East of the M60’s 2021 Advent Calendar looks at a town 4,580 miles away from Caracas
Halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow is the New Town of Cumbernauld. Compared with many New Towns, never mind traditional town centres, its Civic Centre looks a bit like something from a Sci-Fi film.
The Sci-Fi schtick is more to do with two schools of thought. One is the Bauhaus architecture movement, of interlinked buildings with traffic free links from one place to another. Another one is Colin Buchanan’s Traffic In Towns report. This proposed segregating cars and pedestrians from street level. Often with elevated walkways, dual carriageways and expressways, and subways.
Cumbernauld ticks all three of these boxes, contemporaneous with late-1960s town planning ideas. It is possible (whether in complete safety or not is debatable) to get from one part of the town’s districts to the shopping centre without having to cross the road at street level.
There was two films that sold this utopia: one is Cumbernauld: Town For Tomorrow, behind today’s Advent Calendar door. In this 1970 film, narrated by soon-to-be Mastermind quizmaster Magnus Magnusson, it looks at how much of the town’s personality is due to its early arrivals. Mainly Glaswegians wanting a clean break from the urbanity of 1960s Glasgow, whilst being close to the city for occasional excursions.
The other film is Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl. As well as capturing adolescence in the early 1980s, it showed Cumbernauld off in a good light. The precinct, the cleanliness of the houses, and the traffic free roads. As in 1970, the focal point of the covered precinct in 1981 had Glaswegian connections: the clock from St. Enoch’s station. A precinct stands on the site of the Glasgow terminus, though St. Enoch station is survived in subterranean form on the Subway.
Nearly 30 years on from Gregory’s Girl, it came second in a ‘Top 50’ countdown of Crap Towns, that was committed to print in 2003. It said how the town’s ASDA store was the closest it had to a night club.
Behind tomorrow’s Advent Calendar door, we shall be taking a trip to the merchant city. The one time Second City of the British Empire. Stay tuned for further announcements.
S.V., 06 December 2021.
Image by Ross Watson, 2013 (Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0).