Queen Margaret Drive

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'Queen Margaret Drive', known officially as Broadcasting House, Glasgow was the home of the BBC's studios in the city from May 1938, and served as the BBC's Scottish headquarters from 19?? until 2007. Before being purchased by the BBC, the original buildings at 20 Queen Margaret Drive were used first as a house of art and then a college.

History of the site

North Park House

The main blonde sandstone block, North Park House, was built in 1869 as a residence and art gallery for businessman John Bell and his brother Matthew Bell. The Bells made their fortunes manufacturing pottery and chinaware: their Glasgow Pottery was a very successful industry, employing around 500 people in Port Dundas, and it seemed every respectable household in Scotland had its quota of wedding present china from the Bells' pottery.

Following the trend of the city's other 'merchant princes' in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, John Bell decided to move his residence from St Vincent Street to the West end of the city. But while most of his contemporaries chose residences along the new Great Western Road, the reclusive Bell purchased a piece of land in an idyllic, quiet corner off the main thoroughfare, adjacent to the Botanic Gardens and the banks of the River Kelvin and bought up extra land to insulate him from the noise and bustle. (At that time there was no Queen Margaret Drive.)

He commissioned the fashionable Edinburgh-born architect John Thomas Rochead to build, for £20,000, a fine Italianate mansion. Rochead, famous for designing the celebrated Wallace Monument in Stirling, also designed many of the great terraces on Great Western Road, including Grosvenor Terrace, Buckingham Terrace and Kew Terrace. Building work began in 1869, but with Rochead suffering a nervous breakdown later that year, it was completed by John Honeyman.

North Park House was outwardly an Italian Renaissance palazzo, a fine example of Palladian-inspired architecture, strongly based on the symmetry, perspective and values of the formal classical temple architecture of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. It gave little hint, in the harmony of its facades, of the dual purpose for which it was designed. Like any other dwelling house of its size, it had a dining room, drawing room, library and a back parlour, as well as at least three bedrooms and a dressing room for the master. But one half of the building, a windowless block which constituted the north wing, contained a number of galleries, including a ‘secret’ one which was entered through a concealed doorway in the ground floor. These galleries housed the Bells' extensive collection of paintings, sculpture and fine porcelain which, like other 'merchant princes', they amassed using their extensive wealth. Like all Victorian collectors, he also had a wide range of zoological, geological and archaeological specimens.[1]

It was apparently the brothers' intention to present both home and collection to Glasgow Corporation after their death, but when John Bell died in 1880 surprisingly intestate his estate was sequestrated (his younger brother Matthew had died in 1870 before the house was completed). The collection of 800 alleged 'old masters' intended for Glasgow was sold by auction and nearly all of them were found to be rather third rate.

Queen Margaret College

Following John Bell's death in 1880, the building was bought by Isabella Elder, widow of John Elder, the owner of Fairfield Shipyard in Govan, who devoted much of her time and money to supporting women’s education at a time when women were not allowed to attend any Scottish university. Mrs Elder gave the building to the Association for the Higher Education of Women which, in 1884, established Queen Margaret College – named after Queen Margaret of Scotland, who was also a supporter of women’s education.

A medical hall was built in 1895, designed by the Glasgow architectural firm Honeyman and Keppie. But it was one of their employees, Charles Rennie MacKintosh, who it is thought was responsible for the design of this building. While his exact contribution is uncertain, the asymmetrical building clearly showed his hand, being very different in layout and facade to Keppie's typical work in the formal 'Beaux-Arts' style, with its emphasis on rigidly proportioned symmetry. The medical hall was formally opened on 18 November 1895 by Rev. John Caird, Principal of the University of Glasgow.[2]

The medical hall was partially demolished and altered during the period when the complex was used by BBC Scotland from 1935 to 2007. Surviving features include the stairtower which has an attractive open-arched belfry topped with a bell-shaped leaded dome. The balustraded decorative porch has also been preserved.[3] The medical school, for so long hidden in the middle of the sprawling BBC complex, can now be seen at the east end of the North Park House cluster.

