HOW many inner-city neighbourhoods have their own golf course? Dennistoun may be only a hop and a jump from Glasgow city centre but you can indeed play a pleasant nine holes there (and it’ll only cost you £7.50).
You can do and see much more besides, of course, in this vibrant, historic and ever-changing district in the city’s east end.
Dennistoun’s population has always been diverse, as the grand villas, tenements and social housing highlights. Duke Street, the main thoroughfare, was once was one of the busiest shopping streets in the city, complete with an upmarket milliners’ and ladies’ outfitters.
Reflective of the city as a whole, it’s fair to say the area has had its economic and social ups and downs. But in recent years its popularity and buzz has returned, making it a magnet for artists and creatives from all over the world.
What keeps the place grounded, however, is the community pride, activism and DIY spirit that still shines through. How to describe Dennistoun in one word? Gallus.
The neighbourhood was named after wealthy merchant James Dennistoun, who built a house there in 1814. His son, Alexander, bought more land over the coming years, and eventually some 200 acres was purchased for development into an elegant suburb aimed at the wealthy middle classes. Alexandra Park was also developed in the mid-nineteenth century as part of this masterplan. By the 1870s, competition from the west and south of the city meant remaining land was given over to tenements, which attracted less wealthy and working class residents and migrants from Ireland, Italy and eastern Europe.
Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show – which included Annie Oakley of Annie Get Your Gun fame and a troupe of Lakota Sioux Indians – spent three months in Dennistoun in 1891-92, creating a celebrity sensation that attracted tens of thousands of visitors. A statue was erected in Whitehill Street in 2006 to commemorate the show.
Over the years, big employers in the area have included the Bellgrove Meat Market (and later abattoir), Wills cigarette factory, Wellpark Brewery and British Bakeries. Duke Street had its own hospital and prison. From the 1930s it attracted courting couples and keen dancers from all over the city and beyond to the legendary Dennistoun Palais – the “Denny Pally” – which closed its doors in 1962.
In the 1970s, the community in Reidvale Street all but invented the housing association movement when it bought and renovated rundown tenement properties planned for demolition, turning them into comfortable homes. More than 40 year later Reidvale Housing Association is still run by local people and remains at the forefront of community development in Glasgow, building, upgrading and managing housing and other social facilities in Dennistoun.
Famous faces include Lulu, who grew up on Garfield Street, and Townhead-born Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who lived in Firpark Terrace. Comedians Dorothy Paul, Jimmy Logan, Rikki Fulton and Ford Kiernan are all from Dennistoun, while Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos wrote much of the band’s multi-million selling debut album in his flat there.
These days Dennistoun is home to nationalities, ethnicities and cultures from across the globe, and largely retains its working class soul.
What to do
In my definition of Dennistoun, I’m stretching the boundaries slightly and including the area from behind the Royal Infirmary, down through Ladywell and into Reidvale, to the south of Duke Street.
With this in mind, I’d recommend starting your visit at the Necropolis (entered from Castle Street), the extraordinary 37-acre Victorian cemetery that is still something of a hidden gem, despite the fact it rivals the likes of Pere Lachaise in Paris and London’s Highgate Cemetery in scale and beauty.
Set in lovely, peaceful, well-kept grounds, it’s always a fascinating experience to walk amid the tombs, mausoleums and headstones remembering the city’s dead, not least because the memorials reflect the wider economic, social and patriarchal history of the city. The monuments also reflect, of course, the city’s rich artistic and cultural legacy, with designs by the likes of Alexander “Greek” Thomson, David Hamilton and the young Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Meanwhile, the views from the top of the Necropolis, across the Cathedral and the Royal Infirmary, right across the south side and beyond, are simply magnificent. And don’t be surprised if you bump into a roe deer.
From there, walk down John Knox Street, one of the oldest in the city, and you’ll come to the iconic brewery in Wellpark, now owned by Tennent’s, where brewing is believed to have begun in 1556. Even if you’re not big a lager fan, a visit to the heritage centre and tour of the operation is interesting, fun and not to be missed. And yes, it includes a free pint.
Pop across the road to visit the ancient Lady Well, an ancient spring that would once have lain outside the city walls. The current wellhead was built in 1835.
Continuing on to Duke Street, take a left at Annfield Place, then go up Westercraigs and round Circus Place, admiring the elegant terraces, town houses and garden squares.
Keep walking up to Alexandra Parade, Dennistoun’s other famous thoroughfare, and home to Alexandra Park. As well as the aforementioned golf course, you’ll find beautifully laid out gardens, trails and picnic areas, a duck pond and the 40-foot Saracen Fountain. From the highest point in the park you can see Ben Lomond and the Tinto Hills.
These days Dennistoun is a great place to take in contemporary art. The Market Gallery on Duke Street has rolling exhibitions, while Wasps, the huge art deco studio complex and arts hub on Hanson Street (formerly Wills), hosts regular exhibitions and makers events. There are small galleries and DIY exhibition spaces dotted throughout the east end of Glasgow.
Where to eat
Dennistoun is home to two of the best-known Italian eateries in Glasgow, both family-owned. Celinos, on Alexandra Parade, is arguably the best deli in the city as well as a top-quality restaurant. It’s hard to imagine you’ll ever eat a more delicious Parmigiana di Melanzane.
Coia’s Cafe, on Duke Street, has been an east end institution since 1928. It still serves some of the best ice cream in the city, tasty pasta dishes and the tastiest full Scottish on the block.
If it’s brunch you’re after, McCune Smith, Tibo and Tapa all deliver, while the latter also sells home-baked organic bread and a wide range of coffee. All three have an impressive selection of sweet treats, too.
Bilson Eleven on Annfield Place is gaining a city-wide reputation for elegant modern Scottish fayre, while the nearby Nakodar Grill specialises in sizzling Tandoori dishes.
Back on Duke Street, for a top burger or rack of ribs, Dennistoun Bar-B-que is the place to go. For a fish supper, try Claudios.
Stan’s Studio, on Alexandra Park Street, operates on a “pay what you want” principle, and offers good coffee and home-baking in an arty space.
Drygate, next to the Tennent’s Brewery, serves excellent pizza, steaks and fish, all washed down with its own internationally renowned craft beers, in a setting that’s straight out of Berlin.
Where to stay
Historic: Just a 10-minute walk from Duke Street, overlooking Glasgow Cathedral and St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life, the Cathedral House Hotel is comfortable, affordable and central. Rooms from £80.
Paradise view: A mile or so further east from Dennistoun, the luxurious Superb Sleep Apartments sit just 500 metres from Celtic Park. Sleeps four. From £90.
Home from home: Airbnb lists an array of rooms and flats in Dennistoun, including Alan’s, a top-floor two-bedroom tenement with stylish interiors from £59 per night.
What to do nearby
Glasgow Women’s Library, the UK’s only museum and archive dedicated to the lives and experience of women, is a warm and welcoming hub just a 15-minute walk from Duke Street.
Twenty minutes away on foot, the People’s Palace holds a special place in the hearts of east end people, not least because it tells their story through a host of favourite objects, photographs and displays.
In the forthcoming weeks I’ll be visiting Queensferry, Gourock and Leven. Send your hints and tips to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org