The origins of Glasgow’s famous street names explained

Sauchiehall Street is hard for outsiders to pronounce. Picture: TSPL

Sauchiehall Street is hard for outsiders to pronounce. Picture: TSPL

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Up until the mid-1700s there were only thirteen streets in Glasgow, as well as a handful of lanes, squares and roads.

Thanks to rapid expansion during the era of Empire, as well as more modern developments, the city now has several thousand streets within its borders.

George Square was named after King George III. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

George Square was named after King George III. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

The origins of some street names are fairly obvious, but many of Glasgow’s most famous streets have unusually interesting stories behind their names.

Argyle Street

Previously known as Dumbarton Road and then Wester Gate, Argyle Street was renamed when the West Port was demolished in 1751 to expand the city westwards.

It was called Anderson Walk for a short while, before becoming Argyle Street. Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll laid in state in the Highland Society’s House (now a Marks & Spencer) after his death in 1761 and the street was named in his honour.

Jamaica Street takes its name from Glasgow's historic colonial connections. Picture: Contributed

Jamaica Street takes its name from Glasgow's historic colonial connections. Picture: Contributed

Drygate

Perhaps most famous now for its craft beer brewery of the same name, the Drygate is probably the oldest thoroughfare in Glasgow.

The word ‘dry’ is thought to come from an old Germanic or Pagan term for a priest, and the nearby Necropolis was once used as a place for Druids to worship. It makes sense, therefore, that the road leading up to the Necropolis was known as the priests’ road, or the Drygate.

George Square

With plenty of Georges in Britain’s royal history, you’d be forgiven for not knowing which one George Square is named after. The Square (and nearby George Street) is named in honour of King George III, who was the reigning monarch at the time of the Square’s opening in 1787.

George Square was intended to be used as a private garden for the surrounding townhouses, but disgruntled mobs pulled the railings down on several occasions and it has been a public space ever since.

Byres Road

Before Glasgow expanded westwards, this area was a separate village known as the Byres of Partick - sometimes also referred to as the Bishop’s Byres. As it was a fairly rural area, the ‘byres’ part of the name is likely to refer to the Scots word for a cow shed.

The road was known as Victoria Street for some time but this name was never popular with the public (especially as there were four other Victoria Streets elsewhere in Glasgow) so it was changed back to Byres Road in the 1890s.

Buchanan Street

Like many of the streets in the centre of Glasgow, Buchanan Street was named after a famous merchant who had made his fortune thanks to Glasgow’s reputation as the Second City of the Empire.

Opened in 1780, Buchanan Street took its name from Andrew Buchanan, one of the city’s most successful tobacco merchants. He was the head of two great Virginia tobacco houses, Buchanan, Hastie & Co and Andrew Buchanan & Co.

Jamaica Street

Similarly, Jamaica Street (along with several other streets in the Merchant City) also takes its name from Glasgow’s connections with the Empire.

Jamaica Street opened in 1763, which was around the time of the height of the rum and sugar trade between Glasgow and the West Indies. The plans for the street included a customs house and shipping office to help continue this trade.

The name also hints at the darker side of Glasgow’s history - many local merchants made their fortune by exploiting slave labour in the plantations of Jamaica and the West Indies.

Sauchiehall Street

A bit of a tongue twister for non-Scots, Sauchiehall Street is actually a corruption of the Scots word ‘sauchiehaugh’. ‘Haugh’ means a meadow or valley and ‘sauchie’ refers to the type of trees that grew there, so Sauchiehall roughly translates to Willow Grove.

The street was originally known as Sauchie-haugh Road, but after being widened in 1846, many of the older villas were replaced with tenements and the name was changed to Sauchiehall Street.

Bath Street

As well as the merchants of the Empire, many Glasgow streets from this era were named after businessmen, entrepreneurs and industrialists.

Bath Street got its name from William Harley, who was known as the water entrepreneur. He built a series of public baths along this street which led to ‘pleasure gardens’ on his estate at the northern end of the thoroughfare.

Drury Street

According to local legend, Glasgow’s Drury Street got its name thanks to the Drury Lane Theatre in London.

Two young residents of the street had become enamoured with theatre after reading about it and so decided to bring some of this theatrical air to their Glasgow home. They got the name Drury Street printed and hung it on the corner building, and the name has stuck ever since.

Duke Street

Previously known as Carntyre Road, Duke Street was opened in 1794 and takes its name from the Duke of Montrose as his lodgings overlooked the street.

At 1.6 miles long, Duke Street is often cited as the longest street in Britain. Whilst it does beat competitors like London’s Oxford Street, Aberdeen’s King Street is now thought to take the crown at almost 2 miles.

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