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Glasgow's new town hall: imperialism, nationalism and civic pride, 1877–1889

  • Miel Groten (a1)


Nineteenth-century Glasgow was widely imagined and presented as the proud ‘Second City of the Empire’. This article investigates the implications of this identification with the empire by analysing Glasgow's great town hall, built 1883–89, as the main manifestation of the city's civic pride. It shows how the building's architectural style, sculpture and inauguration ceremonies created a specific image of ‘imperial’ Glasgow which emphasized loyalty to Union and empire. Instead of undermining each other, the layered political allegiances of civic pride, nationalism, unionism and imperialism were mutually reinforcing, shaping the town hall still in use today.

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For providing useful comments on earlier versions in various settings, I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers along with Ido de Haan, Gaard Kets, Henk te Velde and Richard Vinen; the staff of the city archives and special collections in Glasgow's Mitchell Library have been ever helpful.



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4 Bremner, G.A., ‘The metropolis. Imperial buildings and landscapes in Britain’, in Bremner, G.A. (ed.), Architecture and Urbanism in the British Empire (Oxford, 2016), 125–58; Hondius, D. et al. , Amsterdam Slavery Heritage Guide (Volendam, 2014); van der Heyden, U. and Zeller, J. (eds.), Kolonialismus hierzulande. Eine Spurensuche in Deutschland (Erfurt, 2007).

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6 Cited in Beaven, B., Visions of Empire. Patriotism, Popular Culture and the City, 1870–1939 (Manchester, 2012), 29; Aldrich, R., ‘Colonialism and nation-building in modern France’, in Berger, S. and Miller, A. (eds.), Nationalizing Empires (Budapest, 2015), 135–94, at 180–91; Coppius, A., Hamburgs Bedeutung auf dem Gebiete der deutschen Kolonialpolitik (Berlin, 1905), 176.

7 J.M. MacKenzie, ‘“The second city of the empire”. Glasgow – imperial municipality’, in Driver and Gilbert (eds.), Imperial Cities, 215–37, at 215–16; Withers, C., ‘The demographic history of the city, 1831–1911’, in Fraser, W. Hamish and Maver, I. (eds.), Glasgow, vol. II: 1830 to 1912 (Manchester and New York, 1996), 141–62, at 142; see Nicol, J., Vital, Social, and Economic Statistics of the City of Glasgow (Glasgow, 1891), 12, 107; Baddeley, M.J.B., A Guide to Glasgow and its Environs (Glasgow, 1888), 17.

8 Macaulay's Popular Illustrated Guide to Glasgow. Containing Six Beautiful Views of Interesting Places in Glasgow, and Map of the City (Glasgow, 1884), 10; Municipal Glasgow. Its Evolution and Enterprises (Glasgow, 1914), 2.

9 Moss, M.S. and Hume, J.R., Workshop of the British Empire (London and Edinburgh, 1977); Hazareesingh, S., ‘Interconnected synchronicities. The production of Bombay and Glasgow as modern global ports c. 1850–1880’, Journal of Global History, 4 (2009), 731; Devine, T.M., ‘A Scottish empire of enterprise in the East, c. 1700–1914’, in Devine, T.M. and McCarthy, A. (eds.), The Scottish Experience in Asia, c. 1700 to the Present (Cham, 2017), 2349, at 36–9.

10 Headrick, D.R., Tools of Empire. Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford and New York, 1981), 165–77; Burgess, D. Jr, Engines of Empire. Steamships and the Victorian Imagination (Stanford, 2016).

11 I. Maver, ‘Glasgow's civic government’, in Hamish Fraser and Maver (eds.), Glasgow, 441–85, at 453–68.

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13 Maver, I., ‘The role and influence of Glasgow's municipal managers, 1890s–1930s’, in Morris, R.J. and Trainor, R.H. (eds.), Urban Governance. Britain and Beyond since 1750 (Aldershot and Burlington, 2000), 6985, 69–71.

14 Maver, I., ‘Politics and power in the Scottish city. Glasgow town council in the nineteenth century’, in Devine, T.M. (ed.), Scottish Elites. Proceedings of the Scottish Historical Studies Seminar. University of Strathclyde 1991–1992 (Edinburgh, 1994), 98130, at 121.

15 Stobart, J., ‘Building an urban identity. Cultural space and civic boosterism in a “new” industrial town. Burslem, 1761–1911’, Social History, 29 (2004), 485–98.

