The fantastical Christian Institute building looms over 1970s Bothwell Street looking like the fever dream of a Bavarian prince. The building was conceived when, in 1873, a committee was formed with the intention of providing an institute for the Young Men’s Christian Association and “other bodies of religious character”. The group raised £28,000 and land was purchased on Bothwell Street. Architect John McLeod designed the original building in the German Renaissance style and it was constructed in 1879. It was opened in October of that year by Lord Shaftsbury. It featured statues of John Knox and William Tyndale above the doors, and above the windows on the second floor were medallion busts of Martin Luther and other reformers.
In 1895 a design was chosen by competition for the addition of two new wings to the building. These were constructed in 1896 for a staggering £115,000, financed largely by Rutherglen chemical magnate and philanthropist John White (Lord Overtoun). Architects Clark and Bell and R.A. Bryden followed the style of the original building but with soaring asymmetrical towers at each corner. The end result was a sprawling Gothic Revival pile that filled an entire city block. The east wing housed a bible training institute with 100 bedrooms for male students and 50 for female students. There were also separate dining, sitting and writing rooms as well as separate libraries. The west wing housed a restaurant, sitting, drawing and smoking rooms as well as 195 beds for the YMCA.
By the 1960s the Institute was struggling to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the building and it was in need of internal modernisation. It suffered from an awkward layout that meant windows and floors were often at different levels. The decision was taken in 1974 to retain the east wing containing the Bible Training Institute owned by the Glasgow Evangelistic Association and sell off the rest for redevelopment. This fell through due to the planning authority’s insistence that any new development should match the part being retained; a near-impossibility given the extravagance of the original. Sadly, the decision was taken to demolish the entire building and in 1980 Glasgow’s giant Bavarian cake topper was razed to the ground. It may have been architecturally incoherent and over the top, but it had plenty of charm. In its place is a modern glass and granite office block by Holmes Partnership with Newman Levinson and Partners, a building so bland that you might not even notice it’s there.
Also visible in these photos is the Scottish Legal Life Assurance building at 95 Bothwell Street. That’s a story for another post, but it’s worth pointing out that those massive golden clocks at each corner that look like they’ve always been there, were in fact added as recently as 1995.
It’s debatable whether we’d even recognise the modern photos above as St Enoch Square were it not for James Miller’s quirky 1896 Flemish Renaissance ticket office. This iconic little turreted building originally served as both a booking office and the headquarters of the original Glasgow District Subway Railway Company. Following the subway system’s modernisation between 1977 and 1980 it became a travel information centre run by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport. It’s now a branch of Caffe Nero.
The square is named after St Teneu (or Thenew) of which “Enoch” is a corruption. She was a 6th century Britonnic princess of the ancient kingdom of Gododdin (modern day Lothian) and St Enoch Square was the site of a medieval chapel built on or near her final resting place. She is the mother of St Kentigern who you may know better as St Mungo, traditionally regarded as the father of the city of Glasgow.
The area was planned in 1768 by Glasgow Corporation as a select residential square, but by 1775 the only houses built were those adjacent to Argyle Street. In 1780 the Corporation provided a church although there are conflicting sources suggesting two different architects. James Paterson is credited with its design by the late Professor Charles Gourlay, an architect and academic, while multiple sources cite David Jaffray as the architect, going all the way back to 1816’s “Annals of Glasgow” by James Cleland. I’m inclined to believe the earlier source. In 1791 what would become the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow moved into number 49, the Surgeons Hall which would later be demolished to make way for St Enoch station. The church was replaced by a larger one designed by David Hamilton in 1827 which incorporated the steeple of the earlier structure. Sadly, Hamilton’s church would last less than a hundred years before being demolished in 1926 after the congregation moved to St Enoch’s Hogganfield.
