Posted: June 15, 2009 in Scotland, writing
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By Dan Mumford

Dr. Karen Dhanda


Glasgow, Scotland is a city that has withstood the ravages of time, war, fire, epidemics, class struggle, and economic collapse to emerge as one of Britain’s premier cities in all respects. From its meager beginnings as a fishing village on the river Clyde, Glasgow used its position on the west coast of Scotland to trade with the American colonies and jumpstart its own industrial revolution.

The city of Glasgow started in 543 CE around a church built by Saint Mungo on the bank of the river Clyde at a place called Glas Gu (which means dear green place in Gaelic). A fishing settlement grew up there and by 1115 it was given a bishop which meant that it was becoming important. Through the middle ages, Glasgow had a weekly market and a big fair once a year. Many of the local craftsmen sold their wares at the  market. There were skinners, tanners, glove makers, fullers, dyers, butchers, bakers, and of course, fishermen. Glasgow stayed relatively small until the 1400’s because it was on the wrong side of Scotland to trade with all of the European countries. Glasgow also competed with the other surrounding towns on the Clyde for trade.

In 1450 Glasgow became a Burgh of Regality and in 1451, The University of Glasgow was founded by Bishop Turnbull. It is the fourth oldest university in the United Kingdom.

Glasgow experienced many growing pains in the next centuries. The city was besieged in 1516, 1517, 1544, 1560, 1568, and 1570. Mary, Queen of Scots lost the kingdom to Elizabeth the 1st during this fighting. There was also a plague in 1588 in the nearest towns. In 1600, a great fire destroyed a large part of Glasgow. Another plague hit the city hard in 1647 and the staff and students of the University were evacuated to a nearby town. There were more great fires in 1652 and 1677.

Industry in Scotland was very small at this point in history. Most of the produce came from small cottage industries and in quantities that only just supported their owners.  The river Clyde was a shallow river that didn’t allow large ships to pass up to the city. However, with a quay built at Broomielaw in 1601, Glasgow began to see some positive effects from overseas trade. Once the Clyde was dredged and widened, ships from Glasgow regularly traveled to the colonies and supplied them with essentials like hardwearing cloth, iron tools for farming and house building, glass, and leather.  In 1707, Scotland established a Treaty of Union with England that allowed increased trade with the American colonies. This was what Glasgow was waiting for. In a short amount of time, the import trade exploded and many traders got rich from Virginia’s tobacco. Glasgow’s annual tobacco imports increased from 8 million pounds to 47 million pounds by the 1770’s

This influx of capital helped propel Glasgow into the industrial revolution. The wealth of the traders allowed them to make generous contributions to the pursuit of science. The subsequent inventions and discoveries made incredible strides in streamlining the industrialization processes. In 1769 James Watt patented a new kind of steam engine using a condenser he invented. This simple device massively increased the power and efficiency of steam engines. This freed factories from the requirements of a running water supply and thus allowed them to move into the city instead of having to be next to small streams all over the countryside. The new steam engines also made powerful water pumps, allowing, for the first time in history, deep mine shafts to be sunk

to exploit coal and mineral reserves below Lanarkshire.

Henry Bell built the first passenger steamship in 1812, which sailed between Glasgow and Greenock. This helped the rise of shipbuilding on the river Clyde. Soon after the steamship, the engine was put on wheels and this was the start of the vitally important railway industry. As can be seen, Glasgow was on the forefront of industrial technology.

With all the new money coming in, business owners could also diversify into other ventures that would not have been profitable only a few years before. There had always been textile production around Scotland but not in any great supply. Now with the advent of new and better technology, weaving and spinning could produce massive quantities of cloth. William Cullen built off of new advances in chemistry to develop a bleaching powder from chlorine. Originally, the cloth was laid out in a field for 6-8 months and was bleached by the sun. This new process only took a few hours. The fields used were no longer needed and were returned to cultivation. Like the steam powered factories, bleachworks were no longer dependent on nature and could move in to the city to take their place alongside the mills. There was also some new tax legislation that stimulated the textile industry in 1751 and 1763. The linen trade developed fastest and was soon growing to rival the tobacco trade. The cotton business developed more slowly. The first power loom was used in Glasgow in 1792 but had its power supplied by Newfoundland dogs!

