IT HAS been an ingenious engineering project, the gateway to a fascinating part of Glasgow’s past and a reminder of the city’s Garden Festival almost 30 years ago.

Now the South Rotunda on the banks of the Clyde has a new role – and it’s one you can see for yourselves thanks to an innovative fundraising project.

The landmark building, recently brought back to life by marine engineering form Malin Group, is holding behind the scenes tours in aid of EMP (Ethiopia Medical Project), run by former Scotswoman of the Year finalists Jo Middlemiss and Maureen Burnett.

It’s a chance to see the way the 150-year-old building, which was once the southern entrance to three tunnels under the River Clyde, has been sensitively restored.

“We are absolutely delighted to have been given the opportunity to run these tours,” says Jo. “Our fundraising and support has been successful in helping us to build a brand new clinic for the women and children of Buccama, vastly improving their health. Now we want to keep supporting that community and this is a really interesting and enjoyable way to encourage people to help out.”

Architects GD Lodge worked with Malin to turn the industrial building into office space, following in the footsteps of Simpson & Wilson Engineers who originally built both South and North Rotundas on either side of the river in 1895.

Blue Badge Scottish tourist guide Ann Stewart, who will be running the tours on June 17 and 18, says the project was not the only tunnel-building one on the go at the time.

“I think the Glaswegians were fascinated by tunnels – around this time, a network of tunnels under Glasgow Central Station was also being constructed,” she explains.

“Before I became a tour guide I was a geography teacher and in the 70s, I took a group of pupils on a field trip into the rotunda and through the tunnels,” she says.

“I recall them being very eerie and damp. My husband used to use them every day to get to work – he’d get a bus to Govan and walk through the tunnels to his work in what is now Skypark in Finnieston.”

The rotundas were a triumph of Victorian entrepreneurial spirit and technical achievement when they were constructed.

Glasgow now had the country’s first Otis hydraulic elevators and shipyard workers could traverse the river between Cessnock and Queens Docks faster than ever, without getting in the way of river traffic.

The rotundas – made of brick with a slate and glass dome crowned with a glass cupola on top - were built originally to shelter lifting machinery at the tunnel entrances. Horse drawn vehicles and people entered through five cast iron Corinthian columns supporting wrought iron girders over the entrance gates and descended to the tunnels below.

After the rise in popularity of ferries, the tunnels closed down. In 1907, the Glasgow Harbour Tunnel Company folded and the Glasgow Corporation eventually took the decision to stop vehicles from using the tunnels in 1940.

By 1943 the lift machinery was dismantled and the vehicle tunnels sealed. The pedestrian tunnel remained until the 1980s and now, it’s just a water main that crosses the river under the watery depths.

In 1988, the Glasgow Garden Festival breathed new life into the buildings – the South Rotunda was reinvented as the Dome of Discovery for the Glasgow Garden Festival and the North Rotunda became a restaurant and casino, which still operates today.

The South Rotunda, on what was once the less fashionable side of the river, was placed on the Buildings at Risk Register and it was only when the forward-thinking marine engineers at Malin came along that it seemed this once mighty building would get a new lease of life.

The tours take place on June 17 and 18. The Saturday tours are already sold out but this morning, EMP are releasing five extra tickets per tour, which take place at 10am, 11am, 12 noon, 2pm and 3pm. There are still tickets available for the Sunday tours, which take place at 10am, 11am and 12 noon.

Please note, there is no access to the tunnels.

Tickets are £11.15 from Eventbrite – or via the EMP Facebook and website pages. Find out more at