The Riverside is what used to be – and still is - Scotland’s transport museum, housed since 2011 on the north bank of the Clyde in Glasgow. Riverside – see? It's called branding. Now, as my reader knows, I have never lied (my reader is a gullible chap), but this place didn’t totally grab me. It’s not as though it doesn’t have any decent exhibits, because it has hundreds – indeed, thousands. Nor is it that the displays aren’t any good – because many of them are really excellent. It’s not even the fact that I could not spot any discernable logic to the cluttered layout – the fabulous Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery, just down the road, bizarrely mixes Spitfires with stuffed animals and Salvador Dali - and it works. No, for some reason I can’t put my finger on, I just didn’t get the Riverside Museum. But everyone else raves about it and it’s won awards and so on, including European Museum of the Year in 2013.
So, no one’s suggesting you shouldn’t go, because you really should. It’s just not a place I plan to revisit very soon.
There was not enough space to show as many exhibits at the museum’s old home, which was opposite Kelvingrove Art Gallery. The new museum cost £74 million, almost 30% of which came from Britain’s Heritage Lottery Fund (‘HLF’, if you’re in the know). The building, a glass and steel thing, is constructed on the site of a former shipyard. But the location is great, the SV Glenlee is moored outside (well worth a tour) and, once you’ve got over the feeling that you’re treading on part of Britain’s lost industry, the views can only get better. I’m not sure the interior will stand the test of time – the décor is a fairly awful combination of pastel shades that, somehow, diminish some of the splendid objects on display.
And there is certainly an eclectic mix. A 1980s Ford Granada of the Strathclyde Police Force rubs shoulders with a Highland Railway Goods Class locomotive, built in 1894 by Sharp Stewart & Co at Springburn, and a colourful Pakistani-inspired piece of truck art. The loco apparently appeared in the 1965 film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines – though, between the two of us, I can’t see how it would get off the ground. There are some wonderful historic trams – clearly items of genuine nostalgic value for Glaswegians, judging by some of the comments I overheard. There is an excellent reproduction of a Victorian/Edwardian street, using many original objects – though not quite as good as the one at York Castle Museum. I was particularly intrigued by the preserved tube (subway) carriage – richly fitted out – and the ‘No Spitting’ sign. Of all the personal habits that are best carried out away from public gaze, I wonder why they focussed on, or stopped short at, spitting. Could this instruction be conveyed to certain footballers, do you think? Would they understand it?
And then there’s the car wall. Now, one thing that is indisputably superb about the Riverside Museum is that you can get up close and personal with many of the exhibits. This is not some stuffy old place where everything is behind glass – though some things of necessity are, like the cakes in the café. But there is a fabulous collection of classic cars mounted – admittedly rather impressively – on a wall, where you can only see or appreciate them en masse. They have stuck bicycles and motorcycles up in the air/on walls too, presumably because they don’t have room to show them otherwise. Bikes, motorised or otherwise, all look pretty much the same to me, but some of the cars were like old friends I couldn’t greet appropriately. So that was disappointing; I still have bad dreams about it.
On a closing note, like a whole raft of Glasgow’s museums, entry to The Riverside is free. Visit the Riverside’s web pages at Glasgow Life, part of Glasgow City Council.