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Pollok Free State: Archive Selections and Reflections

By Romy Galloway


In August last year I posted an article on our blog attempting to give an overview of the story of the Pollok Free State. It spoke about the protest camp and the campaigns in the 1980s and early 1990s against the M77 motorway extension through southside communities. Since the article we have received some incredible donations to the SGHET Archive to help document and illustrate this story and piece of local heritage.

Donations of newspaper clippings, grassroots zines, posters and publications give some great details and insight into the story. Media clippings show the varying ways the media portrayed the protestors and the camp and items from the camp itself, like the PFS University enrolment form, give insight into the driving forces behind the movement. The collection also shows the work involved in organising the campaign of protest and how to inform and engage individuals and communities.

Thanks to these generous donations there is a lot to be found within the archive. The selection here speaks to the legacy of the protests and the camp, and  is punctuated throughout with memories and reflections on Pollok Free State from individuals who spent time in the camp.


Protests in the Media


THE EVENING TIMES, 1994, SGHET.A2020.01.01.


A double-page spread in the Evening Times, October 1994, showing a photograph of the road construction cutting through large green fields with houses in the distance. A graphic on the left charts the route of the motorway through different communities amidst opposition, and includes an image of Arden bridge with the words “No death M-way. We don’t need” spray painted in red.

“The planned concrete will swallow up 95,000 square yards of rural land – some of it in Pollok estate. The land is recognised by Glasgow City Council as an important site of interest to nature conservation. The region can do nothing about this.”

The hotline listed also reported 68% of callers as being opposed to the road but also reported some individuals flooding the phone lines and voting repeatedly.



S.T.A.R.R, 1994-5, SGHET.A2020.01.02


This poster was created as part of the S.T.A.R.R (Stop The Ayr Road Route) campaign to inform and engage Glasgow’s southside communities in opposition of the motorway extension. Designed to be hung in windows as a show of support, one side shows an image of trees in Pollok Estate and the words NO M77 overlaid. On the other, a timeline traces the proposals for and protests against, the motorway. It starts with the gifting of the Pollok Estate to the people of Glasgow and ends with the formation of the Pollok Free State camp.

The poster also details the aims of the S.T.A.R.R group, the organisations that form it, what people could do to get involved, and upcoming events of note. The events include a family day, a big shared meal at the camp, and a public meeting in City Halls. Notably, it also declares August 20th as Pollok Free State Independence Day (by complete coincidence we were only 4 days off sharing our original blog post).


THE SCOTSMAN, 1994, SGHET.A2020.01.01


This 1994 photograph from The Scotsman shows protestors sitting with the NO M77 posters outside a council meeting. The story below reports on protestors breaking into the meeting.




The Scottish Daily Mail (March 1995) has a front-page banner dedicated to the “dramatic report and pictures.”


Researcher Dr Wallace McNeish on the legacies of Pollok Free State:

While the anti-M77 alliance was ultimately unsuccessful in achieving its aims of stopping this particular motorway from being built, it was nevertheless part of a successful UK-wide protest movement against the then Tory government’s £23bn Roads for Prosperity programme. At its height in the mid-1990s, this movement included over 300 local opposition groups, with high-profile direct-action protests taking place at Twyford Down, Wanstead, Batheaston, Newbury and Fairmile as well as the south-side of Glasgow. What protests like those centred on the Pollok Free State showed was that very different constituencies of people can be together in dialogue and united action around a common cause. In the run-up to the 1997 General Election the government was under such political pressure that it slashed its unpopular road-building programme by more than two-thirds to £6bn and abandoned the most contentious of its remaining plans.”

THE MAIL, 1995, SGHET.A2020.01.01


Photograph showing women wearing face masks and holding a hand-painted banner that reads “for our children NO M77” with the lower half of the banner obscured. The article states that the protest was part of International Women’s Day and notes that the Pollok area is above average for asthma rates in children.




Women’s Environmental Network flyer with overleaf giving information on air pollution and offering advice on how to protest and take action against air pollution.


THE DAILY RECORD, 1994, SGHET.A2020.01.01


An image in the Daily Record (1994) shows a pair of protestors passing the time with some music at the offices of a construction firm Tarmac on Nithsdale Road.


Wallace McNeish:

“Sometimes environmentalism is painted as a middle-class type of politics that is cut off from the lives of so called ‘ordinary people.’  What the Pollok protests showed was that this is far from always the case. The residents of the Free State were often locals themselves – including its founder Colin MacLeod – and it simply could not have been developed over approximately two years without support from the adjacent working-class estates. Indeed, a key legacy of the Free State is the Gal-Gael Trust which grew out of Colin and Gehan Macleod’s commitment to providing training for the unemployed in Glasgow’s south-side communities.”

