George Square

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George Square, Glasgow viewing east to the City Chambers and Cenotaph
An equestrian statue of Queen Victoria stands in George Square during the 2009 Nyx festival of darkness
Panorama postcard around 1890s of George Square, Glasgow

George Square is the principal civic square in the city of Glasgow, Scotland. It is one of six squares in the city centre, the others being Cathedral Square, St Andrew's Square, St Enoch Square, Royal Exchange Square, and Blythswood Square. It is the Pantheon of Glasgow and the perpetual summer and winter palace of the people. [1]

Named after King George III and initially laid out in 1781 but not developed for another twenty years, George Square is surrounded by architecturally important buildings including on the east side the palatial Municipal Chambers, also known as the City Chambers, whose foundation stone was laid in 1883, and on the west side by the Merchants House.[2][3] Built by Glasgow Corporation the Chambers are the continuing headquarters of Glasgow City Council. Joseph Swan`s panoramic engraving of 1829 shows the early development of the square and its surrounding buildings[4] .

The square boasts an important collection of statues and monuments, including those dedicated to Robert Burns, James Watt, Sir Robert Peel and Sir Walter Scott.

Historical development[edit]

George Square sits on two acres of the Ramshorn Croft purchased around 1772 by Glasgow Corporation from Hutchesons` Hospital (represented today by Hutchesons' Hall in Ingram Street).

About 1778 building operations were being carried out nearby and the future square received surplus soil and debris, with only a pailing being put around it. It was used for grazing sheep but also collected stagnant water and more debris until in 1825 the Corporation instructed Stewart Murray, the curator and landscape architect of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sandyford, to improve it. This he did, with winding walks, and trees and shrubs planted, with an iron railing around. Flower shows were organised, held in tents.[5]

In 1792 the town council adopted the innovative Georgian central grid plan of the city`s New Town to continue the spread from Glassford Street west to Buchanan Street — reflecting the growing wealth of Glasgow and the rational influence of the Scottish Enlightenment. This grid plan, with wide new streets to be at right angles to each other around the new square on the Lands of Meadowflats, was the precursor of the same grid principle to be adopted in 1800 for the extension west of Buchanan Street and up on to Blythswood Hill and Blythswood Square. The grid principle was later adopted in 1830 by New York, and soon after by Chicago.

Between 1787 and the 1820s, the square was developed and lined with Georgian terraced townhouses of three storeys, some becoming hotels on the north and west sides.

The first statue was erected in 1819, to Sir John Moore of Corunna, who made possible the safe retreat of the British Army from the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. 1842 saw the opening, at the north west corner of the square, of Queen Street Station being the Glasgow terminus of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway.

By the 1850s the surrounding area continued to expand as a centre for mercantile activity, with the Merchants House moving to the square in 1877, and the square itself, which had begun as a private garden for the surrounding houses, became an established public space, after frequent disturbances and pulling down of railings by a disgruntled mob. [6] Glasgow Corporation took over the management of George Square in 1862. When the Post Office foundation stone was laid by the Prince of Wales in 1878 the square`s iron railings were removed, transverse walks formed, and flower beds introduced. [7]

George Square is named after King George III, a statue of whom was originally intended to occupy the centre of the square, but the turmoil and anxiety caused to the city's Tobacco Lords and trade in general by the War of American Independence in 1775 and eventual British defeat in 1783, had created mixed feelings over his rule and nothing was done. The centre spot was used instead to commemorate Sir Walter Scott, which, incidentally, was the first ever monument dedicated to him.[8] The 80 foot fluted Doric column of Giffnock sandstone is by the competition winning architect David Rhind [9] who appointed John Greenshields to design the statue above, executed by John Ritchie. The monument was completed by 1837, some years before Scott was commemorated in Edinburgh.[10]

Prominent buildings[edit]

George Square, Glasgow showing the Merchants House, viewing west.
Layout of George Square, Glasgow circa 1900.

Today the east side of the square, linking North Frederick Street and South Frederick Street, is dominated by the ornate Glasgow City Chambers, designed by architect William Young, [11] which was opened in 1888. On the South side, linking Cochrane Street and St Vincent Place, are a number of buildings, including the former General Post Office, built in 1878 and redeveloped into offices in 2007,[12], and a Chicago-style office building, dating from 1924. The city's main Tourist Information Centre previously in the square is now in Buchanan Street. The North side, running along George Street to the University of Strathclyde, consists of Queen Street Station, the North British Railway Hotel (now the Millennium Hotel), which date from the 1840s, and George House, which replaced an older Georgian building, built in 1979 to provide extra office space for Glasgow City Council, and later offices for professional firms.

Queen Street, running parallel to the square's West side, was formerly a row of hotels and now features the Merchants House building for the guildry formed in 1603 to establish the rights, duties and privileges of the merchants and craftsmen of Glasgow. [13]Westbourne Music perform regularly here in a series of Merchants Music, as do jazz ensembles and other instrumentalists.[14] The building also houses the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce,[15] founded in 1783. Designed by John Burnet and opened in 1874, two storeys were added to the Merchants House by his son JJ Burnet in 1907 and are topped by a domed tower on which is perched the emblem of the House a ship on a globe, a reminder of the importance of sea trade to Glasgow's prosperity. The western side is also the location of the former Bank of Scotland building, and even more palatial buildings sweep round to St Vincent Place and Buchanan Street.

