Terry Wrigley wasn't the first tattoo Artist in Glasgow but it’s more than hyperbole to state that he was, and perhaps still is, the city’s best known. Up until the mid 1960’s tattooing in Glasgow was mainly executed by the Vallar family. Terry filled the void that had been left when the doors of Prince Vallar's Argyle Street shop finally closed in March 1965.

terry shop

Trevor (known as Terry to his friends) Wrigley was born in Mosley, a small town near Ashton in 1937. He had one sister named Dorothy. His close friend Alfie Chisnall, whom Terry attended school with and later worked together with in the local woolen spinners mill, remembers that there was no history of tattooing in Terry’s family. It was accepted that Terry had a natural talent for cartooning and caricature art and that this would be the obvious career that Terry would choose as soon as he had finished his Army National Service in 1955. However, Terry opted for further military service and joined the RAF. It is around this time that Alfie remembers Terry developing an interest in the art of tattooing. Alf himself received his first tattoo from Terry of a girl’s name on his shoulder, which he later covered with an eagle and flag design. The reason Alfie remembers this event so well way back in 1957 is perhaps that on the day in question he was Terry’s best man at his wedding to Shirley in Ashford, Kent. The tattoo was done in Terry’s hotel room an hour before the ceremony.

Alf recalls Terry had started tattooing in his bedroom at Meiklehurst Rd, Mosley and later graduated to a shop front is Ashton. Terry continued to work at Carbrook Mill during the day while tattooing in the evening at the shop. In order to capitalise on the forthcoming summer season Terry decided to team up with Prince Eugene, a black tattooist who was already based in Blackpool. Prince Eugene was a great admirer of Prince Vallar and named himself after the Glasgow tattooist. Together Prince Eugene and Terry set up on the Blackpool seafront. After several seasons together they parted company and Terry headed to the neighbouring resort of Southend where he asked his childhood friend Alfie to join him. Although Alf had no artistic leanings and no training in tattooing Terry insisted that Alf could do the colouring and that he would undertake the outlining. Alf declined stressing that, ‘it wasn't for him.’

Terry continued working the summer season in Southend and winters back in Ashton.

According to Stuart Wrigley, around 1960 Terry ventured up to Glasgow to check out the scene but had decided to head back south when he saw that Bert Vallar, son of the legendary Prince Vallar was still tattooing in the city. That was the way in those days…respect among tattooists for each other’s trade and pitch. 

He later teamed up with Jimmy Gould, a talented tattooist who was famous for solid workmanship. While working together in Blackpool around 1965 they received the news that Vallar was finally closing his Glasgow parlour down. This was seen as an ideal opportunity to relocate to an open marketplace. Terry and Jimmy moved to 793 Gallowgate, Glasgow. A small shop on the east end of the city, which had previously been a butchers, was soon brightly painted and became the new venue for tattooing in Glasgow. Jimmy found life in the second city of the Empire too much for him and after one month headed back to the familiar surrounds of Blackpool. Terry however stayed on and quickly established himself and his parlour as part of Glasgow’s rich folklore and urban myth.

I can remember passing the old Gallowgate shop years ago and seeing Terry standing outside the parlour, decked out in a white coat of sorts, covered in various hues of colour and Christ knows what else, arms folded in defiant stance as if on guard. His hands were heavily tattooed and his crop of white hair crowned a face that had been well lived in. I asked him if I could go inside and look at the designs and he grunted, ‘Okay.’ I treaded gingerly around the inside of the shop. The walls wept many colourful and exotic designs. The hand written notices declaring the nearest telephone, take-away, toilets, who would be tattooed and who wouldn't and a host of rules were barked out. You knew who was boss in here. I, like a thousand others before me chose my design and informed him I was ready. It was my first time, but wouldn't be my last. It was the beginning.

Perhaps I am trying to recapture an era that has been lost to all but memory. As my own tattoos slowly fade it reminds me that we are all mortal. Although his work is still evident today and his legacy still lives on in the form of his sons Steven and Stuart, who both have tattoo studios in different parts of the city, I find it hard to believe that Terry has been dead for over five years now. He had become so much a part of the public domain that, hell, even non-tattooed folk could direct you his Glasgow studio.

He always had a cheery disposition, never a scowl do I recall witnessing. There was always some form of American vintage car outside his shop and the sign writing on the parlour door always proclaimed something outrageous like, ‘ I tattooed your Dad’ or ‘World’s most famous tattoo parlour’.

The march of progress soon called time on the Gallowgate shop. Glasgow City Council announced that they wanted the land surrounding the shop for a new supermarket outlet and the axe finally fell in 1985. A move to downtown Glasgow followed and Terry set up in the Trongate district, despite various complaints from surrounding shops and businesses that did not relish a tattooist as a neighbour. The new shop was bigger, cleaner and brighter. Gone were the gaudy hand painted signs and in their place neatly executed professional ones. Terry’s had taken a step up market.

The following years saw Steven join the family business and along with Stuart they headed up Glasgow busiest tattoo studio for the next 10 years. In 1999 Terry passed away after a short illness. His Trongate studio passed into the hands of Stuart and has recently undergone a major refurbishment, akin to most other tattoo studios. The warm red shop front has been replaced with the cold informality of minimalist shop fitting, where paneled wood fuses with glass cabinets, allowing the place a mausoleum feel. I can’t help feeling that Terry would not have approved, somehow preferring the days when things were much simpler, much more practical.

To many, Terry Wrigley was the guy who allowed them to inform the world who their team, religion, sweethearts and children were. A tattooist extraordinaire who was one of life's true, great characters. To others he was a guy who helped shape and forge a new understanding of tattooing. An enthusiastic communicator who established written and physical contact with many in the tattoo trade at home and abroad.

He was instrumental in establishing many of today’s clubs and tattoo associations and fought to take tattooing from its back street underworld image to the modern accepted art form that it has become today.

From humble beginnings in his bedroom in Mosley to the mean street of Glasgow. The 50-year tattoo career of Terry Wrigley is as colourful and magical as the many thousands of tattoos he done over those years.

Les Quinn
August 2004