The valley of the glasshouses
From Hot Houses to Garden Centres
- Shona MacLean, CAVLP Heritage 'Capturing the Past' Volunteer, January 2017
The Clyde and Avon Valley was once littered with glasshouses (also known as ‘hot houses’ by those that had to work in them). They were used for the growing of soft fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Glasshouses were also found along the banks of the Nethan and the Mouse Waters.
Glasshouses first appeared in Lanarkshire around the early 1900s, when growers considered growing other produce and fruits. This was partly due to disease wiping out most of the outdoor strawberry crops in the lower fields of the valleys and cheaper imported orchard fruits affecting sales. Growers looked to new methods of growing.
Birdseye view of Kirkfieldbank including glasshouses, postcard
The new method of growing under glass allowed growing to continue throughout the year and produce would be protected from the Scottish weather. Glasshouses were heated by a network of pipes from coal, and later, oil fired boilers.
Glasshouses were used to grow various crops, including although not exclusively: tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, mushrooms, leeks and cut flowers. The Clyde Valley was famous for ‘Clydeside Tomatoes’, which were sought up and down the country due to their distinct aroma and flavour.
The impact of the foreign imports in the early 1900s, the rising cost of fuel in the 1970s, along with increasing competition from Europe, saw the demise of the growing of soft fruit and vegetables in glasshouses in Lanarkshire. The use of glasshouses has changed considerably in the last century, from growing fruit and veg, to the 21st century garden centres, cafes and nurseries we see today.
Four locations where glasshouses once stood were surveyed as part of the Capturing the Past project in 2016, by kind permission of the land owners. Sites surveyed included: Stanhope at Hazelbank Braes; Arthur’s Craig, Hazelbank; The Lye, Underbank, Crossford; and lastly the largest of the sites surveyed was at ground on the banks of the River Clyde below Underbank, Crossford. At the time of writing, the site is being cleared and built upon to provide a new school for the village.
Out of all the sites surveyed, the site on the banks of the River Clyde below Underbank, Crossford, was the only one to have had glasshouses remaining. The others had only the remnants of the brickwork bases which the glass sat upon or remnants of the boiler house chimneys. This brickwork provides evidence that a structure had previously been there. Maps accessed on the National Library of Scotland website also detail the extent and the previous existence of glasshouses in the valley.
These four sites were archaeologically surveyed in the summer of 2016 by volunteers of Clyde and Avon Valleys Partnership, with guidance by Northlight Heritage. Copies of the complete report will be available later in 2017. Surveying of the sites at Underbank were carried out by A Alder and S MacLean (CAVLP Volunteers).
This museum item was created by CAVLP Volunteer S Maclean, as part of the ‘Capturing the Past’ project, recording the growing heritage, working lives and dedication of families in the Clyde valley over the centuries. Also, as a tribute to three men who I witnessed tending their tomatoes and vegetable crops in the glasshouses that are no more; Andrew Walker (The Lye), Jim Morton and Ian Smith (Underbank).
The project was managed by Northlight Heritage and supported by Historic Environment Scotland and Heritage Lottery Fund supported Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Project.
Watch the Clyde Valley Orchards feature on BBC Countryfile below.