Britannia Panopticon Music Hall – Glasgow, Scotland - Atlas Obscura

Britannia Panopticon Music Hall

The world's oldest surviving music hall was also once a freakshow. 


Built in 1857 by Thomas Gildard and H. M. McFarlane, the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall hosted some of the biggest names on the Music hall circuit and quickly became famed as being the most popular place of amusement in the city. It was one of the first buildings in Glasgow powered by electricity, and the auditorium was one of the first places in Glasgow to show moving or animated pictures.

In 1906 management of the old Britannia was taken over by A.E Pickard. Inspired by the great American showman, P.T. Barnum, Pickard converted the empty attic above the auditorium into a roof top carnival, waxworks and freak show. Soon afterwards he also converted the basement of the public house on the ground floor into a zoo and renamed the building Panopticon which he took from the Greek; Pan = everything, Optika = to see, as the paying visitor could see everything from attic to basement for one admission price.

The Panopticon survived until 1938 when it was finally closed, sold to a tailor and converted into a workshop. Today the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall Trust and Friends of Britannia Panopticon are working to ensure its preservation for future generations to enjoy. As such the hall is now protected as a category A listed building and as part of the campaign the Britannia Panopticon is open to the public five days a week, with the trust regularly performing traditional shows in the auditorium.

It should also be noted that Stan Laurel made his stage debut here performing a comedy routine. The Panopticon hosts regular Laurel and Hardy evenings in his honor.


Know Before You Go

Britannia Panopticon Music Hall is located right in the heart of Glasgow so is very convenient for buses and trains. If you are visiting us we are easy to find as we are above Mitchell's Amusement Arcade and just east of T.J. Hughes. Remember that entrance to most of our shows is via the New Wynd, the small lane between T.J.Hughes and Mitchell's Amusement Arcade. The nearest train stations are Argyle Street and High Street, but if you don't mind a 10 minute walk, Central Station and Queen Street Station are also conveniently close by. Underground: the nearest underground station is St. Enoch. When you come out of the St Enoch Underground station onto Argyle Street, turn right and walk in a straight line towards Glasgow Cross. We are just beyond T.J.Hughes. Buses: First Bus 62, 61 & 64 stop right outside Britannia Panopticon. Car parking is also available at the St. Enoch Centre, Kings Street, Glasshouse on Glassford Street and the NCP carpark on Albion Street.

As the space is run by volunteers, highly recommend checking out the website for opening hours. Here you will also find out about performances of all varieties, both in the daytime and evenings. Unfortunately, the upper balcony is off limits due to safety reasons.

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January 23, 2012

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