27th May 1849

Tearoom founder Catherine Cranston is born in Glasgow

Catherine Cranston – also known as Kate – is remembered for her Glasgow tearooms. She established the first on Argyll Street in 1878, when she was then just 29, and followed with a second, in 1886, on Ingram Street. A third, then fourth, on Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street respectively, completed the collection.

She wanted to do more than just provide drinks and sustenance in basic surroundings, so made sure her tearooms were somewhere that people would actively want to spend time, rather than merely visit for a quick drink and a snack. She was therefore not afraid to spend money commissioning designers to produce something quite special for their interiors. This contrasted with her brother, Stuart, who was already running his own rather more basic tea shops.

Importantly, tearooms would be a place where people could congregate and socialise at a time when the Temperance movement was highly influential, making pubs less appealing to many.

Catherine Cranston, champion of the arts

Arguably the most celebrated of her commissioned designers was Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who designed the Willow Tearooms on Sauchiehall Street with his wife Margaret MacDonald. In this four-storey building, which opened as a tearoom in 1903, he created themed rooms for specific uses, in some cases delineated by gender, going beyond mere decoration to also design cutlery, fabric and furniture that would work as a whole.

Mackintosh had previously worked on furnishing, murals or individual rooms within Cranston’s other tearooms, including her second, in Ingram Street. Here, he had designed a double-height Oak Room, which was restored in 2018 and now forms a centrepiece of the Scottish Design Galleries at V&A Dundee where it is a permanent exhibit.

Later life and legacy

Although Catherine Cranston eventually sold off her tearooms, she was so closely associated with their success that her name continued to be used on tearooms in the city.

Shedied in Glasgow in 1934 and left most of her estate to the city’s poor. She featured on the rear of the Royal Bank of Scotland £20 note issued in 2020, having been chosen after consultation with the public as part of the bank’s People’s Money programme. The bank said that it selected Cranston because her legacy “touches so many aspects of Scottish life that we, as a nation, are justifiably proud; entrepreneurialism, art, philanthropy and dedication”.

The £20 note is the most common note in circulation in Scotland. As with all RBS notes, the bank’s first governor, Archibald Campbell, appears on the front of the Catherine Cranston design.



Other events that occured in May

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