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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Glasgow riots of 1848: Fact's from eye-witnesses


"IN the year 1848,"states Mr. Daniel Frazer," I witnessed from the doorway of No. 113 (Buchanan Street), a procession of a large body of ill-fed, ill-clad, and half-armed Chartists, men, women, and boys, enter Buchanan Street by Royal Bank Place. After marching from the Green and Gallowgate, by East George Street and Queen Street without much interruption, the procession turned sharp down the street, and when passing Gordon Street fired two shots in the air. At this moment I saw a Glasgow gentleman, a medical man, if my memory serves me right, rush into the procession and disarm one or two of the men who had fired the shots, and who were thus trying to overawe our civic authorities.

"Happily for law and order, nothing tended more to restore both than the speedy enrolment of a large force of special constables, composed greatly of our merchant princes. These gentlemen were all provided with substantial batons, and were for a time subjected to daily drill. They were stationed in the Royal Exchange, and elsewhere during the night."

An old Glasgow merchant and Sabbath school teacher, who himself acted as a special constable, and underwent daily drill as such, communicated to Mr. D. Frazer the following particulars :— "This outbreak soon assumed an alarming aspect.

The mob had rapidly increased while passing towards the west of the city; the streets got blocked, and shops were entered and robbed by the hungry people. Among others the premises of a gunsmith in Exchange Square were entered, and guns and ammunition carried off. The shots fired in Buchanan Street greatly alarmed the inhabitants, who hurriedly shut the doors of their shops. Many windows were broken, and their contents carried off. A set of silver-plated dish covers, and an epergne were taken from the window of Findlay & Field, jewellers, 72 Buchanan Street. A porter’s hand-barrow— stolen from a grocer’s door in George Street—was drawn in the procession by a young woman well-known to the police for her lawless habits as Biddy. On it was a sack of meal, a box of tea, some loaves of bread, etc. The silver plate was at once put on the top of this heap, and, carried off in triumph by Biddy, till she and her booty were lost sight of in Argyle Street.

Through the enrolment of hundreds of our merchant princes as special constables, order was soon re-established in the western districts; not so in the east, and it was only after (the military including) the old pensioners and the militia had been called into requisition, that disorder was ultimately repressed there, and only after some lives had been lost in a fatal encounter between the pensioners and the mob. I was," continues Mr. Frazer’s informant, "one of the special constables who escorted the wounded up the High Street to the Royal Infirmary. I was also afterwards applied to, as the Sabbath school teacher in St. Enoch’s Wynd district, to assist the police in finding out Biddy’s plunder. Knowing her to be of weak mind, and that she must have been used as a tool by others, I only consented to aid the police in the matter on getting their assurance that she should not be punished.

"Armed with this assurance I entered Biddy’s home, in a building well known as the Ark in St. Enoch’s Wynd, and which had once been used as a malt-barn. Here, in a miserable attic room, I found Biddy’s mother. She at first stoutly denied her daughter’s complicity in the robbery, but on getting my assurance that no punishment would follow the acknowledgment of the crime, I was asked to look out a skylight window, and, on doing so, I saw the tea, the silver plate, etc., spread out on the roof. These were duly returned to their owners, and Biddy was allowed to go free."

The present writer, who was then a lad, has a vivid recollection of much that is above related and more, as in company with the late Mr. Robert S. Shearer, bookseller, Stirling, who was then a lad with Mr. David Bryce, bookseller, Buchanan Street, he walked down the street named, and along Argyle Street, where we fell in with the infantry, police, and special constables,—Bailie, afterwards Sir Andrew Orr, whom we well knew, being at the head of the military. Nothing occurred to obstruct the onward march until the head of the Saltmarket had been reached, and there it was found that a barricade of furniture, etc., had been erected. This was coolly, quietly, and deliberately cleared away, but ere this had been done, the rioters who had been there had vanished with their stolen guns. The conflict between the east-end rioters and the pensioners occurred on the second day. A special police assessment was levied to make good the damage and loss.


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