Monday, 31 October 2011

Howard Street: the story of a pub and a grocery store

This post is only tangentially about beer; it’s mostly about a pub and a supermarket on the the same city-centre side street in Glasgow.

This was a branch of the Co-op, previously Somerfield. It finally closed last week. I don’t know what will come afterwards. The 1960s Aer Lingus building is looking very tatty these days and was earmarked to be demolished, though the plans for a hotel and retail development to replace it are pre-credit crunch, so who knows whether they will go ahead. We have a habit in Glasgow, even in good times, of demolishing buildings and leaving the vacant site for a while, say thirty or forty years, until someone figures out what to do with it.

What is planned to replace the supermarket. By the looks of things we'll
have better dressed junkies too. Image from Farrell & Clark

Ironically enough this tatty 1960s block replaced a previous Greek Thomson effort on the same site. To be fair, the Thomson building wasn’t one of his greatest, and the concrete office block was a handsome building in its time. My fascination with this store started when I found out how long it had been trading. It was like the retail equivalent of the brush that’s had three new heads and two new handles. Think about it; the business has been operating here longer than the actual building it’s in. It’s changed ownership too, several times. But until last week it was still in the same place selling groceries where it had been for 130 years.

Let’s jump to the other end of the street for a moment.

This is the Imperial Bar. It’s not much to look at from the outside, though there is some interesting stained glass and the carved wooden frontage appears to date from the 1930s. More interesting is that there appears to have been a drinking shop on this site continuously for at least 150 years.

In 1850 George Malcolm was trading as a “spirit dealer”, in the language used at the time, at 14 Howard Street. By 1851 he appears to have moved down to No. 6 and has acquired an “& Co.”

Mrs G. Malcolm (possibly George’s widow?), was a spirit dealer at 6 Howard Street in 1857. The shop at No. 14 was occupied by J. McCulloch, a tea merchant.

In 1876–77, JB Turner is trading as a spirit dealer at No. 6. Cooper & Co are a tea merchant at No. 12.

Eighteen years later in 1894, Turner’s still trading in the same place. Cooper & Co., tea merchants, have expanded to occupy No. 8, 20 and 22.

By 1902 some well-known names had moved in: Coopers have expanded further to take on No. 28 as well, and Lipton, a rival tea merchant and grocer at No. 2 on the corner of Jamaica St. A. G. Malcolm is listed at No. 4. A descendant of George and Mrs. George?

1904 4-6 Turner. Cooper & Co have opened a café at 30-32. Blackwood & Co at 36-38.

By 1907 Turner’s over thirty-year occupation of the shop is over. No. 4 has a new occupant, James Maitland. Possibly he was related to one or both of William Maitland, a wine and spirit dealer in Wallace St, Tradeston, or Archibald Maitland who had plied the same trade at 171 Cowcaddens, fifty years earlier.

Cooper & Co already occupy a good chunk of the block, at 8, 38, 36–38 with their café at 30–32. The Lorne Restaurant, another famous Glasgow boozer which can be seen on one of the photos below, is also present by this time. Today it trades as Hootenanny.

Cooper’s did very well and by the time the 1960s rolled around it had grown into a successful chain of supermarkets.

Maitland didn’t end up with a chain of pubs, but the pub stayed in the family through the better part of a century. It’s still listed as Maitland’s in the Post Office directory of 1973-4. I don’t know when exactly it changed its name to the Imperial Bar but it must have been in the late 1970s or as late as the mid 80s.

Cooper’s operating as a supermarket, still in the Greek Thomson building in 1964.
By 1966 the west side of the supermarket has been replaced by a modern 1960s building.

Then the east side was also replaced

When Coopers merged with Fine Fare it was presumably the same sort of consolidation that affected the brewing industry in the 1960s. It didn’t stop there. Fine Fare became Gateway which became Somerfield before the store was eventually sold to the Co-op.

Looking west down the street:

Maitland’s can just about be seen next door to Coopers and Ross’s Dairy is on the corner

Looking west today, the block with the Imperial Bar is the only constant

Let’s have a look from the other end of the street, the corner of Jamaica St.
We can sort of see a bit of the pub frontage in this 1930 picture
By 1939 the corner building was Ross’s Dairy and tea-room.

