Argyle Street

by Chris Jones on February 25, 2010

In this scene we are looking east along Argyle Street, across the junction with Union Street on the left and Jamaica Street on the right. Judging from the crowds, it is probably a Saturday. Robert Simpson’s clothing store is holding a summer sale, with posters advertising bargains in silks, dress goods and mantles. Several Glasgow Corporation horse drawn-tramcars are in view and the three cars nearest the camera have been fitted with curious disc-like structures set on poles on the upper deck, an experiment with battery operated lights that was initiated in 1896. They would soon they would become redundant as the tramway system would be electrified between 1898 and 1902. Two-helmeted policemen on point duty are facing each other across the intersection. It would be 40 years before traffic lights were introduced on Glasgow streets .

In this 1902/03 view, the tramway system has recently been electrified and the helmeted policeman on point duty has just waved through the open top tramcar bound for Rutherglen. The second floor of the Argyle Hotel building at the Union Street corner is empty and soon to be occupied by Sherry’s Shaving Parlour. On the corner with Jamaica Street is the well-appointed Robert Simpson’s department store which later, during the Depression years, was purchased by the House of Fraser together with neighbouring Arnott’s and the two were merged to become Arnott Simpson’s. ( Postcard published by J. & M. Co. Caledonia Series. )

It is a warm and sunny day in the early 1900’s and the awnings are out along the north side of Argyle Street and the east sides of Jamaica Street and Union Street. Sherry’s Shaving Parlour, which later became the City Hairdressing Rooms, is offering haircuts for 4d and shaves for 2d. It advertises “the most up to date hygenic hairdressing machine in the city”. Boots can be polished while you wait. A lady in a white summer dress crosses Argyle Street while the policemen on point duty stands erect and holds back the traffic. Note the ornate electric street lamps. The tramcar in the foreground is headed for Scotstoun. In those days, Glasgow Corporation motormen and conductors wore caps in the style of French gendarmes. ( Postcard published by E. A. Schwerdtfeger & Co., London E.C. )

( Excel Series Postcard )

( Postcard published by Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd. )

This photograph was taken at the intersection of Buchanan Street with Argyle Street. In the foreground on the left is Robert Scott’s, the pearl and diamond merchant and silversmith while further along and above the awnings are signs for the specialty clothier Rowan & Co. On the opposite side of Argyle Street is the well-appointed R. W. Forsyth’s, the clothier, hatter, hosier and glover, who also owned premises on the corner of Gordon Street and Renfield Street. Forsyth’s has gone to the expense of installing exterior electric lighting to illuminate their windows after dark and so make their store a magnet. Taking Buchanan Street to the right in this scene would lead into St. Enoch Square with St. Enoch Station ( the Glasgow and Southwestern Railway terminus ), the imposing St. Enoch Hotel and St. Enoch Church. ( E. A. Schwerdtfeger & Co., London E.C. )

In this atmospheric and busy Argyle Street scene, men in bunnets predominate. There are very few women in the picture and I wonder why. Could all the women be inside the stores while the men wait outside? Or perhaps it’s the lunch break from nearby factories and warehouses. On the south side of the street is the impressively named John Anderson’s Royal Polytechnic, the “Poly” to Glasgow folk, and the city’s best known department store at the time. The owner had electric lighting installed all along the extensive frontage to attract as much interest as possible and especially after dark. All this was very modern at the time. Above the store is the Adelphi Hotel which later relocated to the corner with Union Street, into the new building that incorporated Boots the Chemist. The curious arrangement of trams with three in parallel is explained by the presence of a siding opposite the entrance to Queen Street. ( This postcard was originally published by E. A. Schwerdtfeger & Co. but the name was subsequently removed from reissues once Great Britain headed into the Great War. )

We are now approaching the intersection with Glassford Street on the left and Stockwell Street which is off camera to the right. Beyond this junction is the Trongate which continues up to Glasgow Cross. On the right is part of the Granite House building which occupies a prominent position on the corner with Stockwell Street. They are holding a sale of men’s and youth’s clothing and this was probably a regular event. Gow & Son, the Upholsterers, occupy the building next door and beyond is Slater’s, known as the Great London Tailors. ( Postcard published by E. A. Schwerdtfeger & Co., London E. C. and printed in Berlin. ).

