It was Archibald Campbell of Blythswood who gave Renfield Street its name. He used to own the land on which it stands and named the street after his estate of Renfield, near Renfrew. He was also responsible for the naming of Renfrew Street in Glasgow. Most of Renfield Street is sloped and because of this it has never really been popular with retail storefront businesses. Most pedestrians would be focused on their journey between the City Centre and the shops of Sauchiehall Street and would not tarry long as they walked up the hill and returned down it later. Renfield Street has, however, served as an important location for office-based businesses and for picture houses and theatres, the most famous being the Paramount, which later became the Odeon, and was open from open from December 31, 1934 to January 7, 2006 on the south-east corner with West Regent Street.
We are standing on the cobblestones of Union Street and looking across Gordon Street towards the southern end of Renfield Street. Glasgow Central Station, the Caledonian Railway’s principal Glasgow terminus, is off camera to the left. Judging from the crowds of smartly dressed men and women it is probably a Saturday and the occasion for some discriminating shopping. On the left is the city’s premier outfitter, R. W. Forsyth, whose purpose-built premises ( 1896-98, 1900-02 ) were designed in the Baroque style by the renowned Glasgow architect J. J. Burnet. Completed at a cost of £25,000, the store was equipped with central heating and electric lighting, sweeping staircases and electric lifts. Renfield Lane separates Forsyth’s from the adjacent building where Stuart Cranston opened a tearoom in September 1898 and shortly thereafter he acquired the entire property.
On the opposite corner from Forsyth’s, the Clydesdale Rubber Company is trading on the ground floor of the commercial building and there are several businesses on the upper levels, including the tailor, D. F. Ovenstone, and the National Mutual Life Association of Australasia Ltd. which began doing business in Great Britain in 1898. New lights have been fitted to the ornate lamp standards and the tram approaching the camera had its roof added circa 1910. This scene probably dates from 1912-1913 and the postcard was mailed in July 1914, the month before the Great War broke out. ( Postcard published by J. M. & Co., Caledonia Series. )
This view was taken a few years later and while the buildings in the foreground remain the same, the premises housing Stuart Cranston’s tearooms have been rebuilt to a design by James Miller and now include Cranston’s Cinema de Luxe which opened in May 1916. This new cinema complex also included a restaurant, several tearooms and a billiard room and was the most ambitious project yet attempted by Stuart Cranston, the more so considering that it was launched in the midst of the Great War. Apparently, the ground floor tearoom could seat over 850 patrons. The bright white appearance of the building is explained by the facing of white faience, a glazing rich in tin oxide which is applied to terra cotta for decorative and architectural purposes. ( Postcard by unknown publisher. )
Austin Reed menswear store now occupies prominence at the northeast corner of Gordon Street and Renfield Street, having recently replaced the Clydesdale Rubber Company and the tenants above in this 1927 view. The store’s presence is proclaimed by the large concave marble facade, three stories tall, set into the corner of the building . Across the street, above the windows of Forsyth’s are descriptions of the products and services offered by the renowned outfitter and these include “Highland Costumiers” and Pulpit Robemakers” The robes were presumably for the clergy and not the pulpits. In the distance, further up Renfield Street on the northwest corner with St. Vincent Street, the Union Bank of Scotland Head Office building, designed by James Miller, is nearing completion. ( Postcard published by Valentine’s. )
The substantial structure of the Union Bank of Scotland building is now much clearer in this view and it shows how James Miller and his assistant Richard Gunn had been greatly influenced by the design of contemporary bank and insurance buildings in New York and Chicago. Indeed, the Union Bank design had been derived from that of York & Sawyer’s Guaranty Trust Building in New York. Much of James Miller’s work involved the design of imposing buildings with grand facades and these included the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, the Anchor Line Headquarters in St. Vincent Place, Cranston’s Cinema De Luxe, the Union Bank of Scotland building and the Institution of Civil Engineers ( London ). ( Postcard published by J. M. & Co., Ltd., in their Caledonia Series. )
This view of Renfield Street was probably taken in the early 1890’s by an associate of the renowned photographer George Washington Wilson. The tramlines had been laid in 1872 as part of Glasgow’s first horse-drawn tram route between St. George’s Cross and Eglinton Toll that passed through Renfield Street. The public transport vehicle in the foreground is a horse-drawn omnibus and might be one of those hauled by three horses in line abreast *. In spite of having suspension, the ride in these vehicles over the cobblestones would not have been as comfortable as that experienced in trams running on track and the latter would eventually completely displace the horse-drawn buses. On the left is the building where R. W. Forsyth started in business as a hosier, glover and shirt maker in 1872. He would move to newly-built premises on the corner with Gordon Street in 1898 and Stuart Cranston would open a tearoom in the vacated building in September of that year. This view shows the two distinct types of gas street lamp present on Glasgow’s principal streets at that time; tall slender lamp-posts well-spaced apart and fitted with hexagonal lanterns, and shorter lamps, more frequently situated and with four-sided lanterns.
