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Old Gorbals Wine & Spirit Vaults. 






85-105 Main Street, Gorbals.

Old Gorbals Wine & Spirit Vaults
Old Gorbals Wine & Spirit Vaults. c 1870s.

The Old Gorbals Wine & Spirit Vaults was once part of the chapel which formed part of the 17th century mansion house of Sir George Elphinstone of Blythswood. The building was demolished under the City Council Improvement Trust around 1870s.


This venerable pile, so long identified with the Barony of Gorbals, was erected between the years 1600 and 1608, by Sir George Elphinstone, the son of a merchant in Glasgow, who had acquired the lands on the south side of the river known as "St. Ninian's Croft," from Boyd, the Protestant Archbishop of the See. With the view of forming a suitable residence, Sir George enclosed part of the croft for an orchard and garden, and built thereon the erections which so long formed the most prominent objects on the east side of the Main Street of Gorbals.

Tradition informs us that he also erected a small Chapel adjoining, part of which still exists at the corner of Main Street and Rutherglen Loan. It was in this baronet's favour that the village of "Gorbals" was erected into a Burgh of Barony and Regality. Although this gentleman enjoyed great distinction in his lifetime, and rose to the rank of Lord Justice Clerk in the reign of Charles I., he afterwards became reduced in circumstances, and died miserably and in poverty about 1634. According to McUre, he was privately interred "in his own chapel, adjoining to his house." The property was then sold by the creditors of the deceased to Robert Douglas, Viscount Belhaven. This nobleman extended the mansion in Gorbals, and built a square Tower or "Fortulice," which is now almost the only part of the venerable buildings existing. Until within a few years ago, the Tower in question exhibited four turrets, which of course gave an imposing appearance to the structure. On the building adjoining the Tower may still be seen the family arms of Viscount Belhaven, pretty well cut in stone, the whole surmounted by the letters S. G. E., which are apparently meant for the initials of Sir George Elphinstone. It is not at all improbable that this was not the original position of the arms referred to, but that at some period when alterations were made on the Tower, they had been removed from it, and placed so as to face the Main Street of the Barony.

The Viscount, at his death, was succeeded by his nephew, Sir Robert Douglas of Blackerston, who sold the Gorbals Mansion House and lands in cumulo, some time prior to 1661, to the town of Glasgow, the Trades' House, and the Trustees for Hutcheson's' Hospital. They were retained as a sort of co-partnery possession till 1790, when a division was made, and the central portion, containing the old buildings, fell to the lot of the city. The most important event connected with the Baronial Hall structure is found in the fact that at one time it formed the residence of Sir James Turner, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Scotland in the reign of Charles II., and who is understood to be the personage who supplied Sir Walter Scott with the portrait of Dugald Dalgetty.

The terms on which Sir James obtained possession of the house are somewhat singular; for it appears by the minutes that on the 18th July, 1670, the Bailie's and Council "ordains ane tack to be wrytten and subscryvit in favors of Sir James Turnor, of the toune's houss and tour in Gorballs, quhilk he presentlie possesses, and that dureing his lifetyme, for payment yearlie of three punds Scots, if the samyne be requyred." Sir James accordingly died in possession of the subjects; and from the records kept in the College, it would appear that at the sale of his effects, a part of his scanty library was purchased by the University of Glasgow. Amongst his books were several works upon the art of war; but the soldier of fortune had not overlooked productions of a more elevating and humanising kind, for Milton's "Paradise Lost" and various kindred tomes are found in his catalogue. Who were the successors of Sir James Turner, in the "toune's houss and tour," we have no way of knowing. At all events, as the locality was never an attractive one for the Glasgow merchants, the occupants must have gradually descended in the scale of quality. Before the close of the last century, and for some time afterwards, the principal room in the Tower, which was of a spacious kind, was used as a place of meeting by the magistrates, heritors and feuars of the parish of Gorbals; and here also the inhabitants mustered previous to performing the dutes of watching and warding, in days when a police force did not exist. Latterly, part of the old building was fitted up as a police-office, with adjoining cells. But it lost all its importance, excepting such as it retained from olden associations, when the official staff was removed to the present extensive police establishment in Portland Street.

It was then given over to very humble uses - the ground floors to the street being let as whisky shops, and the upper flats having been split up into dwelling-houses for the lowest class of the people. The greater part of the structure built by Sir George Elphinstone was taken down early in 1849 by order of the Dean of Guild Court, from its having exhibited symptoms of insecurity. It was then a fine remnant and wreck of the Scottish urban Manor House style, with its oriel windows, ornamental ceilings, and stout oaken staircases. The Tower, which remains, though sadly dilapidated externally and internally, still exhibits evidences of the aristocratic aspect it wore in the days of other years.


The Old Baronial Hall was built by Elphinstone in 1601. Following his death in 1634 the building passed down through several owners including Robert Douglas, Viscount Belhaven (who added a distinctive square tower), Gorbals Town Council and Sir James Turner. It was demolished in the early 1870s.