Monuments and Statues[edit]

Statue of Robert Burns, George Square, Glasgow

The eastern side of the square itself is flanked by two lawns and is also the site of the city's Cenotaph, which was designed by Sir John James Burnet and originally built to commemorate Glaswegians killed in the First World War. It was conceived in 1921, and unveiled in 1924 by Field Marshall Earl Haig.

The 80-foot-high (24 m) column in the centre of the square celebrates author Sir Walter Scott. It was erected in 1837. Eleven of Glasgow's many other public statues are situated around the square: the only known equestrian statues of a young Queen Victoria 1854 in St Vincent Place at Buchanan Street and moved to George Square in 1866 beside her husband Prince Albert 1866 both sculpted by Carlo Marochetti, erected in 1865 and 1866 respectively; poets Robert Burns sculpted by George Edwin Ewing, 1877, and Thomas Campbell sculpted by William Bodie, 1877; inventor James Watt sculpted by Francis Leggatt Chantrey, 1832; chemist Thomas Graham sculpted by William Brodie, 1872; General Sir John Moore sculpted by John Flaxman, 1819, and Field Marshall Lord Clyde sculpted by John Henry Foley, 1868; and politicians William Ewart Gladstone sculpted by William Hamo Thornycroft, 1902, Robert Peel sculpted by John Mossman, 1859, and James Oswald sculpted by Carlo Marochetti., 1856 at Charing Cross and moved to George Square in 1875. [16]

Social history[edit]

George Square at Christmas

George Square is also a place for musical events, light shows, ceremonies, sporting celebrations, political gatherings, and for annual Remembrance Day parades.

The square has often been the scene of political events and, protests. Perhaps the most famous was the Battle of George Square in 1919, when skilled engineers campaigning for a 40-hour working week held a rally. Although a crowd of over 100,000 is often claimed, contemporary sources put it at 20-25,000. The meeting descended into violence between the protesters and the police, with the riot act being read. The city's radical reputation, and the raising of the red flag by some present, made the Coalition government fear a Bolshevik revolution was afoot. The Sheriff of Lanarkshire called for military assistance. Ten thousand troops, mainly from Scotland, were deployed, although they did not arrive until the riot was over. Six tanks arrived the following Monday, but never left their depot in the Cattle Market.

In February 2005, the square was closed to pedestrians for a two-month restoration project, including the replacement of the red asphalt concourse, and the cleaning of stone and the statues in the square, most notably that of Walter Scott.

Plans to remove the greenspace and lease the area for temporary businesses and events has been controversial. In 2012 a campaign was started to restore the square to its previous state.[17]


In 2012 Glasgow City Council voted to spend £15m on a "makeover", of the square, in preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, to make it "a place fit for the 21st Century".[10] The plans included removing all of the monuments and statues in the square, ostensibly for restoration. However, the council said that "it is possible" that the monuments "may not return to the square", but will rather be relocated to "an area of regeneration".[10] Only one monument was certain to remain; the Cenotaph by Sir John James Burnet.[10]

On 9 January 2013, the six shortlisted designs were put on display to the public in a nearby gallery. All the designs featured at least half the statues returning, with many containing all 11. Each short-listed design also contained a water-feature, which public reaction has been highly critical of considering the typical weather Glasgow experiences. The competition proved highly controversial. In the face of public outrage the abandonment of the redevelopment plan[18] was announced on the same day as the winning design (by John McAslan & Partners)[19] was announced.


  1. ^ George Square, Glasgow by Thomas Somerville, published in 1891, 294 pages, with illustrations
  2. ^ Glasgow by Irene Maver, published in 2000
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Glasgow Herald 2 July 1894
  6. ^ George Square, Glasgow by Thomas Somerville, published in 1891, 294 pages, with illustrations
  7. ^ Glasgow Herald 2 July 1894
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b c d Private Eye No 1324, p.14, Nooks and Corners, 5–18 October 2012
  11. ^
  12. ^ The History of G1 Glasgow Archived 12 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine. G1 George Square Glasgow
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 May 2016. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  16. ^
  17. ^ Restore George Square website
  18. ^ Glasgow Architecture George Square Competition
  19. ^ e-architect John McAslan & Partners


  • Private Eye No 1324, p. 14, Nooks and Corners, 5–18 October 2012
  • George Square, Glasgow by Thomas Somerville, published in 1891, 294 pages, with illustrations.
  • Architecture of Glasgow, by Andor Gomme and David Walker, published in 1968, 320 pages, with illustrations. Second and revised edition in 1987.
  • The Buildings of Scotland : Glasgow , by Williamson, Riches and Higgs, published in 1990, 700 pages, with illustrations.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°51′40.179″N 4°15′0.64″W / 55.86116083°N 4.2501778°W / 55.86116083; -4.2501778