The Merchants’ House
The Merchants’ House is the Corporation which returns five of the nine members of the Dean of Guild Court, including the President or Lord Dean of Guild. The merchants properly so called — that is, those who followed the occupation of buying and selling in contradistinction to those who were engaged in trades or mechanical employments — had obtained a status in Glasgow as far back as the year 1420. The Merchants’ House acts in three capacities: as an elective body, as a charitable association, and as a deliberative assembly. In its first capacity it elects the Dean of Guild and his Council, who officiate as directors of the house; in its second, it disposes of its funds for the relief of its decayed members and their families; and in its third, it meets to express its opinion on public questions affecting the political, commercial, and civic interests of the community.
There is no evidence of this house having met to deliberate on any subject beyond their own immediate business till after the Revolution of 1688. At the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 the House agreed, on the motion of the Provost, that the town may borrow a sum not exceeding £500 “to draw lines round the city, for defence.” During the Rebellion of 1745, also, when the demand of £15,000 was, made by Prince Charlie’s secretary, and was afterwards restricted to £5,500, it was resolved “to agree to the same, as necessity was no law.”
Their first fine hall was built in Bridgegate, which, during the whole of last century, was distinguished as containing, besides this handsome edifice, all the banking offices and the residences of many of the wealthiest merchants of the city. It was begun in 1651, from designs by Sir William Bruce, afterwards architect to Charles II., and finished in 1659. The ”gild-hall” was 82 feet in length by 31 feet in breadth, and its ornate spire, which happily still stands, is 200 feet high. There are numerous records and traditions which prove that the hall, for 150 years, formed the principal place of meeting, not only for the merchants, but was also the scene of the gay banquets and assemblies of the time. In the early part of last century the Duchess of Douglas did not think it beneath her dignity to lead off the ball in the fine old hall, on occasions when the youth and beauty of Glasgow and the West of Scotland held high festival.
The merchants, when business haunts and premises arose nearer the present Royal Exchange, erected, for their hall and offices, buildings in Hutcheson Street, at a cost of £12,500. There they continued to meet till 1868, when the building was taken over by the Court Commissioners, under the compulsory powers of their Act of Parliament of that year. The present magnificent house, appropriately surmounted with a ship as its vane, was built in 1880, from the design of Mr. Burnet, and is worthy alike of the traditions of its mercantile history and of this great city.
At the south-west angle of the Square is the Bank of Scotland.