Glasgow City Chambers

Glasgow City Chambers

During its Victorian heyday, Glasgow didn’t just build slums for the workers, it also built fine buildings for the city’s powerful elite, and there’s none finer than the Glasgow City Chambers.

As the city grew in size and importance, the original civic offices at the Tolbooth struggled to keep pace, and so a site was found at the east end of George Square to build a new City Hall. Designed by Paisley born architect William Young, this grand building was constructed in the Beaux Art style (a form of French neo-classicism), with an ornate pediment and sculptures being added by James Alexander Ewing.

Ewing’s intention was to symbolise Glasgow’s rise to prominence through its connection with the River Clyde, but in the end the design was amended to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee instead. Whoever was behind the change of heart I’m not sure, but it had the desired effect because on 22nd August 1888, it was Queen Victoria herself who cut the ribbon to open the new building.

Detail from the Pediment

It wouldn’t seem right to refer to these chambers as just council offices, because the interior is just as grand as the outside, and to be honest, I’ve been in stately homes that are less palatial than this.

As soon as you step over the threshold, you’ll find yourself walking over a mosaic of the city’s Coat of Arms with its motto “Let Glasgow Flourish”. If you take a look at my previous post about St. Mungo and Glasgow Cathedral, it’ll help you to understand what it all means – even if it doesn’t make any sense.

The Entrance Hall Coat of Arms

It’s not just the floors that are covered in mosaics but the ceilings too, and it’s believed that one and a half million tiles were laid by hand on the ceilings and domes alone.

I’ve often visited places such as Parliaments, High Courts and Town Halls, which to some people might not seem like a fun day out, but in a free and open society I honestly believe everyone should take a look at what goes on behind some of these closed doors – it’s quite enlightening. It should come as no surprise therefore to learn that I took one of the guided tours that are available twice a day during the week.

I have to admit that my timing could have been better (not that I had any choice) because the tour coincided with official business which meant that I was unable to visit the Council Chamber and the Lord Provost’s office. Even so, there was still plenty to see.

It’s worth pointing out to anybody thinking of following in my footsteps and aren’t too dapper on their feet, that there are three flights of stairs to climb – but these are no ordinary stairs. Made entirely from Carrara marble imported from Italy, those in the know claim that this is Western Europe’s largest marble staircase, but even if that wasn’t true, this is one mightily impressive introduction to the Chambers.

The Marble Staircase

I suppose I was expecting a certain amount of Victorian splendour, but this exceeded my expectations. Taking one level at a time, we eventually arrived in the Upper Gallery where the walls are adorned by paintings of some of Glasgow’s finest. Unsurprisingly, they were nearly all men.

The Upper Gallery

The highlight of the tour was undoubtedly the remarkable Banqueting Hall. If it doesn’t impress you that Sir Alex Ferguson and Nelson Mandela were awarded the Freedom of the City here, then surely the room itself will. Whilst you’re taking in all the elaborate surroundings try to remember to take a look at some of the paintings as well. They cover the history and culture of the city and are painted by some the city’s most famous artists such as Sir John Lavery, Alexander Roche and George Henry, collectively known as the Glasgow Boys.

The free tour lasts less than an hour, but it’s an hour well spent in my opinion. It gives an insight into how the city is run and why the city fathers thought it was worth spending half a million pounds on providing offices that it thought the councilors deserved. Whether the inhabitants of The Gorbals thought it was money well spent is another matter.

POSTED – SEPTEMBER 2021

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20 thoughts on “Glasgow City Chambers

    1. Easymalc Post author

      People in power seem to have deep pockets when it comes to finding the funds to construct buildings like this. It’s always been the same, and always will be.

      Reply
  1. Alli Templeton

    Funnily enough Malc, as I was looking through the pictures, ‘palatial’ was the exact word I thought of to describe the city chambers too. You can easily imagine this being a monarch’s residence, can’t you? Although I’m not crazy about climbing endless stairs either, it looks as though those marble ones would be worth the hard leg work, and a wander round this place certainly does look like an hour well spent. Must get up to Glasgow sometime… 🙂

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      I think I must have a nosy disposition Alli because I love to have a look inside some of the buildings occupied by bureaucratic institutions such as parliaments, courts and town halls. It can be more interesting than some people might think.

      I’ve just returned from a couple of days in your old stamping ground – the Garden of England – or more precisely, Tunbridge Wells and Hever Castle.

      Reply
      1. Alli Templeton

        Hope you had a great time in Kent. We did our archery training course at Hever Castle. Lovely area. Sorry for my late reply, but I’ve been up to my ears prepring for Maddie’s18th birthday which is tomorrow. I can hardly believe it. Where did the time go? My little girl is really growing up… 🙂

        Reply
        1. Easymalc Post author

          We had a smashing time in Kent thanks Alli. It’s quite different from where we live – it’s full of trees 🙂

          If I remember correctly, when we first communicated on WordPress I think you told me that Maddie was 14, so time certainly does fly. I hope you all have a lovely day today and please send her my best wishes 🙂

          Reply
          1. Alli Templeton

            Sorry for the delay in replying again, Malc, been busy with Maddie’s birthday. Time sure does fly, though, you’re so right. We we’ve saying exactly the same thing this week. She had a great day thanks, and more to look forward to. She’s going to meet some reindeer on Saturday and spend the afternoon with them (she adores animals and reindeer are one of her favourites), then off to the Victory and Warrior at Portsmouth next week. 🙂

            Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks as always Francesc for your smashing comments. They really do mean a lot. I hope you’re having a great weekend.

      Reply
  2. scooj

    What extraordinary civic opulence, something that would be frowned upon these days. Can you imagine a local authority attempting to build a civic building like that? The marble staircase is amazing, in fact all your pictures are amazing. You’d have thought that when spending all that money, they could get a mosaic artist to accurately portray a fish. I have no idea what species the two larger fish are, but they don’t resemble anything I am familiar with and I am trained as a fisheries biologist and marine biologist. I think the small fish is a salmon I’d of some sort. Great post.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks for the kind words Stephen. It’s funny how the powers that be can find the money when they want to. As for the fish, I don’t suppose there were that many swimming up and down the Clyde in those days so perhaps they had to use their imagination.

      Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks Luisa, and it’s great that I’m helping to bring memories for you. It makes my day. Have a lovely weekend yourself 🙂

      Reply

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