Debauchery and deviance

Horse MacDonald and Suzanne Egerton
Horse MacDonald and Suzanne Egerton

Did that title get your attention? That was the name of a guided walk I went on during Glasgow’s Sexology Season in May. In association with the Wellcome Collection and Glasgow Fun Palace, it promised “the debauched history of Scotland’s most populated city” and “tales of sex in all its guises-from the scandals of Victorian society, burlesque, and queer lives to adult cinema”. Theatrical narration along the way was provided by two guides – writer Suzanne Egerton and singer-songwriter Horse MacDonald.

Helen MacKinven, the friend I went with, has written an account of the full walk – I just want to concentrate on two places which might be familiar if you were with me on the A to Z Challenge this year. I showed you the exterior of B for Barrowland and P for Panopticon – on this walk, we got to go inside both. Would you like to take a look?


The Barrowland Ballroom is pretty sleazy, and it’s interesting to know that the stars don’t get any better accommodation than the fans. We were also reminded of some of Barrowland’s dark history, such as the Bible John murders of the late 1960s: the killer picked up his victims there. On a lighter note, Horse posed with a poster for her own concert at the venue. The lyrics on the staircase, or at least the ones I’ve Googled, are by Biffy Clyro.

Britannia Panopticon

The world’s oldest surviving music hall has been entertaining since 1857 and was the first place Stan Laurel trod the boards.

We were lucky enough to meet Judith Bowers who is in charge of the Panopticon and founded the campaign to restore it. She was very entertaining and told us of the significance of the three Ps in the building’s history: pee, poo and prostitutes. Yes really! Enjoy some more pictures, then read on….

  • Pee. The Panopticon had no toilet until 1893 and, unlike many music halls, it’s on the first floor. Men couldn’t be bothered fighting their way downstairs to the alleyway, so could this be why this music hall survived when others burned down? It was sodden!
  • Poo. A lump of horse sh*t collected from the streets made a great hand warmer, apparently. And a handy missile if the comedian was rubbish…..
  • Prostitutes. Ladies of uncertain virtue would congregate in one corner of the balcony. How do we know? The presence of large numbers of trouser buttons found in that area when it was excavated.

One other thing that interested me, but that Judith didn’t mention, was the Carrie Nation poster on the wall. Carrie was an American temperance campaigner who visited Glasgow in 1908 and spoke in both the City Halls and the Panopticon. She was famed for smashing up bars with a hatchet and had quite a theme going – a bi-weekly newspaper called The Smasher’s Mail, a newspaper called The Hatchet, and little hatchet pins to sell to raise funds. The one pictured below belongs to Glasgow Women’s Library: Carrie features on one of our Women’s History Walks.

Thanks to Suzanne, Horse and Judith for a fascinating and informative afternoon. I hope, Dear Reader, you’ve enjoyed it too.


32 thoughts on “Debauchery and deviance

  1. helenmackinven June 26, 2015 / 11:58

    Great afternoon wasn’t it? I think we were particularly lucky to have the personal insight from Horse into the behind the scenes snippets of playing at the Barrowland and the expertise of Judith into the fascinating Panopticon.


  2. lovetotrav June 26, 2015 / 12:52

    Now that is a walk/talk that you will never forget! History can be so interesting when told and shared by the right person. You do a great job of retelling it as well!


  3. rosemaylily2014 June 26, 2015 / 14:14

    Great title for the guided walk!! And a very interesting historical insight too!


  4. Alex Hurst June 26, 2015 / 14:20

    That seems like a very unique walking tour! Quite interesting, though all of the P’s made me cringe a little. 😉


    • Anabel Marsh June 26, 2015 / 14:59

      Even more cringey to be there hearing about it! I wondered what I was standing on…..

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Birgit June 26, 2015 / 17:36

    OK-so they washed their hand in horse poop and peed where they wanted and then had their way with the gals in a back corner-I wonder why so many died from diseases? The smell must have been a little on the stinky side. This seems like a really unique walk which i would enjoy and I love that pin.


  6. joylovestravel June 26, 2015 / 19:03

    Sounds fantastic – love it when you get a different angle on something like this.


  7. Sue Archer June 27, 2015 / 01:41

    Thanks for linking back to the A to Z places. I love those stairs! Maybe I should be putting some inspiring quotes on mine…


  8. Nadine Feldman (@Nadine_Feldman) June 27, 2015 / 03:14

    Yep, the title got my attention! Any blog post with the word “debauchery” in it will get a read from me. This one gave me several chuckles, especially the part about all the trouser buttons.


    • Anabel Marsh June 27, 2015 / 08:47

      Judith had a way of telling it that I can’t reproduce in writing, but I’m glad I’ve given a flavour.


  9. jazzfeathers June 28, 2015 / 06:46

    This sounds like such a fun tour. I love tours with actors-guides 🙂
    Those three Ps… my goodness. But he first P wasn’t completely new to me. Apparently, that happened quite often in saloons too.
    The lat Ps made me laugh 🙂


  10. clicksclan June 28, 2015 / 12:20

    That sounds like great fun. I love learning about the history of places, particularly when it’s not as uh… sterile as you might be expecting. 😉


    • Anabel Marsh June 28, 2015 / 12:23

      No, sterile doesn’t really describe either venue! Sending positive vibes to you, been following your progress.


  11. dormousetidings June 29, 2015 / 00:10

    A collection of trouser buttons…I would never have jumped to this conclusion. I would have thought someone dropped their sewing basket. Then I would have wondered why someone was sewing on the balcony…


  12. whichwaynow101 June 29, 2015 / 19:12

    Yes, that title certainly did get my attention. Fascinating stuff. Not too sure about the hand warmers. I’ll just keep my hands in my pockets, thanks.


  13. Donnad June 30, 2015 / 14:30

    How fun! These photos remind me of the back stage areas of some of our local venues. Usually the space for the band to get ready is a poorly lit cavernous space, frequent located down a rickety stairway, Brick walls covered with band promos and floors sticky with hopefully just spilled beer. I am amazed by how many different tours there are of Glasgow.


    • Anabel Marsh June 30, 2015 / 15:17

      Oh, there are lots more! I bet most venues are quite unglamorous behind the scenes.


  14. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) July 1, 2015 / 11:56

    Looks like a fab tour! How neat to see all the Carrie Nation stuff; I especially like that little hatchet pin! I didn’t know she visited Glasgow (not that I’m a Carrie Nation expert, just assumed she was too busy smashing stuff up in America).


    • Anabel Marsh July 1, 2015 / 13:32

      No, she graced us with her presence too. I met on Twitter the g-g-granddaughter of the woman she stayed with when she was here. According to family legend, the two ladies played ping-pong together and smashed all the gas mantles!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. goannasnake August 15, 2015 / 09:53

    We did a similarly themed walk in London. Made me want to read the Canterbury Tales.


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