On the east side of the square stood the impressive St Enoch Hotel, and behind that, St Enoch Station. The hotel and the architectural aspects of the station were by Thomas Wilson, a church architect from Hampstead, and the works were superintended by Miles S. Gibson. Construction started on the station in 1870, and the hotel in 1875. St Enoch station received its first passenger service on 1st May 1876 which preceded the official opening on 17th October 1876 while the hotel opened to the public on 3rd July 1879. The station was large with 12 platforms and two semi-cylindrical glass and iron train sheds modeled after London’s St Pancras station. In 1966 St Enoch station closed its doors for the final time after it fell victim to the infamous Beeching cuts which were implemented in an attempt to rationalise the rail network. By the time of its closure it was handling 250 trains and 23,000 passengers per day, all of which were subsequently diverted to Glasgow Central.
For the next decade, the old station would serve as nothing more than a car park while the hotel slid into decline before closing in 1974. The article above records the subsequent stripping and dispersal of the hotel’s assets. The station clock is currently housed in the Antonine Centre in Cumbernauld and featured prominently in the film “Gregory’s Girl”. In 1976 the roofs of the old station were removed and by 1977 the site had been sold to the Scottish Development Agency which claimed it was required for a new office development housing Ministry of Defence civil servants. Both buildings were reduced to rubble in 1977 but the civil servants never materialised. The decision not to preserve the hotel was met with anger and protest with one resident writing in a local paper “One wonders when the orgy of destruction of all that is architecturally noble and attractive in Glasgow is going to stop”.
The destruction of the hotel and station left an ugly gouge in the city centre that would remain for a decade as the St Enoch shopping centre emerged from the rubble, finally opening in 1988 after a 7 year construction. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there’s a Jenny for every Jock, but there can’t be many who see this tented steel and glass monster by Reiach & Hall with Gollins Melvin Ward Partnership, as any sort of improvement. It’s not all bad though. The west side of the square retains many fine buildings, including James Boucher’s magnificent Teacher building at number 14. Built in 1875 it was commissioned by whisky baron William Teacher and right up until 1991 it was the firm’s headquarters. The Institution of Engineering and Technology then moved in and in 1995 it became the Scottish Engineering Centre, receiving a sympathetic makeover that transformed it into a meeting and events venue while retaining original features and tokens of the building’s history. The west side of the square is completed by a row of handsome late c19th and early c20th office buildings.
Like so much of Glasgow’s lost architecture, St Enoch Square is very much a case of what might have been. In 2018 it’s easy to imagine an elegant civic space featuring Hamilton’s church and Wilson’s grand hotel, restored, repurposed and appreciated once again. So next time you walk past that wee castle in the middle of the square, take a good look at it and be grateful for small mercies.
Footnote: There are several photos in this post that I couldn’t conclusively attribute to an individual. If you recognise any of them as your own please get in touch and I’ll be happy to provide a photo credit and link. What I do know is that the series of photos taken in the late 1970s shortly before the station and hotel were demolished is by Stuart Neville. Stuart very kindly gave me permission to reproduce his stunning photos here. There are many other great shots of the derelict hotel and station as well as a treasure trove of other Glasgow photography over on his Flickr page.
Photo (C1202): Sourced from Virtual Mitchell and reproduced with the kind permission of Glasgow City Archives.
The former Royal Exchange looks stunning against a blue winter sky as it rises majestically over the surrounding square. Back in 1906 Baron Carlo Marochetti’s equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington hadn’t yet acquired his familiar headgear. It’s a building on a monumental scale that almost fills Royal Exchange Square. But this wasn’t always the case. It’s now familiar to Glaswegians as the Gallery of Modern Art, but it started off as a tobacco merchant’s mansion when it was built between 1778 and 1780. William Cunninghame of Lainshaw was already a wealthy man before he made an even greater fortune by stockpiling cheap tobacco shortly before the American War of Independence. He speculated that a long war in the colonies would disrupt supply chains, resulting in a tobacco shortage. He was proved right and, having bought at 3 pence per pound, sold his stock for 3 shillings and sixpence per pound. Little comfort for the slaves who picked his crop and gave their lives in the process.
