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The History of Glasgow
Chapter XXIX - Foreign Trade—Customs on Exports— Glasgow's Earliest Trading, Manufactures, and Industries


PREVIOUS to the fifteenth century, the Scottish towns receiving any substantial benefit from foreign trade were those situated on the east coast, and at that early period three of the four burghs constituting the Curia Quatuor Burgorum [Antea, p. 61.] each possessed a flourishing sea-port. To that confederation some of the negotiations with foreign merchants, relating to commercial transactions, were probably entrusted; but owing to the absence of any record of its proceedings, apart from the legislation attributed to the court and a few fragmentary references, very little information on such subjects has been preserved. It is, however, probable that it was the members of this court who, on behalf of the community of this country, joined with Andrew of Moray and William Wallace, "leaders of the army of Scotland," in sending a letter to the mayors and communities. of Lubeck and Hamburg representing that their merchants might have safe access with their merchandise into all the ports of Scotland, seeing that the kingdom had by war been redeemed from the power of the English. The letter, in a postscript to which the interests of two Scottish merchants, John Burnet and John Frere, were commended to the care of the authorities in Lubeck and Hamburg, was sent from Haddington on 11th October, 1297. where and when the representatives of the Four Burghs are likely to have been in attendance holding their annual court. [Ancient Laws and Customs, vol. ii. p. ix. The letter was shown in the Scottish Exhibition, at Glasgow, in 1911, and a facsimile is given in the Palace of History Catalogue, i. p. 479.]

At subsequent periods formal contracts were entered into between the merchants of this country and the representatives of different towns in the Netherlands for the regulation of international commerce. The earliest of these of which there is any trace consists of an agreement between the burgesses and merchants of Scotland and the burgesses and merchants of Middleburgh, in Zealand, whereby that town was constituted the staple port for the transit of merchandise from this country. The date of that document is not given, but it was ratified by King David's charter dated at Dundee, 12th November, 1347. [Convention Records, i. p. 537. Particulars regarding the subsequent staple contracts will be found in the printed Convention Records. In 1364 King David, with consent of his council, granted to all his burgesses throughout the country free liberty to buy and sell within the liberties of their own burghs, but prohibited them from buying or selling within the liberties of other burghs. In its application to Glasgow this provision secured to the burgh the exclusive liberty of trading throughout the barony. The charter also prohibited foreign merchants coming with their ships or merchandise to trade with any persons except merchants of the king's burghs, either in buying or selling (Ib. pp. 538-41) ; and to the privileges thus secured to royal burghs Glasgow was also entitled by the terms of its original charters.]

In each burgh possessing facilities of export the crown was in the habit of appointing a "custumar" or custumars, generally one or two of the leading burgesses, to collect the king's great customs. Till the end of the sixteenth century free trade in imports may be said to have prevailed in Scotland, but from the earliest times the records of which have been preserved, a duty was exacted from exports. In the fourteenth century four burghs of export are noticed on the west coast, Dumbarton, Ayr, Wigtown and Kirkcudbright, and there the revenue was usually small in amount. For example, in the year 1327, when the gross amount of custom, derived chiefly from exported wool and skins, was £1,851, Berwick contributed £673; Edinburgh, £439; Aberdeen, £349; Dundee, £240; Perth, £108; Linlithgow, £14; Cupar, Fife, £13; Inverkeithing, £8; Ayr, £3; Stirling, £2; [Exchequer Rolls, i. p. c. In the above list shillings and pence are omitted.] and from the remaining three western burghs nothing was obtained. Rates of duty on wool and hides were much increased when funds were being raised to meet the instalments for King David's ransom, and were long retained at the same figure, but the average yearly yield, even during the reign of King James, did not much exceed £5,000. Various other customs were from time to time imposed, including duties on salmon, grilse and herring. The ports from which salmon were exported were principally Aberdeen, Banff and Montrose, and the average yearly custom from that source during the reign of King James was £115, representing £920 worth of fish. The cumulo customs obtained from the western burghs continued small in amount. In 1408 Ayr paid £2 on eleven last of hides; Dumbarton, in 1426, paid 28s. custom on wool; and it was only at wide intervals that export duties of any amount were accounted for by burghs in this district.

