IT IS A striking image, of a time when horses were as common as trains in Glasgow.

Our archive photograph is one of many capturing the hustle and bustle of Central Station, which was officially opened 143 years ago this weekend, on July 31, 1879.

But what lies beneath?

The Caledonian Railway was built over the site of Grahamston village, which was once home to around 2000 people.


Speeches made at the grand opening ceremony of Central Station reveal a fascinating, and moving, insight into the buildings which were knocked down to create the new railway hub, and some of the finds made by contractors Watson and Watt.

The day after the grand opening for VIPs, our sister newspaper, The Glasgow Herald, reported:“The Caledonian Railway Company will enter upon the possession of their splendid new central station in Gordon Street this morning.

Glasgow Times:

“Yesterday a formal opening ceremony took place, nearly 200 gentlemen assisting thereat. A special train, consisting of 13 carriages and drawn by an engine gaily decked for the occasion with evergreen and bannerettes, started from Bridge Street at one o’clock, the signal for turning on steam being given by Mr Thomas Hill, chairman of the company, who had been presented …with a handsome gold whistle with which to blow the stipulated warning.”

Glasgow Times:

The report mentions some of the buildings pulled down to create the station – an old college, gasworks, a sugar-house and grain stores, as well as the houses and pubs of Grahamston.

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Mr Watt said: “The first one we attacked was the old Polytechnic, where Mr Anderson, of Polytechnic fame, at one time carried on business...near to this place…we came across a well, built all round with brick, which had evidently been used in some gentleman’s courtyard or garden in olden times...In Alston Street we came across several wells …and a veritable garden wall, with the old copestones still upon it and in a fair state of preservation.

Glasgow Times: Glasgow Central station holiday crowds, July 1959

“Near to this stood an old theatre – the first ever erected in, or rather near, Glasgow as the gentleman who built it could not get any of the Glasgow folks to feu or sell him a piece of ground to erect such a ‘wicked place’ as a theatre…”

This refers to the Alston Theatre, built in 1764 when Grahamston was outside the city boundary. Religious zeal at the time meant this theatre caused huge controversy, and on opening night a mob marched from Anderston Cross and set the place on fire. The damage was repaired and the theatre continued to operate, but only until 1780, when it burned down in suspicious circumstances.

Glasgow Times: Grahamston, where the Alston Street Playhouse once stood

The works uncovered a vast array of underground passages – around 80 “vaults” – and many believe some of those secret walkways still exist today. Parts of Grahamston may also exist far below the streets of Glasgow, with some believing portions of the old Alston Street itself remain in situ.

Glasgow Central had eight platforms when it opened, a ninth was added in 1890.

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At that grand opening in 1879, it was revealed that building the station had taken “80,000 cubic yards of rubble masonry, 20,000 cubic yards of concrete, 450,000 cubic feet of hewn ashlar, 7000 tons of wrought iron, 1400 tons of cast iron, 10,000,000 bricks and six acres of glass.”

Glasgow Times: Side entrance to Central on Union Street c1940s

The works employed 500 men (who were invited to their own celebration later that day), cost between £600,000 and £700,000 and had been completed a month under contract.