A Blooming Marvellous Archaeological Dig in Glasgow’s 1988 Garden Festival site

An image of Garden Festival Logo. Credit: University of Glasgow Archives & Speci
An image of Garden Festival Logo. Credit: University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections, Glasgow Garden Festival collection, GB248 [Item No: UGD307/1/1/4].
Get ready for an expedition that’s out of this world, taking you back in time to Glasgow’s glorious Garden Festival, a seminal event in the city and Scotland’s modern history.

The After the Garden Festival archaeological team, led by University of Glasgow archaeologists, is again digging deep into the site of the iconic 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival.

Following a successful trial excavation in Spring 2022, the archaeologists are embarking on their second season to unearth the hidden remnants of this much-loved event.

In May 2022 excavation and survey in Festival Park showed that some Garden Festival features still survive, hidden beneath grass, while others survive hidden in plain sight. Excavations also found several coins that were probably thrown into Festival water features in 1988.

This time the archaeology team will be concentrating on two key Garden Festival sites - the route of the beloved mini-train line that once looped around the site, and the fascinating Antonine Gardens, a recreated Roman bathhouse in Bearsden on the northern outskirts of Glasgow.

While the team know where both were located from mapping, historical aerial photographs, photographs shared by the public and their 2022 geophysical survey, they now hope to find surviving physical evidence of the Festival.

Leading this groundbreaking project is Dr Kenny Brophy, a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, who said: "It’s incredibly exciting to return to the Glasgow Garden Festival site. Our excavations will shed light on what survives beneath the grass, and our survey work will enable us to create a digital record of the Festival’s lasting traces across the entire 120-acre site. Archaeology of recent history can help fill the gaps between memories, photos, and archives, bringing our shared past back to life."

Using cutting-edge techniques like geophysical surveys, 3D scanning, and meticulous digital mapping, the team this year aim to bring the Festival’s legacy back to life and identify other garden festival features such as the amazing waterfall, one of modern Glasgow’s greatest monuments. They will search the park’s grassy spaces for surviving traces, objects, and materials from that magical year of 1988, painting a vivid picture of this extraordinary cultural milestone.

The results of this archaeological fieldwork will be used to inform the ongoing Glasgow City Council improvements in the park, which will include providing information for the local community and visitors to the park. Beyond the park there are plans to create a digital heritage tour so visitors can do their own guided walks across the entire Festival site and bring the Festival back to life on mobiles and tablets.

From 17th-21st June, the team will be onsite carrying out their work with a team of students, volunteers and helped by school groups. Then on Saturday, 22nd June, from 10am to 2pm, the public is invited to witness the archaeological action firsthand at Festival Park. Bring your photos, memories, and Garden Festival memorabilia to share with the team and relive the magic of this iconic event.

The excavation and fieldwork are being carried out with the permission of Glasgow City Council.

With funding from the Glasgow City Heritage Trust and the University of Glasgow Archaeology Department, and support from Glasgow City Council, the After the Garden Festival... project promises a marvellous trip back in time to relive one of Scotland’s most beloved events.

The 1988 Garden Festival

The 1988 Garden Festival marked the start of the biggest change in the way Glasgow was seen - and how it saw itself - since the industrial revolution made it the ’Second City of the Empire’.

A huge civic and commercial effort, the 1988 Festival over five months from 26 April 1988 attracted 4.3 million visitors and transformed a 120-acre site on the south bank of the urban Clyde for 152 unforgettable days that summer and led the way to the city’s cultural reinvention.

After the Garden Festival project is setting out to discover what endures from that extraordinary and pivotal event. The team consists of Gordon Barr, Kenny Brophy and Lex Lamb.

You can follow the project on www.glasgowgardenfe­stival.org - which has initially served to collect details about the features of the Garden Festival. Members of the public are again invited to submit their own information and photographs via this website. They have also been carrying out archival research, and a series of interviews with a whole host of people who worked at and for the Garden Festival.

The website will act as the central hub for the archaeological efforts to rediscover and record the physical legacy of the Garden Festival.