A few months ago my sister sent me an article about Glenrothes that had annoyed her, so it could annoy me, too. Written by a Marianne Taylor, its central theme – that the Thatcherite policy of Right to Buy for council houses had had unintended consequences, and mainly bad ones – was actually not anything I could disagree with. Without being too political, Right to Buy released a huge amount of capital out of the public sector into private hands – many of those hands being ordinary, working class people – leaving councils unable (and, frankly, unwilling) to build more houses, and creating the social sector housing shortage we have today.
The annoying bit was the reference (twice) to ‘brutalist’ architecture, and the photos that accompanied the article. The article writer grew up in Macedonia, the precinct that was built in the mid-Sixties, which therefore suffered from that heady time’s architectural mad period when houses were built with flat roofs, as if the average Scottish winter – rain, snow, hail, moderate storm force winds, and then maybe a bit more rain – could cope with flat roofs. The photos consisted of one of Marianne outside her former family home today, a childhood photo of her in the garden, and the main feature photo – a postcard of Glenrothes from 1967, taken from the edge of the Auchmuty area, and showing the town centre in all its boxy glory, with the central image of two massive skyscrapers.
To be fair, I suspect this image wasn’t Marianne’s idea, but rather something the Herald people dug out of the archives because they couldn’t be bothered sending a photographer the forty miles to take a picture of the town as it is today: although if they had taken it of the town centre today, again to be fair, it wouldn’t be any bonnier. The two ‘skyscrapers,’ incidentally, are office blocks, one of which is now demolished. Glenrothes only ever had one multi-storey block of flats, Raeburn Heights. You’ll see it in a minute.
Now, my family have a lot of history with this place, and I could go on about that. I could equally go on at length about the history of the new town itself, the various missed steps and bits of political interference that have crippled the original vision for the place; not to mention the slings and arrows of outrageous economics that it, like the rest of Scotland, has suffered over the years.
Instead, I’ll just tell you one story my Dad (who worked at the Development Corporation, and published three books about the town) told me, and then let you judge for yourself. Like many places in Scotland, Glenrothes had a number of deck-access maisonette flats built – this time in the next precinct up from Macedonia, Tanshall. The reason they were built, my Dad said, was that the Scottish Office at the time was keen to attract a factory that made concrete panels for them to Scotland. So every new town corporation, and every town council, that wanted to borrow money that year to build housing, was told: fine, but you’ll build these maisonettes out of these concrete panels. They were a massive mistake, but again, there was a reason behind them: jobs, although in this case not even in the town itself.
I’ve already gone on longer that I mean to. It’s just that, although I have a complicated relationship with the town I grew up in, I am passionate about it and its future. So, to counteract the misleading impression the photos may have given of Glenrothes, here are some the Redoubtable Mrs F took for me last month. Note the cheeky seagull photobomb in one of the pics of Raeburn Heights!
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