Merchant City and Old Glasgow

The Merchant City begins (or rather, it ended) just south of George Square. Here, the great commerce of Empire unfolded. There were fine houses for the wealthy merchants, and less fine housing for the less wealthy. The centrepiece was the fruit and vegetable market which ensured fresh produce for the nice tables: the fish market was at the south end by the river. Like Covent Garden in London, the market has moved out (in Glasgow’s case, north-east to Blochairn, handy for the motorway), and the area has been reborn as a hospitality quarter. Sixty years ago, Glassford Street and Candleriggs held impressive granite-fronted department stores where one shopped on account: the bill from Bremner’s or Goldberg’s arrived in the post a few weeks later, just like our bills from Visa and Mastercard do today.

Wander the streets, making your way southeast, turning down Albion Street (with its excellent Café Gandolfi) to Trongate, and turn left. Keep to the left on Trongate to reach the Tollbooth Steeple (1626) at what was once the crossing of the two main roads in Glasgow. Turn left up High Street, passing High Street station on your right. Cross George Street and continue to Cathedral Square. On the right is Glasgow Cathedral, with the Necropolis (one of the finest civic cemeteries in the country) beyond. The fifteenth-century Provand’s Lordship, on the left, is Glasgow’s oldest house (currently closed under restoration). Turn left along Cathedral Street and follow it through the University of Strathclyde to Montrose Street, where turn left to reach Rottenrow at the top of the hill. This is part of the Garnethill ridge — the sandstone underfoot would have made the road red, hence the “Rotten” in the name.

Look to the left to find a grey gateway. This was once (as you will see from the inscription) the entrance to the Glasgow Maternity Hospital, where I first saw the light of day. Note the steepness of Montrose Street: since the expectant mothers had to climb the slope to reach the hospital (most incomers arrived on foot), Montrose Street became known as “Induction Hill”.

Glasgow Maternity Hospital portal

At the bottom of the street (where there is a comfortable and relatively quiet Premier Inn), turn right along George Street to reach George Square. The east side of the square is taken up by the cenotaph, with the magnificent City Chambers behind, the high-point of Corporation Gothic.

In 2007, Brunel University presented an honorary degree to Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, and I was asked to open the ceremony in English and in Czech (much to the puzzlement of my colleagues). After the ceremony, I was chatting with the President (he said that Brunel was the only place where Czech was used in his four-day visit), and I asked whether he liked Glasgow, his previous stop. He went into raptures about the city and the “amazing City Hall” on George Square, and he was much amused when I told him that I used to play in the marble foyer while my grandfather had business with the council.


%d bloggers like this: