Old Glasgow Club
Minutes of ordinary meeting of Club held at Adelaide’s, 209 Bath Street on Thursday 8 January 2009 at 7.00pm
Mr Gordon (for President)
Mr Gordon welcomed members to the meeting.
There were apologies from Anna Forrest, John Murdoch, Bill Duff, Bill Crawford, Alistair Ross, Isobel Muldownie, Betty Sneddon, Rose Micoud, and Maida Gibson.
The minutes of the last ordinary meeting held on 11 December had been circulated and were approved. There were no matters arising.
There was no President’s report, Mrs Forrest being in Cyprus.
Mrs McNae advised that the Kentigern Festival was taking place this weekend, with events at the Mitchell library, St Mungo Museum and Glasgow Cathedral. There would also be displays for “Burns Unlimited” in George Square on January 23-25, and Celtic Connections events would be running in Glasgow throughout January.
Mr Gordon introduced Miss Alison Brown, Glasgow Museums Curator for European Decorative Art from 1800, who spoke on the topic of “Tea at Miss Cranston’s”, covering, with the aid of Powerpoint presentation slides, Miss Cranston and the tearooms, and reflections on why she was so renowned and what her legacy has been.
1911 marked the high point of her career; aged 62, she had been working for 33 years, and operated 4 tearooms, in Buchanan Street, Argyle Street, the Willow Tearooms in Sauchiehall Street, and in Ingram Street (the latter being the only one not owned). She ran a catering franchise at the Exhibition of Scottish National History, Art and Industry, with the White Cockade and the Red Lion Tearooms. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was redesigning the Ingram Street Tearooms with its Japanese Room and Cloister Room, and she appeared in the Bailie magazine, under the heading Men You Know. However, by 1919, with tearooms being affected by increasing legislation, all except Ingram Street had been sold, and the Ingram Street management was transferred to Miss Jessie Drummond, being subsequently bought out by Coopers in 1930. Miss Cranston died in 1934.
Kate Cranston fascinates later generations because of her eccentricity, pioneering spirit and benevolence. She had organisation, management, taste, perseverance, was a shrewd judge of public taste and able to deliver the right product at the right time at the right price. She understood branding and marketing. Her image, that of a lady in an old fashioned dress, speaking of quality food, hospitality and cleanliness, contrasted with her patronage of new designers such as George Walton and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Her tearooms appeared in national newspapers and were much talked about.
She appears to have inherited her abilities, for in 1843 her father’s cousin Robert Cranston opened a tearoom in Edinburgh and in 1846 her father George became a pastry maker; her brother Stuart was born in 1848, and she was born in 1849. In 1892 she married Robert Cochrane (later Lord Provost of Glasgow 1902-1907).
Stuart set up a tearoom in 1871 at 44 St Enoch Square and in 1880 at 2 Queen Street, with tea at 2d. Catherine opened her Argyle Street tearoom on the ground floor of 114 Argyle Street in 1878 (the upper floors were a temperance hotel). In 1886 she opened 205-217 Ingram Street, with its billiard and smoking rooms; the décor was heavily influenced by Japan. 91-93 Buchanan Street, with its 4 floors, was bought and opened in 1897. She took a Pavilion at the 1901 Great Exhibition, though the Pavilion caught fire and teas had to be served from marquees. The Willow Tearooms opened at 215-217 Sauchiehall Street on 28 October 1903, at the end of the wettest month since records began; it attracted glowing reviews in the newspapers.
The menus offered cakes from Miss Cranston’s Bakery at 292 St Vincent Street (delivered by horse and cart); chocolates came from Caillers of Switzerland and High Tea was offered at 9d, 1/- or 1/6. Willow Pattern crockery was uniform; this and the cutlery were stamped “Miss Cranston”. The standard of waitresses was impeccable, and potential recruits were visited at home. No food was wasted. The tearoom furniture combined aesthetic appearance with functionality.
Some photographs survive; reconstructions of the tearooms can be made and Glasgow museums are investigating what materials were used. Walton and Mackintosh were inventive with the design of the billiard rooms. She was alert to new technology, putting in telephones, writing desks and newspapers for her businessmen and businesswomen customers.
What would Kate Cranston, George Walton and Charles Rennie Mackintosh make of us today? Hopefully they would be fascinated by the care being taken by Glasgow Museums since 1992 in bringing their legacy back to life. The Mackintosh legacy has never been greater than now, yet without Kate Cranston’s patronage it is doubtful whether Mackintosh would have become so well known. She provided the city with a wonderful dining experience.
There followed a splendid tea, with musical entertainment, and waitresses in period costume.
Vote of thanks
Mr Gordon thanked Miss Brown for her hugely fascinating talk with its fund of knowledge, and presented her with a gift token and membership of the Club. He thanked the musicians for their excellent playing, the waiting staff, Tunnocks for their tea cakes, Margaret Thom for organising the food, Ross McNae for taking photos and all present for their enthusiastic participation.
AOCB and close
Mr Gordon gave prizes to the best dressed lady, Anna Wilson, and the best dressed man, Brian Henderson. The winner of the photo competition (to match the photo with the tearoom) was Stephen McCarron. The next club meeting would be on 12 February, when David Simons would talk on The Credit Draper. Mr Gordon wished all a safe journey home.
JN Gibson, Recording Secretary