A LITTLE plaque on the exterior wall proclaims: “Glasgow’s Oldest Public House (built circa 1515) Ancient staging post and hostelry”.

But now it has been claimed that the storied history of The Old College Bar in the Merchant City may have been based on a myth drummed up to boost trade, with the invention passing into folklore.

Owner Colin Beattie claims that instead of dating to the 1500s, the pub's origins only go so far as the 1800s. And the supposedly 'medieval' foundations it rests on are nothing more than the cobblestones of a Victorian railway yard.

Mr Beattie's admission goes a long way to explaining why the pub was never given listed status and official protection. by Historic Environment Scotland.

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And they will also be music to the ears of developers who have a £40million plan in place to tear down the Old College Bar, at the corner of the High Street and George Street, and build a development of shops, offices and restaurants as well as 401 private-rent student bedrooms in its place.

“The current building in which the bar stands dates to the 19th Century and the reason it’s not listed is, quite simply, because it meets none of the requirements for listed building status,” said Mr Beattie.


The Old College Bar claims to date back almost 500 years

“What might be said, though without certainty, is that the Old College Bar has had a continuous license since the 18th Century, a claim that can be made legitimately by several other city pubs.”

Mr Beattie, who has owned the pub on the High Street for the past 20 years, revealed he was told by his predecessor, Ossie Prosser, that the bar was ‘Glasgow’s oldest’ as a way of boosting trade.

Mr Prosser was a long-standing Glasgow publican behind some of the city’s most famous drinking holes including The Doublet and The Chancellor in the west end and The Buddies, in Paisley

Mr Beattie, who has owned and run more than 50 pubs in the west of Scotland, including Oran Mor and the Lismore, says he kept the pretence going because he didn’t have the heart to tell regulars it was a fabrication.

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He said: “As the owner of the Old College Bar, it may be instructive for me to reveal that it’s not, in fact, Glasgow’s oldest pub – or at least there’s no reliable evidence to support the claim that it is. 

“It’s a myth confected by its previous owner, the late Ossie Prosser, who revealed the truth to me as we exchanged the keys for the building and he urged me to keep the ‘story’ going because, he said, it was good for business.”


The interior will be reproduced in a new building, say developers

The pub’s name refers to the University of Glasgow, which was based around the High Street from its foundation in 1451 until it moved to its present site at Gilmorehill in 1870. 

The departure of the university from the High Street led to the demolition of its 17th century campus to make way for a railway goods yard, a decision described at the time as “cultural vandalism”. 

By the late Victorian era the commercial hub of Glasgow had moved west to Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street, with the area around High Street and Glasgow Cross entering a long decline.

The publican added: “A spurious claim that the pub’s foundations date back to the 16th Century is based on unfounded and unproven speculation by an anonymous academic said to have visited the premises. 

“Cobble stones in the basement, said to be the remains of a medieval street, are in fact what’s left of a former railway yard."

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The bar has become a political football for commentators and local activists after it was earmarked for demolition last year, according to Beattie.

However, the plans include pledge to retain a refurbished version of the pub on the site and to reproduce its current interior in an identical form - minus the plaque. 

According to the owner, the commitment was made to appease campaigners who believe the bar has historical significance.