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Guard at the top   of the gap

Gercine Carter

Guard at the top    of the gap

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MID-AFTERNOON on a weekday. A lone woman walks along Strathclyde Drive, heading towards Peterkin Road, as vehicle after vehicle overtakes her, the constant rumble of traffic disturbing the seeming quiet of this suburban residential neighbourhood.
It is a picture that belies tradition and tells the story of a modern Strathclyde: a far cry from what was created by James Murphy more than a century ago.
Gone is the exclusivity, along with the iron chains and concrete barriers, the feared watchman and other images associated with yesterday when white faces were the norm, and black feet trod cautiously on the sidewalk, not daring to cross the barriers erected to keep out “undesirables”.
Now, few of the original families remain, and the majority of present residents can only recall stories told to them of a once racially segregated Strathclyde.
The Broodhagens – the late artist Karl and his family – have lived in Strathclyde for over 30 years. They moved there from Black Rock when the complexion of the district was already changing.
Though Mrs Broodhagen admits never having experienced racism as a resident, memories of the negatives of a bygone era are still fresh in her mind.
Vividly she recalls the time when as a youngwoman living in Black Rock “we could not come straight down here from Peterkin. We walked up Jubilee Gap [Eagle Hall], down Peterkin, came straight away through” and headed to the dressmaker’s house on Bank Hall road.
“You could not go straight down there (through to Strathclyde). There was a guard at the gap. If you came from Barbarees Hill side, there was a man there too.”
“The only people who could come in were the servants. Six o’clock in the morning they came in and when seven and nine o’clock at night, they were going home”.
On the other hand, Richard Carter, chairman of Carter and Company, talks of a Strathclyde boyhood with bicycles, scooters and exploding bombs from the rival boys of Fontabelle, on Guy Fawkes night.
Now retired and long since residing elsewhere, Carter recalls life in the “village” – his early years growing up there with parents Joy and Percy Carter at “Strathaven”, a house on an avenue in the heart of Strathclyde. He talks animatedly about a well appointed place with avenues lined with towering palms.
“It was like a village, very much like Fontabelle in that we all grew up together. There were at least one or two families that if we were not in our own house we were in theirs. We played tennis on two grass courts there.”
The home of the Kidneys – Harold and Edith and their daughters – was a favourite haunt of neighbourhood boys like Richard, and he rolls off family names like Parkinson, Corbin and Guy, and some others from among whom came his playmates.
But even back then, there were doors shut to Strathclyde residents themselves.
As Richard relates, “also in Strathclyde were a lot of the Closed Brethren. They could not play with us, we could not go into their house, they could not talk to us”.
Many of those Closed Brethren families have long since moved out, though a few still remain, as well as the offspring of other original Strathclyde families, like Alistair Edghill, who still lives at the house where he was born.
In an interview a few years ago, Edghill observed, “It was a completely different way of life to what it is today. It was owned by white people in those days.”
At that time he noted: “Times have changed. There are a lot more coloured people living there now.” He also voiced support for the idea of a watchman guarding Strathclyde in those early days, remarking: “If you didn’t belong in the area, he (the watchman) would turn you back. He had every right to do that. It was a private village; it was owned by us.”
But for current residents like Charlie Pilgrim, Strathclyde was simply a desirable place to live when property came on the market. He bought a house there and moved in over 30 years ago. Along with his brother Paul, and other black families like the Pollards, and Indian families like the Boohlas, who also moved into Strathclyde, these residents brought about a change in the racial balance.
In addition, the area could no longer remain a private village as public funds became necessary for road repair and other public services. As Government funds went in and the physical barriers were removed, people from surrounding neighbourhoods, hitherto barred from entering Strathclyde, walked through freely.
Today, though certain covenants remain, businesses are slowly creeping in. A school and doctors’ and lawyers’ offices are now being housed within the walls of the still impressive architectural structures that were once homes of the “haves”. The elite Strathclyde has simply become a relatively quiet residential thoroughfare.