Minutes of an Ordinary Meeting of the Old Glasgow Club

Held at Adelaides, 209 Bath Street

On Thursday 14th November 2013 at 7.30pm



101 people



Ms Petrina Cairns (President)



Ms Cairns welcomed members and visitors to the November meeting. Ms Cairns explained fire drill procedures, housekeeping rules and also requested that all mobile phones be switched off or to silent.



There were apologies from Jane Collie and Anna Forrest.



The minutes of the last ordinary meeting, held on Thursday 10th October were approved and proposed by Stuart Little and seconded by Sallie Marshall. There were no amendments or matters arising.


President's Report

Ms Cairns said that firstly, she had some sad news to announce.

The Very Reverend Dr William Morris, Minister Emeritus of Glasgow Cathedral and life member of the Old Glasgow Club passed away on October 31st. He was minister of Glasgow Cathedral from 1967 to 2005. Dr Morris' funeral was on Tuesday. The club will pass on their condolences to his son, David.


Glasgow Cathedral's St Andrew's Day Service is taking place on Saturday 30th November at 11am.


Ms Cairns said that she would like to thank Joy Blair for her excellent talk 'Sail to Port Eglinton on the Ardrossan Canal'. As ever, it's always a treat to listen to one of Joy's talk and Ms Cairns hoped that all present enjoyed it as much as she did. Ms Cairns said that she went for a wander around Paisley after the talk and thought that it was amazing to see how many remnants of the canal are still there once you know what you're looking at.


Ms Cairns reported on the club visit to the Govan Stones, in Govan Old Parish Church that took place on Saturday 26th October. Ms Cairns thanked club member Moira Robertson and Frazer Capie for an excellent afternoon and also thanked Anne White who was another font of knowledge. Ms Cairns suggested that if club members haven't been then to please go as it is amazing history in a beautiful setting. Ms Cairns is going to arrange another visit in Spring 2014 for members who hadn't been able to make the October visit.

Miss Cairns said that if you couldn't wait that long, on 23rd November as part of Govan's Hidden Histories Project launch there will be a weekend of guided walks in and around Govan. These walks will include a History of Shipbuilding Walk, Celebrating Strong Women of Govan Walk (including Isabella Elder) and a Quest for the 13 Treasures of Govan Walk. There will also be talks taking place in Govan Old Parish Church. Ms Cairns has further details if anyone is interested.


Poppy Scotland thanked us for raising 116 from the sale of poppies at the last meeting.


Ms Cairns urged members to check out the Old Glasgow Club page on Facebook. Ms Cairns has been updating it most days with articles of news that she thinks would be of interest to the club. Ms Cairns asked member to pass on any information for inclusion if they heard of anything.


Ms Cairns said The Previously....... Scotland's Festival of History started yesterday. Most of the events are in Edinburgh but there are a few in Glasgow that are tying in with Glasgow Libraries Archive Awareness Week.



21st November 2013 - The Mitchell Library 6.00-7.45pm. Free

What treasures do you keep in your Family History Kist and what do they mean to you? Share your stories and enjoy other people's family history. Contact beforehand at archives@glasgowlife.org.uk if you have a story to tell. Or just come and listen, share and enjoy.


On the 16th November - 'What Makes Glasgow ; Glasgow - City of Rebellion', The MItchell Library 2.00-3.30pm. Free

A talk with contributions from Dr Catriona MacDonald, Elspeth King, Arthur McIver and Dr William Kenefick.


Ms Cairns said that brings us neatly onto the Duke Wellington and his headline making cone. Ms Cairns said that she didn't think the Duke had been in the headlines this frequently since Waterloo. Some great headlines though, with Ms Cairns favourite being "Cone No Dae That".

Secretary's Report

Mrs McNae reminded members that in the event of adverse weather on the day of an ordinary meeting that members should phone Adelaides on 0141 248 4970 or, alternatively, check for a post on the Old Glasgow Club website.


Mrs McNae asked if members had visited the club merchandise at the back of the hall for the Glasgow Calendars which are on sale for 4. Mrs McNae also reminded members to take part in the club quiz for this month.


Mrs McNae said that in keeping with the upcoming Glasgow Libraries Archive Awareness week that past president of the Old Glasgow Club, Peter Mortimer had written a new book called 'The Gorbals in the 70s. The book is due out on the 15th November.


A reminder from the Cumbernauld Historical Society that all members of the Old Glasgow Club are welcome to come along to their meetings.