Legends © Christopher J. Jones

Except where otherwise stated, all photographs are from the author’s collection.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Gordon Watson October 8, 2010 at 8:23 am

Hi Chris
These are great old postcards of Argyle street. I am looking to reproduce similar images on canvas for a client. Do you have the orginals of these or know how I could licence the images for single reproduction?
Many thanks
Gordon

Chris Jones October 9, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Thank you Gordon. Except where otherwise acknowledged, the illustrations are from images in my own collection, from photographs, postcards, books and occasionally from lantern slides. Some of the finest black and white photographic postcards of Glasgow street scenes, including Argyle Street, were published by E. A. Schwerdtfeger & Co., and printed in Berlin. For obvious reasons, they stopped trading under the name by the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 but later some of the images reappeared on postcards where the printing on the back was in blue and no publisher was indicated. In the 1920’s, new scenes were added and the quality of the photos was very similar to those of the early Schwerdtfeger postcards. I can contact you with further information.

sheena gordon September 1, 2011 at 8:02 am

Hi Chris,
My great-great grandfather, Patrick Brankin, had a grocer’s shop at 435 Argyle Street in 1911. Do you know of archives I could search for photographs?
Many thanks.
Sheena Gordon

Chris Jones September 3, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Hi Sheena,
Thank you for your inquiry. Your great great grandfather’s shop at 435 Argyle Street was located in the Argyle Buildings which were situated on the south side of the street in the block between Carrick Street and McAlpine Street, west of the City Centre. This location can be identified by consulting the Ordnance Survey map of the period. It was a short walk from your great great grandfather’s shop to Anderston Cross, a busy interchange served by a railway station and tram routes. This was where the road westward divided, with Argyle Street taking the northern fork and Stobcross Street the southern one. Most of the old photographs of Anderston Cross are taken looking west and the location of the grocery would be behind the photographer. However, I have located view that looks eastward from the buildings at the Cross ( http://publictransportexperience.blogspot.com/2011/06/not-so-handy-anderston.html ) and the location for your ancestor’s shop would be in the third block from the camera on the right, just beyond where you see the shaft of light between the buildings ( the junction with McAlpine Street ). You could try contacting the staff of the Glasgow Room at the Mitchell Library to see if they have any more detailed photographs of the location.

Robert Pool February 4, 2012 at 4:49 am

I have a number of old Glasgow company letterheads and various company advertisments from the 1800′s onwards that may be of interest for those researching Glasgow. These images are on my flickr account and can be viewed at http://preview.tinyurl.com/6uvxubw . All images are split into ‘sets’ for easy viewing.

Chris Jones February 4, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Thank you Robert. I am happy to link to your site and have become aware of your extensive collection of old Glasgow company advertisements, bills and stationery. These are particularly helpful in tracing the locations of businesses and the types of products they made and/or sold.

margaret donnell February 10, 2012 at 2:17 am

Hi Chris,
I just recently found out that an ancestor of mine lived at 27 Argyle Street at the time of the 1891 census. Do you have any photos of this area during that time as the family would love to see them?
Margaret

Chris Jones February 11, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Hi Margaret,

Number 27 was located on the south side of Argyle Street, in the first block west of Stockwell Street. Your ancestor lived in a very central location on the busiest commercial street in Glasgow and you can see from some of the photographs just how crowded Argyle Street would become on Saturdays and this is still the case. Most of the early photos that I am posting of the area date from 1901 to 1914. I will try to narrow down the location for you.

Regards,

Chris

mia carr March 23, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Hello,

I am writing to enquire if anyone has any photos ( circa 1950-68 ) of the Gaiety Theatre that used to be located at 625 Argyle Street in Anderston. I can be contacted via the webmaster of this site.

Mia Carr

John Hickey April 14, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Hello Chris,

My Dad recalls that his grandfather, William Hicke, had a warehouse selling a variety of things located up a close in Argyle Street. The business operated between the First and Second World Wars and was apparently one of the first in Glasgow to offer “tick” which eventually led to its closing due to outstanding debts. My Dad seems to think the business was in the close along from Marks & Spencer in Argyle Street which now houses amongst other things a sports shop and I think some market stalls. Are you able to confirm this is the case or provide any further details/photos?

Thanks.

John

Chris Jones April 14, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Hello John,

Thank you for your question. The current address of Marks & Spencer is 2-12 Argyle Street and I have searched the 1927 Glasgow Directory ( available online ) for businesses close to that location and also close to 32 Argyle Street where Marks & Spencer was located in 1927. I have also searched under names and have not found a Hicke in the list. Could you possibly find out more about the location and nature of the business, when it operated and if it had a trade name? It might not have been trading in 1927.

