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The Tontine Faces or Tontine Heads

In a previous blog we talked about one of the oldest civic building of Glasgow – Provand’s Lordship. It’s beautiful garden is home to a set of 13 carved stone faces that bear the name Tontine, and certainly one of the more unusual things to see in Glasgow.

The city of Glasgow started to flourish in the 1700s after the Treaty of Union when Scotland was allowed to trade with English colonies, namely with the Americas. Glasgow geographical location was the most advantageous in the whole Britain as it made the trips two weeks shorter than from any other port.

The trade of tobacco, cotton and sugar made Glasgow merchants nouveau riche to the point that they created their own fashion of a scarlet cloak, silvered wig with a tri-cornered hat and a silver-topped ebony cane in hand.The Tontine Coffee Rooms and Hotel was one of their favoured meeting places in Glasgow.

A tontine is a form of investment in which, on the death of an investor, his share is divided amongst the other investors. It was named after Lorenzo de Tonti who introduced the scheme into France circa 1653.

The Tontine Hotel was built in 1739-60 with the street-level arcade. Each arch was decorated with a carved grotesque face or masks. Later on the same century the building was altered twice by different architects, and new masks were added every time.

Fast forward 1869 when the former hotel became retail premises all the 10 masks were bought by the builder Peter Shannan. He used them all for the decoration of a warehouse, his new project on Buchanan Street. In addition 4 new masks were carved. Unfortunately, there was a fire in 1888 but surprisingly only 1 stone head was lost, and thus remained 12.

Several masks remained in place, while others settled in private collections, which were to be reunited in the People’s Palace Museum in the 1970s. Because of all these chaotic movements one more Tontine face was lost, reducing the total number to 11.

Today they all reside in the St Nicholas Garden of the Provand’s Lordship. But if there were 11 faces how come there are 13 now?! Two were part of the extension of the warehouse and were removed after it had been renovated,

The Tontine Faces are just one of the many attractions in Glasgow, as part of our Must Sees Tour.

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