The Scottish Civic Trust is extremely lucky to own and occupy a beautiful eighteenth century townhouse in central Glasgow. Our Tobacco Merchant’s House has been fully restored and can be visited as part of our annual Doors Open Days programme.
The building at 42 Miller Street is the last of the Georgian villas known as the Virginia Tobacco Merchants’ houses to remain standing in Merchant City of Glasgow. The house known as Tobacco Merchants’ House, or Baillie Craig’s House, was originally designed by John Craig in 1775 as his own home, on land previously owned by John Miller, a wealthy Maltman and namesake of the street. Miller decreed strict building regulations on property built on Miller Street. This included the style and design of the building, and the type of businesses that were permitted to use the buildings.
In 1782 John Craig sold the property at 42 Miller Street to the family of Robert Findlay, a leading Glasgow Merchant involved in the Trades House and the Chamber of Commerce. At this time Miller Street was the location of the private homes of a number of prosperous Glasgow merchants. As cash from the Findlay’s prosperous tobacco business was stored in the building, 42 Miller Street once had an iron door and some of the original iron safes still exist today. Robert Findlay made his fortune from tobacco in Virginia, where he had travelled as a young man to join two uncles who owned slave plantations. The building’s time as the home of Findlay earned the house its name and a place in Scotland’s history, a salutary reminder that slavery once fuelled Glasgow’s fortunes and was not viewed with the abhorrence it is today.
By 1836 the property was inherited by Misses Brown of Paisley, and become the place of business for the City and Suburban Gas Company until 1866. By the late nineteenth century the Tobacco Merchant’s House was used by a number of different tenants of various professions, such as lawyers, insurance agents, and merchants. New outbuildings were built on to the rear of the building, and the original roof was replaced with a Victorian style mansard roof to provide more space. Throughout the twentieth century, the building continued to serve a variety of business purposes, including jewellers, glass importers and a time as a dress shop. The building’s historical significance was recognised when it was it was Category B-listed in 1970. This was upgraded to a Category-A listing in 1992.
From 1989 and 1994, 42 Miller Street was vacant.
In 1992 the building was sold to the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust for £1. Following a detailed feasibility study of the building, a funding package was put together to enable the building to regain its original Georgian elegance whilst at the same time contribute to the regeneration of Glasgow’s City Centre.
The restoration saw many of the Victorian additions such as the mansard roof, painted frontage and outbuildings, removed. This resulted in the rediscovery of original features including the natural stone façade. Internally very little of the original layout remained, but new plasterwork and joinery has seen the layout recreated, although forming modern office spaces rather than private rooms. Upon completion, the project was awarded a Heritage Award from Historic Scotland to mark the completion of a successful grant-aided project.
The building was acquired by the Scottish Civic Trust in 1995 with grant assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and generous loan facilities by a private Foundation. Given the Trust’s aims and objectives concerned with the built environment and heritage, 42 Miller Street is the ideal location for us. The building is now fully occupied with The Scottish Civic Trust’s office located on the first floor.
To celebrate 25 years of calling Tobacco Merchant’s House home, the Trust launched its “Written in Stone” campaign on 12th October 2020. The campaign seeks to establish a capital fund to cover the cost of future major repair works and ensure the preservation of this historic gem and the many stories held within its walls. The Scottish Civic Trust invites all with a passion for Scotland’s buildings and civic movement to contribute to the Written in Stone campaign by leaving a gift in their Will to protect the Tobacco Merchant’s House for future generations.