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Teacher’s: First look inside historic Glasgow whisky HQ

For generations, the gilt name that spans the rooftop of a Glasgow building offered more than a subtle clue to its claim as the city’s spiritual home of the dram. 

Built in 1875 in a spot overlooking a busy train station and hotel, the elaborately decorated ground floor dram shop was a comforting place to kick back, enjoy the warming wares of whisky specialists William Teacher & Sons, and buy a bottle to take home. 

In offices behind the scenes, the family of whisky pioneer William Teacher busied themselves building their empire, developing a brand of Scotch that would become one of the world’s best known.

Now the Category B-listed Teacher building in St Enoch Square, which played a pivotal part in developing the “Teacher’s” name, is to turn back time and revive its whisky heritage. 

Landlords of the historic building are to create a prime city centre bar and restaurant on its ground and lower floors – rewinding time to when it was once a vibrant hub for whisky lovers. 

Meanwhile, its upper floors, where the Teacher family ran their business, will become 25 serviced apartments for short-term accommodation. The apartments will be run by global hospitality company Sonder. 

The building’s rebirth will see its iconic gilt Teacher’s sign refurbished to reflect its shining role in the city’s whisky heritage. 

The resurrection of the special building comes as whisky enjoys a revival, with the emergence of new brands, the revival of long-shut distilleries, and whisky tourism boosted by the opening of the Johnnie Walker Experience in Edinburgh’s Princes Street. 

Its revitalisation also reflects a 200-year-old success story, which began in 1823 with the introduction of the Excise Act – a government move to end illegal distilling and which laid the foundations for the modern spirits industry. 

William Teacher was just 19 years old and working in the discomfort of a cotton mill when he spotted an opportunity to tap into the growing legal whisky market.

In 1830, he obtained a licence to sell whisky from a shop owned by the mother of his  girlfriend, Agnes MacDonald, in Anderston. 

Within two years, the couple had married and William had opened the first “dram shop” in Piccadilly Street. 

As Glasgow’s population boomed, hard work and determination saw his whisky business flourish: eventually he had a chain of almost 20 dram shops, while the passing of the Spirits Act in 1860 gave him the right to experiment and create his own whisky for sale. 

It led to Teacher’s Highland Cream, and the foundations for what would become a global brand. 

His new headquarters at St Enoch Square was intended to reflect the brand’s status, designed in an elegant Italian Renaissance style by architect James Boucher, known for his involvement in the design of the city’s Kibble Palace. 

It was deliberately positioned close to St Enoch railway station – which provided one of the main links to the south and London’s St Pancras Station – and a busy hotel in order to capture passing custom. 

He died in 1876, leaving his second son, William Junior, and his younger brother, Adam, to keep their father’s spirit alive.

The Teacher building’s revival follows a string of investments and developments in the city’s St Enoch Square area, including a new Premier Inn, 294-bed four-star Clayton Hotel on the riverside site of the former Custom House, new Virgin Hotel, and an Adagio Apart Hotel, St Enoch. 

The St Enoch Centre has also recently undergone a £40 million revamp.
Steve Barnett, managing partner at Shepherd Chartered Surveyors, said:

“We are delighted to secure Sonder as operator for its upper floors as part of its overall expansion drive. With plans to open this summer, the 25 serviced apartments will be designed to balance the building’s whisky heritage with contemporary design.”

Will Kingston, associate director of real estate at Sonder, added: “We’re thrilled to expand within such an iconic landmark building in the heart of Glasgow city centre. Redeveloping vacant buildings into exciting new places helps bring visitors into vibrant city centres like Glasgow.”

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