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The Botanic Gardens – 10 things you possibly didn’t know

By on May 1, 2017
Kibble Palace Botanic Gardens Glasgow

The hugely-popular Botanic Gardens are 200 this year and the anniversary will be marked by a special celebration on Saturday, May 20, writes Ginny Clark.

It’s a great chance to find out more about the glorious gardens, with free entry to the all-day event, featuring stalls, entertainment, exhibitions and refreshments.

But how much do you really know about the Botanic Gardens, this great green place and its magnificent glass palaces that has been enjoyed by local people and by visitors through 200 years of drama and transformation?

1 The Botanic Gardens may be 200 but have not always been in their current corner of the West End. Renowned Glasgow botanist and lithographer Thomas Hopkirk, of the Dalbeth Estate in the city’s East End, began the original plant collection and was one of the founders of the Royal Botanic Institution of Glasgow. A stretch of land at Sandyford, near Sauchiehall Street, was used for the gardens, which also had links with the University of Glasgow.

2 As the collection flourished, and the city grew, the Botanic Gardens were moved to their new home at the junction of Queen Margaret Drive and Great Western Road, 21 acres on the banks of the River Kelvin, in 1842. The area had been part of the Kelvinside Estate, land which had been bought in 1839 by Glasgow law partners John Park Fleming and Matthew Montgomery for development. See here for more info

3 The Kibble Palace, the jewel in the gardens’ glittering crystal crown, was bought by the Royal Botanic Institution of Glasgow in 1871. The glass building was carefully taken apart at its original setting, where it had been built by Victorian engineer and entrepreneur John Kibble at his home in Coalport, Long Long, and then transported by barge down the coast and along the River Clyde to be rebuilt in the Botanic Gardens, opening in 1873. The iron sections were cast by a Glasgow firm, Walter Macfarlane at his Saracen Foundry in Possilpark.

4 This major expense meant the Royal Botanic Institution were under financial pressure as they funded the rebuilding of the other glass plant houses. In 1887, the Corporation of the City of Glasgow began running the Botanic Gardens and brought it fully into ownership four years later after the Burgh of Hillhead was absorbed within city’s expanding boundary.

5 The Caledonian Railway began work on their Glasgow Central Railway route in 1888, to connect Maryhill in the north west with Dalmarnock in the east – and in 1896 the line through the Botanic Gardens was opened. It closed in 1939 but, even after nationalisation in 1948, a service still ran to Kelvinbridge until 1964. You can see look down on the old platforms and track bed from the Botanic Gardens above. The beautiful red-brick station with its two distinctive towers, was next to the main gate house facing onto Great Western Road.

6 On January 24, 1914, a series of explosions rocked the Kibble Palace, shattering 27 panes of glass and causing slight damage to the plants. Described as a “bomb outrage”, the Daily Record and Mail in the following days reported evidence “clearly indicates this was the work of militant Suffragettes”. Evidence appeared to be based on the fact “Pieces of cake and an empty champagne bottle were recovered from the shrubbery” and that footprints “clearly indicate the high heels of ladies shoes”. See here for more info

7 World famous Scottish sculptor George Henry Paulin created the statue of King Robert of Sicily, a fictional character from the work of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,  installed in the Kibble Palace in the 1920s. Among GHP’s many major commissions here and abroad, was the family headstone on Andrew Carnegie’s grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, New York.

8 The disused Glasgow Central Railway station building became home to two popular West End haunts – the Silver Slipper Cafe and the club and gig venue Sgt Pepper’s. However, this building was destroyed and lost when it burned down in 1970.

9 The existing Ha’Penny Bridge across the Kelvin was built in 2002 to replace the old wrought-iron toll bridge, built in 1886. At that time there was a ha’penny fee to cross the river at this particular point, to the developing areas of housing in Kelvinside and Kirklee, and then to Kirklee station, the next stop in the Glasgow Central Railway route. The old bridge was washed away on December 10, 1994, when the Kelvin waters flooded following heavy rainfall.

10 At the Botanic Gardens, significant plants include the national collections of begonias, tree ferns (some planted more than 125 years ago) and orchids, plus medicinal plants and a wide collection of trees. In the Kibble of course, you will also find the goldfish pond – all the fish had to be temporarily rehoused when the palace underwent a £7million restoration programme to repair the corroded ironwork in 2003.

* Find out more with charity The Friends of Glasgow Botanic Gardens at glasgowbotanicgardens

* Botanic Gardens, 200th Anniversary, all day on Saturday, May 20, 10am-5pm.

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