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South Rotunda

(Redirected from North Rotunda)

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The South Rotunda was one of two access points to the Clyde Harbour Tunnel (not surprisingly, the other was the North Rotunda), which ran below the River Clyde (and and actually comprised three tunnels) which allowed pedestrians and vehicles to pass under the river.

The rotundas

In 1889, Parliamentary approval was granted for a pedestrian and vehicle tunnel under the River Clyde between Finnieston on the north bank and Mavisbank Quay on the south. Three parallel tunnels of length 720 ft (219 m) and diameter 16 ft (4.9 m) were driven through the ground below the river, to provide one pedestrian tunnel flanked by two vehicle tunnels. The rotundas covered the tunnel access, which was via stairs for pedestrians, and hydraulic lifts for vehicles, which raised and lowered them between the surface to the tunnels.

The presence of the river above the tunnel works meant there was a constant danger of collapse and flooding if the ground was not stable, so construction was carried using a shield and compressed air method, intended to prevent the river from breaking through the roof as the tunnel progressed through what was largely mud. While this made the work safer, it had the disadvantage of requiring the workers to undergo a period of decompression each time they left their work in the tunnel. As with divers, they could suffer from the bends (rapid expansion of dissolved nitrogen in the body) if they ignored this requirement, which is not only painful, but can be fatal.

Vehicle Access Doors, 2007
Vehicle Access Doors 2007
© wfmillar

Vehicle access was via shuttered doors, through an opening supported by five cast-iron Corinthian columns supporting steel girder lintels. Each rotunda contained six hydraulic lifts, with three dedicated to each direction of travel. The lifts were supplied by the Otis Elevator Company of New York, a choice which brought criticism from the local engineering community of Glasgow for using foreign equipment, but the chairman of the Harbour Tunnel Company stated that it was used because it was the best available.

Pedestrian access was via two arched entrances which led down timber stairs to a five-bay timber pilastered ticket office.

The South Rotunda was built at Plantation Quay, near Princeís Dock, and Govan graving docks.

On 15 July 1895, the Harbour Tunnel opened for business, albeit during the quiet period of the Glasgow Fair holiday.

The tunnel was open from 05:00 to 19:00, and one week later saw 218 vehicles on the Monday (using only half of the available lifts), then 272 on the Tuesday.Carters reported that avoiding the steep inclines of the ferry approach roads, they could carry 5 additional bags of flour on each crossing.

Like many such projects, it seems the tunnels never brought the promised returns, and they were repeatedly threatened with closure.

In 1897 (or maybe 1906) the tunnel was closed when the Glasgow Harbour Tunnel Company was declared bankrupt.

In 1913 Glasgow Corporation reopened the tunnel.

In 1915, an arrangement was reached with Glasgow Corporation which provided an annual grant to sustain the crossing, given in return for an option to buy the tunnel at a later date.

The option was finally exercised in 1926, with Glasgow Corporation having paid some £30,000 per annum to keep the tunnel (and the nearby passenger and vehicle ferries) running. The city took possession of the tunnel for a payment of £100,000. At the same time Glasgow Corporation announced plans for a new bridge to cross the river at Finnieston.

It was expected that the tunnel would close soon after this change, but the promised bridge was never built.

For most travellers, ferries remained the most popular crossing, while the city centre always had always offered a choice of bridges for those who needed to cross the river while in the city.

The following quote is said to be taken from the Evening Times of 1932 - notably, a little odd since it suggests the pedestrian tunnel was not in use, yet this is what is later reported to have survived in use until the crossing came to an end:

The door of the passenger tunnel has long been disused, and foot-passengers now enter by one of the four elevators for vehicles at the other side of the rotunda. Choosing the company of a horse and lorry as preferable to that of a motor-car, I soon found myself smoothly and quietly descending among a bewildering medley of wheels and cables, through which I could see the mouth of the old disused foot-passenger tunnel as we passed on the way down. At the bottom water oozed through the iron sides of the great tube, which has never been totally watertight. At one place a single stalactite a foot long hung from the roof.

- Evening Times 1932

The tunnel received an unexpected boost in popularity during the years of World War II, when workers from the shipyards, and dockers, became regular users.

