Gowan, James (1 of 10) National Life Story Collection: Architects' Lives
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2012-06-20, 2012-09-18, 2012-12-05, 2013-10-22, 2013-11-12, 2013-12-04
Interviewee's home, London
Gowan, James, 1923-2015 (speaker, male)
Dillon, Niamh (speaker, female)
Part 1: Track One [01:34:00] [Session One: 20th June 2012] James Gowan [JG] born in Glasgow in 1923. He was the older of two boys. [00:01:38] His maternal family worked in shipbuilding. His paternal grandparents were involved in the meat trade in Paisley. He lived with his paternal grandparents after his parents’ separation. [00:05:46] JG had little contact with his father, who was set up in a butcher’s business by his family but spent most of his life as a professional gambler. [00:07:53] JG had very little contact with him throughout his life – his brother ran into him in Glasgow as an adult [00:10:31] JG says that he was never able to ask his grandparents’ about his father – how they were unforthcoming. Mentions his father’s large family, and the aunt who brought him up. [00:13:54] Describes in detail the main living room that was adorned with African animals shot by his uncle who served in East Africa; [00:17:54] mentions paintings of Highland cattle on the wall. It had an HMV gramophone. [00:20:43] Talks about his uncle in East Africa and his character, mentions another Uncle Alex who died of cancer. [00:22:10] JG helped look after him in his illness. Mentions his grandmother’s excellent cooking. [00:24:03] JG talks about being good at looking after sick people but ‘not being a saint about it’. Talks about looking after his brother when he had diphtheria as a child. [00:27:58] JG talks about his attitude to serious illness – serious illness in his childhood. [00:31:02] Prevalence of syphilis in the early years of the century. [00:33:31] Describes his grandparents’ house in which he grew up – talks about the plan of Glasgow mansion blocks. [00:38:03] Describes the kitchen: his grandmother’s jams and jellies. Mentions how the household tasks were divided amongst the female relatives. Mentions his roguish uncle Claude who was quite fun – [00:41:54] describes mealtimes - talks about his aunt who never married. [00:44:30] Briefly describes his father. JG hobbies and interests: crystal radio sets, walking and making maps, talks about an uncle who helped him with maths homework. [00:48:22] Describes the neigbhourhood and neighbouring houses. [SOME NOISE FROM TRAFFIC AND FIRE ENGINES]. [00:52:10] Describes where the house was situated in Glasgow, it was in Partick Hill. [00:56:53] Visiting the shipyards on the Clyde with his mother, his uncle was a pattern maker/cutter at the shipyards – talks about the noise – riveting the metal panels – likens it to a Stanley Spencer painting. [01:02:29] Remembers the surge of people leaving at lunchtime. [01:04:03] Comments that he didn’t have a sense of London, his world was in Glasgow – he moved in with his mother aged 14-16 in Pollockshields, mentions the Rennie MacIntosh buildings in Pollockshields, and the St. Vincent Street Church. [01:07:26] Anecdote about seeing the interior with Gavin Stamp many years later. Mentions the Glasgow Corporation removing the acanthus leaves on the exterior as they were falling apart. [01:10:07] Role of religion when he was growing up: attending Sunday school and Boy Scouts. Playing golf with his friend. [01:16:18] Remembers the sight of the foundries against the night sky. Poverty in Glasgow in the 1930s. [01:20:21] Reflects on how this affected his view of housing when he became an architect – mentions James Stirling wasn’t really interesting in housing, preferring public buildings, JG reflects on architecture and social housing – how it is important not to become too pompous and to concentrate on building well rather than social good. [01:24:13] His reaction to seeing people living in the Glasgow slums – the importance of shipbuilding to the area. Discusses his wife’s left-wing politics and how they were informed by her upbringing in London. [01:27:] His wife’s view of knighthoods’ and how she told JG she didn’t want him to accept one. [01:30:28] JG talks about his grandfather and how he lost a lot of money in the financial slump of the 1920s.