The High Street – Glasgow’s most ancient street and the birthplace of the city, was once its bustling centre. Along with the Medieval Cathedral and the dramatic Necropolis, the original Glasgow University campus was located here with its collection of fine 17th century buildings.
However when it relocated to its impressive new home in the west end, designed by the prolific Gothic revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, the skyline of the east end of the city changed– a vast railway goods yard and warehouse complex dominated the street.
These in turn were swept away in the latter half of the 20th century, and today, the stretch of the city and gateway to the east end is a melting pot of Victorian grandeur and new developments, peppered with independent cafes, curiosity shops, and traditional pubs. A few iconic buildings still nod to the splendour of a bygone era however, and Niall Murphy, Historic Buildings Officer at Glasgow City Heritage Trust tells us about one of his favourite hidden gems tucked away here.
"215 High Street, otherwise known as the British Linen Bank of 1895 is one of my favourite Glasgow buildings and well worth a look. It was designed by architect James Salmon Jnr (1873-1924), one of the masters of the Glasgow Style and friend of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Salmon, who was affectionately nicknamed “Wee Trout” due to his small size, had a great sense of humour and quick wit along with a gift for great design.
Though diminutive like its creator, the British Linen Bank is utterly charming with a crow stepped gable, over which is an open lattice dome and oriel bay to the High Street. It was designed so early in Salmon’s career that the initial drawings were signed by his father! This delightful building hints at his burgeoning talent and the emerging Glasgow Style, exhibiting some precocious Art Nouveau detailing, particularly the arrangement of floating putti around the arch of the main window to the banking hall.
These, and other motifs, such as an early stained glass Galleon by Oscar Paterson, are developed throughout Salmon’s later work too. Salmon also plays with his idea of an open lattice dome throughout all his British Linen Banks. This feature later reappears as a dramatic spiky thistle dome in his masterpiece and best known work The “Hat Rack” on St Vincent Street. Salmon’s signature feature also appears in letters to his beloved brother Hugh who had emigrated to New Zealand, including a fanciful sketch of a 21 storey skyscraper to celebrate a landmark birthday.
The Linen Bank then extends down Nicholas Street creating a very romantic skyline all carefully composed to reflect the scale of the Georgian buildings that once sat opposite. The Nicholas Street elevation also incorporates a curious bronze relief to memorialise the Glasgow poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), who was born in the townhouse that previously occupied the site. Campbell is immortalised as a statue in George Square and was a friend of Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron and Keats to name a few.