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Four things you (maybe) didn’t know about the Kelvin Hall

By on May 22, 2013

Work is due to start this summer on a £60m transformation of the Kelvin Hall into a state-of-the-art sporting and cultural venue, that will also provide logistical support for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, writes Ginny Clark.

In addition to the planned community sports centre, a shared museums collections facility is proposed, to provide a new home for an estimated 1.5 m pieces from Glasgow’s civic collection, the Hunterian Museum and Scottish Screen Archive material held by the National Libraries of Scotland.

It’s another dramatic chapter in the history of this much-loved building. The Kelvin Hall was a barrage ballon factory during the Second World War and has hosted many big boxing matches and major concerts since. But here are a few more  interesting facts about the West End icon ..

*Elephants! In the days before the SSEC – which first opened in 1985 –  it was the Kelvin Hall that hosted the carnival and circus every year over the Christmas and New Year school holidays. The area that held the circus elephants had one side open to view via huge almost floor to ceiling windows, where excited youngsters would peer in at these incredible animals before wheeling away in search of the dodgems or ghost train.

The sight was thrilling but upsetting, too. Children would watch these majestic creatures swaying from foot to foot, the animals’ trunks brushing through the straw on the ground, their massive legs tethered by heavy chains attached to the floor.

*After a temporary hall burnt down in 1925, it was the Glasgow Office of Public Works Architecturale Department – that later became the Glasgow Corporation City Engineer’s Department (before today’s city council) – that built the Kelvin Hall  over 1926-27. Thomas Gilchrist Gilmour was responsible for the design with Thomas Somers, Master of Works and the City Engineer  from 1925 to 1941, responsible for overseeing the work. There were additions to the building in 1931 and 1938 and Somers was involved in the building of many other local landmarks including Partick Library, Woodside Halls, Queen Margaret Bridge, Kelbourne St Fire Station and Knightswood community centre.

*The Kelvin Hall was the main focus for Billy Graham’s crusade in 1955. The famous Christian evangelist preached to an estimated 180,000 people over most days throughout a six-week period. The Good Friday rally was broadcast live on BBC to a television and radio audience that – in those days – was only bettered the Coronation.

* The country’s first full public showing of colour television was carried out at the Kelvin Hall in 1964. The new colour demonstration unit – making its first appearance in Europe – was being introduced by the Radio Corporation of America, three years before the first full colour broadcast on UK television. The Glasgow Herald reported on July 13 of that year – “Glasgow to see colour television demonstration at Kelvin Hall”.

The article explained: “The first full-scale public demonstration of colour television in Scotland will be one of the attractions of Enterprise Scotland 64, the industries’ exhibition which opens on September 3 in the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow.” An organiser said: “Visitors will be able to see themselves, their friends, and famous personalities in full colour on large screens.”


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