Hidden Gems of Glasgow – Britannia Panopticon Music Hall
Who knew that the world’s oldest surviving music hall could be found in central Glasgow? Despite being really old (1857) this hidden gem isn’t hugely well known locally, but following various renovation projects, wee Kilty here reckons it’s an up and coming venue.
Although some may think of me as a wee wideo (a local term for a smart aleck/wise guy), I’m just interested in my town’s history, and something that is the oldest on the planet is worthy of a bit of research. Back in the 1850s this place was filled with around 1500 of Glasgow’s workers for each of its four daily performances, all of whom were expecting to be entertained and for many, they were most likely hoping to be completely distracted from the harsh reality of their life of poverty.
Initially the entertainment included the extremely popular dancing girls, as well as various singers – and it had a bit of a reputation for attracting the local women of the night, who apparently did a roaring trade. Under new management, the more sensual acts were toned down and performances became less cabaret and more circus like with acrobats, trapeze artists and animal acts. The music hall kept up with the times, and it was one of the first 300 buildings to have electricity in 1896, allowing for the introduction of animated pictures.
As the years passed, other venues became the new place to go in town, and so the music hall went through another reinvention – carnival games were introduced along with wax works and freak show, and then the basement was turned into a zoo. It was at this point that the Britannia Music hall became the Grand Panopticon – panopticon meaning to see everything.
Sadly, as times changed and new forms of entertainment started vying for peoples’ attention, the Panopticon could no longer afford to operate and was sold to a firm of tailors in 1938. Although a number of changes were made internally, the balcony was left untouched and these days there is a team of volunteers who are working to restore the building to its former glory.
The Panopticon is now operating as a functional venue; it’s open most afternoons for a wee wander about, and there are an increasing amount of events scheduled such as film screenings, cabaret shows and theatrical performances. It’s certainly an interesting place, typically with an interesting audience and my top tip would be to dress warmly if you are going to watch a show – there’s no heating and only a limited supply of blankets!