Main Street Gorbals2
Main Street, Gorbals by William Simpson (1823-1899)

This watercolour provides a view of Main Street (later Gorbals Street) looking south. Sir George Elphinstone became MP for Glasgow in 1583 and Provost in 1605. He acquired land in the Gorbals in 1601 and built a mansion and chapel (left). He died in 1634 and his estate was sold to pay his debts. Robert Douglas, Viscount Belhaven, purchased the barony and added the square tower (middle distance) to the old baronial hall. Only the bases remain here, of the square turrets which once adorned each corner. The round tower in the street has also been reduced in height. By the 1840s the chapel had been converted into a pub, identifiable by the gilt board sign hanging outside. The Citizens' Theatre now occupies the site of the house and church.

This watercolour is one of a series of fifty-five painted by Simpson between 1893 and 1898. Most are based on sketches he completed fifty years earlier and which appeared as black and white illustrations in Views and Notices of Glasgow in Former Times, published in 1848 by Allan & Ferguson.


Elphinstone Interior
William Simpson's impression of the interior of the old Gorbals Baronial Hall, as it appeared on 23 August 1858.

By the time Simpson visited in 1858 a part of the hall (with the neighbouring chapel) had been converted into a public house, the Old Gorbals Wine and Spirit Vaults. However, the ornate ceiling and cornicing and the statuettes on the walls are reminders of the building's former glories, as the home of one of Glasgow's most prominent men of affairs. The initials S G E and D A B on the ceiling were part of the original decoration and stood for Sir George Elphinstone and his wife Dame Agnes Boyd.


Two months after the execution of Charles I., and while the new political troubles between the Presbyterian Government of Scotland and the Independent or Sectarian Government of Oliver Cromwell in England were brewing, Glasgow Town Council, under Porterfield as provost and Spreull as town clerk, carried out its great enterprise of purchasing the lands of Gorbals and Bridgend on the south side of the river. These lands had been rented from the archbishops by the Elphinston family from an early period. In 1579, after the Reformation, the rent was converted into a feu-duty. In 1595 their owner, George Elphinston, resigned these lands, with his other property of Blythswood, on the west of the city, and obtained a precept of chancery erecting the whole into a free barony, the barony of Blythswood. [Mr. John Ord names his interesting and valuable monograph "The Story of the Barony of Gorbals"; but Gorbals by itself was never a barony.] He acquired also the barony of Leyis and the New Park of Partick, and was knighted by King James VI. In 1634, when Sir George was forced to part with all his possessions, these were acquired by Robert, Viscount Belhaven, representative of the well-known family, Douglas of Mains, near Milngavie. Two years later Lord Belhaven conveyed the lands to Robert Douglas of Blackerstoun and Susana his wife. [Charters and Documents, i. 495.] Robert Douglas in turn was knighted, but the glories of baronial possession and knighthood appear to have been as fatal to the fortunes of Sir Robert Douglas as they had been to his predecessor, Sir George Elphinston. The magistrates and Town Council had in 1635 offered to buy the lands of Gorbals and Bridgend from Lord Belhaven at the price of 100,000 merks (£5555 11s. 1d. stg.), but the negotiations had failed. [Burgh Records, ii. 29, 31.] In 1648 these negotiations were renewed, with George Porterfield as chief negotiator. [Ibid. ii. 18. ] The money belonging to Hutchesons' Hospital was now available, and the rumour had got about that Blackerstoun was anxious to sell the land. After a year's bargaining the town agreed to pay Sir Robert 120,000 merks, with 2000 merks to his lady—in all the sum of £6777 15s. 6d. sterling—for Gorbals and Bridgend. One half of the lands was acquired on behalf of Hutchesons' Hospital, one-fourth on behalf of the Trades Hospital, and one-fourth for the town itself, the town retaining to itself the superiority and the heritable offices of bailiary and justiciary. [Ibid. ii. 157, 158, 182, 184-185.] Of the price, half was to be paid at Whitsunday and half at the following Martinmas. Meanwhile, however, war broke out, and because of the successive levies made upon the city a difficulty was found in raising the money. Fifty thousand merks were paid to Sir Robert in June, [Ibid. ii. 189.] but the great disaster of the war, the defeat of the Scottish army by Cromwell at Dunbar, intervened. In September the town was still owing Sir Robert 70,000 merks, with 2100 merks of interest. [Ibid. ii. 212.] In 1653 the town found still greater difficulty in raising the money. [Burgh Records, ii. 262.] Even part of the funds of Hutchesons' Hospital, which had been lent to the Marquess of Argyll and the laird of Lamont, could not be got in. [Ibid. ii. 288.] It may have been this long delay which brought Sir Robert Douglas to ruin, but in November, 1654, he appears to have been pressed by his creditors, and to have urged the city to pay its debt. In reply the town clerk was instructed to write a somewhat tart letter, stating that "the bargain had not been so profitable to the town as to justify his making so much din over the balance still owing, but that he would be provided for at the magistrates' best convenience."



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