those present were unaware of what had happened, and only learned of the circumstances of the arrival of the emergency services later, when they saw or heard local news reports. The vast majority of the crowd was on the festival site, on the south bank, and only a relatively small number across the river on the north bank, near the Rotunda, were involved, or witnessed what happened.

1988, Fox

More than four million visitors flocked to the site during its five months, and many of Glasgow’s citizens have admitted to visiting every single day for a "day out of this world" - the slogan of the festival. Glasgow council reports an estimated £100 million was injected into the local economy at the time, with a further £170 million being spent in the five years immediately after.

Later figures released for the event showed the total cost, less income from visitors, was about £7 million, and that that there were 4.3 million visitors - 40% more than targeted.


The Garden Festival site featured in the Taggart episode "Root of Evil", first broadcast in September 1988, providing the setting when Taggart and Jardine investigate a series of brutal murders which appear to be revenge attacks on local loan sharks.

After the Festival

Glasgow Tower, Science Centre, IMAX theatre, plus development, 2007
Glasgow Tower, Science Centre,
IMAX theatre, plus development
© wfmillar

It had been hoped that the festival would result in the redevelopment of the area, but the site lay derelict until the IMAX thatre opened in October 2000, followed by the Glasgow Science Centre in June 2001, and the completion of the Glasgow Tower in the same year. These have been followed by new studios for Scottish Television, opened in June 2006, and the BBC's Pacific Quay studios which began operating during 2007.

Unfortunately, the new Glasgow Science Centre was obliged to close the day after it was opened, having applied for the wrong operating licence, and was unable to collect admission fees from visitors. The science centre is also an ongoing funding crisis. In 2004, one fifth of the staff were made redundant after a funding deal was agreed with the Scottish Executive, there were then claims in the press in June 2008 that a 40% cut in funding was being made, and in July 2008, 28 full-time jobs were to go as a direct consequence of cuts made in order to secure science centre's future.

Clydesdale Bank Tower, 1988
Clydesdale Bank Tower
© Carol Walker

The Clydesdale Bank Tower was quickly sold off for £400,000 and was dismantled and re-erected in the Welsh seaside resort of Rhyl, North Wales, where it is now known as the Sky Tower.

Glasgow Tower, 2007
Glasgow Tower
© Thomas Nugent

The £10 million Glasgow Tower has had to be closed on numerous occasions. Having been open for only 100 days in the twelve months following its completion and opening in October 2001, it had to be closed for almost 2½ years while engineers worked on a faulty bearing which was supposed to allow the tower to turn through 360 degrees. In January 2002, ten people were trapped in the glass-sided lifts for five hours after a cable snapped, marking the fifth time in six months it had been forced to close. The tower is 127 metres (417 ft) in height, with and observation deck at 105 metres (344 ft), making it the tallest tower in Scotland (2009). It was once second tallest free-standing structure after the chimney of Inverkip Power Station, but this description came to an end with the demolition of the chimney in July 2013. The vertical load on the bearing is given as 460 tonnes.

The science centre claims 65,000 people have made it to the top of the tower, which works out at about £150 per person without taking into account operating costs and maintenance.

The tower has become something of an embarrassment, liability, or joke, as the supposed landmark and attraction has been beset by problems since it opened (which is something of a misnomer in itself), having been accessible to the public for only about 25% of the it life to 2011, when an MSP called for the tower's management to 'come clean' and reveal the reason for the tower's closure in the middle of the 2011 season, amid indications that it would not reopen that year. Sandra White said: "I am calling for an inquiry into the whole situation with the Science Centre Tower. This isn't the first time the tower has been closed but this particular time no reason has been given. I will be writing to Government ministers, Scottish Enterprise and the leader of Glasgow City Council to instigate an inquiry into this situation."[3] The tower continues to be source of embarrassment for the city of Glasgow, being dubbed a "White Elephant" in a BBC New story published in 2013.[4] The story listed the tower's past achievements:

Towering disappointment

  • 21 June 2001 - Science centre opens but tower not ready
  • 5 July 2001 - Queen officially opens science centre but she cannot go up tower
  • 8 July 2001 - 20 people get to top before lift doors fail. Lifts too heavy, causing system to overheat
  • October 2001 - Tower finally opens
  • Feb 2002 - Two bearings in the rotating base mechanism have sunk by almost an inch. Tower closed
  • August 2003 - Tower jacked up on to temporary supports so new bearings can be put in
  • August 2004 - Tower reopens but people turned away when lift fails
  • January 2005 - Major setback as 10 people, including four children, were trapped for five hours after a cable carrying their lift snapped and the emergency brakes were triggered
  • Christmas 2006 - Tower opens but problems and lengthy maintenance periods continue
  • August 2010 - Tower closes because of technical problems and stayed closed for 4 years
  • July 2014 - Tower set to reopen on Saturday 19 July after £1.8m revamp

According to the 2013 story:

Architect Peter Wilson, of Edinburgh Napier University, is one of the critics of the project.

"The fundamental thing about this is that when it was initially designed, it was never meant to be built," he says.

"It was intended for an 'ideas' competition."

The original design was submitted by renowned architect Richard Horden for a competition in 1992, which was looking for "big imaginative ideas" for a space at St Enoch Square in the city centre.

