Save The Botanic Gardens Garage



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Interview with Mr Nigel Kennedy
(Grandson of Alexander Kennedy, the original owner of the Botanic Gardens Garage) by Sam Maddra on 31/08/2007

NK: I was very surprised to learn from you that all the permissions were in the name of my Grandmother [Annie Kennedy], because my Grandfather was a pretty tough cookie and he certainly wasn’t female dominated, so there must have been a legal or financial reason for doing so.

SM: What was your Grandfather’s name –

NK: Alexander.

SM: And what was his business?

NK: Two businesses really, or quite a few business to be honest.  He was Chairman of whatever company owned the Grovesnor Hotel, which is now the Hilton.  We also had a laundry and dry cleaning business, which is still in existence, but now merged with another company.  It was called Castlebank Laundry, Alexander Kennedy and Sons Ltd.  It was founded in 1878.  That was our main business. 

My grandfather had four sons and three daughters, I think.  One son was killed in a destroyer in the 1914-18 war.  Then there was a son who my grandfather didn’t greatly approve of and he didn’t let him attend any of the other company business, which was in the hands of my father [Ernest] and my uncle [also Alexander].  This other son, Jimmy, was reckoned to be a bit ‘harem scarem’ and the garage was built for him.  To keep him out of the way of the main businesses, see. 

In fact we had three garages at some time during the 1920s or so around Glasgow.  One was called the City Garage and is still in New City Road, it’s an outdoor clothing warehouse now, and the other was over in Dennistoun.  I was interested to hear you say that street parking was illegal [as] I know that in the sort of the 1940s/50s/60s perhaps, my father used to be annoyed at the amount cars that were parked on the street.  Thought they should have been in his garage you see.  The renegade son, Jimmy, went to Canada and was farming there.  We ran the business in a pretty unexciting way I think until my father and uncle sold it to Arnold Clark in the middle Sixties…

[Arnold Clark said to NK at a cocktail party once] “Oh your father must have been a clever man, that’s the only property on my business, in my books, which is still valued at the price I paid for it.”

My mother and father in later years lived out at Killern, and my mother used to come in and park her car in the Botanic Gardens Garage and take a taxi into town to the automobile club.  So, my mother was with my father when he was doing whatever handover he did with Arnold Clark and my mother made some aside to my father - sort of “well I won’t be parking here again.”  And Arnold Clark picked it up and said “what was that Mrs Kennedy?”  And my mother explained, and he said “Well Mrs Kennedy you feel free to do it any time from now on, you won’t be charged and they will look after your car.”  Which was very decent of them because it was a working garage doing what I’m not quite sure, really…  But it was an extremely gentlemanly way that he dealt with that – I think that’s quite good…

SM: When the garage started was its primary purpose for garaging? Or was there a workshop for repairs as well?

NK:  Its primary purpose undoubtedly was parking, and repairs probably developed as an adjunct to it.  But at that time almost all the customers were professional drivers, chauffeurs.  I suppose anybody who had enough money for a motorcar had a chauffeur as well.  I am sure he was the one who got his hands dirty. 

When they built the garage my grandfather – who I said was a tough cookie – asked my father what he thought about access to the top floor.  In fact the garage we had in New City Road, which may have actually been after this I’m not sure, had a great big lift up to the upper floor.  My father thought about it and he came back and said to my grandfather: “I think we should just use a simple ramp.”  And of course as you will know the ramp [up to the first floor] is fairly steep, [while] the ramp down to the lower floor is gentle, and my grandfather, according to my father, said: “Well I think that is a stupid idea, but we will just do it that way and you will see.”  And it became a plus feature because we are talking 1911/1912, and although it may have been difficult to climb, it was a smasher for starting your car in the morning, once they had managed to chuff their way or manhandle the car to the top of the ramp, and it became the sought after floor.   And of course when they came back in the evening warm, there was no problem about getting up the ramp. 

SM: Do you know if the people who wanted to use the garage space would rent it on an annual basis, how did it work?

