The Black House

Dr Anthony Lewis, Curator of Scottish History

The Black House on the corner of Queen Street and Argyle St, 1775-1815

Images © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

4th February 2020

The ‘Black House’ deserved its name – it was built of stone from the Black Stone quarry, which was once between St George’s Road and North Woodside Road in northern Glasgow. This house represents one of the better known buildings made with stone from the quarry. It was built on the corner of Queen Street (Cow Lone) and Argyle Street (West Gait) for the McCall family.

Some accounts record it being built for Samuel McCall (1681-1759) in 1753, and others for his son, John McCall (1715-1790) in 1776 or 1777. There are no family papers which can verify either account, nor give the name of the architect and builders.

two pencil sketches of Glasgows Queen Street showing an evolution of buildings

View of Queen St, Glasgow in 1794

Images © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

If it was the latter, and dated to the 1770s, John McArthur’s map of Glasgow from 1778 gives its location, but also places the house into the broader context of how Glasgow’s New Town was developing along Queen Street. John McCall’s house was complemented by those owned by his brother George further along the street, as well as his business partner James Ritchie of Craigton and Busby. Other eminent neighbours included William Cunninghame of Lainshaw, Robert Bogle of Shettleston and then John Glassford of Douglaston and Alexander Speirs of Elderslie.

The location and style of the property indicated that the McCall family were among Glasgow’s elite businessmen  – the famed Virginia Dons, or Tobacco Lords. They all lived next door to one another.  At the top of Queen Street, John McCall could call upon his business partner, John Glassford, who lived on the site of the prestigious Shawfield Mansion, or his bank partner in the Thistle Bank (Sir Walter Maxwell of Pollok, James Ritchie and Co), James Ritchie living on Queen Street itself. The Black House introduced a street of prestigious house architecture.

painted family portrait showing 5 people in a wooded setting inset within a golden frame.

John McCall of Belvidere and family, c. 1765-1769

Images © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

From Robert Reid, known as Senex, (Glasgow Past and Present, 1859) the Black House was described has having 40 windows, or 10 per elevation. Such provision of light contrasted to the dour, black stone. The interior of the house remains undescribed and a mysterious. However, it can be safely assumed that it would have contained public rooms such as Dining and Drawing Rooms to entertain, bedrooms, and a kitchen and servants rooms in the basement, with further options for the servants bedrooms in the roof.

The public rooms, and entrance hall and main stair were all opportunities to display art, such as McCall family portrait (OG.1965.1), which in date and style, matched that of John Glassford’s family portrait (2887), and gives further food for thought that the great tobacco merchants and bankers of Glasgow shared taste and patronage in the city they managed and developed through the proceeds of slavery.

Dr Anthony Lewis,
Curator of Scottish History