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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Early Glasgow Radicals and pursuit of reform under difficulties


ABOUT the years 1816-20, a remarkable political agitation took place amongst the working-classes in the west of Scotland, the city of Glasgow forming the centre of the disturbance. This movement, known as the Radical Reform movement, was set in motion by a few choice spirits—such as John Russell, a respectable manufacturer in Glasgow; John Ogilvie, china merchant in Jamaica Street; John M’Arthur, ironmonger in Argyle Street; Benjamin Gray, shoemaker in Nelson Street; William Watson, manufacturer in George Street; William Lang, printer in Bell Street; and John M’Leod, cotton spinner in Turreen Street; all moving in the respectable middle ranks of society.

These men, moved by a sense of the inequalities of the political system of representation, and by the abuses that existed in Parliament, convened a great public meeting to be held in Glasgow in the month of October, 1816. This event, so common in our own day, is said to have put His Majesty’s (George III.) ministers in great alarm; and to show the difficulties under which our reforming fathers had to contend we are told that Mr. James Black, then Lord Provost, positively prohibited the meeting being held upon the Green, and threatened, if they persisted in holding it there, he would turn out the 42nd Regiment to scatter the malcontents and prevent the meeting going on.

The leaders of the Reform movement then applied for the use of the Trades’ Hall, but it was peremptorily refused. They next applied to Mr. Daniel Caldwell of the Eagle Inn, who was known to be a bit of a black-neb, as the Reformers were then called. Mr. Caldwell heartily assented to give them the use of his stable-yard in Maxwell Street, and large placards were put out announcing the meeting. But the provost and magistrates, backed up by the landlord of the property, so worked upon the fears of the poor innkeeper, charging him with being an abettor of most wicked sedition, that he was compelled to cancel the agreement, although no objection was made to allow Maule of Panmure and Provost Dixon of Dumbarton to fight a main of cocks for a thousand guineas, in the same yard, a week or two afterwards.

In the emergency that had now arisen, James Turner, a citizen who made a .fortune and a position to himself as a retailer of snuff and tobacco in a small shop in High Street, came fearlessly forward, and offered the use of one of his fields at Thrushgrove, within the boundaries of the city, as a place of meeting. Accordingly, on the 20th October, 1816, the meeting was held in Thrusbgrove Park, and so great had been the notoriety created by the abortive attempts to prevent it, that no fewer than 40,000 individuals were gathered together; so that the opposition was not only defeated, but became the very best means adapted for furthering the cause of the Reformers.

It is said that not a creature was injured, not a sixpence stolen, among that vast crowd, which was the greatest that had ever been held up to that date, not only in Glasgow, but in the kingdom. And yet the magistrates were trembling with fear during the time it was held. The 42nd Regiment was drawn up in arms within the barrack square in Gallowgate, while the dragoons in their barracks at PortEglinton were ready, saddled and bridled, to gallop over Glasgow if the signal were given from the flagstaff on the top of the jail.

For thus granting the use of Thrushgrove Park as a place of meeting for such an obnoxious purpose, and for other suspicious complications with the black - nebs, Mr. Turner was afterwards sent a prisoner to the Bridewell of Glasgow, where he lay for some time under the capital charge of high treason, although it is gratifying to learn that he outlived all his persecutions, and became in the end one of the most active magistrates of the city.


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