Skip Navigation / Jump to Content



Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914

Culture and Leisure

Drink Culture

By Irene Maver

Old Nightingale Tavern By the 1830s a buoyant drinking culture had emerged in Glasgow centred on the city's taverns, inns and dram shops. Social life, especially for men, revolved around an assortment of convivial clubs and societies, dedicated to pursuits such as dining, card-playing, literary discussion, political debate and the mysteries of Freemasonry. The journalist John Strang (1795-1863) had affectionate memories of taverns in the Saltmarket, notably the Sun which was the haunt of poets and writers, and the Shakespeare where political radicals would gather. The back court of the Gallowgate's Zebra tavern was famous for staging boxing bouts. Until 1850, when such activities were banned, members of the "sporting" fraternity could indulge their taste for dog or cock fighting in numerous smaller hostelries.

International Exhibition, 1888 A very different form of entertainment was provided by the working-class singing saloons and "free-and-easies". One newspaper described them in the 1870s as "a sort of quasi-music hall in a tavern" where individuals from the audience performed songs to piano or fiddle accompaniment. Men predominated in such establishments and women who frequented taverns could provoke hostile reactions. Moral reformers believed that alcohol encouraged addictive and excessive behaviour and that women were particularly susceptible to its corrosive qualities. So determined were Glasgow's magistrates to purge the female presence from public houses that from 1902 until the 1940s they prohibited the employment of barmaids.

Total Abstinence Certificate The temperance movement acquired a mass following in Glasgow during the 1830s and John Dunlop (1789-1868) was one of Britain's pioneering campaigners. Believing that whisky was a major cause of national deterioration, he was outspoken against its ubiquitous presence at social gatherings such as weddings and festive occasions like Hogmanay. Many temperance activists came to support the legal prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcohol and were influential in tightening Glasgow's licensing laws. For instance, the ten o'clock closing of public houses was imposed in 1904. At the same time, a wholesome, drink-free culture was promoted. The Abstainers' Union concerts from the 1850s proved to be a popular attraction, while the Band of Hope provided a range of social activities specifically for children.

Quick Search

Photo Album

You have 0 images in your photo album.

View Photo Album

Log-In (Optional)

Not a user? Register now for FREE!

Other Options