By 1961 surprisingly little has changed except the cars. We still can’t see the front of the pub very well.

Today the Imperial is a typical old pub that still sells McEwan’s-branded beers. I’d wager it’s done so ever since 1960 when Scottish Brewers swallowed up T & J Bernard, the Edinburgh brewery which had owned the property and rented it to the Maitlands for decades. In February 1958 James Maitland wrote to Bernard’s as follows:

Dear Sirs,
As you know, my Father was your tenant at the premises at 6 Howard Street, Glasgow, from October 1906 and that I succeeded to the tenancy on his death. Originally Father had a lease but for many years now the tenancy has been on a yearly basis.
While I have the assurance of your present mangement [sic] that there is no intention of disturbing the existing arrangement and have every confidence in that assurance, I feel that the present arrangement is somewhat unbusiness like and of course liable to give rise to anxieties in the event of changes of management. Under the circumstances I should be glad to learn that you would be prepared to grant me a Lease of the premises for say 10 or 15 years. Should you prefer it I should be most willing to consider purchasing the property and if a sale is in your mind I should be glad to have your views as to the price.
Once you have had an opportunity of considering the matter I should be glad to hear from you.
Yours faithfully, James C. Maitland.

Bernard’s did not have a sale in mind; they had in 1954 refused an approach from a third party who was interested in purchasing the whole property together with the adjoining Ross’s Dairy. But they did agree to give Maitland a 10-year lease, “subject to the usual conditions”. At the time, the pub comprised a public bar, two sitting-rooms and a cellar. Today it’s open plan, but it’s not a big pub, so the sitting-rooms must have been quite small, what we would call a snug.

James Maitland was evidently a confident negotiator and talked the brewery into removing a clause in the standard agreement which would have forbidden him from holding any other licences. His position strengthened by having a secure lease, he approached the brewery again in December the same year for help with repairs to the floor of the pub, which had been damaged by wet rot. Bernard’s agreed to pay half the cost. As the repairs cost roughly half his annual rent, Maitland was recorded as being very pleased with the settlement.

What beer might James Maitland have sold? Funny you should ask that:

T & J Bernard beers in 1958
Trade nameBrewery nameOGFG
Strong AleStrong10671021
Double Brown AleD.B.Ale10431013
Special ExportSp Exp10431012
No. 3Pale 1/110311010
No. 2Pale 1/210361011
Special No. 1Pale 1/410461013

Don’t take these as gospel yet; the range isn't complete. I haven't looked at the grists in detail but No. 2 and No. 3 are the two main draught beers and they are very different. No 2 has maize flakes, invert sugar and Avona, which I guess is some sort of proprietary sugar, while No. 3 has maize grits and all invert sugar. And ten times as much black malt. And No. 3, the weaker beer, has 50% more hops. But more on Bernard beers soon.

In this 1946 image, frustratingly, the pub is just out of shot on the right. But I like to think the casks are empties just collected from Maitland’s. By the look of them, they are barrels, or even hogsheads.

One last pub-related bit of trivia: in the city’s West End (genuinely in the West End, that is: west of the river Kelvin) is a bar which was also once a Cooper’s store. It must have been one of the earliest outposts of the empire as it was already there in 1904 shortly after Kelvinbridge railway station opened. After operating for years as Chimmy Chunga’s and Bar Oz, it now trades under the name Cooper’s once again.

I couldn’t have written this without the images from the Virtual Mitchell, and as ever the Scottish Brewing Archive.


  1. The turreted building was originally
    Bernard's brewery offices -

    Maltings replaced the brewery, now modern flats.

  2. The bar was the Imperial at the latest by October 1978 when it was granted an all-day licence. (Evening Times, October 17 1978).

  3. Thanks for the FANTASTIC post! This information is really good and thanks a ton for sharing it :)
    Pub licence

  4. I'm sure this post is long dead, but my great grandfather's brother was James Maitland. My father just found this. I live in the U.S. and this made me so happy to read. My dad's side ( James' nephew ) moved to the U.S. after WWII. Thank you for this bit of family history.