THERE is a spot in Glasgow where you can pat an Alpaca, swim a few lengths in an Olympic-sized pool, then admire some world-renowned roses.
Tollcross Park, in addition to its impressive present-day amenities, also has a rich history.
Acquired by the city in 1897, its origins stretch back much further. The estate of Tollcross is mentioned in records as early as the 13th century and in 1810 it was purchased by James Dunlop, a “tobacco lord” whose father Colin founded an important Virginia trading firm.
The Dunlop family were prominent in local affairs: Colin served as Lord Provost in 1770 (and lent his name to Dunlop Street in the city centre) and his son James continued to build on the family’s business interests after the downturn in the tobacco trade by creating a large-scale coal mining operation.
James’s own son, also called Colin, was a noted industrialist too, before becoming Member of Parliament for Glasgow in 1835.
After Colin Dunlop’s death in 1837, the Tollcross estate passed to his nephew, James, who was responsible for many features that can be seen in the park today.
James commissioned the construction of the mansion house as his country residence, which was built in the Scots renaissance style by Edinburgh architect David Bryce. The A-listed house later became a children’s museum, which eventually closed in the 1970s.
James was also actively involved in landscaping the grounds and making improvements to the land. Following his death in 1893, it was the Dunlop family’s intention to feu the estate and keep the mansion house and surrounding grounds to be turned into a public park.
In 1897, the Glasgow Corporation purchased the parkland for the sum of £29,000.
It was in such good condition that the Corporation had to make very few further improvements before the park could be opened to the public. This positive view was not shared by all, however. The City Engineer advised the Corporation against the purchase of the land, on the grounds that its potential value was lower than other recently purchased greenspaces like Queen’s Park and Alexandra Park.
Nevertheless, the Corporation pressed on, believing it important to cater for citizens of the expanding east end, who only had Alexandra Park and Glasgow Green for recreation. Tollcross Park was opened on June 19, 1897 by Lord Provost David Richmond, who described Glasgow’s growing municipal open spaces as “the lungs of the city”.
As part of the opening ceremony, several local trade union and friendly societies gathered at Parkhead Cross and marched to the park, accompanied by instrumental marching bands. Numerous dignitaries also attended, including William Beardmore, the industrialist whose Parkhead works employed many local people the park would benefit.
Opening day was not without incident, however. After the Lord Provost left, a large crowd rushed to gain entrance to the new park.
The small police presence was unable to restore order and a crush ensued at the gates. One newspaper reported that, between “the cries of women and children, and the shouts of the men, the scene was somewhat exciting.” It added, with some relief, that “although several women were nearly overcome, the vast crowd got safely into the park.”
Glaswegians could enjoy the peaceful glen walks and famous rockery immediately. In 1898, Bailie MacDonald of the Glasgow Corporation donated his glasshouses and plant collection to the city and specified that they go to Tollcross Park, since he had been born and raised in the east end. These were situated in Ardrossan however, so had to be dismantled, transported to Glasgow, then reassembled as Tollcross Winter Gardens.
In 1906 a small bandstand was erected, which was replaced by a much larger stage and amphitheatre for concerts in the 1920s.
This new feature proved extremely popular until the advent of other forms of entertainment in the 1950s. It suffered fire damage and was demolished in 1971.
The 1970s also saw the addition of the Children’s Farm, formerly known as Pet’s Corner. Initially displaying rabbits and birds, the farm is now home to horses, pigs, sheep and many more animals including one of Tollcross Park’s newest residents, a baby Alpaca born last year.