Mrs McNae mentioned that there were lots of interesting exhibitions on in Glasgow Museums at the moment :


Kelvingrove Art Gallery - Jack Vettriano : A Retrospective. On until 23rd February 2014

St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art - Peter Howson's Crucifixion. On display until 31st December 2013

Peoples Palace - Red Road : Past, Present, Future. On until 10th February 2014

The Burrell Collection - Burrell's Masters of Impressionism. On until 5th January 2014


Information on current and upcoming exhibitions is available at www.glasgowlife.org.uk


Mrs McNae reminded members that there would be a Christmas Raffle at the December ordinary meeting.

The December talk is being given by Dr Paul Maloney and is titled 'Scottish Pantomime'.



Ms Cairns introduced Jill Scott and Bill Hicks, former journalists at The Sunday Post who wrote a book about The Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow to coincide with it's 20 million pound facelift.


Jill started the talk by saying how lovely it was for Bill and herself to be here tonight. Here, to talk about the history of one of Glasgow's most famous hotels, The Grand Central. Jill asked how many of the members had been in the original Malmaison restaurant ? (there was a huge show of hands).

Jill said how lucky Bill and herself had been when asked to write the book about the hotel and what a lot of things the hotel had witnessed. The hotel was 130 years old this year and has seen 5 Monarchs, 2 World Wars, countless Prime Ministers and women getting the vote.

Jill hoped that in telling a little bit about the hotel that it would evoke memories. Bill and herself were going to give the talk in the form of an interview and would ask each other alternate questions.


Jill asks Bill - How did this book come about ?

Between us, Jill and I had 75 years as journalists at The Sunday Post. Back in 2010 I was asked to write a feature on the Central Hotel, about the 20 million pound facelift. When I went down it was still a building site. I was introduced to Laurie Nicol who was General Manager. "I'd only ever walked through her doors once and at that point she was a shadow of her former self". When being shown around, I could see just how fabulous it was to become.

Just before Jill and I were asked, very nicely, to leave The Sunday Post, Laurie called and asked me to write a book on The Grand  Central Hotel. Initially I wasn't too keen after 40 years of journalism, but, Laurie was very persuasive regarding the book. In formative talks with the publishers it was to be approximately 96 pages long and more of a publicity book to be given to guests. When Laurie arrived at the meeting, she said that she had good news and that it had been given the go ahead to become 160 pages long. There was, however a drawback, it had to be done in the same amount of time. It was obvious that I needed help and this is where Jill stepped in.

The book had to be interesting, history of the hotel, guests, famous guests and staff over the years.


Bill asks Jill - Jill, go back to the hotel's Victorian origins, why was the hotel that size?

I have to go right back to The Caledonian Railway Company. They had set their sight on building a station in the centre of Glasgow. There was a village here already, called Grahamston. There were around 600 residents, Gaelic church etc. Residents were asked if they would like to be relocated, only 42 wanted to move out !!! Regardless, the station went ahead. There were unfinished offices when the station was opened, these were what became the hotel. The hotel and station were designed by architect Sir Robert Rowan Anderson in Queen Anne style. I got a lot of this information from the new owners, Principal Hayley. I also got information in the Caledonian Railway Association archives within Glasgow University Archives. More information came  from the Mitchell Library and the Glasgow Herald.

The hotel was big because Glasgow now had a bustling city centre and a population of some 511,415. There were ships coming from all over and Central Hotel (as she was called then) was closest to the Broomielaw.

"The city was prospering, bustling with its own people, visiting businessmen and travellers. Train was the quickest and easiest way to journey between towns and cities, but, having arrived at their destinations, travellers needed accommodation, preferably as near to the station as possible. The well-to-do of the city were also seeking elegant venues in which to hold lunches, parties, birthday celebrations and dances".

The original hotel opened in 1883 but was extended, along with the station, was designed by James Miller and re-opened April, 1907.


Jill asks Bill - How did you go about collecting the memories and stories from past guests and staff?

When I met James Murphy who had returned as executive chef to Grand Central Hotel, had originally worked there in the 1970s. He had lots of old menus and memorabilia from that period.The Glasgow Herald also ran pieces about the book,

resulting in lots of letters and pictures from readers. We even got an original copy of Roy Rodgers leading Trigger up the stairs. We had been given the use of a room in the hotel where we stored all the information.  Wee Des, who was a bellboy at the hotel when Roy Rogers stayed there was a mine of information. He told me who gave the best tips, the distribution of tips from the manager to the bellboy.

