The People's Palace and Winter Gardens have been part of Glasgow's social fabric for a remarkably long time.

The Palace was opened by the Earl of Rosebery on January 22, 1898 - a mere three decades after the assassination of President Lincoln, and three years before the death of Queen Victoria. Rosebery described it as  "a palace of pleasure and imagination around which the people may place their affections and which may give them a home on which their memory may rest".

The Herald: People's Palace and Nelson's column on the banks of the River ClydePeople's Palace and Nelson's column on the banks of the River Clyde (Image: Newsquest)He added, for good measure: "Surely, this is one of the most occasions by which even Glasgow, so full of great historical associations, has ever been distinguished". 

In the decades ever since, Glasgow's social history museum has remained consistently popular with residents and tourists alike and, in the words of Glasgow Life, it houses a wide collection of objects, photographs, prints and film, which together afford a glimpse into how Glaswegians lived, worked and played in years gone by to the present day.

Glasgow's People's Palace: What's next after Levelling Up fund snub?

Its exhibits range from Billy Connolly's banana boots, gifted by the Big Yin himself, to Rab C Nesbit’s string vest and a bottle of Irn Bru. On the top floor there's an evocative re-creation of a single-end flat. The palace's other attractions range from depictions of old-fashioned steamies to a vintage pink dress, in the Barrowlands display - a fashion item that "brings to life all the laughter, fun and romance of the dance halls in the late 20th Century". 

In 1983 the Palace staged an exhibition, From Quill Pen to Microchip, marking the 200th anniversary of the Glasgow Herald.

The story of the Palace is closely woven with the story of the city's working classes and its customs and traditions.

People's Palace campaigners fight for return as Alasdair Gray exhibition anniversary marked

As the late Glasgow historian Joe Fisher observed in his 1994 Glasgow Encyclopaedia, the east end of Glasgow, in common with many other large towns across Britain, became a district that was given over to industrial buildings and working-class housing.

It lacked most municipal amenities, writes Fisher, but as early as 1866 the provision of a building devoted to east end inhabitants' recreation and improvement had been put forward. The ambition was realised in 1898 with the opening of the three-storey, red sandstone building.

It had cost some £32,000, over £7,000 of which came from the Caledonian Railway Co, for permission to dump soil excavated by its tunnelling activities, says Fisher.

Glasgow's People's Palace in line for major refurbishment

Around £3,300 came from the profits of the 1891 East End Exhibition, some £4,000 from the sale of a bleaching ground in Bridgeton, and the balance from Glasgow Corporation.

The Glasgow Encyclopaedia notes that the huge winter garden is traditionally said to be modelled on the inverted hull of Admiral Nelson's flagship, Victory - "a theory lent some credence by the close proximity of the first monument erected to him".

For decades the city's rich social history was represented in the Glasgow Room of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, but in 1940 the responsibility was switched to the People's Palace.

The Herald: Dr Elspeth King with Smudge, the People's Palace's 'celebrity' catDr Elspeth King with Smudge, the People's Palace's 'celebrity' cat (Image: Newsquest)In his biography of Tom Honeyman, the influential Director of Kelvingrove at that time (and, later, the man who would acquire Dali's masterpiece, Christ of St John on the Cross, for Glasgow), Jack Webster records that the museum and art gallery had just acquired the Scott Collection of arms and armour. To help accommodate it, Honeyman "rearranged the Museum Section, clearing the Glasgow Room by removing its contents to the People's Palace, the branch museum at Glasgow Green".

Arts supremo Spalding condemns Glasgow's cultural institutions

In later  years one of the People's Palace's most enthusiastic supporters was the artist and writer, Alasdair Gray.

In January 1978 the then Lord Provost, David Hodge, opened 'The Continuous Glasgow Show' there. It stemmed from a Job Creation programme the previous year, which was tasked with conserving and cataloguing the collection of paintings and drawings.

Gray was one of the cataloguers and was commissioned to create a series of portraits of Glasgow characters: he delivered portraits of such notables as restaurateur Reo Stakis, the prominent politicians Margo MacDonald, Teddy Taylor and Jimmy Reid, and the Evening Times journalist, Jack House.

The exhibition combined the catalogued artworks as well as Gray's own creations. When it was opened, it was also the first time the Winter Gardens had been open to the public since closure for scheduled demolition 12 years earlier.

Billy Connolly's art works go on show at the People's Palace

Speaking to The Herald two years ago, Dr Elspeth King, a former curator of the People’s Palace and a member of the Friends of People’s Palace, Winter Gardens and Glasgow Green, recalled: “It was such a cold day and people were sliding about on the ice, and I wondered if people would come. They came in their droves.

“I had been told the Winter Gardens would be written off even then, but the exhibition was the event that saw the doors open again after plans for demolition. It brought people in and was the beginning of Gray’s long association with us".

The Herald: The Winter GardensThe Winter Gardens (Image: Newsquest)Gray had strong links with the venue and designed the logo for the Friends of the People’s Palace in 1977 and again for its reincarnation in 2018. He twice refused the Freedom of the City on the grounds that he disagreed with the way the city had neglected the People’s Palace.

Billy Connolly's own artworks went on show at the People's Palace in August 2015.

In 1987 Bill Aitken, a Conservative member of Glasgow District Council, accused the Labour administration of turning the People's Palace into a "shrine to contemporary socialism". The Evening Times, our sister paper, even sent a features writer to check whether Aitken's claims had any validity.

The writer took in such exhibits as the Glasgow Roll of Honour for those who had died in the Spanish Civil War in the Thirties, and a exhibition about a Glasgow weavers' strike of 1787, but did not seem to be otherwise convinced by what the councillor had said.

Glasgow's history branded a 'music hall joke' in fight for of People's Palace

In July 2022 Dr King issued an outspoken statement in which she said that the city's history had been reduced to a music hall joke with the "looting" of the People’s Palace museum.

Dr King said the strength of the museum lay in in its significant collection, but claimed that items were now dispersed across other city venues and lack in their interpretation of their value to the city.

Reactions to the People's Palace on the TripAdvisor platform is largely favourable.

"This is a great little museum presenting a range of aspects of the social history of people in Glasgow", says one. "I particularly enjoyed reading about the lifestyle of people living in the tenements through the last few hundred years".

The Herald: Young visitors enjoy the sight of Billy Connolly's banana bootsYoung visitors enjoy the sight of Billy Connolly's banana boots (Image: Colin Mearns)A second contributor adds: "Of course, it can only scratch the surface, but enough of an overview to help you understand the unique history of this amazing city".

Back in January 1983 the Glasgow Herald journalist, John Weyers, writing about the bicentenary exhibition at the Palace, began with these words: "It is not easy for a museum or art gallery to tell the whole story of a city.

"It is not usually their purpose. Yet when their walls and showcases illustrate only the history of the successful and their possessions (their porcelain and silver, their magnificent weapons and armour, their fine portraits and paintings) it can be misleading and falsely elevating. 

"It is a record which ignores ordinary people and their lives, and it is this difference which has made the People's Palace unique, so valuable to Glasgow, and so close to its heart".