A place that brings the past to life;Arts in Scotland

10th April 1998 at 01:00
Deedee Cuddihy visits the newly renovated People's Palace of Glasgow

Glasgow's newly refurbished People's Palace should prove a boon to schools working on the history, language and people of the fourth largest city in Britain. Approximately pound;1.2 million has been spent on the 18-month make-over of the imposing local history museum on Glasgow Green, opened 100 years ago to meet the cultural needs of the city's working people.

The top floor of the museum was redesigned a few years ago. Now the rest of the building has undergone radical treatment, with floors stripped out, partitions removed and walls and ceilings given a sparkling new finish. The ground and first floors are now modern, light and airy - and filled with attractive, carefully thought out displays covering the past 200 years of the city's history.

The ground floor gives an easy introduction to Glasgow and its diverse population.

A user-friendly computer program provides access to more than 50 real Glaswegians, including a prostitute, a devout Muslim and a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, talking about themselves in a series of brief "snapshots". Visitors can learn Glasgow "patter" in an easy computer quiz that takes place in a Partick "steamie" and invites the user to guess the meaning of words like laldy, loupin and lumber.

You can sit in a booth rescued from an old Glasgow cafe and hear what life was like for the Italian immigrant family who ran it. Framed photographs of Glaswegians from all parts adorn one wall, while a robust display in polished steel follows the path of the River Clyde as it winds its way through the city, passing models of such landmarks as Parkhead and Ibrox stadiums, Glasgow University, the School of Art, the cathedral and Finnieston crane.

Religion is here, of course. Among the icons are a large statue of St Patrick, a portrait of Pastor Jack Glass and a banner of King Billie on a horse.

A visit to the new look People's Palace is meant to stimulate, and it's not hard to imagine the excitement when children catch a glimpse of some of the new displays on the first floor. These deal with nine separate themes, including Crime and Punishment, Doon the Watter, The Bevvy and Dancing at the Barrowland - where they released balloons from the ceiling so the punters would burst them instead of hitting each other.

A particularly imaginative section on the home front during the Second World War features a real Anderson shelter with sandbags stacked up outside and seats built on the inside, so visitors can experience for themselves something of what an air raid might have been like - complete with warning and all-clear sirens.

In another seated area you can hear samples of such Glasgow comedians as Billy Connolly and Dorothy Paul. And a genuine wooden bench from a paddle steamer has been placed on a recreated boat deck - featuring railings, painted view and the sounds of seagulls - to simulate that vintage Doon the Watter atmosphere.

Every theme on the first floor features objects from the museum's own collections, most with a set built around them. All the objects are backed up by easily digested printed information as well as audio andor video information.

So in Crime and Punishment, for instance, the door from Duke Street prison has been incorporated into a cell-like room where you can watch a six-minute film about crime in the city, with contributions from convicted criminals and the former death cell guard at Barlinnie.There are also police truncheons and handcuffs, prison clothes made for babies in jail with their mums and a chilling list of the 67 men and women hanged on Glasgow Green (and what crimes they were hanged for) between 1842 and 1865 - all of it backed up with printed information. The printed information, which always includes quotes from real people, mostly appears in informal poster-style rather than the conventional, formal black print on white cards.

The exhibition space has been laid out in such a way that people concentrating on a particular theme cannot easily stray into another area, which should make the business of breaking classes up into separate groups less difficult.

Speaking just before the official re-opening of the People's Palace earlier this month, museums spokesman Mark O'Neill said: "The new displays on the ground and first floors are more child-friendly than the top floor which was redesigned in the first phase of the make-over programme. Due to the much greater number of objects on display there and complexity of subjects dealt with, it is more geared to the older visitor."

An education room, where schools can hang their coats, eat lunch and carry out simple project work, will be opened by September. Glasgow Museums' education officer, Jem Fraser, says: "The new displays are ideal for the 5-14 environmental and Glasgow studies. For the younger ones there are puppets, dressing up clothes and a special Glasgow patter jigsaw puzzle. We've also produced an educational comic book for the new exhibition, called Gallus, which tells the story of Gran's Glasgow."

For further information and bookings, contact the museums' education officer on 0141 287 2747

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