ENTERTAINMENT for the young Billy Gilmartin and his pals, growing up in Springburn, was a mixed bag.

“We had the public halls, which had concerts, boxing matches, all the sport club prizegivings,” he says, “and the park, of course, with the winter gardens and the duck pond, and the cinema.”

Glasgow Times: A row of outside staircases near Cowlairs, Springburn, in January 1958 Pic: Newsquest

He grins: “We had the Kinema, which was next to the Labour Exchange. We called it the Ranch, because it always showed westerns.

“Then there was the Princess, which was dearer, and the Oxford, which burned down in a fire even though it was next to the fire station. And there was the Wellfield, or the Welly.

“The gents’ toilets in the Welly were right next to the fire escape door, so if you and your pals could scrape together enough cash to get one of you in, he could go to the toilet and open the fire door to let the rest of you in.”

He laughs: “We’d get caught by the usherettes, of course, and there’d be someone watching the door for a while, but after a few days they’d stop and you could do it all again…..”

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Billy is full of Springburn stories, gathered from almost nine decades – he will be 90 later this year – along with photos, newspaper clippings, old pictures and more. We are running some of his tales in Times Past over the summer.

Billy, his mum and dad – Maud and William - lived in a tenement on Ellonvale Street, three up.

“My sister Janette lived with my granny, Catherine Dixon, in the same block,” he says. “My granny had a coal fire, I remember.

“We all used to meet at the top of Bell Street and go down to the meat market.

“Live cattle would be getting taken off the trains and we lived in hope one might escape and go galloping off down Duke Street.”

Glasgow Times: Billy with some of his photos and memorabilia

He grins: “It happened more than once. We’d laugh our heads off watching the men chasing a cow down the road.”

Billy adds: “I remember days out on the Clyde, taking the wee ferries across the river. Although,” he adds, with a wink, “my friends and I never believed in ferries…..”

There were plenty of local shops too.

“We had the Co-op, and the City Bakeries; Curly’s, the local grocer’s; the Buttercup Dairy – you had everything you needed in Springburn,” says Billy.

“It was like a village. You didn’t need to go into town at all. There were no gangs or fights, that I remember – maybe a bit of argy bargy outside the pub on a Friday night but that was it. It was a good working class area.”

In his collection of stories, Billy has the tale of Alexander ‘Sandy’ Deuchar, an engine driver who lived in a tenement overlooking the Cowlairs Incline.

He had a special whistle code to let his family know he would be home shortly, and all was well.

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Billy recounts: “Sandy and his firemen were on the Edinburgh to Glasgow run. It was a Saturday and the 8pm express was packed with passengers.

Glasgow Times: Springburn memories

“Sandy had been experiencing some minor problems and told his fireman they would check things out at Manuel Junction. However, just before Manuel, the big-end pierced the firebox. Pressurised steam in a scalding torrent roared on to the footplate, driving white-hot coals before it. In seconds, the footplate was a hell of fire and scalding steam.

“Alex Deuchar pushed his fireman on to the step – ‘jump mate, one life is enough,’ he cried. Knee deep in burning coals, he groped his way through scalding steam, reaching for the regulator and brake valve and brought the train to a halt, without loss of life. Through his courageous action, a massive tragic accident had been averted.”

Two doctors, who had been passengers on the train, tried to save Alex, but he died a few days later, and he is buried in Sighthill Cemetery, close to the Cowlairs Incline.

War broke out when Billy was seven years old.

“I remember it as an adventure – it wasn’t scary for us kids,” he says. “Sometimes if the barracks were full, we’d have soldiers staying in our school. They’d train in the playground, walking about with guns and bayonets – it was amazing.

“We’d go down to the railway to watch the big troop trains come through, taking the American soldiers up to train in the hills. They’d throw chewing gum and chocolate out to us, shouting, ‘do you have a big sister?’.”

He laughs: “We were too young to understand why they were asking us that.”

Do Billy’s memories spark any for you?

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