16 Umbach, M., ‘A tale of second cities. Autonomy, culture, and the law in Hamburg and Barcelona in the late nineteenth century’, American Historical Review, 110 (2005), 659–92; Finlay, R.J., ‘National identity, union, and empire, c. 1850–1970’, in MacKenzie, J.M. and Devine, T.M. (eds.), Scotland and the British Empire (Oxford, 2011), 280316, at 294 n. 48; Wildman, C., Urban Redevelopment and Modernity in Liverpool and Manchester, 1918–39 (London and New York, 2016), 54–5.

17 For the historiography of British imperial culture, see Hall, C. and Rose, S. (eds.), At Home with the Empire. Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World (Cambridge, 2006); MacKenzi, J.M.e (ed.), The Victorian Vision. Inventing New Britain (London, 2001).

18 MacKenzie, ‘“The second city of the empire”’.

19 Bickford-Smith, V., ‘Introduction. The case for studying cities and nationalisms’, Journal of Urban History, 38 (2012), 855–61; Whyte, W. and Zimmer, O. (eds.), Nationalism and the Reshaping of Urban Communities in Europe, 1848–1914 (Basingstoke, 2011).

20 MacKenzie, J.M. (ed.), European Empires and the People. Popular Responses to Imperialism in France, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy (Manchester, 2011).

21 Morton, G., Unionist Nationalism. Governing Urban Scotland, 1830–1860 (East Linton, 1999), 1017, 43–8.

22 Finlay, ‘National identity’, 284–301; McLean, I. and McMillan, A., State of the Union. Unionism and the Alternatives in the United Kingdom since 1707 (Oxford, 2005), 1011, 94–8.

23 Bell, J. and Paton, J., Glasgow. Its Municipal Organization and Administration (Glasgow, 1896), 6.

24 Kidd, C., Subverting Scotland's Past. Scottish Whig Historians and the Creation of an Anglo-British Identity, 1689–1830 (Cambridge, 1993); W. Whyte, ‘Building the nation in the town. Architecture and identity in Britain’, in Whyte and Zimmer (eds.), Nationalism and the Reshaping, 204–33, at 222–3.

25 Whyte, ‘Building the nation’, 222–5; Harvie, C., A Floating Commonwealth. Politics, Culture, and Technology on Britain's Atlantic Coast, 1860–1930 (Oxford, 2008), 80; Black, J., ‘The United Kingdom and British empire. A figurational approach’, Rethinking History. The Journal of Theory and Practice, 22 (2018), 324, at 13–15.

26 Bell and Paton, Glasgow, 84.

27 Mitchell Library, Glasgow (ML), Glasgow City Archives (GCA), box MP7/DTC 14.1.7, report by committee appointed on 13 Jul. 1877, 17 Sep. 1877, 177.

28 McKenzie, R., Public Sculpture of Glasgow (Liverpool, 2002), 114–18, 122–31, 134–9.

29 ML/GCA, MP7/DTC 14.1.7, report by John Carrick, 14 Sep. 1877, 177V.

30 Ibid., 177.

31 ‘New municipal buildings for Glasgow’, Building News and Engineering Journal, 33 (1877), 355; GH, 9 Aug. 1877, 3.

32 National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, Report Explanatory of Designs for Proposed Municipal Offices, Glasgow. Submitted under the Motto: ‘Carton’ (1880), 3; D.W. Walker, ‘The Glasgow municipal buildings competitions, 1880–1882’, University of St Andrews MA thesis, 1995, 35–6.

33 Walker, ‘The Glasgow municipal buildings competitions’, 31–5, 47–61.

34 ML/GCA, DTC-6.31, outline of conditions for the second competition, 24 May 1881, 193.

35 ‘Glasgow municipal buildings competition’, The Builder, 39 (1880), 315–17, at 315.

36 J. Schmiechen, ‘Glasgow of the imagination. Architecture, townscape and society’, in Hamish Fraser and Maver (eds.), Glasgow, 486–518, at 499–503.

37 GH, 7 Apr. 1880, 9.

38 ML/GCA, MP7/TC 14.1.7, report by John Carrick, 28 Apr. 1881, 189.

39 Bremner, G.A., ‘Nation and empire in the government architecture of mid-Victorian London. The Foreign and India Office reconsidered’, Historical Journal, 48 (2005), 703–42.