“It is notable that the eco-activism of the mid-1990s around the roads issue did not tend to frame the issue in terms of climate change – instead the issues of sustainability, pollution and amenity were to the forefront. It is also the case that new non-violent direct-action tactics were pioneered by Free State activists and other anti-road protesters, and have become part and parcel of the tactical repertoire of subsequent generations of eco-activists protesting unsustainable development, like the Extinction Rebellion movement.”


Inside the Camp

POLLOK FREE STATE, 1994, SGHET.A2020.01.03.01


The Pollok Free State Passport above shows the symbol of PFS with figures in a circular emblem and details of foliage, animals, plants, and tools. In August 1994, when PFS declared independence these passports were handed out to over 1000 “citizens.”

The passport has sections inside to fill out details of passport number, Pollok name, adopted tree, and folds out into the Declaration of Independence, featuring a quote from Robert Burns’ “The Tree of Liberty.” The declaration references the history of land ownership in Scotland and outlines the need for connection to place and land for health and wellbeing.


Local protestor Helen Melone on her memories of a Free State:

“When I first visited Pollok as part of the protests, my favourite area was a patch of trees which were all cut down at the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. I’d adopted one of those trees as my own friendly tree and climbed it every time I went, even though there were a few rotten branches at the top. I’d put a rope round the trunk to help me climb it more easily.”


Above is a 3D scan of a stone carving by Colin Macleod from Pollok Free State. You can view the model in ‘matcap’ through the model inspector to see the skill of the stonework and the detail of the design. The design features Pollok Free State symbols, Earth First logos, elements referencing Native American and Aboriginal land rights, and Celtic stone carving akin to the medieval Govan school of design featuring interlace and hunter figures.



SPECTRUM, 1995, SGHET.A2020.01.01


Feature on Pollok Free State campsite in the Spectrum section of Scotland on Sunday (1995). Images show a treehouse in Pollok Free State, with windows and a tarpaulin roof, and a banner hanging from the tree reading ‘RESPECT’, and view of the camp with a fire in the centre, seats, ladders, sculptures and sun coming through the trees. The journalist recalls spending time in the camp and speaking to those involved, giving a feel of the atmosphere:

“The gain outweighs the sacrifice. It’s a community, with warmth, companionship, shared meals around the fire, the healthy tiredness of the fresh air at the end of the day, the self-esteem of doing something worthwhile […] for every set of dreadlocks, every Visigoth t-shirt or willie winkie knitted hat, there is a campaigner in a Gore-tex anorak with newsreader hair. The startling thing is how wide a cross-section – of nationality, class, subculture – the campaigners represent.”


Wallace McNeish:

“During 1995 and 1996 I was a young Glasgow University PhD student who spent considerable time researching the protests against the M77 extension as part of a wider sociology project on the then burgeoning anti-roads protest movement in the UK. The Pollok Free State was the epicentre hub that facilitated and sustained a vital alliance between young radical eco-activists and community activists from the surrounding estates of Pollok and Corkerhill. I observed as the Free State morphed from a few tents around a campfire into a fortified encampment with outposts along the M77 route during its protest-action phase, to eventually become a colourful education oriented eco-hamlet with a wood-workshop, large central tree-house, public artworks, gardens, paths, and even a compost-toilet. My daughter Catriona was only a toddler at the time, and I remember her joy at the totem poles, walkways, and colourful spectacle of this ‘dear green place’ in the woods. Most of all though I remember the warmth and helpfulness of the people involved.”


POLLOK FREE STATE, 1994-6, SGHET.A2020.01.03.02


Pollok Free State University enrolment form. Describes some of the activities at the camp that would have involved workshops and talks. The curriculum includes social history, living skills and creativity.


EARTH FIRST, 1995, SGHET.A2020.01.02


Postcard references the Criminal Justice Bill. Overleaf is handwritten note that reads “Hi Bigs, Got your call, hope to see you soon. I am going to Pollok this weekend. Tell Robo I miss him very much!!! Lots of love and peace, your big pal Big Ben”. The protests at Pollok Free State were also tied into protesting the Criminal Justice Act as it was passed in part to quell public gatherings and could be used to disband and remove the camp.


Helen Melone :

“I did spend a few overnights in tree houses and I’ve never been so cold in my life. My own flat in the West End was pretty poverty-stricken as well (no hot water and only a gas heater to stay warm) but it was better than staying in the camp. I remember having good conversations with Walter Morrison and he was the one who explained it best – how whole communities, like Corkerhill, were going to be cut off from each other by a huge, big road and cut off from their green spaces too. It was hard to imagine this, as plans and drawings didn’t quite convey the enormity of it all.”




Photo in Scotland on Sunday (February 1995), of carhenge stunt, showing upended and burnt out car, spray painted with NO M77, dug into the construction landscape for the motorway. The article details attempts by campaigners to drum up support, and quotes a conversation with a local woman and her children protesting in the camp.