Best wishes,

Chris

John Hickey April 15, 2012 at 9:43 am

Hi Chris, thanks for the prompt reply and apologies for the wrong spelling – it should be Hickey. Having looked into it a bit more we tracked down an old business card for W Hickey & Coy, General Warehousemen. 22 Argyll street ( 2 up ) Glasgow. A telephone number ( 1812 Bell ) is on the card and it also states “jewellery a speciality”. The card lists a whole range of goods from watches, clocks and jewellery to waterproofs, umbrellas and wringers.

Good luck.

John

Robert Pool July 28, 2012 at 6:09 pm

For Mia Carr. see http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Only-Way-is-Maryhill/244666325580833

Thanks Robert for this link to a photo and comments on Facebook regarding the New Gaiety Theatre in Anderston.

siobhan October 17, 2012 at 8:03 am

Hi there,

I am living in a house owned by Thomas Johnston in 1911. He had a wine and spirits merchant business at 19 Argyle Street in that era. I would love to see a picture of that building. I thought it was the site of the M & S building but I’m not sure. I think it is the next building but that is listed on Google maps as Trongate not Argyle Street. Could you help me out? Thank You.
Looking forward to hearing from you.

Siobhan

dionne November 7, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Hi,

I started my husband’s family history and found that his great grandad Robert Thomson was a profession footballer in the 1930′s. He lived at 327 Argyle Street, Glasgow. I was wondering if anyone has any photos or memories of him or his place of residence. He had a wife Susan and they had a son and a daughter. He may have played for Celtic and was still a footballer in 1934 when his daughter was born. Thank you for any help you can give.

mia carr May 25, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Thanks for the link Robert but didn’t have any photos of Gaiety Theatre, tho actually hoping to find pics 2 of Gaiety Pub & the Gaiety Fish N’ Chip shop. Don’t know what way the numbers run but would B 625 + /- Argyle St., Anderson.

Stewart Rayment October 21, 2013 at 5:56 am

Dear Chris,

Great website. I’m reviewing Elizabeth Cumming’s ‘Hand, Heart & Soul’ (Birlinn) which you might find useful. It refers to the Byzantine Smoke Room in Anderson’s Royal Polytechnic Warehouse, with a wall decoration by Alfred Webster. Do you know if it is still in place by any chance?

Regards,

Stewart Rayment

Chris Jones November 3, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Dear Stewart,

Thank you for your comment. John Anderson’s business was sold to Lewis’s in 1929 and a new 380,000 sq.ft. building constructed on the site. I doubt if the wall decoration to which you refer survived unless it was removable.

Regards,

Chris

Sian Griffiths January 16, 2014 at 3:57 am

Dear Chris,

Having stumbled across your website and collection of old photographs, I thought that the following project may be of interest to you.

I work for Amberley Publishing, a local and specialist history publishing company, and we are currently looking for new or experienced authors with an interest in Glasgow to contribute to our exciting Through Time series of local history books.

In your area we have the following potential title: Central Glasgow Through Time and Glasgow West End Through Time.

The Through Time concept is a ninety-six page, then-and-now picture book, containing around ninety-two old photographs or postcards, each paired with a new photograph in full colour, to show how the same scene, or a related one, has changed over time. Each pair of photographs has a short descriptive caption.

If this sounds like something you might be interested in, I will be happy to send out more information to you and an example of a previous title.

Regards,
Sian Griffiths

Frances Sessford March 24, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Hello Chris,

My Gran used to talk about being a waitress in Swanson’s tearooms at the Hielanman’s Umbrella in Argyle Street. It would have been in the 1940′s I think. I’ve Googled it a bit (hence found your site) but I can’t find a record of such a business. She had some really nice anecdotes and I want to write a play about it but I’d like to know I was writing about a real place. Please could you enlighten me? Thank you.

Frances

Chris Jones March 31, 2014 at 10:45 pm

Hello Frances,

Thank you for your query and I am happy to enlighten you. There was indeed a Swanson’s Tea Roooms close to the Hielanman’s Umbrella. I checked the 1927 Glasgow Directory, which is accessible online, and there is a listing for a James Swanson, Restauranteur, at 217 Argyle Street, which would place it on the South side of the street between Jamaica Street and Oswald Street, very close to the Jamaica Street corner. Swanson’s is also listed in Perilla Kinchin’s book “Tea and Taste” The Glasgow Tea Rooms 1875-1975, as having been in existence from 1911 to the 1950′s, originally at 219 Argyle Street and then expanding to include 217. Now you can go ahead and write your play.

Best wishes,

Chris

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