As Glasgow grew in wealth the city expanded westward and what we still know today as The Merchant City was formed.
Originally the area where the tobacco lords built their houses in the late 18th century, and where public buildings and office blocks followed in the 19th century, the area remains rich in spectacular Victorian and Georgian architecture including the City Chambers on George Street and the Trades Hall on Glassford Street.
In the early 1800’s there were many clubs in Glasgow, mostly informal drinking or luncheon clubs. However on 5th January 1825 a group of thirty –three gentlemen, consisting of prominent local businessmen and several MP’s, met in Walker’s Hotel in Buchanan Street to establish a Glasgow club similar to those they had seen in London and the recently established New Club in Edinburgh.
A committee was appointed and at the first general meeting on 21st January it was decided that the club would be known as The Western Club. It was also decided that the membership should not exceed 130, that all members should be elected by ballot and that a house on the corner of Buchanan Street and St Vincent Street should be purchases as a suitable club house.
By 1837, with the membership having increased to 300, it was felt that the original premises were too small to comfortably accommodate everyone and after some lengthy negotiations these were exchanged for the building that belonged to the Amicable Life Assurance Society, at 147 Buchanan Street, immediately opposite. Today this building is occupied by the Apple organisation. The house adjacent to this was also purchased and the new club premises became available to members in 1842. Both externally and internally, this was a fine example of early Victorian architecture and design.
With the membership having grown to 600 by 1870 the club expanded into part of the adjoining property, already owned by the club, in St Vincent Street with a large smoking room, a library and a committee room opening two years later. The remaining part of this building, previously rented out, became part of the club in 1905 on the completion of alterations. At this time The Western Club was considered to be an elitist institution as an article in the Glasgow Evening News on 20th October 1924 illustrated. “from all accounts it’s easier to manoeuvre an O.B.E. for yourself than to gain entry as a member of the Western Club. “
The club celebrated its centenary in January 1925 with ladies being permitted to attend the reception held in the club house. This was a first. A centenary ball was also held in the St Andrew’s Hall. Attended by some 900 people, this was said to be the outstanding event of the season.
In 1940 it was proposed that the Western Club take over the membership of the Junior Club which had been founded in 1868. With most of its members being called up to assist in the war effort its income had been reduced to the extent that it could not continue and the Red Cross Society wanted to lease their premises in Douglas Street until the end of the war. After the war the amalgamation continued and in 1952 the Junior Club was officially wound up.
In 1958 another Glasgow club amalgamated with the Western Club. The New Club had been founded in 1869 and met in the upper floors of a building at the corner of West George Street and Renfield Street. With this amalgamation came a need for larger premises and this building was eventually sold to a developer.
The club moved to its current premises at 32 Royal Exchange Square in 1965, the four storey late Georgian building which had previously been an office block being adapted to the needs of members.
Another, very significant, amalgamation took place in 1970 when The Kelvin Ladies Club joined forces with The Western Club. Founded in 1897 by seven ladies who met in the North British Railway Hotel in Queen Street, membership quickly grew to 297 by the following year with the Kelvin Club meeting in premises at 97 Buchanan Street until 1922 when it moved to 19 Royal Exchange Square. By the time they moved across the square to become founder lady members of the Western Club their numbers had reduced to 343 from a peak of 530 with a waiting list in 1948.
The last amalgamation with the Western Club came about in 1991 with the inclusion of the RNVR Club (Scotland). In February 1979 their club house, SV Carrick, foundered at Custom House Quay and its members were allowed to use the facilities of The Western Club. The Carrick sank for a second time in 1989 and as a result it was decided to amalgamate.
Whilst other clubs throughout the UK have been less fortunate the Western Club has survived thanks mainly to amalgamations, but by the 1990’s membership had dropped and it was decided to undertake a major refurbishment programme of the club’s facilities. The refurbishment was to be funded by selling one of the club’s many paintings, namely playing golf at North Berwick by Sir John Lavery which had been gifted to the club by Nicol Paton Brown in 1924. The refurbishment was completed in 1998 and membership again increased.
In January 2000 the club celebrated its 175th anniversary with a gala dinner, and in March of that year had the honour of hosting a lunch for HRH the Princess Royal