As all this economic progress was happening in Glasgow, disaster struck. The American war for independence started and Glasgow’s trade got virtually cut in half. Many of the “Tobacco Lords” lost their fortunes and only the ones who had the foresight to invest in other industries like mining and textiles survived this drastic loss of revenue. The only thing that helped the city through this time was its other big industries. In 1783, Glasgow established a Chamber of Commerce, the first ever founded, to study markets and promote sales. With their guidance, and the growing textile industry, Scotland’s trade figures in 1791 were back up to what they had been in 1771.

As Glasgow’s economy grew, so did its population. The rapid industrialization brought thousands of people together who had since lived only in the country. Health and sanitation started to become a major issue. “As one Victorian commentator put it, ‘In the very centre of the city there was an accumulated mass of squalid wretchedness unequalled in any other town in the British Dominions. There was concentrated everything wretched, dissolute, loathsome and pestilential. Dunghills lie in the vicinity of dwellings, and from the extremely defective sewerage filth of every kind constantly accumulates.’”

By 1801, the city had grown to over 77,000 people and by 1811, was larger than any other city in Britain besides London. An active port brought active diseases and a cholera epidemic in 1832 killed 3,000 in Glasgow alone and death rates climbed back to what they had been in the 1600’s. Doctors started to see a link between filth and disease in 1842 but more cholera epidemics broke out in 1848 and 1853. The city government realized a need for fresh water and they quickly built a pipeline to Loch Katrine. That effort, combined with an improved sewage system greatly improved the overall health but housing was still a problem.

The more fortunate upper class of Glasgow started to feel a civic duty to improve their city and the lives of the poor who lived in slums all over the urban center. As part of some City Improvement Acts in the 1860’s, much of the worst slums were bought and cleared to make way for new housing. This would be a pattern for the city well into the 20th century.

City management and planning became more important during this time of expansion. Garbage collection was implemented, dark and narrow streets were widened, huge and stately public buildings were built, and beautiful parks and gardens sprang up all around the city in an attempt to compete with other cities of equal standing.

Glasgow reached its peak of industrialization in the early 1900’s however many industries were still strong up until the great depression. Ship building was hit the hardest but was revived with WWII. After the war, the economy changed so that jobs in the service industry were on the rise and heavy manufacturing was decreasing.

There were many slum clearances in the 1930’s and up until the 1970’s.  As the job market changed and people homes were torn down, Glasgow’s population shrunk from over 1 million to just over 600,000. Many towns surrounding Glasgow increased dramatically because of this migration. The population of East Kilbride, which is located close to Glasgow, increased by 70%.

In the late 1900’s, Glasgow turned to tourism and the technology industries to keep its place as the third most popular city in the UK. The city has a state of the art telecommunications infrastructure to keep itself on the edge of the market. Many firms have located to Glasgow like Hewlett-Packard, SUN, IBM Cisco, and Oracle.  So, while the US has “Silicon Valley,” the rolling countryside in and around Glasgow has become the new “Silicon Glen.”

The future of Glasgow, Scotland is very bright indeed. It has a booming service and hi-tech economy, most of its health and housing issues are solved, and it has gained recognition throughout the world as a city filled with culture, beautiful architecture, and amazing industrial and scientific breakthroughs that have benefited all countries around the world.

Works Cited:

Mackie, J.D. A History of Scotland. New York : Pelican, 1964

“Creative Industries.” March 31 2004  <;

A Brief History of Glasgow.  Tim Lambert. March 11 2004  <http;//>

Glasgow, A Shining Harvest of History. David Daiches. March 11 2004                           <http://www.eng>

“Glasgow History Timeline.” March 11 2004  <;

“18th Century Glasgow.” Irene Maver. January 4 2001. March 31 2004  <;

Works Cited continued.

“The Rise of Glasgow.” March 11 2004 <;

“The Tobacco Trade.” March 11 2004  < >

“ The Industrial Revolution.” March 11 2004 <;

“Glasgow – a changing city for the 21st century.” April 2000. March 22 2004  <;

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