The next post in our Bird’s Eye View of Glasgow blog series looks at the industry of the city up to 1864. (Click on the images to enlarge the detail).
“In fine, Glasgow may be considered the workshop of Scotland; and, with the exception of cutlery and gun barrels, and a few other manufactures, it would be difficult to point out any article useful to man which is not fabricated in the city of St. Mungo” (Pagan, 1847, p. 90)
During the 18th and 19th centuries Glasgow grew from a modest town to one of the world’s leading commercial and industrial cities. At the forefront of this boom were Glasgow’s elite tobacco lords, who made incredible fortunes from the Atlantic triangular slave trade 1 . The position of the Gulf Stream enabled faster shipping times from the Americas to Glasgow in comparison with other British cities, a competitive edge that was exploited to the fullest. Such was their success, tobacco lords south of the border accused the Glasgow lords of tax fraud and demanded an inquiry of the Treasury 2 .
“The Lords of the Treasury found ‘that the complaints of the merchants of London, Bristol, Liverpool, Whitehaven, &c., are groundless, and proceed from a spirit of envy, and not from a regard to the interests of trade, or of the King’s revenue.'” (MacGregor, 1881, p. 298)
The lords invested their wealth widely throughout Glasgow. Acts of philanthropy, the funding of local business and building extravagant properties all secured the lords’ elite status in the city. Some of their buildings remain today, for example, Cunninghame’s mansion (above), now the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Mitchell Library, built with funds bequeathed by Stephen Mitchell for “a large Public Library in Glasgow” (Glasgow Life, n.d.). Streets such as Glassford Street, Jamaica Street, and Virginia Street also provide an historical link to the tobacco lords.
Following a downturn in the tobacco trade during the American civil war (which ruined many an ill-prepared tobacco lord) Glasgow’s business owners turned to trading on the West Indian trade routes, importing and exporting high profit items such as sugar, cotton and guano (excellent for fertilising tobacco and cotton crops). Trade in Glasgow flourished and the city grew, aided by the expansion of the rail networks and the benefits of the continually improving Clyde.
The city growth is more clearly demonstrated in the map extracts above; from green fields in 1778 to a bustling and populous city by 1864. In between the closely-built homes, churches, and schools, the chimney spires of industry are revealed. Factories, mills and foundries sprang up, utilising amazing new technologies like steam power and hot blast furnaces.
Above, St. Rollex Chemical Works in the north of the city. Its “monster chimney” rises 450 feet in an attempt to carry toxic fumes away from the city. (Pagan, 1847, p. 89). The many factory chimneys in Sulman’s Bird’s Eye View show the industrial smoke heading eastwards. As a result pollution clogged the streets of the east and centre of Glasgow, leading those who could afford it to head west for cleaner air.
The River Clyde was to become a major advantage to Glasgow’s transatlantic trade. However, in 1755 the Clyde was only 15 inches deep at low tide, and 3 feet 8 inches deep at high tide (Marwick, 1898, p. 43); too shallow to allow cargo ships into the city. Goods coming into Glasgow generally landed at the coastal town ports of Greenock and Port Glasgow, before being transported the remaining distance by land.
Clearly this was not ideal considering Glasgow’s business aspirations. A number of acts of Parliament followed, with the Clyde gradually widened and deepened until shipping trade was able to reach all the way to the Glasgow bridge at Jamaica Street.
The industrial revolution was another area of opportunity for Glasgow’s prosperous merchants. With the city’s economy so reliant on the seas, by the mid-nineteenth century it seemed natural for Glasgow to enter the shipbuilding industry. The surrounding areas of the city were fortuitously rich in iron, coal, and other important industrial raw materials, leading Glasgow to become known as the “shipbuilding capital of the world” (Maver, 2000, p. 113).
With the improvements to the Clyde, shipping traffic rapidly increased resulting in the ‘rush hour’ situations seen above at Broomielaw, with queues at times four deep at the docks. This was not good for business and complaints were levelled at the Clyde Navigation Trust; an organisation of Glasgow’s business elite with a vested interest in trading on the river. Further expansion and development of the Clyde continued, with the addition of the Kingston Dock in 1867 and the Queen’s Dock in 1878-79.
We can see the river banks above lined with wharfs, and working sheds, whose skilled work force maintained the ships after their long voyages. Steam-powered and hydraulic cranes were used to transport heavy industrial and commercial goods between ship and land.
The streets immediately surrounding the Clyde at Broomielaw to the north and Tradeston to the south provided convenient access to the Clyde’s waiting ships. Glasgow’s merchants acquired large areas of this land, building storehouses and warehouses to hold trade goods like grain, sugar, cotton, flax and rope. Manufacturing business were also established along the Clyde. Before long forges, foundries and smithies, mills, and chemical works filled the streets.
