Surprising history of Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens station

As Glasgow MSP Paul Sweeney calls for the Botanics station to remain open as a tourist destination, we take a look back at its history.

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<p>The railway tunnel was opened up for Batgirl filming. Picture: TSPL</p>

The railway tunnel was opened up for Batgirl filming. Picture: TSPL

Long before Batgirl filming opened the tunnel up, the disused station had been the focus of urban photographers for years, and one of its main draws is that it lies below one of the city’s most popular attractions.

The Botanics station history

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The station was first opened in August 1896 as part of Glasgow’s Central Railway line, which would link Strathclyde junction on the Dalmarnock branch with Stobcross in the west.

The station building sat above ground but the platform and tracks were situated underneath - you can still see the ventilation shafts today.

James Miller (a renowned Glasgow railway architect) was responsible for the station’s eye-catching design.

It was a well-known landmark in the area, and featured an ornate red brick building with two clock towers, topped with decorative domes, reminiscent of Russian architecture.

The station didn’t enjoy a long and healthy history acting as a vital transport link for the city, being closed just over 20 years after its opening due to the outbreak of the Great War, and then once again finding its doors closed in February 1939.

Instead of re-opening after World War II it was decided instead to merely lock the gates and leave the platforms to succumb to the ravages of time.

Picture: Ben Brooksbank/Geograph.org

Other uses and a fire

Since the station sat above ground, developers were encouraged to transform the building for a difference use. In the years following the station’s closure it became a cafe and a nightclub, even though the tracks continued to have trains travelling through them as part of the Glasgow Central Railway.

During the 1960s, the space was occupied by a popular cafe called The Silver Slipper, a nightclub known as Sgt Pepper’s, and Morton’s plumbers shop.

Glasgow city council decided to lift the tracks in 1964. Six years later a fire caused extensive damage to the roof of the former station building. This was reportedly caused by a cigarette during a battle of the bands contest. Luckily, no one was badly injured, but the cafe owner’s dog died from smoke inhalation.

Since most of the structure was still in place it could have been redeveloped once more, but this time the preferred option was to tear the building down, though the platforms remained.

Nightclub plans

Glasgow City Council entertained ideas to turn the hidden platforms into a nightclub. This concerned locals and those that did not want the tranquillity of the Botanic Gardens to be affected by regular loud music.

Over 4,000 signatures were attracted to a petition against the proposals and the council didn’t go ahead with plans in the end.

Picture: Rosser1954/WikiMedia

Mentions in popular culture

The station is mentioned in Hamish MacDonald’s novel The Gravy Star. This is a tale of a man who returns from a Hogmanay drinking session to find his wife and child frozen to death in the family’s remote cottage. Stricken with grief he travels to Glasgow and begins a new life as a recluse hiding away from the world in the confines of the deserted station below the Botanics.

Access denied

The station was attracting so many visitors to its lost depths. that a 12 foot high metal sheet was put in place at the Kelvindale and Kelvinbridge entrances, making it difficult to access.

Batgirl filming

Earlier this month, the tunnel was opened up to be used as part of Batgirl, which is being filmed in Glasgow. The movie utilised the abandoned Botanic Gardens Station, stationing a ‘Gotham Transit Authority’ Subway car at the station.

It was the first time a carriage has been spotted at the station which has been out of use as a transport hub since 1939.

Future tourist destination

Labour MSP Paul has called for the station to remain open to the public when filming ends. He said: “It’s excellent to see the old railway tunnels in the west end of Glasgow being unlocked to film scenes from the new Batgirl movie.

“Given that it is the first time the old Botanic Gardens station will have been in use for over 80 years, it would be a shame to see it sealed away once filming has finished. That’s why I have suggested that the station be reopened as an attraction for tourists and Glaswegians alike bringing much needed revenue into the city”.

A version of this article first appeared on our sister site, The Scotsman