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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914

Buildings and Cityscape

By Frank Arneil Walker

Glasgow, 1866 The urban layout of modern Glasgow was already established by 1830. The plan had four parts. The oldest element was medieval; a slow street curve from the Cathedral to Glasgow Cross then on by the Briggait to bridge the Clyde. Immediately west lay the gridded network of the first New Town, laid down by municipal development in the 1770s. Also gridded were three cross-river suburbs - Hutchesontown, Laurieston and Trades Town - the result of turn-of-the-century private speculation. Most recent and most extensive, a fourth area of expansion to the north and west had begun to transform the large estate of the Campbells of Blythswood into a second New Town of elegant town-houses and impressive street-to-street terraces. Here, too, indifferent to a hilly topography, grid-iron planning prevailed.


Partick Cross Expansion continued throughout the century with residential growth to the west and south, and predominantly industrial suburbs in the north and east. In the more salubrious West End estates and south of the river, splendid terraces and villas appeared. Across the inner city, tenement ranges lined the streets - a ubiquitous urban architecture of ashlar stone, consistent in scale and austere in form. Everywhere classicism, crisp and ascetic in detail, prevailed. Only occasionally were domestic facades elaborated beyond the decorative limits of channeled rustication, consoled eaves, or windows accented by architrave and cornice mouldings. In the architecture of Alexander "Greek" Thomson, however, notably in Walmer Crescent, 1857-1862, and Westbourne Terrace, 1871, new possibilities emerged, the repetitive character of urban housing rhythmically varied by pilastered attic storeys, advancing or recessing porticoes, and a distinctive, finely cut, Grecian ornament. By the 1890s, indeed, coincident with the introduction of red sandstone in the city, the design of the tenement had been liberated to such an extent that turrets, corner towers and bay windows (which Thomson himself had used) enriched and enlivened the street scene. Nowhere is this more evident than in the busy profusion of Charing Cross Mansions, 1891, Albany Chambers, 1897, and St George's Mansions, 1900-1901.

Quadrangle, Glasgow City Chambers Glasgow's Victorian classicism was all-embracing. Secure on every tenemented street, it found its greatest opportunities in civic building. At first it was cool and restrained - the riverside Customs House, 1840 was no grander than a Georgian mansion; the City and County Buildings, 1842-1844, were grand enough but formulaic in their temple-front orthodoxy. More decorative treatments came later. Impressive Renaissance palazzi testified to the city's wealth and prestige: Roman for a succession of prestigious banking houses; Venetian for the Faculty of Procurators, 1854, and later, somewhat overblown, for the new City Chambers in George Square, 1883-1888. By the end of the century even Baroque was in vogue for the domed hall of the Trustee Savings Bank on Glassford Street, 1896-1900.

Commercial Buildings

James Templeton & Co Almost every building type proved amenable to classical order; none more so than those tall offices, shops and warehouses which, rapidly replacing the original residential heart of the city, turned gridded Glasgow into a thriving commercial metropolis. As with urban housing, so with the architecture of commerce where the repetitive nature of the accommodation and the constraints of frame construction adapted readily to the regularised, trabeated disciplines of classicism. The cast iron street fronts of Gardner's and Paisley's warehouses, c 1854-1855, were astonishingly stark and prescient, though gridded historicist facades of columns and cornices, pilasters and string courses were much more frequent. Again, Alexander Thomson was the creative master: his Dunlop Street Building, 1849-1851, Grecian Chambers, 1865, and Egyptian Halls, 1871-1873, were only three of several outstanding interventions in the street scene. Remarkable exceptions in this rectilineal world were the arcuated facades of John Honeyman's Ca' d'Oro, 1872, William Leiper's variegated Venetian extravaganza for Templeton's Carpet Factory, 1889, and the Gothic Stock Exchange, 1875-1894, by John Burnet and his son Sir John.


Caledonia Road UP Church Not surprisingly this last, somewhat medievalising predilection for the pointed arch found expression in the design of churches. Yet paradoxically perhaps, the city's Presbyterian affinity with "impious" classicism, already well established in the 18th century, also engendered a proliferation of classical temples as places of Christian worship. Among these churches were Elgin Place, 1856, Kelvingrove, 1878-1879, Westbourne, 1880, Wellington, 1883-1884, and St George's-in-the-Fields, 1886, each entered, not without a certain pagan pomposity, through a pedimented portico. Thomson, too, espoused classical gravitas in his churches on Caledonia Road, 1856-1857, and St Vincent Street, 1858-1859, though both were far from orthodox in composition with magnificently inventive towers.

St Mary's Cathedral More significant still for their contribution to Glasgow's townscape were the three campanile-like towers of Charles Wilson's Free Church College on Park Hill, 1856-1861. Sharp Gothic spires were more numerous, however, accenting the skyline above the long eaves lines of an otherwise classical city: St Matthew's Blythswood, 1849-1852, on Bath Street, Lansdowne Church, 1862-1863, and St Mary's Cathedral, 1870-1893, on Great Western Road, and Camphill-Queen's Park Church, 1878-1883, south of the river. Perhaps the most scenically telling tower was the cloth hall steeple that rose in lacy silhouette above the collegiate quadrangles of the University of Glasgow, 1866-1887.

Despite its limited impact on secular building, the Gothic Revival undermined classicism's stylistic dominance. By the 1890s the naturalism of Gothic, its tendency towards formal attenuation, even its claim to possess some indigenous legitimacy, had stimulated the search for a new art (Art Nouveau) freed from the canons of the past.

The Glasgow Style

A brief interlude of unprecedented creative activity - the so-called Glasgow Style - now gripped a number of the city's designers. In his "Hatrack" Building of 1899-1902 and Lion Chambers, 1906, James Salmon seemed to combine an almost Gothicised interpretation of classical forms with a recognition of the visual potential inherent in modern frame construction. But, more than anyone, it was Charles Rennie Mackintosh who best exploited this release from the strictures of historicism, not only decoratively in the precious intimacy of his Edwardian tea-room interiors but, above all, architecturally in his competition-winning Glasgow School of Art, 1897-1909. At once functional and symbolic, art factory and castle, the School of Art is both the culminating masterpiece of Victorian architecture and one of the most precocious and potent icons of 20th century modernism.

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