Glasgow is an incredibly gothic city - and we’re not just talking about Cathouse - the very foundations of Glasgow were built around Glasgow Cathedral, the most Gothic building in the city.
Very few architectural styles or buildings in Scotland are more striking than Glasgow’s Gothic masterpieces. The awe-inspiring craftsmanship and dramatic beauty of Glasgow’s gothic building is truly something.
This article embarks on a journey through Glasgow’s Gothic architecture, delving into the origins and influences of this captivating style while unraveling the city’s historical connection to the Gothic Revival movement.
Gothic architecture flourished during the medieval period, but in the 19th century, a rekindled interest in this style led to the Gothic Revival movement, which swept across Europe, leaving an indelible mark on Glasgow’s urban landscape.
Glasgow is so gothic in fact that the wet and moody streets are often used to fill in for the fictional city Gotham in Batman media - seen most recently in the new Robert Pattison Batman film, and sadly never seen in the cancelled, unreleased Batgirl.
Through the lens of art, history, and cultural significance, we will unearth the stories behind iconic structures such as Glasgow Cathedral and the University of Glasgow, shedding light on how the Gothic Revival movement breathed new life into this ancient architectural style and continues to enchant visitors to this day.
1. People’s Palace (1898)
The idea of “palaces for the people” drew on the writings of John Ruskin, William Morris and Annie Besant. At the time, the East End of Glasgow was one of the most unhealthy and overcrowded parts of the city, and the People’s Palace was intended to provide a cultural centre for the people. Upon its opening, Rosebery from the House of Lords described it as: “A palace of pleasure and imagination around which the people may place their affections and which may give them a home on which their memory may rest”. He declared the building “Open to the people for ever and ever”. While you can still visit the people’s palace today, the Winter Gardens have been closed since 2018.
2. Glasgow Cathedral (~1136)
Glasgow was built around the Cathedral - making it one of, if not the first building to ever be built in what would become Glasgow. The cities Cathedral is described as ‘one of the finest buildings of the 1200s to survive in mainland Scotland.’ The building and extension of the cathedral took place over decades, with different renovations occuring in different centuries. Building fabric from Bishop Jocelin’s time (1174–99) is still standing. He is recorded as ‘gloriously enlarging’ his cathedral in 1181. Fragments from the previous cathedral have also been found.
3. Tolbooth Steeple
All that remains of the old Tolbooth is it’s steeple, but before the old Tolbooth, there was an even older Tolbooth in the same location. In 1626, the new Tolbooth was built, it was a very impressive stone building five storeys high, with small windows, which looked onto the Trongate. The Tollbooth was not just used as an administrative centre but as a prison for those accused of crimes. The prisoners would have been led to their rooms by a narrow turnpike stair in the Tolbooth steeple. The seven story steeple, which survives today, would have stood at the east of the building. The biggest gothic feature of the steeple is the roof.
4. University of Glasgow, Gilbert Scott Building (1891)
Reportedly, Alexander Thomson was fuming that he never got awarded the contract for the University of Glasgow after his contributions to the city. Due to internal politics of the time, Sir George Gilbert Scott was awarded the contract. Although he died before the building was finished. His son John Oldrid Scott, a famous architect in his own right, would complete the now iconic building in 1891 that now serves as Glasgow Uni’s main campus. This included the University’s iconic tower, which stands 278 feet high and is one of Glasgow`s most notable landmarks. Photo: University of Glasgow