The college was incorporated into the University of Glasgow in 1892. Between 1926 and 1929 Queen Margaret Drive Bridge was built over the River Kelvin, creating a new road which separated North Park House from the Kibble Palace in the Botanic Gardens.

The premises continued to be used for the education of women until being sold to the BBC in 1935.

The college name persists in the university, in the Queen Margaret Union, Queen Margaret Settlement and Queen Margaret Halls of Residence in Kelvinside.[4]

BBC purchase

When the BBC learned through its solicitors that the University of Glasgow planned to vacate Queen Margaret College it was immediately interested. A move from its current studio and offices at Blythswood Square to more commodious premises had been discussed as early as 1928.[5] There had long been a need in Glasgow for a much bigger studio and increased administrative accommodation. So, in May 1935, the BBC made an offer of £25,000 to buy the College which was duly accept by the University Court.[6]

The Glasgow Corporation had made inquiries as to the advisability of the college being acquired as a library and museum, and a provisional scheme was designed under which the college and grounds would have been converted into an adjunct of the nearby Botanic Gardens. It was felt, however, that the BBC's proposal would result in the college being retained in a particular way for public service and that there should be no opposition to the plans.[7]

Aside from a few details, negotiations were completed by the middle of the month and the BBC officially announced the purchase on 25 May 1935.[8] The transfer of the buildings to the BBC was completed in mid-June.[9]

It was estimated that at least £50,000 would be spent on the new scheme.[10]

It was rumoured at the time that the new building would, in due course, be available for television requirements.[11] This may have been fuelled by a hopelessly optimistic estimate from the General Post Office that Glasgow would have a television station in full operation by the autumn of 1936.[12] However, a BBC official in Edinburgh quashed the speculation, telling a Scottish Daily Express reporter: "A rumour that we may make provision for television broadcasting in the new premises is unfounded. The idea is not even being entertained."[13]

Building work

The BBC employed the services of the renowned architect James Miller to extend and adapt the existing college buildings. Miller, who was born near Bankfoot and educated at Perth Academy, had designed numerous Scottish railway stations and commercial buildings in Glasgow throughout his career. In 1936, at the age of 76, his practice had already been given the commission to design and build the BBC's new Northern Ireland headquarters building at Ormeau Drive, Belfast. That same year he also became the principal architect working on the Glasgow project in conjunction with the BBC's civil engineer, M. T. Tudsbery.[14]

The new Broadcasting House was to be considerably larger in size than the original college buildings which were taken over. Internal alterations were fairly extensive. The two older buildings were to be adapted to house all the studios and their attendant waiting rooms; the spacious lecture theatres of the old buildings, in particular, lending themselves admirably to conversion into studios.

In October 1936 it was announced that the contract for the work was being placed with Messrs Thaw and Campbell Ltd of Glasgow.[15] The following month, the architects' plans for altering the existing buildings were approved by the Glasgow Dean of Guild Court on 6 November 1936.[16] By January 1937 it was reported that a thousand tons of rubble had already been removed in the demolition and construction work.[17]

New extension

The extension built between and connecting North Park House and the medical hall formed a central feature to the group as a whole. It housed the majority of offices and the technical accommodation. A new main staircase and electric passenger lift to all floors were also included. The extension was larger than the original structures combined and, while its architectural character had been influenced by its fitness for purpose, it was nonetheless designed in harmony with the two buildings it linked, albeit of a simpler and less ornamental outward design. It was a steel-framed structure, four storeys high, faced with Herwartburn sandstone of a warm grey colour on its south and east facades; the north front, which was less visible, was faced with bricks of a purple-red shade. The floors were constructed of pre-cast reinforced concrete beams. The roof was of reinforced concrete, covered with rough Scottish slates similar to those on existing buildings.

Power supply

Supply of electricity was obtained from the Corporation of Glasgow Electricity Department, and special precautions were taken to ensure maximum reliability and continuity of the supply. A substation was built on the site and this was fed both from a 6,500 volt A.C. ring main and a low-tension A.C. ring main. The supply was distributed throughout the building at a pressure of 440 volts for power and 250 volts for lighting.

