Interior Ground Floor
Interior Upper Floor
Interview with Mr Nigel Kennedy
(Grandson of Alexander Kennedy, the original owner of the Botanic Gardens Garage) by Sam Maddra on 31/08/2007
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 –
SM: And what was his business?
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.
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,
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…
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?
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.
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?
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
…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…
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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
SM: And what would you like to see happen to the building? Do you have an opinion on that?
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