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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914


Kate Cranston

By Irene Maver

Kate Cranston Kate (or Catherine) Cranston (1849-1934) is indelibly associated with the vogue for "artistic" tearooms that was such a prominent feature of Glasgow's social life at the turn of the 20th century. She was born in George Square, where her father, George Cranston, was a hotelier. He was eventually the proprietor of the Crow Hotel which stood on the site opposite Queen Street Station now occupied by the Merchants House. The Cranstons were noted for their innovative approach to hotel management and in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London the family ran a chain of temperance hotels which provided visitors with high-class accommodation in an alcohol-free environment.

Doors for the Willow Tea Rooms Kate opened her first Argyle Street tearoom in 1878, in association with her brother Stuart (1848-1921) who had already set up in business as a tea dealer and caterer. It was Stuart who invented the phenomenon of the Glasgow tearoom in 1875, but it was Kate's emphasis on quality decor and high standards of service that defined public expectations of what a tearoom should be. As the 1880s progressed the Cranstons expanded their successful enterprise to the extent that they were able to establish separate careers. In 1892 Kate married John Cochrane (1857-1917), a wealthy businessman, who helped to provide much of the financial underpinning for her most celebrated projects.

Scottish National Exhibition, 1911 The inspired and highly stylised decoration for Kate's Buchanan Street tearooms (1897) was provided by the designer George Walton (1867-1933), along with Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (1864-1935). The Mackintoshes were also responsible for designing the luxurious Willow Tearooms in Sauchiehall Street (1903). Thereafter the Mackintoshes worked with Kate on various enterprises including the temporary tearooms constructed at Kelvingrove Park for the 1911 Exhibition. Kate was a woman renowned for her energy and organisational abilities and she continued working into her late sixties. However, on the death of her husband in 1917 she retired from public life.

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