Standing on the north east side of Glasgow Green, the People's Palace & Winter Gardens were opened to the public on 22 January 1898. At the opening ceremony, Lord Roseberry described "A palace of pleasure and imagination around which the people may place their affections and which may give them a home on which their memory may rest."
Others have called the People's Palace "a social history museum and a chance to see the story of the people and city of Glasgow from 1750 to the present." In effect, it is a museum about Glasgow's people for Glasgow's people, and for anyone else who wants to explore the fascinating history of the people of a city that has been through many cycles of change over the past couple of centuries.
One of the things Glasgow does especially well is making its many museums open, welcoming, and accessible to all who live in the city as well as to its many visitors. The subject matter makes this especially true of the People's Palace, and you are unlikely to visit without coming across Glaswegians looking at exhibits and explaining to their accompanying children or grandchildren how different life in the city once was.
Attached to the south west, or rear, of the People's Palace, like a contender in some competition for "the world's largest conservatory" are the Winter Gardens. This enormous Victorian glasshouse is home to a wide range of - sometimes very large - tropical plants. Here, too, you can enjoy a coffee or a bite to eat in a café with a climate that is all too often very different from the one outside.
The People's Palace and Winter Gardens provide one of the focal points for Glasgow Green. This was Glasgow's first public open space and was given to the people of the city by the Bishop of Glasgow in 1450. Once used primarily for washing, bleaching linen, grazing, drying fishing nets and swimming, it now serves a variety of leisure uses as one of the City of Glasgow's many public parks: though perhaps still the one held in the greatest affection by most residents of the city.
Outside the front of the People's Palace is the magnificent Doulton Fountain. Believed to be the largest terracotta fountain in the world, this was presented to the city by Henry Doulton for the International Exhibition held in Kelvingrove Park in 1888. It came to Glasgow Green in 1890 and operated until falling into disrepair in the 1960s. Restoration was begun in 2004, and the fountain you see today is the result.
The People's Palace itself is on three floors. The ground floor is home to the main hall linking the front doors with the route through to the Winter Gardens. On one side is the museum shop, while on the other is a space for temporary exhibitions.
The main stairs lead you up to the first floor. This is divided into a series of areas, each of which reflects an important aspect of the life of Glasgow and Glaswegians. These range from "The Steamie", Glasgow's famous public clothes washing facilities; "Doon the watter", the mass enjoyment of Glaswegians of the seaside offerings of the Clyde Estuary, especially in the 1800s and early 1900s; World Wars One and Two, including in the latter an Anderson shelter in which you can sit; "The Bevvy"; "The Patter"; Crime; and "Dancing at the Barrowland", the famous ballroom located not far from the People's Palace.
At either end of the first floor, steps lead up to the upper floor, divided into two main wings and a centre section occupying the space beneath the dome on the roof. One wing focuses on work in Glasgow, again primarily through the everyday lives of the people who lived here. The other looks at housing in Glasgow, the almost unique lifestyle of tenements, closes and "single-ends". Find out how people passed the little free time they had; how they made ends meet (or didn't); and why the communal "cludgie" or toilet tended to be kept clean to avoid complaints from the neighbours.
The central area of the upper floor is where all the themes are pulled together. The result is a mass of objects, images and impressions that can seem confusing or jumbled, but which give an excellent impression of the day to day hubbub of living in a city as busy and dynamic as Glasgow.