Helen Melone:

“I remember there being a good balance of people from the local area at various points. I would meet interesting women who had different experiences of activism than me – I made some friends I’m still in touch with today many years later! The poverty-stricken flat I shared with my pal Iain hosted a load of people from Manchester Earth First, who came along to show their support and offered to help out – this was also the same night where a few of us stayed up all night making banners out of hospital sheets (saying No M77) with the intent of hanging them from the Finnieston crane the next day. All the people I met, whether fun, interesting or dangerous were worth getting to know, and all brought something different to my life.”


EARTH FIRST, 1994-6, SGHET.A2020.01.02


Earth First! “Busted in defence of mother earth?” leaflet giving advice on what to do if arrested during a protest. Offers contacts for legal support, and gives advice on rights if stopped, detained, or arrested.

The collection also holds a selection of documents from the Earth First offices (not pictured) that give great insight into the practicalities of organising the campaign of opposition to the M77, such as a booklet on how to liaise with the media, so how to contact news desks and journalists, and the importance of making sure your version of events reaches audiences. It also included different iterations of “the phone tree”’ a handwritten document with a changing series of numbers to call when security arrived at the camp, so that they could get people down to the camp to oppose eviction attempts or tree cuttings.


Helen Melone :

“I remember the day of 14th February (Valentine’s Day Massacre) where they activated the phone tree early – might have been as early as 5am, saying the diggers were coming into the camp. I don’t remember exactly how I got there from the West End, bus maybe – but I remember running through the back woods trying to get there faster, amid the awful sound of trees groaning as they were cut down (I still remember that to this day – a horrible groaning noise that could be heard from far away). When I got to the camp, all the trees on the other side of the wood (including my friendly tree) were all down and it was a mess over there – looked like a wasteland.”



Image in Scotland on Sunday (1995) of construction workers with chainsaws. Caption reads: “Chainsaw massacre…In the face of mounting protests the company is considering bypassing the gathering of tree houses, teepees and totem poles known as the Pollok Free State.”


Legacy and Changing Relationships with Green Space


THE EVENING TIMES, 1995, SGHET.A2020.01.01


This photograph of a protestor dressed as death holding sign that says M77 pollution kills, is featured in an article in The Evening Times (March 1995) written by the Secretary at the north Pollok community council. They write about the adverse effects on the low health of the disadvantaged areas involved and about media attempts to smear the camp as outsiders and rent-a-mob.


Helen Melone :

“I think perhaps people took their outdoor space for granted, until recently with COVID-19 and lots of lockdowns, people are really discovering their local areas and valuing them much more. I think Pollok Park is different from many other parks in Glasgow because it’s a country park and it really does feel that you are away from the city and the traffic when you’re in it.

I remember one night at the camp, there was a party on, and I walked along the pre-road surface right to the river Cart and I sat down at the edge of the bank for hours. It felt like a different planet.

Now, my favourite part of the park is Rhododendron Walk and the continuation Lime Avenue over the hill down towards Pollok House. If you go in May, the rhododendrons are flowering and they’re so beautiful and colourful. So my first connection with Pollok Park was a feeling of having something wild, feeling like it belongs to me and the second time it gave me the feeling of being away from the city.

While we didn’t stop the road, it showed what we can do when we work together. It also shows what power the press has (which we were speaking to as much as we could) so there’s many skills I have from that campaign – working with people who could be really difficult to engage with, and it was really difficult to get consensus and agreement on things. It felt like one of those forming experiences you have in your life – it might not be pleasant, there’s good and there’s bad but you come away from it and know that something has fundamentally changed in you.”


UNKNOWN, 1995, SGHET.A2020.01.01


This photograph shows protestors on the Finnieston crane and the title accompanying it reads “I’ll go back to the peace camps!” – Stewart’s promise after an incident where the councillor brandished an axe at protestors in the camp. (Unknown paper or date).


We would like to extend a massive thank you for the generous donations from the people from the Earth First Glasgow offices and Helen Melone, for holding on to such a fascinating treasure trove of documents and cuttings over the years. And to Wallace McNeish for sharing documents and experiences from his research at the time. The protests and campaigns from Pollok Free State continue to have a legacy of community and commitment to your local environment and its people.

Keep an eye out for the next post in this series with Pollok Artists in Residence Hannah Brackston and Dan Sambo, who will share how they are drawing upon this piece of local heritage in workshops with young people in Pollok.

We are working to digitise aspects of our archive and create an online platform to browse the SGHET collections. In the meantime, if you would like to view any of the collection, for research or personal interests, or if you would like to donate anything, please do get in touch.

If this has brought up any memories of the time for you, we would love to hear from you, get in touch at info@sghet.com or via Facebook or Twitter.


By Romy Galloway

SGHET Board Member


Read the previous article: Pollok Free State and its Legacy


2 replies added

  1. Darren November 4, 2021 Reply

    Brilliant bit of social history and brings back memories of the90’s. I was lucky to get to know some of the protesters in the aftermath

  2. Andy February 3, 2024 Reply

    I drove one of the cars that ended up in the henge, in a convoy from England. Spent spent a few days there. Wonderful people and crazy times.

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