40 ML/GCA, D-TC6/31, award by assessors in competition, 7 Jan. 1882, 204.

41 MLG/GCA, D-TC6/31, report by assessors on competition, 26 Jun. 1882, 209.

42 Brydon, J.M., ‘The late William Young’, Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 8 (1900), 44–8, at 45.

43 Many competition entries are discussed in Walker, ‘The Glasgow municipal buildings competitions’.

44 Brydon, ‘The late William Young’, 46; Young, W., The Municipal Buildings Glasgow (London, 1890), 13–14, 17, 20–1.

45 Cannadine, D., ‘The context, performance and meaning of ritual. The British monarchy and the “invention of tradition”, c. 1820–1977’, in Hobsbawm, E. and Ranger, T. (eds.), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, 1983), 101–64, at 138; Briggs, A., Victorian Cities (London, 1963), 160–2; Hunt, Building Jerusalem, 227–43.

46 Maver, I., Glasgow (Edinburgh, 2000), 124–5, 132.

47 Ibid., 124–5.

48 ‘Proposed municipal buildings, Glasgow’, The Builder, 39 (1880), 361.

49 ML/GCA, MP26.102, report by sub-committee on banqueting hall decorations, 30 Aug. 1894.

50 Cunningham, C., Victorian and Edwardian Town Halls (London, Boston and Henley, 1981), 152–4.

51 Bremner, ‘The metropolis’, 150–1; G.A. Bremner, ‘Stones of empire. Monuments, memorials, and manifest authority’, in Bremner, Architecture and Urbanism, 87–124, at 98–100.

52 Whyte, ‘Building the nation’, 224–5.

53 GH, 4 Oct. 1883, 4.

54 Wyke, T., Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester (Liverpool, 2004), 2432.

55 ML/GCA, MP16, minutes of municipal buildings committee, 22 Nov. 1886, 433.

56 GH, 3 Dec. 1886, 4.

57 Ibid.

58 MLG/GCA, MP16, minutes of municipal buildings committee, 19 Jan. 1887, fol. 434v.

59 Droth, M., Edwards, J. and Hatt, M., Sculpture Victorious. Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901 (Chicago, 1998), 102–13.

60 McLean and McMillan, State of the Union, 105–11.

61 Cited in Lloyd-Jones, N., ‘Liberalism, Scottish nationalism and the Home Rule crisis, c. 1886–93’, English Historical Review, 129 (2014), 862–87, at 870.

62 I. Sweeney [Maver], ‘The municipal administration of Glasgow, 1833–1912. Public service and the Scottish civic identity’, University of Strathclyde Ph.D. thesis, 1990, 632, 773.

63 Howell, D., British Workers and the Independent Labour Party 1888–1906 (Manchester, 1983), 139.

64 Ibid., 139–41; Smyth, J.J., Labour in Glasgow, 1896–1936. Socialism, Suffrage, Sectarianism (East Linton, 2000), 21.

65 GH, 3 Dec. 1886, 4.

66 MLG/GCA MP16, council meeting minutes, 22 Nov. 1886, fol. 434v. Political allegiances were taken from councillors’ biographies in Sweeney, ‘The municipal administration of Glasgow’.

67 Evening News and Star, 3 Feb. 1887, 2; GH, 4 Feb. 1887, 10.

68 ML/GCA, council meeting minutes, 22 Nov. 1886.

69 Nicol, Vital, Social, and Economic Statistics, 106–7.

70 Ibid., 397.

71 Driver, F., ‘In search of the imperial map. Walter Crane and the image of empire’, History Workshop Journal, 69 (2010), 146–57; Cannadine, ‘Context, performance and meaning’, 124–5, 133.

72 McKenzie, Public Sculpture, 153, 155, 157.

73 Ibid., 154–5, 493; GH, 18 Sep. 1886, 4.

74 Schmiechen, ‘Glasgow of the imagination’, 490–9.

75 Maver, ‘Glasgow's civic government’, 443–4.

76 GH, 3 Dec. 1886, 4.

77 Young, The Municipal Buildings, 17.

78 Ninth Decennial Census of the Population of Scotland, 1881, vol. II (Edinburgh, 1883), 707–14.

79 W. Hamish Fraser, ‘The working class’, in Hamish Fraser and Maver (eds.), Glasgow, 300–51, at 319–21.

80 Roberts, B., ‘Entertaining the community. The evolution of civic ritual and public celebration, 1860–1953’, Urban History, 44 (2017), 444–63; S. Gunn, ‘Ritual and civic culture in the English industrial city, c. 1835–1914’, in Morris and Trainor (eds.), Urban Governance, 226–41, at 229–33.