Studios

With eight studios compared with just four at Blythswood Square, facilities for producing programmes were considerably improved, allowing programmes of a more ambitious type to be arranged. One of the most important benefits was the greater space for rehearsals. Comfortable rooms for artists were also provided, along with a canteen, library and club rooms. Upgraded technical equipment made the building one of the most modern broadcasting centres in Europe.

Ventilating plant

By virtue of their construction the studios were cut-off from the outside atmosphere and were at the same time virtually heat-insulated. Ventilating plant were therefore installed to supply the studios with "conditioned" air at the correct temperature and humidity. Since the requirements varied according to the number of occupants, each studio was fitted with a thermostat which automatically controlled the temperature and quantity of air supplied.[18] All studios had artificial light only.

Accoustics

A number of features were incorporated into the building's design to exclude extraneous noise in the studios:

  • The outside walls of the studios were built of brick more than two feet thick;
  • Steel girders were avoided as far as possible as they tended to transmit vibration through the building;
  • Those steel girders which remained, typically supporting floors and roofs in the studio areas, were double the weight necessary for ordinary constructional purposes;
  • To prevent a programme such as a band or orchestra from causing interference with a talk or discussion which may be going on in another studio, the studios were separated by other rooms or by corridors;
  • The air ducts were lined with sound absorbing material, and short lengths were divided into several parallel paths with strips of this material to form "sound-deadeners";
  • All machinery, such as fans, motors, pumps and equipment for the lifts were mounted on anti-vibration pads to avoid the direct transference of vibrations through the structure of the building.

Great attention was paid to the acoustic properties of the studios:

  • The walls were lined with blankets of rock wool, one inch thick, to absorb sound; the area and thickness of the wool differing according to the needs of the various rooms;
  • The interior studio windows were sound-proofed, consisting of triple sheets of glass;
  • The original wooden floors in studio areas were replaced by re-inforced concrete floors of extra heavy construction.

Studio listening rooms

Each of the main studios had an associated listening room, containing apparatus for bringing into use any microphone in the studio and for combining the outputs of two or more microphones to obtain the correct programme balance. Provision was also made for controlling the volume range of the programme. Correct operation was facilitated by a soundproof glass window giving a view of the studio, and by a loudspeaker through which the programme could be heard just as it was broadcast, under conditions similar to those in the average listener's home.

[19]

Studio No.1

"Orchestral studio listening room at BH, Glasgow, 1938"
Orchestral studio seen from its listening room at BH, Glasgow, 1938

The reconstructed north wing of North Park House was home to Studio No.1 — the second largest in the UK after the BBC's Maida Vale studio in London. Measuring 80ft long, 56ft wide and 40ft high, it had a volume nearly fifteen times that of the largest of the old Glasgow studios and was bigger than anything at Broadcasting House in London. It was designed principally for orchestral concert work and could accommodate 100 players with space to spare.

However, a newspaper report in January 1939 suggested that the studio "had hardly been used at all", presumably because the BBC's Scottish Orchestra was based in Edinburgh and most orchestral music was performed from the main studio at Scottish Broadcasting House.[20]

It had a dado of walnut, 9ft high, above which were a series of fluted pilasters forming panels in the four walls of the interior, with a panelled ceiling in plaster. The colour scheme, in soft tones of beige and peach, was designed to give "a pleasing and restful effect in artificial light". A special feature was made of electric lighting throughout the buildings and in Studio No.1, simple, specially-designed fittings were placed flush on the ceiling 40 ft above floor level, "giving a soft and evenly diffused light throughout the apartment and eliminating all glare and shadow".

Studios No.2 and No.3

Two of the old lecture theatres were gutted internally to form studios, one 46' x 26' and the other 34' x 24' by 20' high.

Studio 2 occupied the site of the medical dissecting room in the Mackintosh building; now it would be filled with music and song. Studio 3, the college’s museum, would now be a hall of variety.

The general colour tones were ivory and soft green.

Drama studios

There were two dramatic studios, 18' x 18' and 28' x 18'. One had its walls and ceiling entirely covered with rock wool and the floor covered by a thick carpet, which resulted In the studio being almost completely 'dead'.

A dramatic control room was installed for use in productions in which items from several different studios were dovetailed together to form the complete programme. The dramatic control panel could deal with twelve sources of programme and was equipped for the addition of artificial echo to any source.

