The background, early development, and social history of George Square in Glasgow
George Square is one of Glasgow’s most well known landmarks - and has a long and storied history.
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George Square has been a prominent feature of Glasgow’s city centre for the last 250 years - and has been the staging ground for many historic events in the city’s past.
Named after King George III, the square was initially laid out in 1781, but wasn’t developed fully until the early 1800s. It also originally went by ‘George’s Square’.
George Square actually precedes some of the incredibly important architecture around it - while the Merchants’ House was built 200 years prior to foundation of the square, the City Chambers only began to be laid in 1883.
The square has several important statues and monuments as well, including those dedicated to Robert Burns, James Watt, Sir Robert Peel, Sir Walter Scott, and Sir John Moore, whose statue was accompanied originally by a sword, before it was lost.
Sir Walter Scott takes up the central spot in George Square, the 80 foot fluted Doric column comes from red Giffnock sandstone, and was designed by competition winning architect David Rhind.
The statue was completed by 1837, years before Scott was commemorated with the 200 foot gothic Scott monument in Edinburgh.
Famous Glasgow artist and engraver, Joseph Swan, completed a panoramic engraving of the early development of the square and its surrounding buildings.
In Swan’s book, ‘Select views of Glasgow and it’s Environs’ it describes George Square as such:“The interior of the square is very tastefully laid out with trees, shrubbery, and flowers, intersected by numerous gravel walks; and in the centre it is intended to erect a light dome, supported on pillars, having under it a basin, with a jet d’eau, or cascade of water.”
While the dome fountain idea ever quite came to fruition (it was more of a basin where livestock drank from) further development took place surrounding George Square as Glasgow navigated its way through the industrial revolution.
Between 1787 and the 1820s Georgian terraces were built around the perimeter of George’s square. By 1807 a hotel occupied the south end of this terrace, which later became the George Hotel.
In 1825, the Glasgow Corporation (progenitors of Glasgow City Council) instructed the curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sandyford to improve the square. The landscaper added winding walks, trees, and shrubs, fenced around with an iron railing.
In 1838 an adjoining mansion to George Square, Glasgow House, was sold to the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, who demolished it and built their terminus in its grounds, with station buildings in Dundas Street. This would become Queen Street Station when it opened in 1842.
Later in the 19th century, Italian renaissance architecture became popular - and lended its influence to the construction and design of several other buildings that were constructed around George Square.
The square has been a space for Glaswegians to express civil unrest since it’s inception over 200 years ago, and notably, is the last place in Britain to have been occupied by the army.
This occupation followed a riot dubbed ‘The Battle of George Square’ in which a protest by skilled workers for a 40 hour work week devolved into battles with Police.
Eventually a red flag was raised, which despite distancing from communism by strike organisers, led to the Government getting a huge fright and deploying 10000 troops and six tanks from the British military.
Following a remodelling in 2012 that stripped some of the green spaces from the park, locals have long campaigned through the ‘Restore George Square’ group to reimplement more greenery into the city centre square.
Now George Square is in the process of being pedestrianised, after controversial attempts were made and abandoned in 2013 to ‘redevelop’ the square, and already the scheme is starting to change the square.
Introduced as part of plans to make Glasgow a greener city, it is hoped that the new layout will involve full closure of the east and west sides of the square, with the north and south sides remaining open as public transport corridors.
All parking has been removed on the square now, and changes have begun to be enabled by temporary measures like street furniture installed during the pandemic.