Open to the People, Forever and Ever

The city is dirty. Smelly. Overcrowded. The people are over worked and under payed. The factories belch out smoke that clogs the streets and leaves dust all over everything, but the people still move in, because the factories have the only jobs around.

If you ask the people of Edinburgh, the city of Glasgow is still like that today.

At the risk of getting myself caught up in some Hatfield and McCoy type feud, Glasgow is actually pretty nice nowadays. The downtown area has cleaned itself up nicely, becoming a booming version of the Magnificent Mile on steroids, emissions regulations mean that the factories just outside of town don’t create quite as much pollution, and I hear that the tenement situation has resolved itself quite nicely.

This effort started all the way back in late nineteenth century when the Earl of Rosebery decided that the kids on the east side needed someplace to play.

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Noting the drastic overcrowding in the area, the powers that be decided to open a park, complete with a place for people to go and socialize outside the home. In 1898, a new building and landscaped garden was opened to the public, and designated the People’s Palace.

The building itself housed reading rooms, game rooms, a museum, and a picture gallery. These were the days before widespread public libraries, and the east end was generally a blue collar neighborhood, meaning almost everyone lived in tenement complexes. Simply having someplace to go and sit was a major improvement over the status quo. But, even better, that place to go and sit offered opportunities for self-betterment through reading and education, as well as community building by offering groups and societies a place to meet. And even better: The kids had a nice, big park to run around and play in.

Despite all this, the People’s Palace was still missing something. In 2005, the Glaswegians (glaz-wee-jins; people from Glasgow) figured out just what it was. The Doulton Fountain, a gift to the city of Glasgow in 1888, was relocated and positioned just in front of the People’s Palace. The fountain was built for an international exhibition, and depicted people from Canada, South Africa, Australia, and India. Originally built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, it was intended to represent all parts of her empire. Even though the British crown can no longer claim an empire, it’s an appropriate addition the People’s Palace as it continues to be a celebration of the people of Glasgow.

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In the 1940s, the People’s Palace was converted completely into a museum (public libraries and improving living conditions making public reading rooms obsolete) which tells the story of the city and people of Glasgow. Large sections of the museum are dedicated to the World Wars, in which Glasgow played a pivotal role, having a leading shipbuilding industry as well as a developed system of factories. Other parts of the museum are dedicated to different aspects of life in Glasgow over the next few decades. One section in particular describes, for instance, how Glaswegians went on vacation: They escaped the cramped city to an equally cramped seaside resort, for two weeks out of the summer, and they loved every minute of it. Another section talks about the dance halls, where bouncers would shamelessly drag a young lady who was short a dance partner into the middle of the dance floor and shout “This wummun has peyed her tanner. She must be danced!” (Allow me to translate the Glaswegian, that tricky Scots dialect: “This woman has paid her tenner [cover charge]. Someone dance with her!”) As someone who has, on occasion, be short a dance partner, I feel for these girls.

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The best part about the People’s Palace in Glasgow is that it lives up to the Earl of Rosebery’s promise, that it would be “Open to the people forever and ever,” as it’s completely free to visit! If you find yourself in the park out by the River Clyde, it’s worth a drop by.

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