His original house of 1780 is in the middle section of the Royal Exchange, between David Hamilton’s later additions to the front and rear. Once you see that the building is really in three distinct sections you won’t be able to unsee it. Cunninghame died in 1799 and in 1817 the house was acquired by the Royal Bank of Scotland to become their first branch outside of Edinburgh. In 1827 the Royal Bank sold the building to the city so that it could be converted into a new mercantile exchange. This work was completed in 1829 to plans by David Hamilton. Hamilton encased the original house on both sides, with its two stories and attic articulated by giant pilasters. To the front he added a double depth portico of fluted Corinthian columns topped by a circular tempietto. To the rear he added a newsroom, considered to be Glasgow’s most magnificent early c19th interior. This addition was always lower than the original house, although the pilasters continue. However, the ground floor windows are arched while the first floor is half a storey with square ones. The exterior is completed by a free-standing colonnade of fluted columns on either side. The Royal Bank of Scotland built new premises facing their former home in 1834, a building that now houses Zizzi restaurant at the front, and All Saints facing onto Buchanan Street.
Glasgow’s first telephone exchange opened here in 1880 and, ironically, it was the increasing use of telephones and other long distance communication methods that made a physical exchange increasingly unnecessary. In 1949 the Royal Exchange was acquired by Glasgow Corporation and in 1954 Stirling’s Library was relocated here from Miller Street. The library moved back to Miller Street in 1994 so the building could be converted to house the city’s modern art collection. Stirling’s Library finally returned to the Gallery of Modern Art and is now The Library at GoMA.
Photo (C1761): Sourced from Virtual Mitchell and reproduced with the kind permission of Glasgow City Archives.
This 18th century tobacco merchant’s villa had recently had that ugly mansard roof added when this photograph was taken in 1909. Built by wright John Craig in 1775, it formed one of a row of free-standing villas at the south end of Miller Street. It was sold in 1782 to tobacco importer Robert Findlay of Easterhill. The house is a modest Palladian mansion which echos the much larger homes built by the city’s tobacco lords around the Merchant City. There are hints to Glasgow’s shameful colonial past dotted around the city. Jamaica and Virginia Streets are named after the territories where wealthy men monopolised the tobacco and sugar trades, often with brutal consequences for the slaves pressed into hard labour. Treasured buildings such as the Gallery of Modern Art started life as the private mansions of tobacco lords who were also, by extension, slave owners.
By the early 1990s, 42 Miller Street was in a sorry state: derelict and well on its way to becoming yet another city treasure lost to the bulldozer. It would almost certainly have ended that way had the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust not undertaken a complete restoration in 1994. They spent £500,000 stripping paint from the masonry and removing the late 19th century addition to the roof, and in the process they saved this historically important building from certain ruin.
Photo (C5620): Sourced from Virtual Mitchell and reproduced with the kind permission of Glasgow City Archives.
With something as substantial as a building you’d think there will always be plenty of evidence as to its history. My attempts to pin down the origins of this unfussy deco mash up on Buchanan Street prove that this isn’t always the case. The fantastic BritishListedBuidings.co.uk suggests it’s originally c1830 with significant alterations at street and first floor level being added around 1950. The Royal Institute of British Architects holds a photograph of the building c1920 with the deco frontage already in place. They also list the architect as Percy James Westwood, another fact I can’t corroborate. My best stab would be that the original building was indeed of 1830 with the modern frontage added, perhaps by Westwood, around 1920.
Whatever its history, it at least retains something akin to its original purpose. Rowan & Co. were established around 1846 as a merchant tailor and boys outfitters. They became outfitters to many boarding schools around Scotland, including Clifton Bank, St Andrews; Kelvingrove House, Bridge of Allan; Merchiston Castle, Edinburgh and Morrison’s Academy, Crieff. They also produced sports attire for tennis, golf, cricket and boating and became outfitters to the Glasgow University Athletic Club.
