The River Clyde: a romanticists dream. The flowing artery that provided a life force to the dormant bishopric of Glasgow; the pin that pierced the frustrated balloon of pre-industrial globalisation; the lungs that inhaled the wealth of the Empire, arrogantly spluttering back with conquering force. And now? A graveyard of these powerful days, for Glasgow’s Clyde once more lies dormant.
Or so it may seem to the romanticist. For the Clyde may not have retained its image as a symbol of industrial prowess, and to an extent has become a stage for displaying commercial interest, yet regeneration is underway. Moreover, whilst imagery displayed by those adoptees of pre-Raphaelite optimism, such as John Atkinson Grimshaw, conveyed the Clyde with the mystery and vivacity that is so tempting to adhere to, it must be asked whether or not this a true representation of the cultural role the industrial river played within Victorian cities? For tenuous metaphors aside, art that appeals to our own romantic aspirations often remains a dramatic whimsicality from the reverie of another: the excited storyteller after too many whiskies. Or something like that.
Thus, while the Clyde begins its recovery, after the misfortune of global economics outcompeting much of its shipbuilding infrastructure, romanticism, once again, becomes relevant. This time, however, replacing the potentially jaded nostalgia created by the art of romantic Britain, there is an optimistic anticipation, as felt by those 19th century artists in which it was composed. When Atkinson Grimshaw painted his deeply atmospheric night scenes of Broomielaw; the wonders of emerging industrial technology, such as gas lighting illuminating shop windows, were depicted. In fact, due to the sheer significance of technological transition at the time, his work may be an even truer overall representation of the Clyde at the time, encompassing more than the morphology of the Clyde, but the emotions of the people themselves.
So, while artistic interpretations suggest art as a more historically accurate representation of a place than the place itself, the question of the Clyde’s potential as a romanticist status in the future, remains unanswered. While the centre of the city, firmly rooted in the Glasgow Grid rising from North of the Clyde to Garnethill on one axis, and stretching from the M8 to the Merchant City on the other, is unlikely to lose its prominence as the business and tourist heart of Glasgow, the Clyde will, once again, gain a growing interest, perhaps more widely felt in other former industrial cities such as London and Liverpool.
With more than 400 projects on the Clyde, either in planning or having been constructed since 2003, and with the majority being either strictly, or including, residential and public amenities, the future for the Clyde is positive. While some areas may face gentrification, social and council housing schemes aim to ensure social diversity on the Clyde. And with internationally recognised postmodern excursions, in the form of the Armadillo and the Transport Museum, international attention returns to the Clyde once more. But can the redevelopers, the new romantics if you will, reproduce the imagery of a bustling Broomielaw boasted by Atkinson Grimshaw? Can such an emphasis on housing produce the required touristic lure that would generate further developments and lead to continued growth? Or can the arts themselves, such as architecture, elevate the river to reflect Glasgow’s prominence as a leading European city once again. Time, and, predictably, money will tell.
Aiden Hall is studying Architecture at the Glasgow School of Art