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.

Gallus Glasgow B: the Barrowland

Stephen Sweeney CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Stephen Sweeney CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Barrowland, in the East End of Glasgow, is a legendary street-market, affectionately known to all as The Barras. When it was started by Maggie McIver almost a hundred years ago it would, literally, have been a collection of barrows – over 300. Maggie went on to found the Barrowland Ballroom which is still going today (although it had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1958) as a major music venue. All the most gallus Glaswegians are seen there. When Maggie died she was a multi-millionaire – not bad for a girl from the East End!

Barrowland Ballroom
Barrowland Ballroom

A recent addition to the area is Barrowland Park with this art work by Jim Lambie. It’s a 100 metre pathway listing the names of 2000 of the bands who have played at Barrowlands since 1983. I’ve highlighted a couple that I know I was at! (Elvis Costello and Grinderman).

It’s C tomorrow – and I hope you’re hungry! We’re talking Glasgow’s favourite food.

Glasgow’s Doors Open 2013

Doors Open Days happen throughout September in different cities in Scotland – this last weekend it was Glasgow’s event and we went exploring on Sunday, concentrating our efforts on the area near Glasgow Green between the City Centre and the East End.

Glasgow Green

It was a lovely day so we wandered round the Green first – it’s home to a beautifully restored fountain, the People’s Palace and the former Templeton’s Carpet Factory (modelled on the Doge’s Palace, no less). The latter is now an office block and also houses WEST Brewery, which proved to be an excellent stop for lunch. So it was almost 2.30pm before we got going on Doors Open proper. Oh dear….

The Pipe Factory

As with Templeton’s above, this building features intricate and ornate brickwork. I’d never heard of it before – this was its first outing in Doors Open – but it was originally a clay pipe factory (nothing to do with bagpipes as I thought it might be) and is now home to a group of architects, writers and artist who are turning it into studios. The group has kept the Pipe Factory name.

Barrowland Ballroom

As we left the Pipe factory, I overheard a young woman excitedly telling her friend about another Doors Open she had discovered just round the corner: an old ballroom. I thought to myself “new student, not been here long” because the Barrowland is a Glasgow legend. It’s now a rock venue, and as seedy as they come: even during the day, entering the black, windowless bar felt like descending into hell! This was a rare chance to see backstage – and to discover that the stars don’t enjoy much more luxury than the punters. I think the pictures flatter it (the exterior shot at night is from a previous visit). If all this sounds as though I hate it, I don’t, I love it. Our next date with Barrowland is next month (Nick Cave).

The Barony

The Barony, formerly a church, completed in 1890, is now the ceremonial hall of the University of Strathclyde. Despite having worked for the University for 20 years I had never been in, so this filled a gap in my education. By this time, everything was starting to close so we wended our way home to rest our weary feet.