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Panopticon Music Hall A Trip Back in Time.

  • 08/12/2019
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Maybe you are crossing Trongate street in Glasgow city centre every day without knowing that there is the Music Hall that the famous actor Stan Laurel made his stage debut back in 1906. We all know him as Stan the comedy partner of Oliver Hardy. Together appeared in 107 short films, feature films, and cameo roles. Stan Laurel was an English comic actor, writer, and film director.

In Panopticon you won’t learn only about Stan Laurel but for plenty other actors and artist who lived and act on its stage back then when This Music hall began in 1857 in the midst of the Victorian era when Glasgow’s population was booming and streets were over crowded with folk desperate to work in one of the largest cities new industries. Music Halls were a popular form of entertainment and often built at the back of pubs, though this one is different, being on the floor above! It would have held over 1500 visitors, eager to be amused and let off steam while watching the acts that ranged from singers, dancers and comedians. In 1906, an eccentric showman, A.E Pickard, brought in the carnival freak show and zoo where visitors could catch a glimpse of the Himalayan Bear in the basement or the Tattooed Lady in the attic.


If you are fan of that era or old theater you will be mesmerized by all the things that you will see. Inside there is an exhibition of ephemera, a merchandise stall with postcards, bags, posters, mugs, tee-shirts, stickers etc. Friendly staff and volunteers will be available to regale you with tales of the history of the world’s oldest surviving music hall from the unique acts that graced our stage, to the boisterous crowds and the secret to how this building never burnt down like so many other music halls!
Built in 1857/58 by and for city builder Archibald Blair whose architects were Thomas Gildard and Robert H. M. MacFarlane, the Trongate building was a speculative building, soon with lessees for each of its four shops on the street level. The floors above were advertised as being suitable for a drapery warehouse, but they opened as an entertainment centre, firstly as the Britannia Music Hall.

Britannia Panopticon was an early building to become powered by electricity and one of the first cinema venues in Scotland. The Britannia Music Hall, leased to John Brand, opened on Christmas Day December 1859. Successive lessees include HT Rossborough, William Kean , Arthur Hubner and AE Pickard and was closed in 1938 when the Trongate building was sold by the Pickard family to the multiple tailors Weaver to Wearer Ltd of Leeds, which in the 1950s became part of Great Universal Stores Ltd. Fortunately, following the removal of the false ceiling on floor one in 2003, the Britannia was opened again. It is currently being conserved by a trust who regularly perform traditional shows in the auditorium. In 1977 the building became a category A listed building.

The Panopticon Trust has been formed as a building preservation trust to help acquire and restore the entire building as an entertainment venue and as a hub for the community. An annual program of entertainments and events is managed by the Friends of the Britannia Music Hall Trust.


Hellenic Mail had the chance to make a little video of the inside of the building visiting a Victorian Christmas Fayre that took place last weekend. Take a pick and we hope you will enjoy it.


For more information visit: www.britanniapanopticon.org