When the People’s Palace and Winter Garden opened in 1898 the surrounding area of Glasgow’s old centre and East End was an unhealthy and extremely overcrowded place. Glasgow Green was the only large area for recreation nearby. Lord Rosebery, speaking to a crowd of about 3,500 at the opening, declared it ‘open to the people for ever and ever’ and characterised it as ‘a palace of pleasure and imagination.’ The idea of creating a museum for the people of the east end went back as far as 1866, but it was only in 1889 that planning began in earnest. The city fathers were influenced by the success of the Kibble Palace which had been installed in the Botanic Gardens in 1873 providing a similar leisure space for the west end of the city. The City engineer, A. B. McDonald produced the Renaissance-influenced design in red sandstone and the spacious steel-framed winter garden and work started in 1894.
There were reading and recreation rooms on the ground floor, a museum on the first floor and an art gallery above it. This combination of facilities was very much in tune with Victorian aspirations to provide working class people with opportunities for self improvement and decorous, sober leisure activity. The sculpted figures on the balustrade can be identified from the objects they hold as Shipbuilding, Mathematics and Science, Sculpture, Painting, Engineering and Textiles, while above them on the attic story, a seated figure of Progress flanked by Science and The Arts, sums up the scheme.
The People’s Palace is now a museum exploring aspects of the life of ordinary Glaswegians from the mid 18th century to the present day. Several displays relate to life around the Green, including steamies (communal wash houses), political banners and popular entertainment (rallies and demonstrations as well as Glasgow Fair traditionally took place on the Green) and crime and punishment (Justiciary Courthouse and executions).