Glasgow archaeologists dig for lost treasures from 1988 garden party | Glasgow

How is it that a working railway, an entire rotunda, or even a ten-foot-tall working sculpture of a floating faucet is lost? For five months in the spring and summer of 1988, both had a home on Glasgow’s riverside alongside hundreds of other rides, attractions and exhibitions as part of the city’s garden festival. But then, in the mists of time, they disappeared.

Now, a high-profile online project and archaeological dig beginning this weekend is set to attempt to uncover the whereabouts of these long-lost objects.

Certain roller coasters, installations and works of art are remembered by many Glaswegians with nostalgia. Memories of that summer prompted Lex Lamb, from nearby Greenock, to begin the arduous process of tracking and documenting the festival’s ins and outs.

His website “After the Garden Festival…” already lists more than 270 objects and 180 images as well as information that comes from the public and archive research.

A mother and child sit on the saucer of a giant cup sculpture, with a giant teapot in the background – one of hundreds of attractions at the festival.
A giant teapot and a giant cup were among the hundreds of attractions at the festival. Photo: Picture Scotland/Alamy

Archaeologists from the University of Glasgow, with support from the Glasgow City Heritage Trust, have now started excavating at the site.

“The scope of archeology is not defined by a past time span, but by a set of techniques,” explains Dr. Kenny Brophy, University Archeology Lecturer and Prospector. “Memories fade and written records are often incomplete, so archeology of the recent past is a great way to complete our understanding of why things happened the way they did, or to document things that were simply never documented. “

The garden festival, held at the disused Govan dockyards on the south bank of the River Clyde, symbolized Glasgow’s transformation from a post-industrial city synonymous with poverty and crime to a global cultural hub. Opened by Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the 120-acre site has attracted millions of visitors from Scotland and beyond. Two years later, in 1990, Glasgow was named European Capital of Culture.

“The festival, along with other major events, has given Glasgow international prominence,” says Thierry Lye, Chair of the New Glasgow Society, set up to raise the city’s profile and protect its heritage. “This project will not only bring nostalgia to visitors; It is a reminder to future generations and new Glasgowians that Glasgow is an ambitious city with pride.”

Claire Duffy, now 42 and still based in Glasgow, vividly recalls attending the festival several times, traveling with school and the Brownies and with her family. “It was probably Glasgow’s greatest summer ever,” she laughs. “We had never seen anything like it: roller coasters, fairground rides, strange sculptures everywhere you look. The whole town was there and everyone was laughing and joking.”

Crowds around a tram at the Glasgow Garden Festival greet Princess Diana in blue on the upper deck.
Crowds greet Princess Diana in blue on a tram at the festival. Photo Credit: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

Perhaps what most visitors remember most clearly is the centerpiece of the festival, the Coca-Cola roller coaster, which still operates at Pleasurewood Hills theme park in Suffolk. Other attractions have also been spotted: a sculpture of a floating head by artist Richard Groom was found abandoned in an Ayrshire shipyard last year, while the Clydesdale Bank Tower now stands on the Rhyl coast in North Wales. But many remain missing or are the subject of “red herring” sightings – a floating faucet spotted in a Cairngorms park, for example excluded of the project as the festival’s missing sculpture.

The archaeological team has its sights set on more modest discoveries, uncovering building materials, coins and the festival’s ground cover sheeting on site during the first few days.

“This isn’t Stonehenge and these aren’t treasures in the traditional sense,” says Brophy. “But even the smallest discovery in archeology can make a direct connection to a person’s past actions, and that connection can be magical.”

For Lex Lamb: “I bought and ate a bratwurst at a festival stand, which felt like a very continental and sophisticated thing in Glasgow in 1988,” he recalls. “I’d love to see one of those iconic bratwurst tins emerge from the mud.”

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