Saturday, 7 January 2012

Alexander 'Greek' Thomson 6: the Sixty Steps

Welcome to my wee photoblog on Glasgow, where we feature the  joys and unjoys of walking and cycling through a fascinating, beautiful and often badly run city. For the blog's origin and a  list of all posts see the  'Introduction' post  -

Today is Thursday, 29 December 2011, and we are going to look at  Alexander 'Greek' Thomson's wonderful Sixty Steps.

For the local campaign group trying to get the Sixty Steps restored, see

See also

And for our previous entries on the great man  see

Alexander Greek Thomson
Alexander 'Greek' Thomson 2: the Egyptian Halls Part 1: the Interior
Alexander 'Greek' Thomson 3: the Egyptian Halls Part 2: the Exterior
Alexander 'Greek' Thomson 4: Eton Terrace, 41-53 Oakfield Avenue
Alexander 'Greek' Thomson 5: Glasgow City Free Church

We are in Queen Margaret Drive and it has been raining heavily in Glasgow.

Looking down QM Drive to Gt Western Rd end

Looking up QM Drive to Maryhill Rd end

And we are heading down this street on the right, into Garriochmill Rd

Thomson's great retaining wall is catching the afternoon light

From the Sixty Steps site linked above -
'The Sixty Steps are a much-loved feature of Glasgow's West End. The steps which connect Kelvinside Terrace to Garriochmill Road were designed by Alexander "Greek" Thomson in the 1870s to provide access to the original Queen Margaret Bridge. The bridge across the River Kelvin has since been demolished, and the Greek Thomson Sixty Steps are currently in need of restoration.'

A worrying crack

Looking over the wall

Looking down at the Kelvin

The Steps are a popular part of many joggers' routes

Back down on Garriochmill  Road

Let's pop up again and have a look at that characteristic Thomson work. . .

, , ,which looks out from the wee 'pleasure garden'. From the BBC -

'The grand retaining wall curves around and above the steps and features Thomson's trademark architectural details with cut in and carved stonework. A pleasure garden forms part of the Sixty Steps structure. The Pleasure Gardens view-point at the top is designed in Thomson's Greek style with pillars framing the scene looking out across the River Kelvin. '

The stone door represents a portal into the next life. Thomson - who died of lung disease in 1875, just three years after the completion of the Sixty Steps - is a wonder. You have to feel ashamed of -  and perplexed by - Glasgow council and indeed the Scottish government. In just about any other city, any other country,  the Sixty Steps would be a publicly maintained treasure - a remarkable yet decaying work by one of the world's greatest architects

Heading away

Cat out for  a walk

Feel free to drop me an email with suggestions, offers of £20 notes etc. The address is

My other blogs are

Reviews of Scotland: 1000 Things You Need to Know


'I love it - I'm giving this copy to a friend and buying another for myself' - Darren Adam, Presenter, Radio Forth, 17 November 2008

‘It’s a great wee book’ – Stephen Jardine, introducing Edwin Moore on Scottish Television’s Five-Thirty Show

'A fantastic book' - Scott Wilson , talk 107 Breakfast Show host

'A great read' - Dougie Jackson, Drivetime host, Smooth Radio 105.2


'Despite its apparently humorous format, this is a serious and extensive dictionary on all things Scottish; from Jean Redpath to Lorne sausage, from Flodden to the Corries. Is particularly good on history and minutiae. There's a useful chapter on famous Scottish legal cases and another on literature. Excellent' - Royal Scottish Legion, Feb 2009

'This is the ultimate Scottish reference book' - Waterstones Christmas catalogue, 2008

'This is a fascinating look at the history of Scotland: its languages, politics and great achievements, from its origins in the ancient landmass of Laurentia 400 million years ago, to devolution and Billy Connolly. Edwin Moore has collected a thousand important facts about this beautiful country, covering Scottish history and culture, correcting misconceptions, and examining the mysteries of haggis and bagpipes with insight, warmth and impressive attention to detail' - The Good Book Guide, November 2008

'This is a recipe for revealing how horribly ill informed you are about your country. Although, if you are skillful, you can nod sagely as you read some new fact and mutter 'Ah, yes!' as if recalling the information from your excellent schooling. Where else will you find a real recipe for making haggis from scratch side by side with a potted biography of David Hume; a section of the Declaration of Arbroath and the curiously touching fact that Lulu was only 15 when she had a hit with 'Shout'? The whole thing is of course, silly - but oh so addictive.' - Matthew Perren, i-on Glasgow, December 2008

'. . . well crafted and witty' - Bill Howatson, Aberdeen Press and Journal, 18 October 2008

