The University of Glasgow 250 Years Ago

By Astrid Purton and Roz Ryan-Mills

In light of the anniversary of the birth of James Watt on the 19 January this year – a mathematical instrument maker who worked at the University from 1756 to 1764 – we thought we would take the opportunity to highlight our rich collection of early university records formally known as the ‘Clerk’s press’ and fondly known as the ‘Inventory’, to find out what life was like at the University in Watt’s time.

The collection consists of items on the early history of the foundation of the University and includes minutes of meetings of the Senate, Faculty, Comitia and Faculty of Arts, general registers of the University, 17th century household accounts, Factor’s accounts, writs, statutes, legal documents and case papers, lists of office-bearers, registers of students, records of visitations of the University, bursary records, Library records and records relating to the University’s estates and much much more.

This blog post will open a window on what some of these valuable and unique records are like by focusing on records from 1765 just as James Watt was experimenting with large steam engines.

Whilst famously in 1765 ‘Watt’s mind turned to ways of improving the engine . . . strolling on Glasgow Green’, what was the rest of the University getting up to? A look at the early court senate minutes might give us a clue . . .

GUA-26643_(front cover)

The front cover of the 1765 University Minutes – GUAS: GUA26643

In 1765 the University minute meetings were taken down in the beautiful and legible, cursive script of Joseph Black, a Professor of Chemistry who was clerk of senate from 1762 to 1783. The senate meetings he recorded appear to have been held irregularly, for whilst they were eleven in total, they were not monthly. The month of June for example saw ‘An university meeting being duly summoned and convened’ no less than three times whilst the months of February and March have no recorded meetings. Much of the 1765 minutes are dominated by discussion concerning ‘the Chapel’ on a wide range of issues from employment of staff and funding to expressed outrage over students of Divinity allegedly not attending services on the ‘Lord’s Day’ and of ‘behaving improperly during the time when they ought to have been at Church’. In addition to all this it was suggested that a new Chapel building – and a museum of natural history! – be built.

However, the senate minutes are also punctuated with less serious matters, including a proposal to teach fencing:

“Mr Anderson, Mr Millar & Dr. Williamson are appointed a Committee to see if a College room can be got for teaching fencing.” – Minutes of University of Glasgow meetings: 1763-1768 (Clerk’s Press 31), 12 November 1765, p.69, GUA26643

We hope the committee succeeded in this endeavour!

GUA-26643_(page 69)

Fencing minutes – GUAS: GUA26643

As well as the Senate minutes – so valuable for the retelling of the University’s history – the Clerk’s Press holds many other enriching and exciting records. From 1765 we have chosen our favourites, pictured here below in the gallery to help highlight the diversity and uniqueness of this collection:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For more information about the University’s history and the Clerk’s Press please consult our online source-guides here:

‘Who, Where and When: The History and Constitution of the History of Glasgow’,

‘University of Glasgow: Sources’,

‘Clerk’s Press: Online catalogue’

And a history of the University entitled ‘The University of Glasgow: 1451-2001’ can be purchased from the University’s Gift Shop here:

If you would like to visit the University Archives and consult records from the Clerk’s Press please contact us or email us at  

Follow the James Watt celebration at , @watt2019, and follow the hashtags #Watt250 and #IAD2016

Categories: Archive Services

1 reply


  1. Looking back at a Memorable year – University of Glasgow Library

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: