Time-travelling in Glasgow (without a Police Box)

It’s quite appropriate one of my recent blog posts was about Glasgow’s TARDIS-style police boxes, because this one is about a new way I’ve found to travel in time.

The oddly named MakkaMappa is an app for the iPhone (and soon Android) that lets you upload abitrary maps or diagrams – and even not especially geographically sensible maps – to their website, geo-reference them, and then use them in real life via your phone’s GPS.

Sound complicated? Not really – here’s a simple example.

The London Underground map is notoriously non-geographic, and yet you can use it to navigate round the city.

SImilarly, here’s my current location on the equivalent Glasgow Subway map, for example:


I started to wonder what you could do with other types of input, and uploaded a couple of historic old (and out of copyright) maps I had lying around.

While wandering around town earlier this evening,  I was standing outside Glasgow’s fantastic Central Station, and fired up MakkaMappa.

Here I am standing there if I was in 1820-odd, before the station was even built:

Photo 2

Or again here, having travelled forward to the 1890s, when it was the Caledonian Central Station…

Photo 1

I then thought, what if you hypothetically had access to high-res archive aerial photograhy of the city from the early 1960s, you could see where you were wandering down roads that don’t even exist any more – or stand in the middle of the St Enoch Centre, and see yourself in the late lamented St Enoch Station – so here I am, if I did have access to such aerial photography, in the same spot as in the earlier screenshots…

Photo 3

If you want to try this out for yourself – and you should! – the 1820s and 1890s maps are available to download through MakkaMappa here – the light version is free to download for up to a couple of maps; the full version is just £1.19 in the App Store at the moment, and well worth it in my opinion. You can either choose to upload your own maps or diagrams, or just make use of the ones that other people have already uploaded, from the Glasgow Uni campus map, to snowboarding details in the USA.

It’s a fantastic little program, and the possibilities of how it could be used to explore the past, present and future of any city – or any spaces that can be mapped – are endless….




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And then there were four: Titan Cranes of the Clyde

Both my grandfathers have links to shipbuilding on the Clyde; my maternal grandfather worked on the QE2, and many other ships; his speciality was working on propellar shafts. My paternal grandfather was a clerk in the yard at Greenock. Both would have been very familiar with the Titan cranes that make up such an iconic part of the shipbuilding heritage of the river.

42 were built originally around the world, of which 40 were designed by Willaim Arrol Ltd. 27 of those were in the UK, of which (in 1988) 15 still existed, of which 7 were in Scotland.

Until quite recently, there were five Titan cranes left on the Clyde; there were also two at Rosyth on the east coast.

Today (2011) there are only four left in Scotland…

Finnieston Crane

The most famous Titan; this can be seen in the background of most BBC Scotland news studio reports.

Finnieston Titan Crane

There are some absolutely stunning images of the city taken from the crane at night here, by the Cycleologist.

[Listed building description]

Whiteinch Crane

Just next to a junkyard, and itself next to a listed building of the former Diesel works, this crane is visible from the M8 as you approach Glasgow from the west.

Whiteinch Titan Crane

[Listed building description]

Clydebank Crane

This is the only crane that’s currently publiclly accessible; see their website here:


Titan Crane

Orignally part of John Brown’s yard in Clydebank, this crane now has a lift and staircase erected next to it, allowing the visitor to see the town from a unique angle. The view from the top is stunning, to say the least…

[Listed building description]

Greenock Crane

The Greenock crane is the one my grandfather climbed back when he worked in the yard.

Post-industrial Skyline

Here he is revisiting old haunts….

Revisiting old haunts

[he’s currently 99 years old, and we took him up the Clydebank Titan a couple of years ago, which was a fantastic experience for all involved!]

[Listed building description]

The fifth crane, at Govan, despite also being Category A listed, was demolished in 2007. Sadly, the justification was that the yard needed the space to remain economically viable, and the only option was to demolish the crane. Despite the fact a scale model of it was made, I still feel its a shame that it couldn’t have been moved or otherwise retained for display elsewhere.

Pictures from its last days during demolishiion can be found here.

The Rosyth cranes appear to have been demolished around 1990; a great photo of one of these cranes can be seen on the RCAHMS website here.

There’s something about these Titan cranes – their elegance as objects designed to do a job, but in the best possible way – that reminds me of the Forth Bridge; in some ways, they are all practical, but at the same time, they become beautiful, and well worth fighting to make sure some remain.

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Department of Living In The Future

OK, so it’s no jetpack or flying car, but if you’d told me just a few years ago that in order to give a presentation, I didn’t have to lug a laptop around, but could just use my phone (!) I think I’d have been very unconvinced.


[That’s Apple’s new version of Keynote running on the iPhone, outputting its video to the tellybox.]

Very tempted to give my next presentation just from that !

Or alternatively, for extra geekiness – or more appropriately, because I like to wander around a bit and wave my arms about while talking, and being connected to the projector by a cable might be a pain, how about setup number 2:


Yep, that’s the iPhone acting as a live remote control (including showing next slide and presenter notes if present) for the presentation running on the iPad, which is in turn mirroring its screen on the tv (or projector as appropriate).

Speaking of projectors, that reminds me to go rummage in my Big Box of Computer Cables and Stuff under the bed, and see if this works with the iPhone…


It does! That’s a tiny Optoma Pico projector, so that photo above is, in theory, all I’d need to take to give a talk from now on… astonishing!



I am unable to comment on rumours that I have too many gadgets.

