Around Glasgow's oldest streets
With Glasgow lined up for a historic visit by Sons of the Desert during this year's proposed UK Convention, BILL CROUCH takes us on a tour of streets you can explore
The area of Glasgow around the Metropole Theatre and the Britannia Panopticon contain some of the oldest streets in the city and this area is worthy of some further investigation. Situated at the foot of Stockwell Street, one of Glasgow’s oldest streets, is the Clutha Bar. The bar is named after the Gaelic word for the Clyde, and the bar has sat by the river for over two centuries.
Usually pictured with comedy partner Oliver Hardy, a doleful Stan Laurel joined many other famous faces, including Scottish legends, Billy Connolly, Benny Lynch, Gerry Rafferty, and Alex Harvey, in June 2015, the newest addition to the Clutha Bar’s Art Mural. The Mural, a black and white wrap-around scene was put together by Art Pistol, a platform for up-and-coming artists and was created in the wake of the 2013 tragedy when a helicopter crashed into the bar on 29th November, killing ten people.
Unfortunately, because the Scottish weather has severely damaged the murals they have been removed. However, bar owner, Alan Crossan insists that the originals won’t be lost but will become part of an art installation - we look forward to that.
I often wondered if passers-by knew of Stan Laurel’s connection to this area of Glasgow and the significance of the small steam ship in the mural.
As a teenager, Arthur Stanley Jefferson did live near Glasgow, in Rutherglen, but for two short years only, between 1905 and 1907. The Clutha Bar is situated on the same street once occupied by the Metropole Theatre. Stan’s father, Arthur Jefferson had taken the lease of the Metropole in 1901 and Stan had been gallery ticket collector there at the beginning of 1907. It was, one morning, on the stage of the Metropole that Stan himself said he made up his mind to go on the stage.
As you leave the Clutha Bar and walk up Stockwell Street you come to a very old lane called Goosedubbs. (Dubbs is an old word for puddle). Diagonally across the way was once the frontage to the Metropole Theatre. It is now a parking lot. The theatre was destroyed by fire on the 28th October 1961. Manager Alec Frutin had plans to rebuild it, but as this part of Glasgow, so near the river, has a foundation of silt and sand, the cost of rebuilding was prohibitive.
To the left of Stan in the mural is a small steamship called Clutha No.9.
The Cluthas were single-screw cross-river ferries built for the Clyde Trustees.
The first six Cluthas (numbered 1-6) were built by Thomas Seath at his shipyard in Rutherglen. Intriguing, this was not too far from where the Jeffersons lived when they moved from North Shields, and I have little doubt that Stan would have become familiar with this part of the river.
The Cluthas ran until the end of 1903, taking workers across the river to the numerous factories and shipyards that lined the Clyde in those busy days. They would have been a familiar site to the patrons of the Clutha Bar, the Scotia and, no doubt, to Arthur Jefferson at the Metropole.
It was the success of the new Glasgow tramway system and the Glasgow underground system that finished off these little work-horses.
As you wander further along Stockwell Street you come to Argyle Street and if you turn left, you will come to Sloan’s Bar in the Argyll Arcade, meeting place to the Bonnie Scotland Tent for many years.
Directly opposite, at 137 Argyle Street, stands what was once Crouch’s Wonderland famed for its excellent displays of waxworks, mechanical models and figures, together with human freaks and live variety acts. It was owned by Londoner Herbert Crouch who lived on the premises. Stan, I am sure, must have enjoyed its many delights on more than one occasion. The December 1906 programme is illustrated here.
To the right of Stockwell Street, along Argyle Street, you approach the Trongate - once considered so important that it was the first street in the city to have a pavement.
The Italianate facade of the Britannia Panopticon is on your right. It was in this theatre in 1907, that Stan Jefferson appeared at a Friday Amateur Night performance, an appearance that was to play a significant part in his future career. But that, of course, is another story.