I step through the archway and place one hand on grey granite, smooth and cold under my fingers. I place my other hand on sandstone, pockmarked and textured, warm to the touch. Such contrast, such difference, yet both part of the same structure. Granite grafted to sandstone; a structure of contrasts. In a place of contrasts. For this is an entranceway from which the building it once gave access has been torn away. It is a monument to a structure, to a place, that no longer exists. It is imposing and proud, yet somehow lonely and bereft. It is a monument, a memorial, a place of importance, of remembrance, yet forgotten by many. Once a place of the new-ness of life and of beginnings, it sits in one of the oldest parts of the city. A place of contrasts. In the past as well as the present.
This is Rottenrow. The former site of Glasgow Royal Maternity hospital, and also one of the oldest streets in Glasgow. Today it is a garden made in the footprint of the Victorian hospital.
I linger in that entrance way, in that double row of arches, marvelling at the contrast of stone, peering at the toolmarks in the sandstone, tracing my fingers over masons’ marks. Vegetation encroaches on the stonework in places, softening the outline of the structure; nature’s fingers reclaiming part of its own. Framed by the sweep of the archways, the city breathes below. I step through that stone entrance to the other side. And out into an open space in the city, into a layered and complex place, where things once were and new things are again. For this is a more than just a patch of green space. It is a place that is designed and ordered, yet layered, subverted and otherly. It is a green space in this densely packed part of the city, somehow peaceful and calming despite the noise of the city around. A garden created in a place of importance for many, in celebration of what once stood here. Few people seem to venture in, though, to this human-made space. A couple hurry through, taking a short-cut on their way somewhere else, but most traverse round the edge, respecting the boundary of the building that is no longer here. A teenage-girl, conscious of my presence, is trying out her freerunning skills on the layered concrete and stone. A use likely not envisaged by the builders of this garden, yet an appropriation that somehow seems right. Layers and dynamism, change and imagination, youth and vigour.
Descending the layers of this hillside park, I spot another archway, another former entrance. Smaller, though still substantial, more fragile, yet still monumental. Steps draw me up to this sandstone structure, held in place by a lattice-work of metal. Metal on stone, new on old. Another contrast. Stepping out through that former doorway, I gaze up at the carved stone, trying to make out the dates above the archway; 1835 and 1880. Foundation and construction. Old, yet not old in this ancient place. Young in contrast to the medieval beginnings of the street beside. Old in relation to the buildings around and the garden below. Ancient in contrast to the people passing by.
Placing a hand on the old stone, I step back through the entranceway, descend the stairs and make my way down more stairs to the centre of this park, to a metal sculpture that stands in pride of place. It proclaims itself Mhtpothta, a monument to maternity, but is itself an appropriation, a subversion. Originally created for Mayfest by the artist George Wyllie, it has now been relocated, renamed and recast. No mention is made of its previous life, that it was not made for this use, for this garden. It stands, slightly incongruous and out-of-place, yet still appropriate and right. Just like its surroundings.
I stand in the centre of that garden, marked and defined by the foundations of the former building, reminders scattered around of its past. I think of all that must have taken place in that building, the countless lives that began here and those whose lives ended before they had even begun. A place of great joy, but also great sorrow. I think of the advances that took place here, the great changes in health and social attitudes. I think of the importance of this place, now half forgotten. But before, what was here before in this ancient of places? Before the hospital. What layers remain unrecognised and unknown by most who occupy this city, who pass through this space. Rightly, a 19th century building and all it represented is celebrated and remembered here, but that was not the beginning of this place. What came before? Who traversed that road, the Rottenrow? Did they realise that this would become a significant place for countless Glaswegians? Was it significant before? What more lies buried beneath my feet, beneath this garden?
The light begins to fade, so I leave the park through the lower exit. Brick and concrete, it is insignificant and humble. Not monumental, in contrast to the entrance at the top of the hill. I do not linger there, but leave behind me this place of memory, this place of contrast and of layers. I leave it to that freerunning teenager and her friends, to the next generation of Glasgwegians.
Countless Glaswegians were born in the Rottenrow site of Glasgow Royal Maternity hospital, which stood in the Townhead part of the city for over 100 years. Glasgow Royal Maternity hospital was founded in 1835 and moved to the Rottenrow site in 1885. Clinical techniques such as caesarean section were pioneered within its walls but, by the end of the 20th century, the building no longer met modern requirements and was demolished in 2001. The site was acquired by the University of Strathclyde and converted into a garden, preserving elements of the hospital building. The gardens were formally opened in 2004. Rottenrow is also the site of the oldest street in Glasgow, dating to the Medieval beginnings of the city, which once connected the High Street to Cowcaddens.
Some information about the garden can be found at https://www.strath.ac.uk/estates/project/estates/rottenrow/ and http://www.discoverglasgow.org/statues-rottenrow-hospital/4572885362