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Growing a community with its own ‘pleasure garden’

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

Neighbour Dorothy Pieri looks at the history of Kelvinside Terrace West and South, its B-listed wall and Sixty Steps, and the shared garden ground that was designed to enhance the environment.

Kelvinside Terrace - Historic view of The Sixty Steps

Hard as it may be to imagine now, 200 years ago this area comprised elegant manor houses set in extensive grounds, with industrial businesses such as mills dotted along the River Kelvin. Then, in 1842, The Botanic Gardens moved to its present site and the development of Great Western Road ushered in change; over the following decades the grand houses were demolished and their lands built over. Gradually, streets of villas, terraced houses and tenements took their place.

The Kelvinside Estate had owned large tracts of the area we occupy now and they sold off land to enable development. Purchasers had to accept conditions that prohibited the lands from being used for ‘noxious or unpleasant purposes’, but it was left to the developers to set out detailed conditions for the buildings.

John Ewing Walker bought a large parcel of land in 1869, including North Park on the south bank of the River Kelvin, what he called his 'lands of Kelvinside’ to the north, and other lands in Ruchill and Garrioch. He was a coach owner and builder and constructed a bridge over the River Kelvin which led to a track known as Northwoodside Road, roughly where Queen Margaret Road is today. Only the ends of that bridge remain now.

Walker also commissioned the architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson to design the retaining wall that he had built to hold up Kelvinside Terrace, and the Sixty Steps curving around the wall that gave access to his lands above. He had his office for the coach business on this side of the river, in a convenient position near the bridge to attract passengers.

An engineer was contracted to draw up plans for the layout of Kelvinside Terrace South, which included what is now known as Kelvinside Terrace West. Walker began selling off plots in the terrace and developers had to follow his plans. Each flat had to have at least five apartments and the tenements were to have the same sort of external appearance and to be made of the same materials, which were also specified.

Walker would form the roads and footpaths and then be reimbursed for the cost by each plot owner. There were provisions binding Walker to do things like lay out a garden and shrubbery and maintain these until three quarters of his development had been ‘feued’, after which the burden of maintenance would fall on the plot and footpaths and then be reimbursed for the cost by each plot owner.

The reason for this was that he wanted to safeguard his future income and that of his descendants. At this time the feudal system had been in place for many years and no one imagined that it would ever cease. Under that system the owner of the estate (known as ‘the superior’) could create conditions for the plots sold which would last forever and could also create a feu duty, which all owners of the plots would have to pay to him and his descendants in perpetuity. Inflation was not a factor at that time so if a good income was secured at the outset it was assumed that the income would remain good forever.

Then, tenements were normally built to be rented out to individual occupiers rather than sold to them. The conditions on the plots were intended to ensure that the flats and their immediate surroundings would be sufficiently attractive to draw tenants who would pay enough rent to the developer that they would have adequate income to pay the feu duty to the superior and keep a decent income for themselves.

Feu plan for Kelvinside; 1872 Approximate location of Kelvinside Terraces shown

The titles stipulated that the tenements would be worth a rent of at least triple the feu duty. Therefore the motives for creating these conditions were more financial than altruistic. So the inclusion of a garden site in the Kelvinside Terrace South development (complete with a Belle-vue giving a lovely view over the bridge and the River Kelvin below, and providing for maintenance of this for the future) was both an asset for the tenants and a safeguard for the feu duty going forward.

From 1870, Walker started selling off plots on which a tenement or villa was to be built, starting with numbers 1-3 of the Terrace and working along from there. He gave each plot a Feu Contract setting out the building conditions and the feu duty.

In the Feu Contracts for numbers 1-15 he said that the areas between the road of Kelvinside Terrace South (KTS) and the then Northwoodside Road had to be laid out and used solely as ‘Pleasure or Garden ground’. He said that these provisions were in favour of himself and anyone who had bought any part of his lands of Kelvinside or would do in the future – so that included the whole Terrace, South and West, and gave the benefit of the garden and Bellevue to all owners and tenants.

As Walker sold off plots for tenements at 17 to 27 KTS, he specifically stated that the garden was common to the whole Terrace and went on provide for its maintenance. He said it had to be maintained and renewed and ornamented with shrubs and that each tenement would pay a share of the maintenance based on the frontages of the respective tenements. He went on to say that a majority of owners in the Terrace could form a Board for the management of the garden.

Over the years the retaining wall and garden fell into disrepair, but in 2016 the Sixty Steps Trust was able to convince Glasgow City Council (Land and Environment Services) to commit to a major programme of works in partnership fortifying the wall, and making it safe, as well as addressing drainage issues. It was agreed that in return, the garden would be laid out and maintained so that it could be enjoyed and be a shared amenity.

In addition The Sixty Steps Trust raised further public and private funds to repair damaged stonework and railings at the ‘belle vue’ feature overlooking the Kelvin river, install historical information boards about The Sixty Steps structure at the pier, top of the Steps and belle vue, and re-establish the pleasure garden for the benefit of all.

For some years the garden has been maintained by informal groups of owners and The Sixty Steps Trust has played a big part in this, supporting and organising groups of owners who take part in this maintenance.

We are all grateful to those who volunteer their time on it. Should you like to get involved please contact or, if you would like to make a donation to help the Trust maintain the 'belle vue' please click here. Thanks for your interest and for reading.

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