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From the archive: the halls at the heart of Glasgow's civic life

It was once a building that dominated civic life in Scotland’s biggest city, home to some of the world’s biggest entertainers, politicians and musicians for almost a century.

Bob Hope signs a programme for fan John Shaw following a show at the halls
Bob Hope signs a programme for fan John Shaw following a show at the halls

Now, 50 years after it was destroyed by a fire, we take a look back at the history of St Andrew’s Halls in Glasgow.

The impressive building, which was designed by architect James Sellars, opened in 1877, following demand for a large hall in the West End, at a cost of £100,000 and was bought over by Glasgow’s Town Council for £37,000.  It included a grand hall, several smaller theatres, two rooms called the Berkley and a ballroom.

The halls soon became the beating heart of civic and cultural life in Glasgow, hosting the first public meeting of the National Party of Scotland in 1928 and providing a platform for high profile politicians, entertainers and prime ministers such as David Lloyd George, Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill, Bob Hope, Anthony Eden, Bonar Law and the Queen. Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, was even arrested at the halls during a demonstration in 1913.

It was also the venue of choice for orchestral concerts and important meetings in the city by groups including the Progressive Party, the Girl Guides and the teachers union and hosted Glasgow’s Red Army Day celebrations, a special time of prayer for Russia which was held on the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Red Army, in 1943.

However, the city was plunged into mourning when the historic building was almost completely destroyed by a fire on October 26 1962. It is believed the blaze was started by a cigarette end which had been dropped during a boxing match between Scotland and Romania at the venue the night before.

Smoke from the blaze could be seen from 20 miles away and it was so intense that it caused the paintwork on cars parked in the streets around the halls to bubble and a motorcycle actually caught fire. Despite hundreds of firefighters battling for four hours to save the halls, only the facade of the building on Granville Street survived.

At the time it was estimated that the fire would cost the city millions of pounds and a promise was made by Glasgow’s Lord Provost to replace the building with a new hall, but this never happened.

However, the halls was not lost forever. Its last surviving piece in Granville Street is now the centrepiece of the Mitchell Library extension, which was built between 1972 and 1980, and can still be seen today.

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