Ghost Signs of Glasgow blog: J Davidson & Co- A Short Ghost Sign with a Long History, by Billy Cowan

In 1979 a warehouse tenant at 9 Bath Street in Glasgow’s city centre ceased trading and their small company sign that had adjourned the sandstone side wall since 1947 was painted over. As late as 1998 (picture below) paint still covered the sign, though the Scottish weather had eventually started to peel away the paint and uncover the original sign. Had it not, we may never have known about J Davidson & Co, auctioneers and appraisers who started life back in 1846.

In 1846 John Davidson opened a new business as an Auctioneer and appraiser at 62 Argyle Street. He was from a family of coffee and spice merchants and lived at 123 (Walmer Place) Hospital Street in the Gorbals. Trade must have been good as the following year the Auctioneer moved further along the Street to Turners Court at 87 Argyle Street, where they stayed until June 1858. 

This section of Argyle Street, from the Trongate and along Queen Street, had quite a number of auctioneers and appraisers at that time. Argyle Street itself was lined by “courts” on both side of the street, Turners Court was one of eight of these. The area was described by Andrew Aird in his book, ‘Glimpses of old Glasgow’: “At 87 Argyle Street was Turners Court, street-like in its buildings and industries of various descriptions with dwelling houses of a superior class.”

An advert for J. Davidson & Co. found in the 1856/57 Post Office Directory, shown below, allows an insight into the company and the work they undertook.

On Saturday 12th June 1858 adverts in the local press advised of the company moving to 42 Argyle Street opposite the famous “Bucks Head” Hotel. The advertisement below is from the Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser.

They stayed here until 1877, and due to the many changes taking place in Argyle Street with older buildings being replaced, and the train line expansion from the St Enoch train station they moved across the road to number 43 and then to number 22 in 1884 where they stayed until 1929. It was during this time at 22 Argyle Street they became more prominent within the city, taking an additional showroom at 13 Queen Street, as evidenced in an advertisement from the Fife Free Press & Kirkcaldy Guardian from Saturday April 3rd 1909.

A mark of the respectability J. Davidson & Co Autioneers had garnered by this time is that the Scottish branch of the British Red Cross Society chose J. Davidson & Co to host their fundraising “Free Gift” sale, on Thursday 28th June 1917.

The sale of items donated from generous Glaswegians raised over £246, which is the equivalent of almost £18, 200 in today’s money. One notable donation to the auction is item 96 – 12 pairs of ladies Glace Persian 1 bar Slippers from Messrs. Bayne and Duckett, the longstanding boot and shoe retailer.

By 1929 J. Davidson & Co moved once again, this time to 182 Trongate, and then in 1947 to 9 Bath Street which is where we find our Ghost Sign, on the side of Albert Chambers. This free renaissance commercial building with shops on the ground floor was designed by Bruce and Hay and built in 1901. The warehouse space at the back of the building was still classed as Bath Street, not an alley or lane and not an extension of East Bath Lane, located opposite. The elevation plan of the side of the building shows the chamber’s grandeur, with a sliding gated entrance to the warehouse courtyard, and a door to its side for the office entrance at 9 Bath Street for J Davidson & Co. where we find the small Ghost Sign which advises customers on Bath Street that J Davidson & Co were located “first right”.

 The below picture “Then and Now” picture of the street shows the entrance door “first right” with the wooden sign above the door reading ‘J Davidson & Co, Auctioneers’

A photograph from 1969 shows the access to the auctioneer’s warehouse, the courtyard still has the wonderful ceramic brick atrium, and the flashings from the glass roof that once covered the courtyard are still visible. However the buildings on the left and rear were demolished for the “improvements” to the area associated with the Buchanan Gallery build. 

J. Davidson & Co Auctioneers remained in the warehouse at 9 Bath Street until it stopped trading in 1989. Having operated in Glasgow for over 130 years it was then quickly forgotten, until time and weather revealed the old ghost sign once again! The warehouse now forms part of the crazy golf outlet “Jungle Rumble Adventure Golf” with several of the golf holes in the very site where the J. Davidson & Co. office and warehouses were. 

Images Credits

Newspaper clippings, post office directory, Building Plan courtesy of The Mitchell Library Archives.

Black and white photographs Historic Environment Scotland (Canmore)

Colour pictures by the author

You might also be interested in...

Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.