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What do the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow have in common with East Calder?

Many of us who have visited Glasgow will call in at the Willow Tea Rooms in Buchanan Street for a cup of tea and one of their delicious homemade scones, but tea rooms have not always been there for us to enjoy.

In the 1880’s an alternative was needed for the “men only” pubs in many of the larger cities throughout the country. Tea had always been considered a luxury and drunk only by the rich but “tea rooms” started opening offering a relaxed and sociable area for ordinary hard working people to come and meet friends and enjoy a refreshing and non-alcoholic beverage! They were strongly frequented by those in the Temperance Movement.

The Willow Tea Rooms previously known as Miss Cranston’s Tea Rooms were owned by and run by Catherine (or Kate) Cranston. She opened her first tea room in Argyle Street in 1878 and at the peak of her career in the early 1900’s she had established 4 separate tea rooms throughout the centre of Glasgow. Catherine realised that she needed to make her tearoom stand out from the crowd so she hired an up and coming designer to design the interior of her businesses - Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Photo credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra on Flickr

Catherine was a very shrewd and successful businesswoman who was born around 1850 in Glasgow. She married when she was in her 40’s but following the death of her husband in 1917 she retired from business and lived to the grand old age of 84. Her parents were George Cranston and Grace Lace.

So where is the connection with East Calder?

Catherine’s father George Cranston was an extremely successful hotelier in Glasgow and his daughter Catherine was not the only one of his children to become a rich and successful business tycoon!

George was born in East Calder on 26th January 1817, the fifth of six children of William Cranstoun and Williamina McDoual. William was a mason in the village.

By the age of 22 George had left East Calder and headed west to Glasgow where he married his first wife Janet Gibson in 1839. His occupation is listed on his wedding OPR as a Chaise Driver. The Chaise was a small two wheeled horse-drawn carriage usually for one or two people. George may have worked as a household servant and drove his employer around town or perhaps he was a ‘taxi driver’.

George must have been highly ambitious and the 1851 census sees him age 34 now a hotel keeper at 39 George Square Glasgow. The hotel was the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Chop House and Commercial Lodgings. His hotel had various different names over the years until it became Cranston’s Hotel and Dining Rooms in May 1852.

The family expanded their hotel business to hotels in Edinburgh and London and to think this shrewd businessman was born and spent his childhood in East Calder!


Published in Konect May 2013

Author: Maureen McIntyre


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