All change at The Steamie

27 May 2008

by Sarah Swain, Evening Times

One of Glasgow's oldest surviving bath houses is to be transformed into a £1.2million gallery and art school. John Mullen plans to turn the dilapidated building near Glasgow Cross into a New York-style artist space.

The bath house - which no doubt will evoke memories of the classic Scottish comedy show The Steamie - will boast an area where the public can watch artists at work, as well as a restaurant and shop.

And John 59, who already runs the Third Step Gallery in Trongate, also aims to start a school to train promising Scottish artists in drawing skills.

He's already lined up ex-Glasgow School of Art teacher Sandy Moffatt to take the helm, and he plans to bring in 12 of the country's top artists to help. He also hopes to run classes to get children into art.

John said: "It's going to be a talent-based school. We intend to sell some of the places to people who can afford to pay and hopefully we will have enough money to take on talented people who can't afford it. We also hope to bring people in from the Third Step, where we work on drug and alcohol initiatives.

"If we can take a kid out of Castlemilk that has no chance of being an artist and find some talent in them, we can send them on a path they would not have had a chance of."

John hopes the venture will become a tourist attraction, as well as a place art lovers from Glasgow will be keen to visit.

He said: "There are about 40 galleries in Glasgow - why do you come to The Bath House? Because, for the first time, you can see the artist at work. We do not know anywhere else which does that."

The facia of the building, which was built in the 1800s, will be retained but part of the interior will be demolished and rebuilt. It was once used by the women of Glasgow Cross to do their laundry and have a bath.

As it is not a listed building, its history is sketchy, though it's thought it was still operating until the 1980s.

Eight bath cubicles, complete with the remains of tin baths, still stand and, on the ground floor, there are giant industrial washing machines.

An old-fashioned till system is housed in the cash room, which is complete with a safe, while a clock stopped at 10.15am marks the passing of time and a decaying piano lies abandoned in the hall which is finished with Victorian glass tiles.

A family of pigeons has taken up residence in the decaying roof.

However, despite the dilapidation, John hopes to retain some of the history of the building, as well as transforming it into a modern space.

He said: "We were just looking for a space and it fitted. It was exactly what we were looking for. The amount of money that's being spent in this area is considerable - it's becoming a mini Greenwich Village.

"There are lots of galleries round here - The Bath House will hopefully play a great part in that and will turn out some great artists."

John, a former electrician from Uddingston, is still looking for a corporate investor to help get the business off the ground.

He has a bank loan to pay for the building, which he had to get from a London firm after Scottish and Irish bank managers refused to invest.

He has also taken a floor in the nearby Mercat Building at Glasgow Cross for teaching and office space.

The Third Step is a charitable trust set up with artist Peter Howson, who was previously involved in the Bath House project.

Both former alcoholics, the pair work to bring a more visual approach to the public about the problems of alcohol and drug abuse in society and use profits to help addicts recover, using art as therapy.

The Bath House project is supported by regeneration agency Clyde Waterfront.

Marketing Manager Mark Barton said: "The objective of the regeneration of the waterfront is to link the communities along the river to the benefits and opportunities that renewal brings with it.

"Communities in this context are not only those marked by the boundaries of villages, towns or cities but, importantly, also include the arts in all forms.

"Projects such as the Bath House are vital to the stimulation of community life that develops artistic talent as an integral part of day-to-day life and inspires others to achieve their ambition.

"Regeneration is also about the utilisation and restoration of existing facilities and adapting them to suit the needs of a new generation. The Bath House project is a sustainable development bringing back to life an old building that fits with the strategic objectives of the Clyde Waterfront regeneration."

Reproduced with the permission of The Evening Times (Glasgow) © Newsquest (Herald & Times) Ltd.


  • The Bathhouse in Osborne Street

Project details
  • The Bathhouse