Other studios

"Talks studio at BH, Glasgow, 1938"
Talks studio at BH, Glasgow, 1938

They were joined by separate studios for effects, talks and narration, all of which were located on the top floor of North Park House.

Control room

The control room formed a major link in the simultaneous broadcasting system, providing channels to and from Edinburgh, Manchester and Belfast, and a direct circuit to the transmitter at Westerglen. Programmes originating in the studios or incoming by line were passed from a distribution desk in the control room to other desks for monitoring and amplitude control. From here they were fed to another switching desk for sending down the line to the transmitters or other studio centres. Immediately behind the row of desks was a large rack containing high-gain microphone amplifiers, control amplifiers to compensate for the attenuation caused by the mixing and control channels, and incoming and outgoing line compensating amplifiers.[21]

Opening and transfer of staff

The new premises went on-air for the first time on Monday 16 May 1938. Within a few weeks of the Glasgow staff moving into their palatial new home, a number of Edinburgh officials joined them as part of a redistribution of employees between the two main Scottish centres.

While executive control remained in the capital, with the likes of Scottish regional director Melville Dinwiddie, programme director Andrew Stewart and heads of department working from Scottish Broadcasting House, a number of their assistants made the move to Glasgow including: Mr R. F. Dunnett, assistant to James Fergusson in the talks department, and Robert Kemp, assistant to George Burnett, public relations officer.[22]

With only five studios at Scottish Broadcasting House in Edinburgh, Glasgow's new Broadcasting House was far ahead in both size — it had eight studios — and in modernity of equipment.

Official opening ceremony

The official opening was conducted by Walter Elliot MP, minister of health on 18 November 1938. The ceremony was held in Studio No.1. After a series of speeches by some of the dignitaries, a special programme was broadcast representing some of Glasgow's most important contributions to radio entertainment.

One of its outstanding features was a performance of a new play written specially for the occasion by James Bridie, the distinguished Glasgow playwright. In fact, it was the first play Bridie had ever written for radio and was produced by Gordon Gildard, who had been responsible for the adaption and production of several of his Bridie's stage plays. Listeners also heard the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, under Sir Hugh Roberton; the Glasgow comedian Will Fyffe contributed a variety act including his famous song, I Belong to Glasgow; James MacPhee, gold medalist of the 1929 Perth Mod, sung in Gaelic; and there was an interlude by the Three College Boys, singers in close harmony. The evening ended with Tunes for Everybody, played by the BBC Scottish Orchestra, under Ian Whyte, the BBC's Scottish Music Director.[23]

Extensions

New television wing (1964)

New TV studio B (1982)

Building work on a second purpose-built television studio was completed in December 1981. Adjacent to Studio A, the £3m Studio B was to be used for news and current affairs programmes. Up until then, BBC Scotland's news programmes had come from an old converted radio studio.

During the building works, the Glasgow Herald reported of superstitious workmen who had become aware of the presence of a ghost. Old plans had revealed a mineshaft in the vicinity of the building, and local rumour had it that a serving wench had fallen down the shaft in 1749, never to be seen again. However, a BBC official told the press that no sign of the shaft of the luckless girl was discovered during the building operations.[24]

Post-BBC use

As with much of the West End, the site lies within the Glasgow West Conservation Area, which seeks to protect the general integrity and character of architectural significance in this neighbourhood. Glasgow's City Plan identified the Mackintosh Building, Queen Margaret College and the BBC's 1930s extension as Category B listed, defined by Historic Scotland as "Buildings of regional or more than local importance, or major examples of some particular period, style or building type which may have been altered."

On 12 October 2005, BBC Scotland announced that its Broadcasting House premises and land at Queen Margaret Drive were on the market for sale.[25] 18 developers submitted detailed offer proposals for the 5.3-acre site in December 2005 and, following a rigorous selection process, eight months later, the BBC, advised by commercial property consultant Lambert Smith Hampton, appointed Applecross Properties Limited (Applecross), and their joint venture partners Esk Properties Limited (Esk) and Blackrock International Land plc (Blackrock), as preferred purchasers to develop the premises and land.[26]

The majority of the site was earmarked for a high-quality new-build residential development designed for Applecross by award-winning Scottish architects, CDA. Subject to the necessary consents, the listed buildings were to undergo sensitive conversion to a hotel development carried out by Esk.

