Glasgow, Locomotives, and Empire


Glasgow may be most famous for its shipyards and the contribution she made to international shipping and the admiralty; but Glasgow should also be recognised as being home to Britain’s first works which built locomotives, carriages, and wagons at the same site. Cowlairs Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Works was built in 1841 for the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, and was named after local mansion house, Cowlairs. It was located near to Springburn, on the western side of the Glasgow-Edinburgh mainline at Carlisle Street. The land that was purchased for the works was largely unsuitable for purpose, due to its position at the head of a steep tunnel. However it was the only land available at the time, as local canal companies who owned most of the land in this area refused to sell, as they (quite rightly) perceived the introduction of rail as a serious threat to their carriage of goods businesses.

In 1844, William Paton produced the 0-6-0 ‘Hercules’, number 21; and the ‘Samson’, numbered 22. These 2 engines, used for banking, were considered the most powerful locomotives of the day; and indeed, they caused significant damage to the tracks, and to the tunnel whilst in use. In 1865, Cowlairs was taken over by the North British Railways (NBR), who ran it until 1923 when the NBR was amalgamated with the London and North Eastern Railways (LNER).

In the time that it was operational, the Cowlairs works produced many of the locomotives which were sent to different countries of the British Empire, such as India, Pakistan, Kenya and South Africa. Indeed by 1923, a total of 850 locomotives had been built on the 167 acre site. The Cowlairs’ contribution to Empire in this regard was significant, and perhaps goes further to validate the well-known Glaswegian accolades: “the Second City of Empire,” and “Workshop of the World.” This contribution is recognised in the latest art work to be added to Bellahouston Park. The Elephant for Glasgow by Kenny Hunter reflects the connection between Glasgow and Empire. It reflects the reach of Glaswegian effort and productivity around the world. It reflects movement, and progress.

The Elephant is the result of a long modelling and casting process. Work began in 2014 to coincide with the Commonwealth Games, commemorating the special bond that Glasgow held with many nations of Empire, and latterly, Commonwealth. The process began with a small clay maquette.  This was followed by a 3D printed model of the Elephant, allowing the sculptor and his team to accurately scale it up and create 2D sections. These sections were used to accurately plot the shape of the Elephant’s armature in 6mm steel bars; around which a solid, life size cast could be sculpted, using chicken wire and clay. The next stage was to create a plaster cast. To do this, plaster was applied directly onto the clay in sections – 36 in total. Each contained a fibreglass layer for strength, and was treated with resin. This was the cast that was dispatched from House for an Art Lover, and sent to Powderhall Bronze works in Edinburgh to prepare the mould.

The prepared mould was then sent to the Weir Group foundry in Todmorden, where the final cast was produced. The iron used was sourced from Glasgow built locomotives that had been exported to Empire, and had since been decommissioned. Twelve tonnes of locomotive metal was melted down, and poured into the prepared cast in under 2 minutes. It was then left to cool for 15 days before it could be removed and sent to the foundry’s fettling department to smooth the edges.

The Elephant, now installed in Bellahouston Park, reflects the industrious heritage of Glasgow and the bond that the city shares with other nations of Empire. She stands on the site of the 1938 Empire Exhibition – reinforcing the connections between Scotland, Empire and industry. A celebration of hard work, progressive technology, and continuity.

Below, sculptor Kenny Hunter standing beside the Elephant for Glasgow in her final resting place, Bellahouston Park.