Why Glasgow Caledonian University?

Taking from the GCU archives and the history of its origins written by Willie Thompson and Carole McCallum, this section explains why the establishment has such a rich history in terms of both food and health, making it the perfect focal point for Dishes for the Sick Room. 

Students at the GWSCDS in one of the kitchens of the Park Drive Building, c. 1930. Used with permission of the GCU Archive Centre.

The founding of the Glasgow School of Cookery

Before it became GCU in 1993, the university was closely connected with food because one of its founding institutions was built upon two institutions for women that were specifically centred around food and cookery. Between 1875 and the formal opening in 1876, the Glasgow School of Cookery was established. This was predominantly thanks to a woman called Grace Paterson, who for all intents and purposes was the school’s principal between 1875 and 1908 (she was not called principal because the title did not exist, but that was no reflection of her role). Paterson was a suffragist and ‘noted feminist’. Through a series of personal connections, the formation of the Glasgow school was inspired by the discussions about health, nutrition and domestic hygiene that took place at the London International Exhibition of 1873. The exhibition led to the establishment of the South Kensington National Training School of Cookery in 1874, and Scottish examples soon followed: the first was the Edinburgh School of Cookery and it was shortly followed by the Glasgow School of Cookery (Thompson and McCallum 1998: 5-6).

Margaret Black

One of the leading cookery teachers at the Glasgow School of Cookery was Margaret Black. She came to the position because the Glasgow School of Cookery were looking for a woman to send to South Kensington and attend the National Training School of Cookery. Baillie William Collins (a friend of Black’s family and member of the Free Church, like Black), was a leading presence on the sub-committee of the Glasgow School of Cookery. Black had been widowed at the age of 44 which gave her suitable freedom to apply for and take on the role, and so her connections with Collins no doubt played a part in her taking on the role. After securing a first-class diploma in South Kensington, she returned to Glasgow to utilise her culinary knowledge and educate the Glasgow School’s pupils. 

Margaret Black

Black was an evangelist and part of the temperance movement, and it is suggested that personal and political differences between Black and Paterson may have been the driving force for Black leaving the Glasgow School of Cookery to set up her own institution in 1878 (Thompson and McCallum 1998: 13). That was when Glasgow’s second cookery school was opened: The West End School of Cookery. This school would run as an independent entity until 1908, though Margaret Black died in 1903. When she passed away, her niece, Mary MacKirdy, took over as head of the school. 

These two institutions shared a common goal: to educate ‘young working-class women in culinary skills as a contribution to the improvement of family life among lower income groups’ (Thompson and McCallum 1998: 17). This aim correlated with the nineteenth-century notion that education would help the working classes better their living conditions. It was commonly thought that effective domestic management on the part of women would prevent their husbands from engaging in antisocial behaviour. Writers like Samuel Smiles and Sarah Stickney Ellis perpetuated what scholars have termed the ‘cult of domesticity’, which made it a woman’s duty to look after the moral wellbeing of her husband by providing a comfortable home (Gorham 1982: 3). This attitude towards women’s education can be read in this quote from The Bailie in March 1878: ‘That by and by they will be able to prepare nice meals economically for their husbands. That drunkenness and wife-beating will belong in the barbarous past’ (The Bailie 1878: 7). 

As Thompson and McCallum write, however, this benevolent aim was not successful. Daytime courses for well-off women were well attended, and these were intended to subsidise the cheap (or even free) evening courses for working-class women. Despite this, the evening courses did not catch on: ‘Lack of available time and a degree of class suspicion might well account for that’ (Thompson and McCallum 1998: 17). 

The cookery schools then began a campaign to integrate culinary education into schools, and soon started using their facilities to educate domestic science teachers who went on to teach in the board schools (Thompson and McCallum 1998: 17). This was more successful than the evening classes had been, and was a turning point for the place of cookery in the Scottish educational system. Cookery lessons became ‘domestic science’ in the 1880s when the Scotch Code of the SED provided for the teaching of needlework alongside food preparation (Thompson and McCallum 1998: 18). 

The Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science

Both schools were therefore integral in getting domestic science and cookery onto school syllabi and they continued to train women into the twentieth century, with a variety of courses available: from cookery to housewifery to needlework, as well as the courses aimed at future teachers. In 1908, the schools merged once more and became the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science Incorporated (GWSCDS). In Glasgow, however, the College became commonly known as the ‘Dough School’. This was a colloquial name born out of Glaswegian humour, as the use of ‘dough’ was a playful spin on the cookery education that was a cornerstone of the college’s syllabus.. The administrative shortening of the title to ‘Do. School’ for ‘Domestic’ also became shorthand for the college. Regardless of how it was named, this new merged establishment also looked to educate different kinds of women: teaching staff, women from the public, and domestic servants. 

The GWSCDS premises at 1-6 Park Drive, used with permission of the GCU Archive Centre.

Initially the College was spread over five locations: 86 Bath Street, 346 Sauchiehall Street, 504 Sauchiehall Street, 1 Scott Street and 1 Victoria Crescent. Eventually and after significant fundraising, the College raised money for a new building on Park Drive which they moved into in 1919. This building is now part of the University of Glasgow.

In 1975, to celebrate their centenary year, the GWSCDS was renamed the ‘Queen’s College Glasgow’ in honour of their former patron the Queen. Then in 1993 the college merged with the Glasgow Polytechnic to become Glasgow Caledonian University. While this has just been a very brief overview of the University’s past (the history written by Thompson and McCallum is well worth a read), it has shown just how longstanding the institution’s focus on food, health, and cooking are. 

The GWSCDS was integral to how food and health became integrated with education within Glasgow. Click here to read more about the interplay between them at the institution.Cookery, Health, and Education


Gorham, Deborah. 1982. The Victorian Girl and the Feminine Ideal (London: Routledge)

Thompson, Willie and Carole McCallum. 1998. Glasgow Caledonian University: Its Origins and Evolution (Glasgow: Tuckwell Press)