“Rarely has there been a more unlikely setting for cutting-edge architecture…” wrote Rowan Moore in a 2017 article for the Guardian.
Moore was writing about architect Peter Womersley, one of the best British architects of the 20th century, and his profound influence on architecture in Galashiels and across the Scottish Borders.
English-born Womersley, who settled in Gattonside, studied architecture at the Bauhaus-influenced Architectural Association in London after being called up for service in World War Two. He was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1952.
His first commission was to build a house, Farnley Hey, for his brother near Huddersfield.
It was this house – which won a Royal Institute of British Architect (RIBA) medal in 1958 – that inspired Bernat Klein and his wife to commission Womersley to design their own home, High Sunderland, and later Klein’s acclaimed studio.
While Womersley’s work can be seen across the Borders in Gattonside (his former home and studio, The Rig), Melrose (Boiler House), Kelso (Edenside Group Practice Surgery and Caretaker’s House) and Newtown St Boswells (Scottish Borders Council headquarters), one of his best-known works is the highly distinctive, late Modernist football stand he designed for Gala Fairydean (now Gala Fairydean Rovers) at Netherdale, Galashiels, in 1963.
The A-listed stand, which comprises 4 V-sectioned vertical fins supporting the wedge-shaped stand and cantilevered canopy, turnstiles to either end with inverted pyramidal canopies and accommodation and bar at ground level, was officially opened in a glamourous ‘friendly’ match between Gala Fairydean and East Fife on 21 November 1964 and now attracts visitors from across the country.
“Saturday was a joy day for Gala Fairydean Football Club,” reported the Border Telegraph at the time; “for it marked the completion of several years of hard work in raising funds for the erection of a new grandstand at Netherdale…
“The stand was officially opened by Mr A. Wilson Strachan, chairman of Heart of Midlothian F.C and treasurer of the Scottish Football Association who was introduced by Mr T. Adams, chairman of Gala Fairydean F.C.”
The match resulted in a famous 4-2 victory for the Fairydean.
The Netherdale stand, a “geometrical composition of unusual interest and subtlety” according to Architecture Today in 1965, has been described as many things – its brutality is both loved and loathed – but it remains an outstanding work of Late Modernist Formalism in Scotland.
“It’s fair to say that Gala Fairydean Rovers is not one of the glamour clubs of British football,” wrote Moore in his piece for the Guardian. “To its possibly bemused pride, however, the club has a grandstand, a miraculous work of concrete origami, which for force of constructional imagination and for architectural intelligence per cubic metre is hard to beat. While its levitating prisms anticipate by decades the work of Zaha Hadid, it has a taut to-the-point-ness that has never been bettered.”
In addition to the Gala Fairydean Rovers stand, Womersely was also responsible for the design of the town’s Church Square flats (on the site of the Old Parish Church) and the Camerons Architects offices in Wilderhaugh, Galashiels, where founder Duncan Cameron had, for a time, worked directly with Womersley.
“His buildings are adventurous but poised,” wrote Moore; “lucid, brave in conception and considered in their detail. He knew how to be elegant in a classical modern way but also how to play with a mannerism – a strange window rhythm, an imbalance in the structure, a stretched proportion, an ambiguous material – so as to achieve a greater composure than if he had played only by the rules.”
Galashiels, and the wider Scottish Borders, was fortunate to have been touched by his often brutalist, but mostly mesmerising, modernist style.