April 1943 saw a request made for traffic to be restricted to motor vehicles since horse-drawn vehicles were causing delays. But by the then, the tunnel had greater problems, as the Master of Works for Glasgow Corporation had inspected the tunnels and found that their condition meant that "grave responsibilities would be incurred" if they were kept open.

By September 1943 it had been decided to abandon the vehicle tunnels completely, and all the hydraulic lifts were removed. This left only the passenger tunnel with its stair access, retained with £500 to be spent on pumps to keep it dry.

Although the area had once been busy, the decline of shipbuilding and shipping in the area (ever larger container ships simply could not navigate so far up river) meant that by the 1970s the crossing may have been convenient for some, its usefulness had come to an end.

This eventually closed on 4 April 1980, and the rotundas were closed and boarded up.

The building was B-listed in 1986.

In 1986 the vehicle tunnels were filled in.

In 1987 the tunnel was closed for the last time, with access only being provided for a hydraulic pipeline which takes pressure from the south side to the north for a water main which was installed in the pedestrian tunnel.

Other than a few temporary periods of use, the South Rotunda has generally lain unused and derelict since the closure.

Probably best known for a period of use during the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival, it served as the Dome of Discovery which housed various exhibitions, and was also home to a recreation of Nardini's Ice Cream Parlour, modelled after their premises in Largs.

BBC Scotland moved to new studios nearby in 2007, later followed by STV, and the area became the Pacific Quay business park. The name has no historic or other connection to the area. Since then, a number of other businesses and attraction have opened in the area.

The South Rotunda was seen for sale or to let in 2007.

For Sale / To Let, 2007
For Sale / To Let 2007
© Thomas Nugent

In 2011, during works to prepare the South Rotunda for a marketing campaign a rare opportunity was provided to see the original interior, as the building was being cleared of rubbish and rubble.

Interior revealed during tidy, 2011
Interior revealed during tidy, 2011
© Thomas Nugent

The South Rotunda was seen for sale in 2013.

South Rotunda For Sale, 2013
South Rotunda For Sale 2013
© Leslie Barrie

In July 2014, The Tin Forest puppet show was staged in the South Rotunda by performers from the Scottish Youth Theatre under a wider programme run by the National Theatre for Scotland.[1]

Hosting Tin Forest, 2014
Hosting Tin Forest 2014
© Anthony O'Neil

Advertised online for sale or to let in 2016.

South Rotunda online ad, 2016
South Rotunda online advert 2016
© Pacific Quay Glasgow

A matching pdf showing the site and facilities was also produced.[2]

2017 Re-use as office space

South Rotunda, 2017
South Rotunda 2017

In 2017, it was reported that the South Rotunda had been acquired by the Malin Group, a marine engineering company, and the building had been restored to provide office space for the marine engineering consortium.

Phase 1

A major element of the work was the replacement of the cupola to the roof apex. The roof covering and ribbon rooflight glazing improvements included replacement Scottish slate and associated leadworks, coupled with Conservation Velux rooflights and new patent glazing. The wrought iron roof structure, cast iron columns and Corinthian capitals were also repaired or replaced. The works were principally to the exterior of the building and consisted of repairs to facing brick walls, stone copes, window sills and cornices.[3]

Phase 2

Following the successful completion of the restoration works at the South Rotunda building, a second phase was negotiated which entailed the erection of three structural floors and shell preparation works to form offices. This was a complex structural steel installation, with logistical challenges for the delivery of the 55 tonnes of pre-designed and fabricated steel as well as the installation of new Holorib and concrete floors. About 150 m3 of concrete was pumped into the building, including to the third floor, some 15 metres high.[4]

North Rotunda

North Rotunda, 1979
North Rotunda 1979
© Raymond Okonski

Since the tunnel closure, the North Rotunda has been seen constant reuse since the Garden Festival, aided by the presence of the SECC, and was converted into a restaurant in the 1990s,


1 Historic Glasgow South Rotunda to host arts events - BBC News Retrieved 7 February 2017.

2 Click to download South Rotunda brochure pdf Retrieved 7 February 2017.

3 Restoration Works to the South Rotunda, Glasgow from PMandCL Retrieved 7 February 2017.

4 Structural Floors | Shell Preparation Works | South Rotunda, Glasgow | PMandCL Retrieved 7 February 2017.

External links

Aerial views



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