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The Panopticon, 117 Trongate, Glasgow

Sitting just along the Trongate from the Tron Theatre and not quite where that road becomes Argyle Street is a very interesting building. From the street it looks like many other fairly attractive old Glasgow city centre buildings, but that belies its original use and history. Today you will find an amusement arcade at the ground floor, but above that there is a surprise awaiting you. I highly recommend that you arrange a visit. You can see when this is possible from the website link below. I also quote from that same source.

The Trongate facade.

Britannia Panopticon began life in the late 1850s when Glasgow was the Second City of the British Empire and bursting at the seams with humanity. Thousands of workers had flocked to the city to work in the mills, factories, foundries, shipyards and collieries. They lived in the worst conditions imaginable; single ends housed one third of the population, lodging houses where they crammed eight to a bed were available for those who couldn’t afford a single end and if you couldn’t afford a sliver of bed space then the penny line was a slightly better option than the poorhouses and workhouses. The very success of the city produced dire living conditions and many people tried to block it out, if even temporarily through such places as music halls.

Judith Bowers who saved the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall at the piano with a difference

The audience of the Britannia Music Hall (as it was originally known) comprised 1500 of these people, who would cram into the small auditorium four times a day, squeezing up cheek to cheek (so to speak) on the rough wooden benches that served as seating for those who could afford it. Those who couldn’t got to stand at the sides and back of the hall. Where-ever they sat and whoever they were, they all came for the same reason, to be entertained, blow off steam, have a laugh (usually at the expense of the act on stage if they weren’t up to muster) and escape from their difficult lives.

The gallery

The music hall went through various phases, even including an indoor zoo. The stories that abound within its walls are recorded on the website and in a fascinating book, “Glasgow's Lost Theatre - the Story of the Britannia Music Hall" by Judith Bowers who is one of the prime movers in its recovery.

The greatest surprise is that much of all that, well except for the smoke and smells and animals and rude interjections, still exists there. And due to the efforts of a group of enthusiast it is gradually being returned to active use.

The attic level. A story in its own right.

There is little point in trying to reflect its wild music hall years in a photograph. That I leave to the stories of those who show you around and the displays. Instead I have chosen this one of the exterior. It exudes a quiet dignified innocence – quite different to to its rowdy existence behind that façade.


Britannia Panopticon website : https://www.britanniapanopticon.org

British Listed Buildings : https://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/200375680-glasgow-109-121-trongate-britannia-music-hall-glasgow

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