While Berwick remained a Scottish town its position as a commercial port was fully maintained, and the amount of customs collected there formed a substantial part of the national revenue. For the period from 29th November, 1331, to 3rd November, 1332, its collectors accounted for £570, as the custom received on the export of wool and hides; and a supplementary account brought down to 22nd February of the following year added £86 to that amount. [Exchequer Rolls, i. pp. 419, 428.] From 2nd March, 1330-1, to 3rd March, 1332-3, the customs collected at Edinburgh amounted to £812. As the result of the Scottish defeat at the battle of Halidon Hill, Berwick came into the hands of the English in July, 1333, and the town, as the price of English support, was formally surrendered by Balliol in February of the following year. Berwick being thus deprived of the privileges it enjoyed as a member of the Court of Four Burghs, the English king, on the application of the community, authorised the governor and mayor of the town, with twelve of the most discreet and law-worthy burgesses, to assemble within the town, yearly, on the fifteenth day after Michaelmas, and there to exercise the functions of the court ; and this was to continue "until the men of the said Four Burghs can assemble peacefully" to issue their judgments as formerly. [Convention Records, ii. p. 482. The ordinance is dated at Guildford, 30th March, 1345.]

Shortly after the Berwick severance Roxburgh also fell under English control, and in the altered circumstances parliament, on 6th March, 1368, ordained that so long as these border towns should be held by "our enemies of Ingland" the burghs of Lanark and Linlithgow should take their place as "twa of the Four Burghis whilk have of auld to mak the court of the chalmerlan ance a year at Hadyngton." [Ancient Laws and Customs, i. p. 191.] By this time Linlithgow, [Linlithgow had its port at Blackness, about the same distance from the burgh as Edinburgh was from its port at Leith.] as a burgh of export, was of considerable consequence, the customs collected there, in 1367, amounting to £597, as against £2,459 collected in Edinburgh, £88 in Stirling and £5 11s. 11½d. in Ayr. Like Roxburgh, Lanark was not a burgh of export, but its liberties extended over a wide area, embracing the whole of Lanarkshire, excepting the barony of Glasgow and the district assigned to the burgh of Rutherglen.

For any transactions connected either with imports or exports by the east coast there need be little doubt that the inhabitants of Lanarkshire, including those of the burgh and barony of Glasgow, resorted mainly to Linlithgow as being the most convenient port. In confirmation of this view reference may be made to the account of the custumars of Linlithgow for the year 1384, in which allowance is made for 18s. paid for the hire of a waggon to carry wine to Glasgow for the use of the king, and in the corresponding account for 1387-8 the sum of 20s. is allowed for a similar service. Another supply, consisting of eighteen pipes of wine, probably imported to Linlithgow in the usual way, though its carriage to Glasgow has not been traced, was carried by water from Glasgow bridge to Renfrew, where it was stored. Remissions of export duty were granted to a Glasgow physician on two occasions between 1393 and 1396. As is gathered from the accounts of the custumar of Linlithgow for 1393-5 William, "medicus" of Glasgow, sent to Linlithgow two sacks of wool for export, the duty on which would have been four merks or £2 13s. 4d., but the king, by letters under his privy seal, relieved him of payment.' A similar concession was granted to the Glasgow physician in the following year, as is noted in the account of the deputy chamberlain for 1396-7, but here the burgh of export is not named. These two remissions were probably granted in return for services rendered, but frequent remissions on a larger scale and often for inadequate consideration made serious encroachments on the crown revenues.

On payment of export duty the sender of the goods obtained a certificate under the seal of the proper officer authorising the export of the articles in respect of which custom had been paid. This document was called a cocket, and lords of regality, lay or spiritual, who owned burghs of export, had generally the grant of a cocket which entitled them to export merchandise duty free.

So far as can be ascertained it was not till a comparatively late period that the Bishops of Glasgow were accorded this privilege. In the second year of his reign King James IV., while confirming to the bishops all their existing possessions and privileges, and apparently doubtful if there had hitherto been a free tron in the city, authorised the bishops to have one in future, to appoint a troner of the customs and clerk of the cocket, and to uplift and apply to their own uses the customs of all goods and merchandise of the citizens and tenants of the barony. Cockets were to be issued certifying payment of duty, and on production of these the owner of the goods was to be free of customs in all other towns, ports and places within the kingdom. By another provision of the charter the bishops were enabled to export wool, hides, fish, and all other goods and merchandise, so far as for their own purposes, without payment of custom thereon.

