Glasgow couldn’t legitimately be the ‘Second City of the Empire‘ if it did not have a place for the city-dwellers to shop, revel and delight in their new found wealth. That’s what Buchanon Street is.
Buchanon Street is to Glasgow what Oxford Street to London and Orchard Road is to Singapore. It is the traditional shopping belt, and the largest one in all of Scotland. You can find almost every major brand in the area, it is unexpectedly the place to see and be seen in Glasgow.
It did not begin this way though, much of the land was in the hands of private proprietors. Glasgow was an important hub in the colonial enterprise and int he 18th century was the heart of the tobacco trade. A number of merchants made it big then by trading tobacco, becoming the Trug Lords (or Tobacco Lords) of Glasgow. These Trug Lords lived lavishly on the sale of tobacco, drunk on the excesses of their wealth these men build opulent compounds and shrines to the Jesus of Tobacco. These were the Great Gatsby’s and Wolves of Wall Street of their day.
Then the American Revolution came along, and the tobacco trade came collapsing, with it the Trug Lords fortunes.
Out of desperation the land around Buchanon Street began to be sold off piecemeal, so that the Trug Lords could pay off the debts accrued from the loss of the American States. The sale of these lands to others was the catalyst that led to the building of new pallatial buildings, shops, hotels, banks, clubs and offices – in a way wealth begot more wealth.
As more shops opened, Buchanon Street emerged as an artery of the city, the first major railway station was built in the area, as was the city metro line, major bus terminals. Shopping aside, the business of government was also conducted here as embassies were built here, including a Republic of South African Consulate.
The Republic of South Africa, was the predecessor state to today’s South Africa, the state that practiced apartheid, institutional racial segregation in South Africa that put the white minority as officially above the black majority (not unlike how the Belgians separated Hutus and Tutsi’s with misguided methods such as how many cows they had and how high their nose bridge was, but more on that another time). At that time, it had a consulate in Glasgow. Since its apartheid practices were in full swing it was also in the process of incarcerating political opponents. One of them was a young Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid.
In perhaps what was the most direct statement possible, the Glaswegians were the first white city to demand and end to apartheid. They did so by changing the name of the street the consulate was on into Nelson Mandela Place, such that any diplomat from the Republic had to suffer the ignominy of putting the address of their consulate as Nelson Mandela Place, Glasgow. It also awarded Mandela the freedom of the city. Prompting Mandela to say in a speech years later, “While we were physically denied our freedom in the country of our birth, a city 6,000 miles away, and as renowned as Glasgow, refused to accept the legitimacy of the apartheid system, and declared us to be free.”
Apart from being shopping central, present day Buchanon Street is also home to a large number of buskers many of them rather talented too.
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