Join the Scottish Ghost Nights team as they explore one of Glasgow’s oldest buildings after dark. The Merchants House is one of the oldest and most important bodies in Glasgow with over 400yrs of history. So, it is perhaps not surprising that there may be a ghost or two lurking around….
With a varied history it has been the site of social gatherings, an almshouse, a hospital and as a key place for governance in Glasgow. We find that such locations are alive with energies of the past and make for very exciting ghost hunts.
The house is closely linked with that of civic government and over the centuries the House has always been connected with the Local Authority, the Dean of Guild being ex officio a member of the Town Council until the 16th May, 1975. Although the 1973 Act abolished all non-elected posts, the part played by the Lord Dean and the House in the governance of the City of Glasgow over the centuries has been recognised in that the then City of Glasgow District Council invited the Lord Dean to attend meetings of the Council in an honorary non-voting capacity, which he does regularly, thus keeping the House in touch with civic affairs.
The Merchants House Building
The original Merchants Hall was built about 1600 as a meeting place for the merchants and also as a “Hospital” in the older sense of the word; that is as an Almshouse for Merchants and their families who had fallen on hard times. After the Almshouse had attracted several endowments the Hall was re-built in the 1650’s to a design by Sir William Bruce of Kinross, architect to Charles Π. It had ground floor lodgings for four old couples, but most of the charity of the House was expended on pensions.
In the 18th Century the hall was a major venue for social events, but latterly the Tontine Hotel became the centre of the “Exchange” and the Trades House, Assembly Rooms and Royal Exchange were built in the Queen Street area. The Merchants House met for a time in the City Chambers, then at the foot of the Saltmarket, and in 1817 the Dean of Guild, James Ewing, proposed that the Hall be moved from the Bridgegate. The building was sold, with provision for the retention of the Steeple, which remains a well-known landmark in the City. The briggait steeple was sold to Glasgow City Council in 2009.
As a result of disagreements over a new site it was not until 1843 that the new hall was opened in Hutcheson Street, between the City Chambers and the Sheriff Court House for Lanarkshire. It was here that Chopin gave his only piano recital in Glasgow. In 1870 the building was reluctantly sold to the Town Council to allow for an expanding civic administration. For a time meetings were held in the Chamber of Commerce Hall in Virginia Street.
Since 1813 the Merchants House had been participating in the scheme to develop George Square. In 1877 the new Merchants House building was complete. The design by John Burnet included offices for the Chamber of Commerce. Substantial alterations were made in 1908 by Burnet’s son, also John, when two storeys were added, and the building became that seen today.