Such small craft as frequented the Clyde estuary in the fourteenth century would be more adapted for fishing purposes and for cruising about the Western Isles than for making long voyages; but it is known that in the course of the next hundred years regular trading communication with France, in which Glasgow merchants took a share, had been fully established. According to popular belief, formed perhaps less on actual knowledge than on consideration of the natural order of things, the earliest trading ventures of the citizens, connected with the river, consisted of the capture of salmon and herring and their cure and transit to foreign markets. Fishergait, traversed by the fishermen after mooring their boats on the margin of the Old Green at the bridge, is one of the earliest street names on record."At first the river afforded no advantage for general trading purposes, and when the merchants required port facilities they made their way by the nearest neck of land for the most convenient shore. In this way Irvine port, for the CIyde, was long frequented by Glasgow merchants, in the same way as Linlithgow port had been resorted to for the Forth traffic. According to Tucker's Repoyt, [Tucker's Report of 1656, reprinted in Miscellany of Scottish Burgh Records Society, pp. 1-48.] Irvine, even so late as 1656, was maintaining "a small trade to France, Norway and Ireland, with herring and other goods, brought on horseback from Glasgow, for the purchasing timber, wine and other comodityes, to supply theyr occasions with." Glasgow itself at that time was trading with France, taking plaiding, coals and herring, and returning with salt, paper, rosin and prunes; getting timber from Norway, carrying coals in open boats to Ireland and bringing back hoops, barrel staves, meal, oats and butter; and obtaining from Argyllshire and the Western Isles plaiding, dry hides, goat, kid and deer skins, in return for which the inhabitants of these districts purchased from Glasgow traders such commodities and provisions as they required. But no vessels of more than six tons could then come nearer to Glasgow than the vicinity of Dumbarton, about fourteen miles below Glasgow bridge, at which distance they had to unload and transfer their cargoes to small boats, cobles or rafts, which thence made their way to Glasgow bridge or other destination.

Glasgow's earliest waulk or fulling mill was situated either on the Molendinar or Camlachie Burn, or perhaps below the confluence of these two streams, at the foot of the Walkergait, and it may be supposed that in this vicinity hand-loom weavers, linen manufacturers, tailors and other workers in cloth, would be chiefly accommodated. The obtaining of raw material, including wool for weavers and skins for the manufacture of leather, would give employment to a body of itinerant merchants who, in the earlier stages at least,$ made their journeys more by land than by water. Within the bounds of the barony itself, where there were upwards of three hundred rentallers, and also the outlying commons belonging to the burgesses, considerable supplies of wool and skins must have been obtainable, for besides the cultivated fields there existed large areas of pasture land suitable for the rearing of flocks and herds. Among the artisans obtaining employment by the manipulation of the raw material, thus procured far and near, were the skinners and furriers, who supplied such wearing apparel and useful articles as were appropriate to their special trade; and the "barkers," [So called from their using the bark of trees in the tanning process. Tanning was usually practised at the side of a burn, and rules to obviate complaints of neighbours were common. In old titles of properties, such as those on the south side of Bridgegait, near the Molendinar Burn, references to tan holes, bark holes and lime holes often occur.] who by tanning and other processes converted the skins into durable leather, suitable for the purposes of those who plied the cordiner or shoemaker craft. The remaining craftsmen, latterly composing the fourteen incorporated trades, were the hammermen, maltmen, bakers, wrights, coopers, fleshers, masons, gardeners, barbers and dyers; and though we have no definite information on the subject it may be assumed that shortly after the establishment of the burgh each of these classes would be represented within its bounds. Taking into account all the known circumstances connected with the burgh and barony in combination, and keeping in view the opportunities within the reach of the inhabitants for extending, to mutual advantage, their commercial and industrial pursuits, it may be assumed that no inconsiderable population was gathered within this district before the end of the fourteenth century. The estimate of the number of the burgh inhabitants at about 1,500 or 2,000 seems a not unreasonable calculation.


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