* A restored 1890’s Glasgow Three-Abreast Horse-Drawn Omnibus is now on display at the Beamish Museum in County Durham. Originally built by the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Company, the saloon ended up as a garden shed in Hereford where it remained for many years before being rescued.
We are now approaching the intersection with St. Vincent Street in this early 20th Century scene taken soon after the electrification of the tramway system in 1901. There is a good view of the building on the left which would be replaced in 1927 by James Miller’s American-inspired Union Bank of Scotland building. Here, the corner location is occupied by B. Anderson, the upscale tobacconist and cigar merchant. Behind this building is a narrow lane and the next major intersection is with West George Street. ( Postcard published in Valentine’s Series. )
This picture was also taken also very soon after the electric trams were introduced and they would be resplendent in their new livery of cadmium orange side panels, ivory trim and plum/brown dashes. The new double-deck tramcars were all open top and so passengers would be exposed to the inclemency of the Glasgow weather. Roof additions commenced in earnest in 1904. Fortunately, it was a warm sunny day when this picture was taken, judging from the brightness and people’s attire. The building on the right, adorned with Corinthian pilasters and decorative balustrades, is occupied by the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company which had, in 1901, extended its insurance to cover all marine risks. In 1959, it was absorbed into the Commercial Union Assurance Company Ltd. ( Postcard by unknown publisher. )
This photograph of Renfield Street dates from around 1905 and Anderson, the cigar merchant, has now added a fine clock to its premises on the corner, advertising their custom P. & O. Tobacco Mixture presumably named after the shipping line that carried passengers and the Royal Mail to the Middle East, India and the Orient. The P. & O. name would certainly convey an air of elegance and sophistication as only the titled and very wealthy would travel first class on this, the most prestigious of voyages. ( Postcard published by W. N. Co. in the Record Photographic Series. )
It looks like the sun is almost directly overhead in this 1908 view of Renfield Street taken at the intersection with Bath Street. A procession of tramcars is heading up the hill and the one nearest the camera, bound for the University, will soon be turning left into Sauchiehall Street. On the Bath Street corner is a supplier of saddlery and harnesses for hunting, racing and the military. The man with the sandwich board in the foreground is advertising the services of Madame Gerard, palmist and clairvoyant at 365 Sauchiehall Street, with fees from 1 shilling. Across the street, a small group of people has gathered outside the Restaurant de Paris. ( Stereoview published by the Stereo-Travel Co. of Corona, New York City.)
A tramcar heading for the International Exhibition at Kelvingrove Park is just turning into Sauchiehall Street from Renfield Street in this 1901 scene. The city where the Industrial Revolution began was hosting its second great International Exhibition and the recent electrification of the tramway system served to further showcase Glasgow’s achievements. The cars were resplendent in their new livery and each route was colour-coded. Car 664 in the foreground would have had chrome yellow panels above the windows, bearing route information, probably similar to that of the car in the background.
We are near the top of Renfield Street at the intersection with Renfrew Street, both streets having originally been named by Archibald Campbell of Blythswood. The large globe street light fittings are in the process of being changed so this photograph probably dates from 1911/12. On the right is the Pavilion Music Hall which opened on 29 February, 1904 and later became a theatre, which it remains to this day. Further down on the right hand side are the pinnacles of the Renfield Street United Free Church, situated just south of the junction with Sauchiehall Street. The crowds have noticeably thinned out above the Sauchiehall Street intersection and Renfield Street will soon merge with Cowcaddens. ( Postcard published by E. A. Schwerdtfeger & Co. London E. C. and printed in Berlin. )
Legends © Christopher J. Jones
Except where otherwise acknowledged, all photographs are from the author’s collection.