Hamilton Hotel

In 2009 planning permission and listed building consent was granted by Glasgow City Council’s Planning Applications Committee to build a hotel on the site. 'The Hamilton' was to be a 120 room luxury 5-star hotel and spa designed by architects 3DReid. North Park House, James Miller's BBC extension and the anatomy building of Queen Margaret College were to be restored and joined by a sympathetically designed, newly-constructed bedroom wing.[27] It was planned for opening in 2011, however when Applecross went bust in 2009, the plans were thrown into disarray. RBS then bought the site to protect an investment.[28]

G1 leisure group head office

On 16 November 2011, it was reported that the site was to be redeveloped as head office for the G1 Group: the leisure, nightclub, restaurant and casino empire built up over 20 years by entrepreneur Stefan King.[29] King was to use North Park House as a private residence, while the Miller building was refurbished as offices for his company. A planning application to redevelop the anatomical building within its original footprint was also submitted. The large neighbouring gap site remained for further re-development.

References

  1. Henry E. Kelly, The Glasgow Pottery of John and Matthew Perston Bell, 2006.
  2. 'Queen Margaret College: opening of medical hall', Glasgow Herald, 19 November 1895, 4.
  3. 'Charles Rennie Mackintosh', Scotcities.com.
  4. 'North Park House: History turns full circle', Westendreport.com, 1 October 2012.
  5. Minutes of Control Board meeting, 20 November 1928, BBC WAC R3/3/4.
  6. 'The BBC and Queen Margaret College', Glasgow Herald, 14 May 1935, 10.
  7. 'BBC to buy Glasgow college', Courier, 15 May 1935, 5.
  8. 'BBC confirms Glasgow college purchase', Sunday Post, 26 May 1935, 3.
  9. 'Queen Margaret College', Glasgow Herald, 15 June 1935, 10.
  10. '£50,000 studios for Glasgow', Daily Herald, 10 May 1935.
  11. 'The BBC in Glasgow: new studios in West End', Glasgow Herald, 11 May 1935, 11.
  12. 'London day-by-day: television', Glasgow Herald, 18 May 1935, 10.
  13. 'Glasgow not to be BBC headquarters', Scottish Daily Express, 15 May 1935.
  14. 'Dictionary of Scottish Architects: James Miller'
  15. 'BBC's new studio at Botanic Gardens', Glasgow Evening Citizen, 8 October 1936.
  16. 'New BBC studios: Glasgow plans approved', Scotsman, 7 November 1936.
  17. 'Big changes in Scottish broadcasting', Press and Journal, 19 January 1937, 7.
  18. 'New radio era for Glasgow: modern broadcast facilities', Glasgow Herald, 12 November 1938, 13.
  19. 'Broadcasting House, Glasgow', October 1938, BBC WAC R44/197.
  20. 'Radio gossip: Glasgow's No.1 studio is a standing reproach', Sunday Mail, 29 January 1939.
  21. 'Scottish broadcasting: new headquarters in Glasgow', Electrical Review, 18 November 1938.
  22. 'BBC Scots moves', Scottish Daily Express, 20 May 1938.
  23. 'BBC premies in Glasgow: Mr Elliot to open building', Glasgow Herald, 21 October 1938, 12.
  24. 'No ghost to disrupt work on TV studio', Glasgow Herald, 18 December 1981, 7.
  25. 'BBC Scotland Broadcasting House premises and land go on sale', BBC Scotland, 12 October 2005.
  26. 'BBC selects purchasers to develop Queen Margaret Drive site in Glasgow', BBC Scotland, 24 August 2006.
  27. 'Hamilton Hotel, Glasgow: 30 Queen Margaret Drive', GlasgowArchitecture.co.uk, 28 May 2012.
  28. 'Leisure tycoon King buys former BBC headquarters', Glasgow Herald, 17 November 2011.
  29. 'Stefan King's G1 group moves to old BBC HQ', BBC News, 16 November 2011.