From Glasgow Green to Vinegarhill by Old Harry

On the beginning these reminiscence’s I fancy a good start could be made with the last days of the shows in Glasgow Green and Jail Square about 1860 or 70.

Glasgow Green was very different then and now. There were no enclosures except the iron railings round the Greens boundaries and along the river banks. At Glasgow fair and the New Year holiday time. The shows appeared at the Jail Square entrance to the Green and extended from the pavement to far up the Green. Swallows circus was the great attraction in these days. Other circuses were Jeannette’s, Manley’s, and Cadona’s and among the attractions were Menders Wild Beast Show and Wombell’s  Menagerie with the lion Wallace born on the Green, and the lion tamer The Great Macoma. In my day, Wombell’s was run by the granddaughter of Wombell, Mrs Edmonds.

Ex councillor E.H Bostock of the Glasgow Zoo, is a direct descendent of the great Wombell. Mr Bostock still possesses many of the original caravans and wagons that were part of the original Wombell’s Menagerie. Another great feature was the Brothers McLeod’s Moving Waxwork. These gentlemen ultimately opened permanent exhibitions in Glasgow and Edinburgh. McLeod’s Waxwork and menagerie were quit a Glasgow institution. The Building is now occupied as a model lodging house.

The First Carnival

Colin Chisholm with his waxwork and museum of curiosities was another annual visitor at Glasgow Fair. Chisholm settled in Glasgow as an auctioneer and ran a lottery in Saltmarket, near to the railway bridge at Osborne Street. His eldest son was a partner with Green when the first Carnival was held in the old Gallowgate Barracks.

A very curious exhibition that came to Glasgow was the Camera Obscura. If anyone lost a friend in the crush of holiday makers, he was invited in and if the friend was on the Fair Ground the searcher could spot him, for a consideration of course!

Inside the building, in the middle of the floor, stood a large round table covered with white paper. The place was in semi darkness. By an arrangement of mirrors round the roof the attendant could have a reflection of any part of the ground cast on the tables. On a sunny day one could see the colours of peoples cloths and their faces came out very prominently. The Camera Obscura was run by an Edinburgh scientist, Mr Short.

A great attraction was the then new discovery of professor Pepper’s Ghost Illusion. Mr William Clark, Sen, was the first showman on the road with the ghost illusion. Mr Clark had the most expensive parade front on the road. It consisted of hand carved frames richly gilded, a mass of gold and beautiful pictures by eminent theatrical artist. Certainly it must have cost a big hatful of money. I can tell you that that front never received any blessing from me in later years, when I worked with Mr Clark. It was hung and drawn and let down with strong iron chains. The ghost illusion was worked with a very large plain glass hung at an angle and there were strong lights below the stage.

It was hard work for the actors, shouting at the top of their voices over the glass so that the audience could hear them speaking. Other ghost shows cropped up later were Biddell’s, Burrell’s, Cadona’s and Crombie’s, who bought over Clark’s Ghost Illusion. I can tell you we had also cultured and refined exhibition of beautiful oil paintings, most of them very valuable and much sought after by collectors and art dealers. The proprietor was an Italian- A man of mystery. He ran the Italian colony at the south east corner of Bell Street and High Street now occupied by Fishers Oil and Colour Stores.

This mysterious Italian could be seen every day grinding an organ through the streets of Glasgow. He was a well-dressed, middle aged little man with a grey beard and pleasant features. He looked quite out of place among the other exiles from the sunny shores of the macaroni eaters and inventors of big McCullum’s. It was rumoured all over the town that this mystery man was a political refugee and a nobleman who fled Italy to save his life. The mystery man went, as he had come, quietly. He disappeared along with his valuable collection of pictures.

Now we come to the portable theatres, better known as the Geggies. Mumfort’s old geggie still stood at the corner of Saltmarket and Greendyke Street, but it was before my time. My earlies recollection of Geggie’s on Glasgow were Sennett’s and Perry’s, or Purry as the Glasgow buddies called him. Perry had had a Geggie near the English Chapel in Greendyke Street on ground now occupied by a skin and hide market. A little further up, where the Corporation Lodgings House now stands was trainer’s Padden Ken or Lodging house and Banks McNeil’s swimming baths were on the site of Paddy’s Market.

Apropos the skin market. I may state that that business had formerly been carried on in a very large building on the banks of the Clyde beside the old weir. After the hide and skin people left, the building lay empty for a long time, then Jack Swallow opened it for the winter season as a circus, but didn’t do very well .After him Manley’s circus people had a go at it but didn’t catch on. This is where I first saw Mr Robert Ferguson of Geggie fame. Bob Ferguson was then ringmaster and business manager for Manley’s circus. Other geggie’s beside Senet’s were David Prince Millers, Glenroy’s and the Patterton’s.

At Vinegar Hill

When the powers that be abolished the shows in Glasgow Green the new show ground was Vinegar Hill and vacant ground in David Street, Whitevale, where David Street School now stands. I remember the first fair in the East End. Johnny Matthewson, the famous clown and pantomimist from the Prince of Wales Theatre (Later the Grand) and the Theatre Royal, opened a Geggie in David Street, and the Wilmot’s had a lot of merry- go- rounds and swings there too.

Matthewson and his brother Jamie were both painters to trade. They were clown and comic policemen, in the first pantomime produced at the Princess Theatre by a Mr McFadzean, who was the first lessee of the theatre. On the showground at Vinegar Hill David Prince Miller had some time previously erected the Adelphi Theatre which was winter quarters for Jack Swallow’s circus. In the beginning the transference of the shows to Vinegar Hill gave the showmen a very hard time.

The tramways were in their infancy and it was asking too much of a canny Scot to pay bus fares to Camlachie and squander the rest at The Shows. So for a year or two Vinegar Hill was no great catch as far as showmen were concerned.

After years of success, the shows at Glasgow Fair Holidays are conspicuous by their absence, gegie’s and ghost and waxworks and circuses are matters of memory. The pictures and the gramophone have put the travelling showman off the road for ever. Gone is the giant, the dwarf and the fat lady. Nothing of the splendour of the fair but a few dolly boards, swings, cock shies and hobby horse remain.

This was taken from The Glasgow Eastern Standard 1925

This story for me shows the wonders of the fair and its sad decline .