Miss Catherine (Kate) Cranston


B/W Photograph of Catherine Cranston

Catherine Cranston (1849–1934) was a prominent businesswoman and patron of design in Glasgow. From small beginnings she established four suites of commercially successful and artistically distinguished tea rooms in the city centre. For their refurbishment she selected initially a number of well-established architects and designers – George Washington Browne, William Scott Morton, and David Barclay – but it is for the schemes commissioned from the then less well known younger designers, George Walton (1867–1933) and Mackintosh, that she is best known. 1

The Cranston family had a long association with the catering trade and hotels dating back to the 18th century, and women members made a significant contribution. Miss Cranston established herself in Glasgow, like her brother Stuart, in tea rooms. The tea-room movement was a late 19th-century phenomenon, stimulated by the emergence of prosperous urban centres populated by business people and ladies of leisure, and by the burgeoning Temperance Movement. 2

Miss Cranston began as a restaurateur in 1879 at 114 Argyle Street, but real expansion followed her marriage in 1892 to John Cochrane (1857–1917), a wealthy engineer. According to family tradition, his wedding present to his bride was a lease for the entire site at 114 Argyle Street. Over the next decade additional properties were acquired at 205–217 Ingram Street, 91–93 Buchanan Street, and 215–217 Sauchiehall Street. In 1901 a Tea House and Tea Terrace were run at the Glasgow International Exhibition and the White Cockade Restaurant at the 1911 Scottish National Exhibition in Glasgow. 3

B/W Photograph of Major John Cochrane in the vestibule of Hous'hill

In 1896 George Walton was commissioned to design furniture, light fittings, and mural decoration for the newly-acquired Buchanan Street property, while Mackintosh provided striking mural decorations for the Ladies' Tea Room, the Luncheon Room and the Smoking Gallery. Walton and Mackintosh collaborated again on her premises in Argyle Street in 1898. Following Walton's departure for London by 1898, it was to Mackintosh that Miss Cranston turned for all future design work. Subsequent projects included the tea rooms at Ingram Street, the Willow Tea Rooms, the Dutch Kitchen at Argyle Street, and interiors at the Cochranes' home, Hous'hill.

Little is known of Miss Cranston herself, her personal life or her relationships with her designers. Anecdotal evidence presents her as a strict but fair employer who set high standards. She appears to have given her designers artistic freedom and did not impose a house style. Each of the tea rooms had a distinctive street presence and interior design – both of which set 'Miss Cranston's' tea rooms apart from those of her contemporaries.

In 1917 after her husband's death, Miss Cranston disposed of the Argyle Street business, followed by Buchanan Street, and the Willow two years later when she moved from Hous'hill to the North British Hotel, Glasgow. The Ingram Street premises were run by Miss Jessie Drummond until Messrs Cooper & Co. purchased the property in 1930. In 1933 Miss Cranston moved to 34 Terregles Avenue, Pollokshields, in the south of the city, where she died in April of the following year.


1: Karen Moon, George Walton Designer and Architect, Bicester: White Cockade Publishing, 1993.

2: Perilla Kinchin, Tea and Taste: The Glasgow Tea Rooms, 1875–1975, Bicester: White Cockade Publishing, 2nd edn, 1996; Perilla Kinchin, Taking Tea with Mackintosh, San Francisco: Pomegranate, 1998; Perilla Kinchin, Miss Cranston: Patron of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Edinburgh: NMS Publishing, 1999.

3: Perilla and Juliet Kinchin, with a contribution from Neil Baxter, Glasgow's Great Exhibitions: 1888, 1901, 1911, 1938, 1988, Bicester: White Cockade Publishing, 1988.