Des' stories were wonderful. He recalled when the singer, Billy Daniels was staying at the hotel. Billy approached Des and asked him to take him to a record shop to buy one of his own records. Des thought it was a strange request, also, it was a Sunday and all the shops at that time were closed on a Sunday apart from the Barras. Des took Billy Daniels there and he was mobbed, but he did get his records.


Bill asks Jill - What brought the stars to Glasgow?

It was the prolific amount of theatres that brought the stars to Glasgow. Especially The Alhambra and Empire theatres, they were the ones with kudos. Also, the proximity of the theatres to the hotel were another attraction, especially with the dreich Scottish weather.

Everyone who was anyone stayed here - farthest back was the Vaudeville actress, Sophie Tucker, Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardener, Mae West in 1947, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lee Lewis, Nat King Cole, Gene Kelly in 1953 (when looking for a location for Brigadoon), Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, Cilla Black, David Wilkie, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Hope who hosted charity events in the hotel.


Bill interjects that many sporting stars have stayed over the years. In 1960 when a European Cup Final was taking place, George Best stayed. As far back as 1887, John L Sullivan, bare knuckled boxing world champion stayed. John L Sullivan liked the place so much that he honeymooned here. Boxers Peter Keenan, Benny Lynch and Victor McLaglen also stayed. Apart from the sporting stars that interested me, there were high profile names like J F Kennedy, Winston Churchill (he lunched at the hotel on 2 occasions).

In 1927 John Logie Baird transmitted the first long distance television signal from London to a television in the hotel. If you're wondering why was the Central Hotel chosen - John Logie Baird's son Malcolm said that it was the easiest place to transport a television to from the London train.


Bill asks Jill - Tell us about the Malmaison restaurant.

The original Malmaison restaurant served it's first diners in 1927 and had 2 entrances,1 through the hotel and the other from Hope Street. "The name was not chosen for its translation from the French which means 'sick or bad house' - rather a strange choice for a restaurant aiming to win customers over with gastronomic delights - but for its link to one of the greatest love stories in history, that of Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte and their association with the Chateau de Malmaison, a magnificent country house in a lovely setting about 7 miles from the centre of Paris. Bought by Josephine in 1799 for her husband, it was the place where they felt most at home".

"Glaswegians and visitors to the city fell in love with the Mal. The restaurant, with heavy red drapes over the windows facing onto Hope Street, was for special occasions, anniversaries and celebrations. Celebrities ate there - it was the place to see and be seen. While diners savoured every mouthful, live music played from a small balcony above them".

One of my favourite stories regards a young man, who, much to his father's horror had taken a job as a waiter. He had been employed by M. Etienne Vacher, French Hotel Manager between 1934 and 1955. He ruled with a rod of iron, but under his influence the Malmaison flourished. The man recalled that he worked for 4 months as a waiter before he was allowed to speak to a customer. His first words to a customer were "would Madam like stuffing".

There's a wee lady in the picture we have of the chefs, called Anna. Anna worked in the kitchens until she was 77. She mothered the boys, her boys and loved her work. The first job she was given in the kitchen was to make fruit salad for 1000. One of her other tasks was to put potatoes in a rumbler, a thing that peeled the potatoes! Anna loved her boys so much, if they had been out on the raz the night before she would line up glasses of water and give them Alka Seltzer.


Jill asks Bill - Which parts of the hotel do you like best?

Go back to the 1960s and 70s when Glasgow City Council pulled down buildings willy nilly, like St Enoch's Hotel. The Central Hotel had its own form of vandalism. Things had been boarded up and painted over, and, when the renovations were started builders found lots of original features. Like the Champagne Bar, bar originally planned to be put in the centre of the room but when they lifted up 3 or 4 layers of carpet and found the original black and white tiled floor the bar plans were changed.

My favourites are floors 5, 6 and 7 which haven't been renovated, although I think they may have started or be about to start floor 5. This is where the staff lived, it's like time stood still here and a wee bit eerie. When the 5th floor is renovated it will give the hotel another 40-50 rooms.

My Dad told me that he had heard that if you slipped the Concierge some money that he would let you have a bath in the staff quarters. Whether this is true or not, the baths are still there because it is a listed building.


Bill asks Jill - What is your favourite story from the book ?

When doing research for the book, I answered a phone call and an American voice said that they were looking for me. Her name was Michelle, her father was Rolf Steiner. "Steiner was a name that was legendary in hairdressing circles and if you had an appointment in their Glasgow salon, located inside the Central Hotel, then you knew you had made it in Glasgow Society". Michelle has happy memories of her visits to the hotel and recalls hot cross buns at breakfast on Good Friday morning. Her and her brothers meals were always taken in their parents suite, which also had a grand piano for Francis to practice on.

