Orkney Street Police Station gets make over

19 Sep 2008

by Iain Lundy, Evening Times

It is said to have held Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess for questioning after he crash-landed in Scotland on his so-called "peace mission" from Nazi Germany.

Thousands of Glasgow's criminal fraternity - including gangland killer Jimmy Boyle - enjoyed the "hospitality" of the cells at Govan's old Orkney Street Police Station.

Even footballer Frank McAvennie once found himself locked up in the grim Victorian cells.

Orkney Street police station is part of the cultural and social heart of Old Govan which is now being retained.

Designed by the eminent Glasgow architect John Burnet in 1866, officers from the station had to deal with two Ibrox Stadium disasters, in 1902 and 1971.

The term "black maria" - used for a police van - is said to have originated there.

It is said that a local woman known as Black Mary because of her poor hygiene used to hijack the "drunks barrow" - used for carting drunks to the station.

The station is one of a number of buildings which inspire affection among Govanites which are being brought back into use after lying empty.

The 19th century Pierce Institute has already been brought back into use as a community building and office accommodation.

Over the years graffiti artists proudly scrawled their names and gang affiliations on the walls of the cells.

Now, as Orkney Street gets a £3.5million facelift, the cells and their grisly slogans are being preserved as a part of Glasgow's tough sub-culture.

The 36 cells, spread over three floors, are being converted into office accommodation for small and fledgling businesses.

Historic Scotland, which is helping pay for the renovation, insisted that reminders of the B' Listed building's past remain.

So far, they haven't found any graffiti saying R Hess Woz Here'.

The story goes that after the leading Nazi's plane crashed on Eaglesham Moor, he was locked up in Orkney Street.

Hess was supposed to have been heading for a meeting with the Duke of Hamilton in a bid to bring an end to the Second World War.

But whether he spent time in Govan or not has been the subject of debate. It is known he was interrogated at Maryhill Barracks and other parts of the country.

Slogans scrawled on the cell walls include gang names like Bundy, Cumbie, IBT (Ibrox Tongs) and CYT (Castlemilk Young Team).

There are references to Glasgow's sectarian divide with IRA and UVF slogans.

One prisoner, obviously a Clash fan, scribbled "I fought the law and the law won" on his cell wall.

While another, obviously more educated, old lag wrote "Nil Satis Nisi Optimum" - Latin for "nothing but the best is good enough" - the motto of Everton FC.

It is hoped the building's new occupants will move in at the beginning of next year.

Built in the 1860s, the building served as Govan Burgh Hall as well as the police and fire stations before closing 10 years ago.

It even contained a first floor billiards room used by fire officers.

But it was best known as the police HQ for Govan.

Its latest incarnation sees it being transformed into offices and meeting rooms for social enterprises and community advice agencies.

The cell block - which was used in a documentary about the hit film The Shawshank Redemption - will be used as "incubator units" for small businesses.

Glasgow South West Regeneration Agency is heading the project as part of its Central Govan Action Plan.

The agency's deputy chief executive Tommy Docherty said the work would return an important historic building to public use.

He added: "We want to preserve the important traditions both of Govan and of this building but equally to bring it back to serve Govan and the community.

"It is ironic that the "young team" in Govan could soon be honing their business skills in a place like this.

"The fact the offices will be housed in old police cells seems to have gone down particularly well and hasn't put anyone off - quite the opposite."

He said Historic Scotland had insisted that one cell on the top floor is to stay exactly as it is, like a museum piece.

The others will be used but will keep all the original features including the 19th century decor and tiling.

He added: "The place has been cleaned up but people will be able to look at it and get a feel for what the place was used for, who was in there and the things they did."

Pauline Megson, Historic Scotland Inspector of Historic Buildings, said: "Orkney Street is a striking building with unique features.

"Only a short time ago it was on the Buildings at Risk register and before that it was a place that most of its inhabitants tried to avoid.

"The preservation trust set out to retain much of the original character, incorporating the railings and cell doors alongside the modern re-use.

"Now it can again play a role in its community and I am sure its new tenants will look more fondly on than its previous occupants."

It is expected that the building will be ready for use as office accommodation at the beginning of next year.

Reproduced with the permission of The Evening Times (Glasgow) © Newsquest (Herald & Times) Ltd.

  • Orkney Street Police Station