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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Glasgow, not flourishing, but in Misfortune


GIBSON in his History of Glasgow, published in 1777, chronicles the following wave after wave of misfortune, from which the city suffered from 1648 to 1652. He states:-

"The town of Glasgow about this time was almost destroyed by misfortunes. To the calamities attending civil war and division, were added those of pestilence and famine; the plague had raged for some time in the city and neighbourhood, the crops of corn had failed, the meal was sold at one shilling and ninepence sterling per peck; and to complete their misery, violent fire breaking out in June, 1652, had destroyed the greater part of the Saltmarket, Trongate, and High Street." The fronts of the houses were then mostly of wood, so that they became an easy prey to the violence of the flames.

An account of the fire was supplied to Cromwell and his council by the magistrates of Glasgow, and certified by Colonels Overton and Blackmore. From this it appears that the fire broke out on Thursday the 17th June, "within a narrow alley upon the east side of the (High) street above the crosse, which within a short space burnt up six allies of houses, with diverse considerable buildings upon the fore-street." ‘While the inhabitants were doing their utmost to save their property and effects, "the wind blowing from the north-east carried such sparks of the flame as kindled unexpectedly some houses on the west side of the Saltmarket, where the fire so spread that it did overrun all from house to house, and consumed, in some few hours, what came in its way.

"This fire, by the hand of God, was carried so from the one side of the street to the other, that it was totally consumed on both sides, and in it the faire, best, and most considerable houses of the town, with all the shops and warehouses of the merchants which were therein, and from that street the flame was carried to the Trongate, Gallowgate, and Bridgestreet-gate, in all which streets a great many considerable houses and buildings, with the best part of the movables and commodities of the inhabitants, were burnt to ashes.

"When some hundreds of families, in great distress and want, had, till the Saturday at night, laine in the open tields and diverse of them were beginning to get some shelter with such of their neighbours as the Lord had spared, upon the Lord’s Day, betwixt seven and eight in the morning, the fire broke out anew in the north side of the Trongate and continued burning violently till near twelve o’clock in the forenoon. This new and sad stroke, upon the back of the other, not only destroyed diverse dwelling-houses, and occasioned the pulling downe of many more, but it so terrified the whole inhabitants, that all carried out of their houses whatever movables they had, and took themselves againe, for some nights, to the open fields; and in this feare, and removing of their goods from their houses to the streets, and from the streets to the fields, the loss by stealing and spoiling of goods was very great to all; and diverse, on whom the fire unexpectedly seized, were altogether ruined."

On the 14th of September, 1652, John Wilkie, a burgess of the city, was sent to London to petition Parliament, in name of the town, for help in making up the loss occasioned by the fire.

Cromwell and his councillors, in a document dated 7th April, 1653, shortly review the account given them, saying that "in such places, so consumed, were fourscore bye-lanes and alleys with all the shops, besides eighty warehouses, which alleys were the habitations of a thousand families; all which losses computed, amounts to one hundred thousand pounds sterling."

The diem cent further recommended "the said poore inhabitants," as "an object of charity, to such pious and well-diposed people as shall be willing to contribute towards time reliefe of" their "present and pressing necessitIes. ‘Whether the city received anything more than a recommendation from Cromwell, and what the total sum subscribed amounted to, is unknown. A committee of the Town Council undertook the work of distribution, and in mak!ng their grants for the rebuilding of the property destroyed, they made a distinction. They gave more money to those who proposed erecting their houses entirely of stone, than to those who intended to keep by the old system, having their windows and fronts built with dealls. It is surprising that the Tolbooth, so near the place where the fire originated, was not involved in the general destruction of the district.


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