In 1955 John Nelson got the managers job. He brought his family of 2 wee boys. It was a great place to stay  but there was nowhere for them to play. Their Mum let them play football and ride their bike in the ballroom when their Dad was out. The upside of living in a hotel was that they went to St Aloysius and when they got home from school, they and their friends would have afternoon tea sent up to their room. They also got to know when famous people were staying as the floor managers would tell them. When Brendan (one of the boys) heard we were doing a book on the hotel, he said, that his father would have been ashamed. But, when he read the book, he said that his father would have been proud.


Jill asks Bill - What was your favourite story from the book ?

My favourite is about Margaret Innes, Central Hotel switchboard operator during World War I. She was ideal for the job - polite, courteous and discreet. Margaret regularly received flowers from visiting officers and the military elite for her work.

"As the Great War raged across Europe between 1914 and 1915, hundreds of thousands of military personnel passed through Central Station. Making their way to and from battle, it is not hard to imagine the scenes as loved ones bade them farewell, wondering if they would ever welcome them home".

"Yet, behind the substantial sandstone of the Central Hotel the military elite were living in the lap of luxury. Hotel staff attended to their every whim as their men slept on the concrete concourse of Central Station, kit bags under their heads, waiting for their trains".


Bill and I were very lucky to have been asked to write the book and are very proud that the R.N.I.B have transcribed our book onto audio and into braille. We hope that you enjoyed our trip down memory lane.


Q  This has taken me down memory lane. 60 years ago I was entertaining a customer at Malmaison, where we had an

     account. I saw something on the menu that I wasn't familiar with called tournedos rossini and had to ask, the

     formidable Signor Luigi what it was. I had been embarrassed to ask but he said "if you come and see something you

     do not know, I will be very pleased to tell you".

Q  Were there any ghosts?

A   Quite surprisingly, I have only been asked about ghosts once. Personally, I don't believe (Bill), but if there were to be

     any it would be more likely on floors 5, 6, and 7. In 1999 there was a ghoulish sort of art exhibition on the 7th floor.

     A man, Walter was sat at a desk there, it was his job for 6 days from 11 until 2am in the morning. The whole point of

     the exhibition was to scare you. His only job was to say, "there are rooms to the left of you and rooms to the right of

     you". In a room on the 7th floor, in an empty room overlooking the station there was a melancholy poem which made

     us think that somebody had taken their life. It turns out that it was part of the exhibition.

     Another, of what was thought at the time to have been somebody jumping out of a room window, taking their own life

     turned out to have been somebody that had been drunk.

Q  I was told that there was a swimming pool in the building. Has it been reopened?

A   Yes, there is a pool there but it is not operational. I'm not really sure what the long term plans are, the drains

     underneath are 130 years old and not suitable for a swimming pool.

Q  Can you tell me about La Fourchette?

A   It was next door to Malmaison, thought to be cheaper and a little less formal. The story goes that if the chips in the

     Malmaison didn't come up to scratch they were sent to La Fourchette.

Q  What is the average room rate tariff?

A   I've no idea what they are. I quite often see deals for the Tempus restaurant which used to be Malmaison.

Q  I was once in an hotel where the Central Hotel was in a brochure. I said to the lady at reception that I had a complaint,

     that there was an hotel advertised in my room that wasn't opened. I had visions of unsuspecting tourists turning up

     and finding it closed for business.

A   I have no idea, maybe it was a transport owned hotel brochure that hadn't been updated.


Vote of Thanks

Mr Frame thanked Bill Hicks and Jill Scott for their wonderful talk.

The history is astonishing, the building is fascinating and it would probably be better to say who hadn't stayed there, than who has stayed there. The pictures of marching off to war. There was a poignant picture of a soldier looking up at the hotel and you wonder what happened to him. If walls could speak, what stories they would tell, and, the next best thing is to read a book written by yourselves.



What headgear is missing from this statue ?

The winner is Norma Gourlay, who correctly answered that it was the Duke of Wellington, minus his cone.





Next Directors Meeting - Thursday 28th November 2013

Next Ordinary Meeting -  Thursday 12th December 2013


Ms Cairns thanked everyone for coming and wished all a safe journey home.


                                                                                                                                             Shona Crozer

                                                                                                                                             Recording Secretary