Debauchery and deviance

Horse MacDonald and Suzanne Egerton
Horse MacDonald and Suzanne Egerton

Did that title get your attention? That was the name of a guided walk I went on during Glasgow’s Sexology Season in May. In association with the Wellcome Collection and Glasgow Fun Palace, it promised “the debauched history of Scotland’s most populated city” and “tales of sex in all its guises-from the scandals of Victorian society, burlesque, and queer lives to adult cinema”. Theatrical narration along the way was provided by two guides – writer Suzanne Egerton and singer-songwriter Horse MacDonald.

Helen MacKinven, the friend I went with, has written an account of the full walk – I just want to concentrate on two places which might be familiar if you were with me on the A to Z Challenge this year. I showed you the exterior of B for Barrowland and P for Panopticon – on this walk, we got to go inside both. Would you like to take a look?


The Barrowland Ballroom is pretty sleazy, and it’s interesting to know that the stars don’t get any better accommodation than the fans. We were also reminded of some of Barrowland’s dark history, such as the Bible John murders of the late 1960s: the killer picked up his victims there. On a lighter note, Horse posed with a poster for her own concert at the venue. The lyrics on the staircase, or at least the ones I’ve Googled, are by Biffy Clyro.

Britannia Panopticon

The world’s oldest surviving music hall has been entertaining since 1857 and was the first place Stan Laurel trod the boards.

We were lucky enough to meet Judith Bowers who is in charge of the Panopticon and founded the campaign to restore it. She was very entertaining and told us of the significance of the three Ps in the building’s history: pee, poo and prostitutes. Yes really! Enjoy some more pictures, then read on….

  • Pee. The Panopticon had no toilet until 1893 and, unlike many music halls, it’s on the first floor. Men couldn’t be bothered fighting their way downstairs to the alleyway, so could this be why this music hall survived when others burned down? It was sodden!
  • Poo. A lump of horse sh*t collected from the streets made a great hand warmer, apparently. And a handy missile if the comedian was rubbish…..
  • Prostitutes. Ladies of uncertain virtue would congregate in one corner of the balcony. How do we know? The presence of large numbers of trouser buttons found in that area when it was excavated.

One other thing that interested me, but that Judith didn’t mention, was the Carrie Nation poster on the wall. Carrie was an American temperance campaigner who visited Glasgow in 1908 and spoke in both the City Halls and the Panopticon. She was famed for smashing up bars with a hatchet and had quite a theme going – a bi-weekly newspaper called The Smasher’s Mail, a newspaper called The Hatchet, and little hatchet pins to sell to raise funds. The one pictured below belongs to Glasgow Women’s Library: Carrie features on one of our Women’s History Walks.

Thanks to Suzanne, Horse and Judith for a fascinating and informative afternoon. I hope, Dear Reader, you’ve enjoyed it too.


  1. Looks like a fab tour! How neat to see all the Carrie Nation stuff; I especially like that little hatchet pin! I didn’t know she visited Glasgow (not that I’m a Carrie Nation expert, just assumed she was too busy smashing stuff up in America).


    • No, she graced us with her presence too. I met on Twitter the g-g-granddaughter of the woman she stayed with when she was here. According to family legend, the two ladies played ping-pong together and smashed all the gas mantles!

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  2. How fun! These photos remind me of the back stage areas of some of our local venues. Usually the space for the band to get ready is a poorly lit cavernous space, frequent located down a rickety stairway, Brick walls covered with band promos and floors sticky with hopefully just spilled beer. I am amazed by how many different tours there are of Glasgow.


  3. A collection of trouser buttons…I would never have jumped to this conclusion. I would have thought someone dropped their sewing basket. Then I would have wondered why someone was sewing on the balcony…