81 Description of Ceremonial on the Occasion of Laying the Foundation Stone of the Municipal Buildings, in George Square, Glasgow (Glasgow, 1885), 2–3.

82 Ibid., 2, 4.

83 MLG/GCA, MP9-DTC/14.1.9, report by committee on foundation stone arrangements, 4 Mar. 1884, 2; MLG/GCA, MP12, invitation by lord provost for meeting with municipal committee, 30 Aug. 1883, 713.

84 Gunn, S., The Public Culture of the Victorian Middle Class. Ritual and Authority in the English Industrial City 1840–1914 (Manchester and New York, 2000), 174; Description of Ceremonial, 19–41.

85 Fraser, W. Hamish, Trade Unions and Society. The Struggle for Acceptance 1850–1880 (Totowa, NJ, 1974), 208–10.

86 Description of Ceremonial, 41.

87 Kinchin, P. and Kinchin, J., Glasgow's Great Exhibitions, 1888, 1901, 1911, 1938, 1988 (Wendlebury, 1988), 1819.

88 Ibid., 17–53.

89 Nicol, Vital, Social, and Economic Statistics, 388–9.

90 Ibid., 427.

91 MLG/GCA, MP16, council meeting minutes, copy of letter by town clerk Marwick to private secretary Ponsonby, 1 Jun. 1887, 342–4; copy of letter by Ponsonby to Marwick, 4 Jun. 1887, 347.

92 Nicol, Vital, Social, and Economic Statistics, 426.

93 Diary entry by Queen Victoria, 22 Aug. 1888, 47,, accessed 17 Jan. 2019.

94 GH, 23 Aug. 1888, 9.

95 McFarland, E.W., ‘Clyde opinion on an old controversy. Indian and Chinese seafarers in Glasgow’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 14 (1991), 493515.

96 Briggs, Victorian Cities (1963), 170–7; ‘The Bradford trades procession’, The Builder, 31 (1873), 723; Axon, W.E.A., Description of the Town Hall, Manchester, to which Is Added a Report of the Inaugural Proceedings, September 1877 (Manchester and London, 1878), 7087; Rodger, R., ‘The “common good” and civic promotion: Edinburgh 1860–1914’, in Colls, R. and Rodger, R. (eds.), Cities of Ideas. Civil Society and Urban Governance in Britain 1800–2000 (Aldershot, 2004), 144–77, at 153–8.

97 Whyte, ‘Building the nation’, 207; Parkinson-Bailey, J.J., Manchester. An Architectural History (Manchester and New York, 2000), 112.

98 The Glasgow Evening News (GEN), 23 Aug. 1888, 4; Hay, G., The Yeomanry Cavalry and Military Identities in Rural Britain, 1815–1914 (Cham, 2017), 92–3.

99 Howe, S., ‘Anti-colonialism in twentieth-century Scotland’, in Glass, B.S. and MacKenzie, J.M. (eds.), Scotland, Empire and Decolonisation in the Twentieth Century (Manchester, 2015), 113–30, at 113–14.

100 GEN, 23 Aug. 1888, 4; GH, 23 Aug. 1888, 7; Smyth, Labour in Glasgow, 133–4.

101 Hart, T., ‘Urban growth and municipal government. Glasgow in a comparative context, 1846–1914’, in Slaven, A. and Aldcroft, D.H. (eds.), Business, Banking and Urban History. Essays in Honour of S.G. Checkland (Edinburgh, 1982), 193219, at 210–13; Finlay, ‘National identity’, 301–15; Gunn, The Public Culture, 187–99.

102 Willsdon, C.A.P., Mural Painting in Britain 1840–1940. Image and Meaning (Oxford and New York, 2000), 184–5.

103 Scotsman, 4 Sep. 1908, col. 5g.

104 Daily Herald, 8 Jul. 1914, col. 1b; Forward, 11 Jul. 1914, col. 1c–d.

105 Bolitho, W., Cancer of Empire (London and New York, 1924).

For providing useful comments on earlier versions in various settings, I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers along with Ido de Haan, Gaard Kets, Henk te Velde and Richard Vinen; the staff of the city archives and special collections in Glasgow's Mitchell Library have been ever helpful.

Glasgow's new town hall: imperialism, nationalism and civic pride, 1877–1889

  • Miel Groten (a1)


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