Glasgow archaeologists dig for lost treasures from 1988 Garden Festival | Glasgow

How does a working train track, an entire roundhouse or even a functional three-meter-tall sculpture of a floating faucet manage to disappear? For five months in the spring and summer of 1988, everyone enjoyed a Glasgow riverside home alongside hundreds of other rides, attractions and exhibits, as part of the city’s garden festival. But then, in the mists of time, they disappeared.

Now, a publicly appealing online project and an archaeological dig, which begins this weekend, will attempt to uncover the whereabouts of these long-lost artifacts.

Many Glasgow residents fondly remember specific roller coasters, installations and works of art. Memories of that summer led Lex Lamb, from nearby Greenock, to begin the arduous process of tracing and documenting the characteristics of the festival.

Its website, “After the Garden Festival…”, already lists more than 270 objects and 180 images, as well as information from public crowdsourcing and archival research.

A giant teapot and cup were among the hundreds of festival attractions. Photograph: Image Scotland/Alamy

Meanwhile, archaeologists from the University of Glasgow, with support from the Glasgow City Heritage Trust, began digging at the site.

“The scope of archeology is not defined by an elapsed period of time but rather by a set of techniques,” says Dr. Kenny Brophy, senior lecturer in archeology at the university and head of the excavations. “Memories fade and written records are often incomplete, so an archeology of the recent past is a great way to supplement our understanding of why things happened the way they did, or to document things that don’t. ‘have simply never been documented.”

Taking place at the disused Govan Dockyards on the south bank of the River Clyde, the Garden Festival was seen as a symbol of Glasgow’s transformation from a post-industrial city synonymous with poverty and crime into a global cultural center . The 120-acre site was opened by Prince Charles and Princess Diana and has attracted millions of visitors from Scotland and beyond. Two years later, in 1990, Glasgow was named European City of Culture.

“The festival, alongside other major events, has propelled Glasgow internationally,” says Thierry Lye, president of the New Glasgow Society, which exists to raise the city’s profile and protect its heritage. “This project will not only bring nostalgia to people who have visited; it is a reminder to future generations and new residents of Glasgow that Glasgow is a proudly ambitious city.

Claire Duffy, now 42 and still living in Glasgow, remembers vividly visiting the festival on several occasions, on trips with the school and the Brownies and alongside her family. “It was probably the best summer in Glasgow,” she laughs. “We had never seen anything like it: roller coasters, rides, bizarre sculptures everywhere you looked. The whole town was there and everyone was laughing and joking.

Crowds around a tram at the Glasgow Garden Festival, waving to Princess Diana, in blue, on the upper deck.
Crowds wave to Princess Diana, in blue, on a tram at the festival. Photography: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

The centerpiece of the festival is probably the festival centrepiece, the Coca-Cola roller coaster, which is still in operation at Pleasurewood Hills theme park in Suffolk. Other attractions have also been spotted: a sculpture of a floating head by artist Richard Groom was found abandoned in an Ayrshire shipyard last year, while the Clydesdale Bank Tower now stands on the Rhyl seafront in North Wales. But many are still missing or subject to ‘red herring’ sightings – a floating tap spotted in a Cairngorms park, for example, was excluded by the project as the missing sculpture of the festival.

The archaeological team is aiming for smaller finds, uncovering from the earliest days on-site building materials, coins and the membrane covering the festival.

“It’s not Stonehenge and it’s not treasure in the traditional sense,” Brophy says. “But even the smallest of archaeological finds can generate a direct link to a person’s actions in the past and that link can be magical.”

For Lex Lamb, “I bought and ate a bratwurst at a festival stall, which felt like a very continental, fancy thing to do in 1988 Glasgow,” he recalls. “I would love to see one of those symbolic bratwurst platters emerge from the mud.”

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