My ancestry links to Parkhead in Glasgow’s East End are strong. The area is the setting for the story of relatives close and distant. Generations born, lived, loved, lost, worked and died in Parkhead.
It’s woven into my DNA. Most of my 19th and early 20th Century ancestors who ended up in Glasgow settled in Parkhead working in the coal mines around the area. Or employed at William Beardmore And Company’s Parkhead Forge.
My Parkhead ancestors on both sides of the family lived knew one another long before my parents met. The Coyle family of Croydon Street ( formerly Chapel Terrace), and Dawson Street, O’Donnell’s of Dunbar Street ( originally Dawson Street). My Great Grandmother Lilly Corrigan of East Wellington Street.
Some of those streets are long gone but they live on. Either in collective living memory or the setting in family stories. My Mother was born at number 23 Croydon Street. That street was a hive of activity according to her and my Grandmother Coyle.
Croydon Street is usually the setting of family stories involving Mum’s family.
The Fighting Coyle Family Of Parkhead
One story I love involves my Grandfather Patrick Coyle (1905-1985) A physically imposing and formidable man in his prime. An incident occurred with a neighbour descended into a heated argument. The street’s residents formed a crowd.
Paddy Coyle was ready for a barney.
A boxing contest disregarding Queensberry rules started. But it ended during the first round. Patrick’s mother Martha Haggerty (1866-1952) intervened. Martha was a Croydon Street resident too, living downstairs from her son’s family.
Great Grandmother Coyle ran out of her house, rolled her sleeves up, pushed members of the gathered crowd out the way. She loudly declared:” If anybody wants to try it on with my Patrick you need tae get past me first!”
The above quote was the sanitized version.
I can remember Mum reciting the names of her neighbours in Croydon Street, the names of her Granny Tracey’s neighbours and the families of those who owned shops in Westmuir Street. She recalled which neighbours the wives called upon to help deliver babies at home if they could not get to a hospital. Or those skilled at mending something as it would be expensive to replace.
Family stories of Parkhead have common themes of community and a sense of belonging. In the area where I live, I don’t know the majority of my neighbours. Limited communication. Usually an occasional smile. Or if I’m lucky, a “Hello” comes my way.
My Parkhead ancestors were poor working class. But rich in community. The latter, I envy them for.
In an emergency, I wouldn’t know which door to knock on in my street if I required someone to act as a midwife.
Where did those strong communities go? I digress.
I don’t live local to Parkhead. However, I regularly drive through the area on the way to town. I think there may well be living relatives inhabiting the streets of Parkhead. Family tree research may pave the way for introductions in future.
Recently, my wife and I spent the day walking around the area. It was the first time I set foot on the streets of Parkhead in years. My wife does not come from Glasgow’s East End, so it turned into a family history walking tour.
Croydon Street, Dunbar Street, and Beardmores no longer exist. My ancestor’s streets were demolished and some years later The Forge Shopping Center rose from the rubble.
Accompanying Mum to The Forge in its opening week in 1988 was an emotional time for us both. As we walked through the Centre, the memories of a time long past emotionally crushed Mum. An elderly woman consoled her until the tears dried up.
They spoke about old Parkhead and Mum returned to her normal self. Memories of Parkhead always comforted Mum if she ever felt down.
My stomach got emotional because I was hungry and yearned for a cheese roll and a full fat Cola.
Back to the present day. My wife and I ate lunch at Benson’s Cafe. A plate of Macaroni and Chips got me emotional as I recalled coming here as a boy. Benson’s was a regular haunt for my Mother. She knew the original owner Margaret Benson. We frequented Margaret’s cafe in Shettleston Road during the 1980s. I ate many cheese rolls and slurped full-fat cokes in those days. My waistline was not happy.
When Mrs Benson moved to Parkhead Forge, Mum got invited to the grand opening that featured the actor Jonathon Morris from Carla Lane’s BBC Comedy ‘Bread’ I wonder where Mum’s coffee and sly cigarette acquaintances are now?
Parkhead History On Repeat
Next on the memory lane menu: Westmuir Street. A lot of change since my childhood. Michael’s Coffee Cup Cafe is gone, some shop units are vacant. But there are some nice shops opened by 21st Century immigrants to Parkhead. There is a nice Polish Supermarket that I recommend a visit.
Walking past Betty’s Pie Shop, my memory drifted to some evenings years ago when it opened in the evening to sell hot rolls. Always a treat.
History is repeating. The Parkhead area in the 19th Century saw families of Irish immigrants living there. Today, a diverse mix make Parkhead their home. I hope history won’t repeat the kind of welcome the 19th Century immigrants experienced.
We walked around a lot of Parkhead’s Streets in the footsteps of a family long gone. I took a lot of photos. In the years ahead, I wonder how many old buildings will look down to future generations?
Parkhead In The Memory
Our day trip ended with a walk into Haghill to take some photographs for a future Blog post. As I left Parkhead I got emotional and shed a quiet tear.
The Parkhead my ancestors knew is another lifetime. Another society. In my lifetime the area’s change is noticeable. The sights and sounds I remember and the people we visited as a young boy taking my Mum’s hand walking around Parkhead are gone.
That Parkhead stored in memory comes alive in recollection. Just like Mum’s Parkhead when we visited The Forge in 1988. It seems Mother and I are alike after all…