Photo (C1804): Sourced from Virtual Mitchell and reproduced with the kind permission of Glasgow City Archives.
The cobbles are gone and cars now line the streets, but the north side of Blythswood Square is little changed from this c1860 view. Blythswood Square was the hub of Blythswood New Town, one of several planned developments that helped transform the city from its medieval origins. Blythswood New Town was laid out on the former Blythswood Estate of Colin Campbell and stretched from Argyle Street to Garnethill, and from West Nile Street to Pitt Street. It was initiated in 1821 by William Hamilton Garden who bankrupted himself promoting it. The square was laid out between 1823 and 1829 after William Harley took over. John Brash executed the facades, probably from a design by William Burn.
More interesting than the buildings themselves is the scandal that erupted here in 1857. No 7 (closest to us in the photo) was home to Madeleine Smith, a young Glasgow socialite and daughter of wealthy architect James Smith. In 1855, and at odds with Victorian social convention, she entered into an affair with apprentice nurseryman Pierre Emile L’Angelier. When her father found a suitable fiancé for her to marry, she tried to end the relationship only for L’Angelier to attempt blackmail. He threatened to use the letters Madeleine had sent to force her to marry him. She was seen ordering arsenic in the druggist’s office soon after. On the 23rd March 1857 L’Angelier succumbed to arsenic poisoning and is buried in the Ramshorn Cemetery on West Nile Street.
Despite the clear circumstantial evidence, the jury returned a “not proven” verdict. Madeleine fled Scotland soon after, first to England where she married artist George Wardle in 1861. They had a daughter Mary (known as “Kitten” b. 1863) and a son Thomas (b. 1864). Madeleine and George separated in 1889 and she then moved to New York City. In 1916, at the age of 81, she married a second time to William A. Sheehy. This lasted until his death in 1926. Madeleine Smith died in 1928 aged 93 and was buried as Lena Wardle Sheehy.
Photo (C5513): Sourced from Virtual Mitchell and reproduced with the kind permission of Glasgow City Archives.
A solitary policeman directs non-existent traffic in this c1935 view of James Miller’s 1934 Commercial Bank of Scotland. These days the building is still home to brass, but in the form of German oompah bands that keep the Bavaria Brauhaus punters entertained. The building is modern classical with a portland stone and polished granite plinth, forming a stylobate (the base on which the columns rest). Two storey giant order fluted Corinthian columns dominate the Bothwell Street entrance. The entrance doors are bronze, as are the panels between ground and first floor. Between the windows on the 3rd floor are relief sculpted frieze by Gilbert Hayes representing Industry, Commerce, Justice, Wisdom, Contentment and Providence. Not so long ago the building housed Madness nightclub and before that it was an Italian restaurant after the Royal Bank of Scotland moved out in the 1990s.
Photo (C5580): Sourced from Virtual Mitchell and reproduced with the kind permission of Glasgow City Archives.
A. Sydney Mitchell and George Wilson’s 1886 extension to David Rhind’s earlier Commercial Bank of Scotland (1854-7) stands imposingly on Buchanan Street. The Commercial Bank of Scotland was formed in 1810 in response to public dissatisfaction with the three charter banks (Bank of Scotland, British Linen Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland). James Anderson, in “The Story of the Commercial Bank of Scotland” (1910), writes “It was felt by many of the Scottish people that the three old Banks had become too…devoted to their own interests…to be the real promoters of the general good”. Contrary to the established model, the CBoS didn’t rely on a few wealthy men, but on hundreds of investors throughout Scotland, including those of more modest means.
In 1958 the CBoS acquired a 100% holding in the National Bank of Scotland creating a new entity: The National Commercial Bank of Scotland. In 1969 the National Commercial Bank of Scotland merged with the Royal Bank of Scotland. Nowadays the Royal Bank of Scotland still occupies the Gordon Street section of the building, while American chain restaurant TGI Friday’s occupies the corner site.