NK: I don’t know that, but I would think so.  And I’m almost sure – in fact you’ve been in downstairs – it is probably not the same nowadays – downstairs, and maybe upstairs, I don’t know, they had cages for the cars… So you rented your own lock up space really.  That is my recollection that you rented your property on a long-term contract.   Your lock up – so the car was under your own lock and key.  My recollection is that that was on the ground floor, whether the upper floor was similar I don’t know, probably was, but I don’t know.

…We had a manager for a very long time, his name was Hosey, surname was Hosey(?).  He was rather a gentlemanly sort of man.  Bear in mind that the garage trade was in the hands of motor mechanics who became managerial, and wide boys who were horse traders really, who then moved into car sales…  That was the heritage of the garage trade: blacksmiths who became motor mechanics, who became wealthier and more managerial, and wide boys who were horse traders.  Mr Hosey, who tended to be slightly – you know what I mean – gloves and things, during the war he must have been a bachelor as he lived on the premises.  When you go in the door on the ground floor there is quite a big area, or there was an office and so on, front office and managers office and so on, and Mr Hosey lived there ostensibly I think to look after the place [during the war], very economical, very cheap.  I don’t know when he started with us, but he was with us for very many years.

I don’t think we ran it with any aggressive car sales.  I’m sure we didn’t, and it was very much a sideline to the laundry business, which was quite a big business.  I think it probably washed its face and that’s about all.  I don’t think it was developed though to any great potential. The City Garage in town was run a little bit more… aggressive is perhaps not the right word, but more realistically, and they did quite a bit of mechanicing, which probably I would say the Botanic Gardens Garage would just do mechanical jobs for people who were already customers…

SM: I guess post WW2 is when on street parking was relaxed, so I can see why by the time we get to the 60s its not going to be so viable.

NK:  Yes, I think that’s correct.  As I said my father always hated to see all these cars parked on the street, you know, disapprovingly.  In an enclosed space was probably better, … because nobody had a private garage.

SM:  The other thing is, is that it is real cutting edge design,

NK: Yes it is.

SM: It says something for the architect David Wyllie and also for your family to commission something like that.

NK:  My father always said it was the first purpose built garage in Glasgow, or maybe the second, but early … and I remember the ones that were in Byres Road where Safeway and the rest are now – was it Henderson’s the name, I’m really not sure, but they were stables converted to garages. And this [the BGG] never was.

SM: This was different.

NK: My recollection of it, as I say I don’t know when I was last in the building, I mean I didn’t have any great interest in the whole thing and I think there was quite a lot of pillars in the ground floor and I seem to remember that there were a lot of little arches in the ceiling, Am I right? [SM: Yes.]  That would be, would have been, well advanced. What they were not advanced enough to do was to use great big steel beams and not use the pillars in the place, which is not a good idea from the point of view of cars.  But again they were all professional drivers in there and they would take a pride in their cars and miss things. 

SM: And can you remember being in the garage as a child?

NK:  Oh yes.  That’s why I recollected the cages and also the pillars and so on, certainly I was always interested in cars from a very early age and so you wouldn’t keep me out of any garage buildings that we owned.

SM:  And what would you like to see happen to the building?  Do you have an opinion on that?

NK: I must admit when I first heard that they were going to do something with it I thought: ”So be it.  It’s served its purpose.”  Which is probably wicked of me.  I pass it three times a week going to the Western Baths and its always quite nice to know its there and to know something about its history, but I didn’t sort of burst with pride every time I passed it, thinking my grandfather built that.  Although I find it quite … people know that my grandfather built it and I must have at some stage have said, “Of course my grandfather built that or had it built.”  So, I think I have a slight sentimental attachment, not the attachment you people have about the architecture and so on. 

And of course its quite an interesting point when you say it was the first one, well I knew it was the first purpose designed one, certainly in the Westend, and you made the point that it was the first multi-storey parking garage – it never occurred to me that you could call it that.  So on balance I would quite like it to be saved, even the façade saved.  There’s no point in trying to save it as a [repairs] garage.  If it’s not viable, it’s not viable.  If it were viable as a garage then Arnold Clark would be keeping it. 
[But]  I would be quite willing to pay a fair amount of money for privilege of being able to park there....

© 2007, Save the Botanic Gardens Garage