Ghost Signs of Glasgow volunteer, Maggie Smith, gives an insight into her role as a researcher volunteer.
“Carrying out research into Glasgow’s ‘ghost’ signs actually opens up whole new worlds: for my first assignment, to investigate the history of the beautiful ‘golden’ sign for the long-gone business of Jacobean Corsetry in Virginia Street, Merchant City, I found myself in the mysterious world of underwear designed to accentuate the female form, from its earliest inception when worn by both men and women in Ancient Greece, right up to the modern versions sported by celebrities such as Madonna, Lady Gaga and the Kardashians.
Then It was the turn of the Glasgow Hospital for Sick Children’s Dispensary in West Graham Street, Cowcaddens, which opened in 1888 to provide free medical treatment and medicine to the poor children of the city. During my research I discovered the many advances in child healthcare that were made in the city over the years since then.
A fading sign in Royal Exchange Court in the city centre, warning that “Boys found playing at balls or Marbles will be handed to the Police” led me to ponder on the lives of the people who lived in the then-residential block in Victorian times, and to discover that an attempted murder, very much in the style of Jack the Ripper, had taken place in that very court in 1889.
Next up was the beautiful mosaic tile sign above the Buchanan Street entrance to the Argyle Arcade, which led me into the fascinating background of one Europe’s oldest covered shopping arcades, famous for its jewellery shops, and where many a courting couple have strolled to admire its displays of engagement rings, while my research into the Glasgow company of Wylie & Lochhead took me from its beginnings as cabinetmakers and undertakers in the 19th century to becoming a household name in the city, well known for its furniture, whose designers included Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Herbert McNair, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh and Frances Macdonald McNair – all graduates of Glasgow School of Art.
So, in addition to discovering valuable information about our city’s forgotten signs, I have been getting quite an education in many fields, and it has been an extremely interesting and rewarding occupation, which I would heartily recommend to anyone interested in Glasgow’s history.