WHEN was the Glasgow Subway not the Glasgow Subway?

When it was the Glasgow Underground….

Our recent Times Past feature on the city’s famous “clockwork orange” struck a chord with many readers, who enjoyed learning about the early history of the circular twin tunnels and 15 stops which make up the iconic system.

We left the story in August 1923 when the subway became an official part of Glasgow Corporation and, together with the tramways, formed part of the local authority’s Transport Department. But what happened next?

Cables continued to haul subway trains through the system until the corporation took the decision to electrify the system in December 1935.

Glasgow Times: Entrance to Partick Cross, now Kelvin Hall, stationEntrance to Partick Cross, now Kelvin Hall, station (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

The choice was largely based on cost as it was cheaper to use electricity to power the trains. As a result of electrification, the subway now also offered a faster overall journey time. It only took 28 minutes to complete the circuit, compared to the previous duration of 39 minutes.

Another significant change which occurred in the same period was the renaming of the system to the Glasgow Underground.

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However, it proved an unpopular decision with Glaswegians who continued to call it the subway. This double-naming system is beautifully illustrated in a 1963 photograph of The Subway Bar (main image) showing the pub right next to the entrance for Cowcaddens Underground Station. Pubs were often situated near subway stops.

Glasgow Times: The ornately covered Govan Cross entranceThe ornately covered Govan Cross entrance (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

Another photo, from 1932, shows the ornately covered entrance to Govan Cross subway station which is just a few doors along from both the Ross-shire Bar and Charles Watson’s.

Yet, as Glasgow has grown and expanded over the years, fewer and fewer Glaswegians have enjoyed having a subway station local to them. The subway has historically best served those in the West End and the city centre. People in the Southside, East End and North Glasgow  must often travel considerable distances to reach their nearest station or use alternative methods of public transport.

The idea of expanding the subway to reach further afield has arisen many times over the years but it’s one which has never been realised. In 1937, it was proposed to open a branch line which would run north to Robroyston and south to King’s Park. However, the outbreak of the Second World War put paid to this expansion as the city’s resources were diverted to wartime operations.

The worldwide conflict also impacted the subway in other ways. While the Glasgow subway stations never functioned as air raid shelters for the public during the war in the way that the London Underground stations did, they did suffer war damage.

A bomb hit the tunnels running to Merkland Street station in September 1940, forcing the closure of the whole subway system for several months. This station also has the distinction of being the subway’s only ghost station as its replacement, Partick, wasn’t built on exactly the same site.  

The subway has also changed in other ways including its flagship colour(s). Now, of course, orange is the colour most associated with it.

But before 1954, it was red, black and cream which defined the subway for generations of Glaswegians.

These were the colours of the trains’ livery until it changed to red alone in 1954. It remained that way until the subway modernisation works of 1977 to 1980 when bright orange was introduced.

These modernisation works were set in motion several years earlier when the Greater Glasgow Passenger Transport Executive (GGPTE) was established in June 1973. Among its responsibilities was the management of the subway. Although ownership of the subway was transferred a couple of years later to the newly-formed Strathclyde Regional Council, the GGPTE continued to operate it.

Other proposed changes to modernise the subway included relocating British Rail’s Partickhill Station to link directly with what became Partick subway station as well as the installation of a moving walkway which linked Buchanan Street with Queen Street Railway Station.

In mid-1977, the entire system shut down to accommodate the modernisation works which weren’t totally complete by the time Queen Elizabeth arrived to officially open the new system on November 2, 1979. Modernisation came at a cost of £53 million and the public couldn’t enjoy its benefits until April 1980 when the subway re-opened for use.

The subway has undergone many transformations over its almost 130-year history and it’s not done changing yet. The introduction of driverless trains is just around the subway bend…