THE HISTORY OF THE SAVOY
Glasgow is a city whose history is a rich and vibrant tapestry. As the undisputed jewel in the crown of Scotland’s cultural heritage, Glasgow is teeming with fascinating stories that span the centuries and captivate people across the generations. One of the most accessible parts of Glasgow’s character is its architecture. Walk along any street in the city and you will be surrounded by myriad facades that transport you through the years; with modern glass frontages nestled alongside Victorian stonework, and Mackintosh flourishes embellishing both old sandstone and new metalwork.
The Savoy has it very own special tale to tell; a name and a building that date back to December of 1911. In that year George V had taken the throne in January, the Women’s Suffrage movement was gaining popularity and traction, and Glasgow looked distinctly different than it does today. Somewhat quietly, and without much pomp or circumstance, on the corner of Hope Street and Renfrew Street an ornate new variety theatre, The Savoy, opened its doors.
The building itself had been designed by notable Scottish architect James Miller, whose career saw him employ new materials and technologies to keep pace with ever-changing tastes across the land. Miller had been the architectural talent behind Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary, the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901, and the distinct Jacobean-style St Enoch subway station building still standing in the centre of St Enoch’s square today.
The opening bill at “The Savoy Theatre of Varieties” was headlined by American comedienne Nella Webb, and the Music Hall, which comfortably seated an audience of 1,600 people, went on to host a plethora of performances on its stage until 1916, when a lack of commercial sustainability saw it renovated to become the New Savoy Cinema.
An extension to the stalls and a new proscenium were designed to facilitate the building’s new purpose by architect George Boswell, a former assistant to James Miller. The New Savoy cinema was bejeweled with orchestral cafes, tea lounges, and a soda fountain. Their "Roumanian Orchestra" played every afternoon, the ladies and jazz orchestras every evening, and tea dances were held each afternoon in its upper café.
The Savoy’s tenure as a cinema lasted over four decades, through most of the First and all of the Second World War. Certainly, between 1939 and 1945 those seats would have been filled with anxious Glaswegians watching newsreels to discover the progress of the war as well as imported entertainment movies to distract them from the ever-present peril of war.
In 1958 the Savoy, in its emerging trademark ability to adapt to change, transformed into the Majestic Ballroom. The foyer was removed under the direction of the Rank Company, who owned the former cinema, replaced by kitchens and a new entranceway. The first circle was reduced, and a smaller balcony put in its place, the upper circles were concealed above a false ceiling and the former opulence of the music hall interior was given an ahead-of-its-time 60s vibe with its new appearance. The icing on the cake was the installation of a first-class ballroom dance floor, which established the Majestic Ballroom as one of the hottest spots in the city’s thriving (and jiving) ballroom dance scene.
In 1972 the music stopped. The Majestic was demolished along with the Gaumont Cinema on Sauchiehall Street, both owned by the Rank Organisation. The only remaining part of both buildings is the red sandstone facade of the Gaumont, visible to this day on Sauchiehall Street as one of the entrances to the Savoy Centre. The buildings’ original sites were amalgamated and the current Savoy Centre building, a mixture of shops, indoor market hall and offices, was constructed.
The Savoy holds a place in the heart of every Glaswegian. It’s not always a place a fondness and it may not even be a large place, but it is undoubtedly a special, permeating part of the city’s culture and heritage.
The towering concrete structure, with its brutalist grey façade, and its harsh, grey, rugged exterior is an unmistakable sight in the Glasgow skyline. The unique walkway that crosses Renfrew Street to ferry shoppers to and from the area in front of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly RSAMD) is part of its charm.
The Savoy Tower houses office space, which has seen an overwhelming improvement (at least on the inside) in recent years now known as Clockwise - a mix of private and shared coworking space where like-minded talent can collaborate in a beautifully decked out, invigorating surrounding.
The most familiar part of the current Savoy Centre is Glasgow's oldest indoor market spread across two floors. An assortment of trades and services, never knowing when you might be in need of their offerings but always steadfastly waiting when you find that you do.
Nowhere else in Glasgow will you find such assortment of genuine local businesses, not shrouded by large chain stores or big brand outlets. Within these walls you will meet the true Glaswegian business, receiving a warm welcome and a hearty piece of "Glesga banter" to accompany your purchases.
While many pass by without ever fully appreciating the diamond in the rough that is the Savoy Market, those who venture inside will find it a true Aladdin’s cave. Beauty retailers who can take a walk-in appointment; cafes, restaurants, and bakeries to fill an empty stomach in the middle of a busy shopping trip; an award-winning butcher who can provide fresh produce for dinner; even furniture and clothing outlets to save you making a separate trip to a big retail park away from the city.
While you probably already know the familiar (somewhat dated) look of the interior, with the 70s style showing a little bit more gritty charm than in its heyday, the faded floors and naturally aged appearance will soon be no more. Make sure you walk the halls one last time because soon there will be an entirely different Savoy Market tucked carefully behind those concrete walls.
Like a chameleon, the Savoy adapts to the changes in its environment. To keep this treasure of Glasgow alive requires a spruce up and an occasional fresh start. Shortly we will begin the newest chapter in the history book of this central location.
The marketplace, while still of great importance and value, needs to move forward. Those who used to swing and sway on the dancefloors of the Majestic can find a place to belong right beside those who are more interested in current fashion. Those who find their routine in the cafés of the existing Savoy can be quite at home while those who are still seeking the right fit browse the eclectic choices of retailers that can’t be found elsewhere.
The Savoy has always been a place of gathering, a place of community, a place to meet like-minded souls and share a little piece of Glasgow that has thrived in so many different forms for over a century.
The modernization of the Savoy Market will embrace everything that makes it so unique, so valuable, so safe, while also refreshing it to appeal to a greater number of visitors. Existing retailers will still be there, so you won’t lose your favourite shops, and new spaces, new opportunities, and businesses will mean that you get to discover new and unexpected delights.
Fresh designers, emerging artists, and new creatives will all form threads in the ongoing tapestry, becoming part of the Savoy family. Great locally roasted coffee and more local food will make the market a great place to escape the crowds, as well as the cold and rain (unless it’s one of the two days of Scottish summer, in which case you can hide from the heat and sunburn instead).
A place that has stood for decades but has constantly adapted to its community, the modern Savoy Market will be a haven for teens, young families, professionals, and the older generation to shop, eat, learn, experience and relax.
Read more about The Savoy Project to help create a community space for all to enjoy a curated mix of art, culture, retail, and cuisine.