Britannia Panopticon
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About the Britannia Panopticon

Famed as the place where 16-year-old Stan Laurel made his debut, the Britannia Panopticon is the oldest surviving music hall in the world.

Converted from warehouse to music hall in 1857 and licensed in 1859, the Britannia Music Hall entertained Glasgow’s working classes for over 80 years. It began as the back room to a pub with comedy acts and dancing girls. By the time it closed in 1938 it had also accommodated cinema, carnival, freak show, wax works, zoo, art gallery and hall of mirrors and was latterly known as the Panopticon (meaning “to see everything”).

Today the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall is an ongoing conservation project which was begun in 1997 and everything we do in the auditorium is to ensure the continuation of that project and the future of the music hall.

To date over £3,000 000 has been spent on the building. In 2006 the Mitchell family (the current owners) paid for a new roof, in 2008 the whole front of the building was completely restored including a recreation by Jez Ainsworth of the little cherubs or “Putti” that had been removed in the 1930’s. This work was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Townscape Heritage Initiative, Historic Scotland, and the Mitchell family. In 2011 the west elevation was restored courtesy of funding from Glasgow City Heritage Trust, Historic Scotland, and the Mitchell family. So far, most of the work has been on the outside fabric of the building, apart from one small, but essential element, the stage. The music hall stage had been buried underneath a 1960’s toilet block and John Addison (who was our engineer until he sadly passed in 2018) identified that the 1960’s breezeblock structure was in danger of falling through into the amusement arcade below, taking the last remnants of the stage with it. In 2014 funding was secured through Glasgow City Council and Glasgow City Heritage Trust with an additional few thousand collected through our “Raise the Stage” campaign and in January 2015 the stage work began. Today the stage is a vital part of our fundraising.

Although the building is still in private ownership, the music hall has two registered charitable trusts looking after it, both with the same aim, to promote and continue the legacy of the world’s oldest surviving music hall, advance its conservation, and ensure the building’s future.

The Panopticon Trust was established in 2018 and is currently fundraising for a feasibility study and to purchase the building. The other charity is the Friends of the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall Trust (SCIO) which was established in 1999 to support the conservation project. Today the Friends of the Britannia Panopticon operate the music hall as a working venue and visitor attraction with four core staff members and a team of dedicated volunteers.

As an ongoing conservation project, we are proud to share the music hall in its current, unrestored state. Peeling paint reveals layers of history and every stain has a story, so when you leave the lane outside, you leave the present and travel back in time to the raw and raucous era of the Victorian music hall. The atmosphere is so authentic you can almost taste it.

Because of its current slightly crumbling condition some modern luxuries such as heating or a lift are not possible (though we do hope to have them eventually), so if you are visiting us during the winter, dress for the prevailing weather and bring a blanket. But, if you are looking for an unusual and uniquely atmospheric location you can HIRE THE MUSIC HALL for filming, parties, weddings, shows, variety nights, film screenings, exhibitions etc.*

If you are interested in HIRING THE MUSIC HALL please contact the team: [email protected] or click on the Hire tab for more information.

There is nowhere quite like the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall.

If you would like to know a little bit about the history of this wonderful building, please click on our history page or buy “Glasgow’s Lost Theatre – The Story of the Britannia Music Hall” written by Judith Bowers and published by Birlinn. The book is available from the merchandise stall in the auditorium or on Amazon.

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