Britannia Music Hall

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Britannia Music Hall
Britannia Music Hall, Glasgow 02.jpg
General information
Coordinates259452, 664918
Design and construction
ArchitectGildard & MacFarlane architects

The Britannia Music Hall in 2011 after outer restoration

The Britannia Music Hall (also known as The Panopticon or The Britannia Panopticon) in Trongate, Glasgow, Scotland is one of the oldest remaining music halls in Britain. It is now located above an amusement arcade, at 113-117 Trongate.

Britannia Music Hall, Glasgow

Built in 1857 by Thomas Gildard and Robert H. M. MacFarlane,[1] the Panopticon was one of the first buildings in Glasgow to become powered by electricity and one of the first cinemas in Scotland. It opened in 1859 (the music hall was in operation by early January 1860)[2] and was closed in 1938 when it was sold to a tailors and converted to a workshop. However, following the removal of the false ceiling in 2003, the Britannia opened again. It is currently being conserved by a trust who regularly perform traditional shows in the auditorium. The building is now protected as a category A listed building.[3]

Architecture and history of the building[edit]

By 1840, on the venue's present site, there was a four storey commercial building. In 1857, the facade was rebuilt in a Italianate style as designed by Gildard & Macfarlane.

The classical and elegant design of the front of the building showed cherubs, carved swags and Grecian decoration. The auditorium was mostly made of wood. A platform served as the stage, and the stalls and a horseshoe balcony accommodated the audience.[4]

Around 1860, the music hall was likely to be occupying the first and second floors of the building. However, it probably reached its final form in 1869, with a staircase entry from the ground floor vestibule opening onto Trongate.[5] The first floor of the building would have once been the stalls level of the Britannia auditorium.

The building went through many upgrades and alterations throughout the years. When John Brand took ownership of the building, he renamed it Britannia Music Hall and in the early 1860s, he added long, wooden pews in the balcony.[4] Extensive refurbishment (including major redecoration and renovations) also took place when the Rossboroughs took over ownership of the building in 1869. The building was modernised in 1896, under management of William Kean, with the redecoration and installation of the electric light throughout the building. The building also became equipped with a cinematograph. The building temporary closed again in 1903 for works to be carried out, with the addition of a new staircase and a door at the stage side of the auditorium.[4]

The Britannia Panopticon closed in 1938 and was hidden above a false ceiling [6]; the seating got stripped from the stalls area and a pitch-roofed structure across between the balconies was built.[2] This structure (or false ceiling) separated the upper part of the auditorium from the lower area. The entrance to the music hall, including the vestibule and front staircase, was removed. The ground floor of the building was converted into a shop and the music hall on the first floor into a workshop.[7]

The "Panopticon"[edit]

Over the years, the Britannia changed ownership several times. In 1906, A. E. Pickard bought the building and changed its name to the Panopticon. The word ‘Panopticon’ means “to view everything”, derived from the Greek terms ‘Pan’ meaning “everything” and ‘Opti’ meaning “to see”.[8]

Pickard undertook some major works and, upon re-opening the hall, he also opened its adjacent American museum and waxworks, on 101 Trongate.[2] Pickard also excavated the basement of the hall and installed an indoor zoo. He opened his “Noah’s Ark and Glasgow Zoo” on the ground floor of the Panopticon in 1908.

Under Pickard’s management (1906-1938), the Panopticon offered a variety of entertainments, such as the amateur nights, exhibition of animals, film shows (interspersed with live acts), showing of sporting events films, clog-dancing competitions, or boxing demonstrations. [2] The boxer Jem Mace performed publicly for the last time at the Panopticon in 1910.[4]

Some notable live performers[edit]

The Britannia has hosted some of the biggest names on the Music hall circuit. The table below lists some of them. In 1906 Stan Laurel made his first stage appearance there on amateur night.[9]

Artist Date of first appearance

at the Britannia (if known)

Proprietor/manager of the building Main characteristics
Dan Leno 1866 John Brand Comedian and clog dancer
Marie Loftus Mr and Mrs Rossborough Music-hall performer
Vesta Tilley 1885 Mr and Mrs Rossborough Male impersonator
Bessie Bellwood 1881 Mr and Mrs Rossborough Comedienne and singer
Jenny Hill 1882 Mr and Mrs Rossborough Comic and singer
James Curran 1890 Mrs Rossborough Songwriter and writer of parodies
W. F. Frame 1893 William Kean Comical act
Harry Champion 1893 William Kean Comic and singer
Dr Walford Bodie 1897 Arthur Hubner Electrical experiments, magic, ventriloquism, mesmerism
Harry Lauder 1897 Arthur Hubner Comic singer
Stan Laurel 1906 Albert Ernest Pickard Comic
Jack Buchanan Albert Ernest Pickard Comedy/singing act


  • Bowers, Judith (2007). Stan Laurel and other tales of the Panopticon: the story of the Britannia Music Hall. Edinburgh: Birlinn.
  • Maloney, Paul (2016). The Britannia Panopticon music hall and cosmopolitan entertainment culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d Maloney, Paul (2016). The Britannia Panopticon music hall and cosmopolitan entertainment culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781137479099.
  3. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "109-121 (Odd Nos) Trongate and 9 New Wynd, including Britannia Panopticon Music Hall  (Category A) (LB32774)". Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d Bowers, Judith (2007). Stan Laurel and other tales of the Panopticon : the story of the Britannia Music Hall. Edinburgh: Birlinn. ISBN 9781841586175.
  5. ^ "Theatres Trust". Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  6. ^ "Britannia Panopticon Music Hall - VisitScotland". Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  7. ^ "Britannia Panopticon Music Hall - History".
  8. ^ "Glasgow Guardian". Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  9. ^

External links[edit]