‘While most of Edwin’s entries are entertaining and scholarly – he writes like a Scottish Bill Bryson – it is when he takes an interest in the backwaters of history, the details lost down the back of the sofa, that he is at his best’ – Jack McKeown, The Courier, 27 October 2008

'History, it is said, is written by the victors. Trivia, meanwhile, is written by the guys with the smeared spectacles and the breathable rainwear. The first discipline is linear and causal; to quote from Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys, history is “just one f****** thing after another”. Things look different, though, when viewed through the prism of trivia. The past is reduced to one big coleslaw of fascinating facts that in their randomness tell a more mixed-up tale entirely.
The first approach leads to big, frowning books by the likes of Tom Devine and Michael Fry. The latter results in small, cheerful books such as Scotland: 1,000 Things You Need to Know, Edwin Moore’s valiant attempt to navigate the more trivial contours of enlightenment and clearances, crown and parliament, dirt and deity.
Moore proceeds from a sincere and controversial first principle: Scotland is really a rather pleasant and interesting place. . .As a work of popular scholarship, though, it’s in a different league to the Scottish novelty titles that get stocked next to the bookstore tills as potential impulse purchases, those little handbooks of parliamo Caledonia and regional braggadocio, such as Weegies vs Edinbuggers.' - Allan Brown The Sunday Times, 21 September 2008

'In his book, Scotland: 1000 Things You Need to Know, Edwin celebrates all that sets us Scots as a race apart - our language, law, flora, food, and of course, our people. From our poets, architects and inventors, to our artists, entertainers and fighters. But he doesn't shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of our history. . .' - Robert Wight, Sunday Post, 14 September 2008

‘We think we know all about William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and the Union of the Crowms. However, according to Edwin Moore, author of , Scotland: 1000 Things You Need to Know, we’re still in the dark about many aspects of our history and culture. . . The Big Issue looks at 20 of the most astonishing examples of secret Scotland.’ – The Big Issue, 18-24 September 2008

'What's the connection between Homer Simpson and Larbert, and why are generations of lawyers grateful to a Paisley snail? Need to know more? Author Edwin Moore has gathered 1000 facts like these about Scotland in a quirky new book. Brian Swanson selects a few favourites. . .' - Scottish Daily Express, 13 September 2008

'The palm for Christmas-stocking books seems to have passed recently to popular science, with best selling titles every year such as Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze? This year there has been a gallant attempt at a historical fight back. Scotland: 1,000 Things You Need to Know(Atlantic Books, £12.99) asks (and answers) such post-turkey questions as ‘How many kings of Scotland died in their beds?’, ‘Who on earth decided that the Declaration of Arbroath was the cornerstone of modern democracy?’ or ‘Why is iron brew spelled Irn-Bru?’ Mark Mazower,History Today; The Best of History in 2008, December 2008


  1. A link from facebook brought me here - and there I am, in picture 21! Serendipity . . .

    It has been nice to have a wee wander through your blog, see all the familiar sights through another's eyes. Reminds me I need to go out and draw.

    One of the reasons I didn't say hello to the man photographing the steps outside my backyard was that it is not that rare an occurrence - film crews, bus loads from Japan, organised talks - used to it all, now!

    Also, please everyone donate to our Sixty Steps campaign - it is a lovely piece of building and truly unique.

  2. Hi Jane, as you say there is world-wide interest in the great man's works - except in Scotland alas.

    Thank goodness for campaigns such as yours.

  3. Find the true story here:
    North Kelvinside

    1. Thanks Anonymous for your sceptical (and minority) view as to the Sixty Steps being by Thomson.

      For an absorbing discussion of the circumstances surrounding the construction of the Sixty Steps see

      I share the view of the 'Hidden Glasgow' poster 'crusty bint' -

      'I would agree that there is nothing concrete in the online HS reports that links Thomson directly to this work, but I wouldn't take that as any sort of indication that it was not his creation. I don't find it convenient for the date of construction to be given as 1872/3 - merely a statement of fact? It makes absolute sense for the bridge and stairs to go in at the same time in order to open up the area for development - starchitecture isn't the preserve of the 21st century.

      To my eye, this work couldn't be anything other than Thomson's. The casual, yet somehow at the same time bombastic, sweep of both the retaining wall and stair are highly reminiscent of his demolished Cowcaddens Cross Building, achieving that same graceful and dramatic effect of space through the exploitation of the topography and site limits. That huge wall and stair has definite shades of Mycaenae, or even the megalithic temples of Malta. The squat columns a nod to the Etruscans, the contemporaries of the Classical Hellenic cultures.'

      For more links see the invaluable Greek Thomson Sixty Steps Preservation Trust site here

      (The short film there includes a charming clip from the 2000 movie The House of Mirth featuring the Gillian Anderson character running up the stairs.)

  4. looking at the work i would say this is thompsons work the pillars at the top give it away