June 2013

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The James Weir Building

You would be forgiven for not recognising this corner of Glasgow. It is nearly unrecognisable today, but the building central to the image below is 87 Montrose Street in 1949, now the site of the University's James Weir building.

Children’s shelter, 87 Montrose Street prior to demolition in 1949 to make way for the James Weir building (ref: OP 2/1/76/3)

At the time, it was a recently vacated children’s shelter, and formerly the Burgh Grammar School - marked on maps as far back as 1833 – cleared in preparation for what was known then as the Montrose Street Extension. The tenements beside it were originally not included in the scheme, but it was decided in April 1949, on a recommendation from the Scottish Education Department’s architect (with whom all plans had to be cleared), that keeping it would seriously impair the planning of the extension and ultimately cost more in the long-term. The mood of the 1945 Bruce Report on the redevelopment of Glasgow was still very much in the air, and the Victorian and Edwardian buildings that we admire today were considered outdated and outmoded in arguably much the same way that we now view mid-20th century architecture. In May 1949, the shelter and tenements’ tenancy was terminated and the residents were relocated to make way for the university’s much needed expansion project.

The university had outgrown the Royal College Building, the number of full-time students alone rising from 3,800 before World War II, to 6,000 in 1950. Keen to hold on to its title of having the largest School of Technology of any college or university in the country, the university intended the extension as somewhere for the Civil and Mechanical Engineering Department to call home, and in the literature of the time it was diplomatically added that with the space freed in the Royal College Building, all departments would benefit from the extra room. In late 1950, this sketch of the proposed new building by the appointed architects Wylie, Shanks & Wylie appeared in a booklet sent out to public and private supporters as an appeal for donations towards its construction:

Elevation of College extension from Montrose Street, 1950. From Royal Technical College, Glasgow. College Extension 1950 (Glasgow: Robert MacLehose and Co. Ltd., The University Press) (ref: OE 7/3/4)

As you can see, it was planned rather differently from how it turned out, bookended by two stairwell and lift towers rather than the one that was actually built. The cost of construction was estimated in 1950 at £750k, with the first stage costing £445k. Government grants took the extension fund as far as £334k, but the rest was largely raised from donors. A further £350k was also estimated to complete and equip the building. It was actually proposed to make the building one storey higher, but the Scottish Education Department, whose grants largely funded the build, disagreed, limiting it to the illustrated height.

Construction of James Weir building, 1954-1956 (ref: OP 2/1/77)

Funding appears to have run short in 1959 when officials from the Scottish Education Department met with representatives of the university governors, limiting the grant allowance on additional building work to £60k, when the estimated cost was £71k. The construction phase was split into two, and the building was eventually completed in 1964 as the Mechanical, Civil, Chemical and Mining Engineering Block, and renamed the James Weir Building in 1968 after one of the two Weir brothers who founded G. & J. Weir Ltd., which became the engineering giant now known as the Weir Group.

Linda Smith, MSc Library and Information Studies placement student

Further information:

The Royal College of Science and Technology Glasgow. Mechanical, Civil, Chemical and Mining Engineering Block (Glasgow: Wilson Guthrie & Co., Ltd.)

Royal Technical College, Glasgow. College Extension 1950 (Glasgow: Robert MacLehose and Co. Ltd., The University Press).

Royal Technical College, Glasgow. Minutes of Governors and Committees 1944-1959.

James Weir building, c. 1956 (ref: OP 2/1/77)

James Weir building, c. 1956