Glasgow’s 1988 ‘Garden Festival’ rediscovered

The festival welcomed some 4.3 million visitors over 152 days, and featured themed gardens, performances, a replica Roman bathhouse, and the much-loved ‘Coca-Cola’ roller coaster.

Archaeologists investigating the Glasgow Garden Festival, which transformed the city’s declining dockyard area into a green space full of exciting attractions over the summer of 1988, have uncovered traces of the event in a public park.

IMAGE: Kenny Brophy.

The festival, which contributed to the evolution of Glasgow’s post-industrial identity, was held across a 120-acre site on the south bank of the Clyde. It welcomed some 4.3 million visitors over 152 days, and featured themed gardens, performances, artworks, a replica Roman bathhouse, a miniature railway, the much-loved ‘Coca-Cola’ roller coaster, and much more besides.

The former site has since been redeveloped, but some landscaping and water features can still be seen in Festival Park, where archaeologists have recently completed a series of small-scale surveys and excavations, carried out as part of a collaboration between the ‘After the Garden Festival…’ project and the University of Glasgow, and supported by the Glasgow City Heritage Trust.

These investigations, led by Dr Kenny Brophy, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the university, included a plane table survey of the Festival’s waterfall and excavation of the connected lake (above). The latter revealed the lake’s underlay, the horizons of decorative pebbles, and seven small-denomination coins, as well as pieces of blue and white ceramic, which may have come from a tiled area or mural, Kenny said.

Geophysical survey of the park’s green spaces, moreover, detected a linear anomaly on the route of the mini railway, and a larger anomaly at the site of the replica bathhouse. No trace of the festival’s lakeside restaurant or mini-distillery were found, however, which confirms that the event hosted some very temporary structures, many of which were later repurposed, Kenny said.

‘After the Garden Festival…’ – a collaboration between Kenny, Gordon Barr (Project Partner), and Lex Lamb (the Project Lead) – is now trying to track down any surviving structural features from the Festival. ‘We’ve got a database of about 250 things on our website [], which we’re asking the public to contribute images of – either in situ at the Glasgow Festival or where they are now,’ Kenny said. (The team has recently been informed of the survival of the festival’s Japanese pagoda, now in a garden centre in Falkirk.)