IT was with regret, announced our sister title the Glasgow Herald on April 19, 1934, that ‘Mrs John Cochrane’ had died following a short illness at her home in Pollokshields.

This ‘Noted Glasgow Lady’ was better known, conceded the writer, ‘under her business name of Miss Cranston, a pioneer of the tearoom movement which is now a prominent feature of city life.”

Kate Cranston’s name lives on, of course - she was a beacon of entrepreneurial spirit, a visionary in her promotion of art and artists and a progressive employer in her dedication to the wellbeing of her staff.

Born in Glasgow in 1849, she opened her first tearoom, the Crown Luncheon Room on Argyle Street, in 1884, to provide a pleasant and elegant place for the city’s most fashionable diners.

Ingram Street, Buchanan Street and the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street followed. Kate’s tearooms were the first places women socialised outside of the home without male company, laying the groundwork for a cultural shift. Kate also provided the catering for the tea house and tea terrace at the International Exhibition of 1901 and again in 1911.

The Ingram Street tearooms c 1950

The Ingram Street tearooms c 1950

Kate supported local design talent, such as designer Margaret Macdonald and her husband, the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

When she commissioned Mackintosh to create the interiors and exteriors of some of her tearooms, she helped him become one of the most famous and well-loved designers of all time.

In business, Kate was ahead of her time, particularly when it came to workers’ wellbeing, often visiting her waitresses – many of whom came from poor, large families – at home to ensure they ate three meals a day.

After the death of her husband in 1917, Kate sold her tea rooms and withdrew from public life. She had no children and after her death in 1934, it emerged she had left almost all of her estate to the poor of Glasgow.

The Glasgow Herald of 1934 noted: “She resided for a considerable number of years…in the North British Station Hotel in George Square…

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“The reason given by herself [to be close to the place of her birth] showed the character of the charming old lady, who in her prime and long past the age normally regarded as such was a striking figure on our city streets, as she walked briskly along, attired in quaint early Victorian costume and carrying herself with a wonderful air.”

It continued: “She said she was born in the Crow (sic) Hotel which occupied the site of the Merchants House. ‘In fact,’ she added, ‘in those days my father owned three hotels, and all were in George Square.

“George Square in my young days was what one might call the West End of Glasgow because the residents there were doctors, lawyers and ministers.

“In the centre of the Square was a picturesque grass park, which was for the exclusive use of the people who stayed in the vicinity….”

The report added: “Miss Cranston was the first to perceive and employ the genius of two Scottish architectural artists. One was George Walton and the other Charles R Mackintosh, who afterwards designed the school of art and who influenced modern styles not only in this country but also on the Continent.

“The artists’ decorations were unique for the period – severely simple and strikingly original and combined with Miss Cranston’s love of beauty in form and colour were a complete breakaway from the Victorian influence. The tearooms were a refreshing and restful note in Glasgow life….”