In 1812 the customs duties collected on imports and exports at Glasgow amounted to £3,124. By 1847 this had risen to £634,305 (Pagan, 1847, p. 83). Glasgow’s trade was thriving.
Other posts in the series can be found here. You are welcome to come up and see the Bird’s Eye View for yourself, and even order your own copy from the Maps, Official Publications and Statistics Unit on level 7 of the University Library. Just get in touch by email, 0141 330 3176 or pop up to see us Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm.
1. The Atlantic triangular slave trade refers to the three shipping routes involved in transatlantic trade, which included tobacco, textiles, food and drink, and heavy industrial goods. The ships left Europe for Africa with tradable goods, which were used to purchase slaves. The ships, with slaves onboard, sailed onwards for America and the Caribbean. Those who survived this terrible journey were sold, and the money used to purchase other tradable goods. The ships then sailed back to Europe with these goods, and so the triangle continued. ↩
2. This was not, however, the end of the story. The continued competition between the tobacco lords of England and Scotland makes fascinating reading. Following an appeal by the English merchants, the subsequent House of Commons Committee Report (Journals of the House of Commons, 1722, p 102-109) concludes;
“That it is the Opinion of this Committee, That great Quantities of Tobacco, on which the Customs have not been duly paid, have been brought by Land-Carriage and Coast-Ways, from that part of Great Britain called Scotland, into that part of great Britain called England, to the very great Prejudice of the Revenue, and great Loss and Damage to the fair Importers of tobacco from Virginia and Maryland into England.”
An Act of Parliament followed in 1723 joining the Commissioners of Customs for England and Scotland into the “Commission of Customs for the whole united Kingdom … “for better securing and ascertaining the Duties on Tobacco, and to prevent Frauds in exporting Tobacco and other Goods and Merchandizes” putting to an end claims of fraud and unfair competition between the lords. ↩
References and further reading
Deas, J. (1875) Clyde Navigation: plan of the harbour of Glasgow, Plate 4, [s.n.], Glasgow
McArthur, J. (1778) Plan of the city of Glasgow : Gorbells and Caltoun, [s.n.], Glasgow
Ordnance Survey (1859) Glasgow 1st Edition. Town Plan, 1:500, Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (1856-59) County Series Lanarkshire, 25 inch, Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (1865) County Series Lanarkshire 1st Edition, Sheet 6, 6 inch, Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Sulman, T. (1864) Bird’s eye view of Glasgow in 1864, Illustrated London News, London.
Monographs and Official Publications
An Act for enabling his Majesty to put the Customs of Great Britain under the management of one or more Commissioners, and for better securing and ascertaining the duties on tobacco, and to prevent frauds in exporting tobacco and other goods and merchandizes, or carrying the same coastwise. 1723 (9 Geo. I, c.21). Statutes at Large, vol. 5, pp. 456-459. Printed by Mark Laskett, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, London
Devine, T. M. (1975) The tobacco lords: a study of the tobacco merchants of Glasgow and their trading activities, c1740-90, Donald, Edinburgh
Hillis, P. (2007) The Barony of Glasgow: A Window onto Church and People in Nineteenth-Century Scotland, Dunedin Academic Press, Edinburgh.
Journals of the House of Commons, xx (1722-27)
MacGregor, G. (1881) The History of Glasgow from the earliest period to the present time, Thomas D. Morison, Glasgow
Marwick, J. D. (1898) The River Clyde and the Harbour of Glasgow, Anderson, Glasgow
Mavers, I. (2000) Glasgow, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.
Maxwell, D. (1927) The Book of the Clyde, The Bodley Head Limited, London
Mullen, S. (2009) It wisnae us: the truth about Glasgow and slavery, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, Edinburgh
Pagan, J. (1847) Sketch of the history of Glasgow, Robert Stuart and Co., Glasgow
Riddell, J. (1979) Clyde Navigation: A history of the development and deepening of the river Clyde, John Donald Publishers, Edinburgh
Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow (2003) No Mean Society: 200 Years of the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow, RCS plc., Retford.
Senex (1884) Glasgow Past and Present, David Robertson and Co.,
Clyde Waterfront (n.d.) Clyde Navigation Trust [Online]. (Accessed 17th October 2016)
Glasgow Life (n.d.) History of the Mitchell Library [Online]. (Accessed 18th October 2016)
University of Glasgow Archive Services et. al. (2004) The Glasgow Story [Online]. (Accessed 17th October 2016)