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Glasgow Police Boxes

Take Off (Detail)

Way back in 2004 or so, while playing with this newfangled thing called ‘making a webpage’, I put together a wee photo list of all the surviving police boxes on Glasgow’s streets (I like lists; I’ve got one of those brains).

[Aside: I also like lists you can complete, which was a bit of a mistake when I tried to do the same thing with Scotland’s cinemas, which at 1,140 and still counting is definitely another story…]

It seems that this old page quickly became the top hit when you google ‘Glasgow Police Boxes‘, and I started getting asked questions, and treated like some kind of police box expert – which of course I was, but only because I was a life-long Doctor Who fan that lived in Glasgow; you kind of get used to police box spotting…

Glasgow once had 323 boxes; by 1994 there were still ten remaining on the streets.
In 2008, there were four. Of those, all but one were listed buildings, giving them some protection from demolition or unsympathetic alteration. So when I got an email sometime in 2008 asking for my professional (!) opinion as to whether the remaining box should also get listed status, I was delighted to be able to contribute, and it was successfully listed.

All four main Glasgow boxes are now Category B listed buildings. Originally, Glasgow police boxes were painted pillar-box red, rather than police blue, because they were maintained by the Post Office. Sadly, all of the ones you can see on the street have succumed to creeping Dr Who-ism, and are now TARDIS-style blue… Ignore anything it tells you on Doctor Who, but the boxes were concrete, not wooden – only the right-hand door, the only one that opened, was made of wood.

Since the initial page was put up, three of the boxes (Byres Rd, Buchanan St and Cathedral) were converted into coffee kiosks (much like many of the uniquely-styled Edinburgh boxes). I know I like a bad pun better than most, but even I found the name of ‘Coppuchino‘ a bit much. All of these have since closed however; thankfully the external alterations were pretty minimal.

Anyway, a quick roundup of Glasgow’s TARDIS-style police boxes, as of May 2011…

The Buchanan Street Box

This box is in good condition, but has been annoyingly repainted a few times over the years (once with polka-dots, later in an almost Dalek-like gold and black), and recently was covered in advertising bill-boards, which is a bit of a pain. When it’s not covered up, it looks great, and you can often see kids and tourists having their pictures taken next to it…

Buchanan St Box (front)

[Link to listed building description]

The Wilson Street Box

This box once stood on an island in the centre of the road, with rather nice cast iron railings surrounding the steps down to to some underground toilets. This was the last box on the street to retain its orignal red colour; in 2009 it was removed, refurbished, and repainted. The new internal illumination looked great at night, although the red sign on the telephone door looks very odd against a blue background!

In 2010, the whole street area was dug up and re-surfaced; as part of this, the underground toilets were (sadly) filled in, and the box itself was moved to the side of the street. Currently, the exterior of the box looks quite good, but some of the window panels are sadly smashed.

Wilson Street re-positioned box

[Link to listed building description]

The Cathedral Square Box

This box’s blue paint is peeling off, revealing its red-painted origins. Oddly, it’s without any form of lamp, but is otherwise in not bad nick.

Cathedral Street Box

[Link to listed building description]

The Botanic Gardens Box

This box looked quite good when it was in operation as a coffee kiosk, with a flashing light fitted into its lamp housing, which helped to draw attention to it. Since the kiosk closed however, the door in particular has stated to deteroriate quite quickly, and the condition of this box is perhaps the worst of all the four main boxes…

Byres Road Box

[Link to listed building description]

The Transport Museum Box

Glasgow’s Transport Museum in the Kelvin Hall had a red Police Box on display up until it closed last year. This box was in need of restoration, but still looked pretty good. Since the museum closed, the box has been in storage. The brand new, multi-million-pound transport museum is due to open in June this year, and it’ll be interesting to see if it includes the police box once again…


The Junkyard Box

“Let me get this straight. A thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard, it can move anywhere in time and space?”

This box, sitting in an industrial estate in the north of the city, is awaiting a new home – and is rather wonderfully camoflaged against the red background!

Partially-working Chameleon Circuit


Other Glasgow Boxes

There were 10 boxes surviving in 1994; the whereabouts of all of them is unclear. 6 are accounted for above; Summerlee Museum also apparently has a box; and a number of Glasgow boxes have been shipped south to appear in museums and represent their southern progenitors (including one at the the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings [originally from Maryhill!], and one at Kent Police Museum).

There’s a box at Grampian Transport Museum apparently as well…

More about Police Boxes:

The Civil Defense & Emergency Service Preservation Trust [Owner of several of the boxes]

Police Boxes map – great Google map showing where original and replica boxes can be found around the UK.

Police Signal Boxes- A 100 year history – really useful overview bit of research

Police box history @ Mindrobber.co.uk – fantastic overview of police box history that inspired me to write this post!

And don’t even get me started on the Edinburgh ones…


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Welcome back.

If you’re reading this, you’ve successfully located my blog in its new, WordPress hosted location. I was previously on a Posterous blog, which was rather nice, but while playing around with WordPress discovered its rather lovely iPad-friendly mobile theme – if you’ve got an iPad, try looking at the blog on it – it’s a rather nice Flipboard-style swipey interface. I like it.

So, a small fee and some DNS-fiddling later, you should find that http://gbarr.info should bring you here – hopefully labelled as http://blog.gbarr.info

I’ll hopefully be encouraged to write a bit more too at this new home too…

Meanwhile, here is a nice picture of a statue reading a book.

A Good Read

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