Instead of rotating in the breeze in the centre of Glasgow, the powers-that-be decided it would be the perfect design to go alongside the developments which were taking place on former docklands on the south of the river Clyde in Govan.
The tower is across the river from the Armadillo and the Hydro arena which is currently under construction The tower is across the river from the Armadillo and the Hydro arena, which is currently under construction

Norman Foster's "Armadillo" extension to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre was taking shape on the north bank of the river and Peter Wilson says the decision to build the tower was Glasgow "grandstanding as usual".

Prof Horden severed his links in 1999 when his firm were removed in a dispute over time and cost.

He says it is "always sad to reflect on this project".

Prof Horden adds it was "entirely possible for the initial design to have functioned successfully".

But he says it failed because of poor management decisions, such as removing the original "first-class design team" and "doing it on the cheap".


Re-opening announced for 19 July 2014

The Glasgow Science Centre tower is to reopen on 19 July, almost four years after visitors were last allowed up it.

The 127m (416ft) (sic) rotating tower has been plagued by problems since it opened in 2001 and has been closed for more than 80% of its life.

The Science Centre said the £10m structure had undergone a £1.8m revamp with repairs to the thrust bearing and replacement of the existing lifts.

Trips to the 105-metre high viewing cabin will cost £4.95.

The tower will remain open for the rest of Science Centre's summer season before closing on 2 November for the winter.


The tower is said to be the only structure on earth capable of rotating 360 degrees into the prevailing wind.

It holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest fully rotating freestanding structure in the world and is also the tallest freestanding structure in Scotland.

Some of the cost of the redevelopment was paid for by money from a settlement reached with the original contractors.

The rest of the cost has been met by Scottish Enterprise and Glasgow City Council.

- Glasgow Science Centre tower to reopen on 19 July. [5]

Tower fire only 2 days after 2014 reopening

Fire fighters have been called to the newly-reopened Glasgow Science Centre tower.

The troubled structure was reported to be on fire at about 20:00.

The crew of HMS Bangor, which is moored on the River Clyde near the centre, were reported to have put out the flames before the fire service arrived.

The £5m tower opened on Saturday, after being closed for almost four years because of technical problems with its rotation mechanism.

- Fire tackled at Glasgow Science Centre tower.[6]

2017 reopening

The media reported that the The 417 ft Glasgow Tower on the Clyde had been closed for the majority of its life, but was set to reopen to the public after its annual winter closure in 2016. It added that the structure had been plagued by problems since it was completed in 2001 and has been closed for the majority of its life.

It was due to reopen on 1 April 2017 and would stay open throughout the summer - as long as the wind stays below 25 mph.[7]

The tower is not sinking

While the Glasgow Tower may have settled by a few millimetres since it was completed, occasional claims that it is actually sinking are untrue.[8]

The tale takes various forms, such as telling of how the tower is slowly slipping into the River Clyde, some claim subsidence, while other say it’s built on a sand-bed, while the more extreme warn that it is ready to topple at any time, having been teetering ever since opening day in 2001.

Daredevils climb tower in September 2017

The Daily Record carried a story, and video, of two daredevils who accessed the tower and climbed to the top.

They entered the viewing cabin then open a hatch in the ceiling with allowed them to climb out and onto the roof, from where they were also able to access a small platform at the base of the spike which rises above the cabin.

When we later attempted to review the Daily Record page and video, these appeared to be unavailable.

The story was later noted briefly by the BBC.[9]

STV News then had the video and stills.[10]

Glasgow Tower

Clyde Arc

Clyde Arc repair, 2008
Clyde Arc repair
© Thomas Nugent

In 2006, a road bridge was constructed to carry traffic associated with Pacific Quay. The novel design crosses the river at an angle and is officially known as the Clyde Arc, but more affectionately referred to by Glaswegians as the Squinty Bridge. In January 2008, Clydeport Authority was obliged to close the new bridge following the failure of one of the 14 bridge support cables, after which another was found to contain a crack. It remained closed until June 28, 2008.

Festival Park

Waterfall, 1988, Fox
Waterfall 1988

The only surviving ground of the festival now lies within Festival Park, where the remains of the Highland river, lochan, and waterfall feature now lie. The waterfall is now dry, the lochan filled in, and the remaining Highland scenery blighted by two brightly coloured childrens' play areas. The lochan area also featured a building which represented a Highland distillery, complete with an area of peat bog with peat cutting taking place to fuel the distillery.

Waterfall, 2005
Waterfall 2005


1 Glasgow Corporation Tramways, tram No 22.

2 Glasgow Evening Times, Tuesday, September 27, 1988.

3 BBC News - Answers demanded on Glasgow science tower closure Retrieved July 28, 2011.

4 Faulty tower: Glasgow's £10m white elephant Retrieved August 05, 2013.

5 Glasgow Science Centre tower to reopen on 19 July Retrieved July 08, 2014.

6 Fire tackled at Glasgow Science Centre tower Retrieved July 22, 2014.

7 The 417ft structure on the Clyde has been closed for the majority of its life. Retrieved 29 March 2017.

8 Glasgow Tower | What's here Retrieved September 05, 2017.

9 Two men reported by police over Glasgow Tower climb - BBC News Retrieved September 26, 2017.

10 Thrill-seekers scale 400ft Glasgow Tower without a harness - The Scotsman Retrieved September 29, 2017.

External links

Aerial views



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