Glasgow's Shopping Arcades - Times Past

In partnership with the Glasgow Times​, our archivists are exploring Glasgow's fascinating history. This week, Nerys Tunnicliffe writes about Glasgow's Shopping Arcades.

Glasgow is renowned for its shops, as demonstrated in the photographs and publicity material here at the City Archives. However, shopping trends are everchanging throughout history. In the mid 1800’s Glasgow like other UK cities was influenced by the fashionable appeal of shopping arcades such as those long established in Europe, particularly Paris. The European arcades allowed discerning shoppers to promenade under cover whilst browsing several shops.

Although the Glasgow arcades never flourished quite in the same way as in other cities, the most famous and sole remaining arcade in the city today, the Argyll Arcade, is still celebrated by locals and visitors alike.

The earliest shopping arcade in Scotland, the Argyll Arcade was built in the 1827 by architect John Baird Senior, who was influenced by Burlington Arcade, London and other Parisian arcades with its glass roof and cast-iron framework. As a L-shaped thoroughfare running between two of Glasgow’s busiest shopping streets, it has always appealed to high quality shops and is now mostly associated with jewellery and watch businesses.

However, there were once seven other shopping arcades in the city centre, although most were much smaller in scale and less grand than the Argyll Arcade.

Perhaps the best remembered is Queen’s Arcade that ran north from Renfrew Street up to what was Russell Street (later Wemyss Street). Constructed in the mid-19th century, it was decorated with pictorial tiles by Glaswegian architect, etcher and journalist, James Moyr Smith and others. It and had pubs at both entrances, The Arcade Bar and Camp Bar, perfect for refreshment after shopping! It housed a range of small shops that often changed hands. Despite this the arcade lasted until it was demolished in 1966.

Across the road from Queen’s Arcade, running from Renfrew Street down to Sauchiehall Street was the Wellington Arcade. Possibly also designed by John Baird, the Wellington Arcade originally thrived in its location within ‘Glasgow’s Soho’ surrounded by cafes and theatres. It too had pubs at each entrance including the Metropole Bar, a common place of refuge for husbands during their wives’ shopping trips. In 1930 it was torn down to make way for a Woolworths.

One arcade I’d have loved to have visited was the Royal Arcade at Hope Street next to the Theatre Royal, built in 1850 and said to include a fountain, marketplace and band stand. It was gone by 1906 after a fire and changes to the street layout.

Other lesser known arcades were the Milton Place Arcade at William Street, Hope Street Arcade that was part of the Blythswoodholme Hotel, Millar’s Arcade at Saltmarket said to catered mostly for bookshops, and Campbell Arcade off Trongate, a cul-de-sac full of grocery shops.

With shopping trends changing again in today’s difficult climate it’s interesting to wonder how these arcades would have fared today if they were still standing. Regardless Glasgow continues to be a centre for great shopping as the ever-popular Argyll Arcade proves.