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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XX - Results of Reviving Trade


The various developments of the time may be regarded as evidence that the fortunes of the city were recovering from the eclipse they had suffered through the jealous action of the London and Bristol merchants in endeavouring to suppress the promising tobacco trade of Glasgow. In Gibson's History the time of recovery is dated as about 1735. Judging from events it would appear that by that time the tide of prosperity was again in full flow. When Paisley, in the summer of 1733, suffered the disaster of a conflagration which destroyed a third part of the town, the Town Council at once organized a collection for the relief of the sufferers, and for immediate needs sent the bailies of Paisley a subscription of 40 sterling. [Burgh Records, 14th June, 1733.]

Three years later the city provided itself with a new peal of nineteen bells for the Tolbooth steeple at a cost of 311 1s. 9d. sterling. [Ibid. 21st May, 1736. It cost a further i4o sterling to mount these new "musick bells" in the steeple, while 5 was paid for a small set of bells for practice purposes, and the musician, Roger Rodburn, was sent to Edinburgh to learn the art of playing upon them (Ibid. 2nd July and 15th Sept. 1736). Three years Iater the steeple bells were found to be out of tune and were remodelled in Edinburgh, while fourteen others were added, at a cost of 16 17s. 8d. sterling (Ibid. 9th March, 1739)] And when Charles Miller, the provost who occupied the civic chair during the malt-tax riots of 1725, was found to have fallen upon evil days, so that "he had not whereupon to subsist," the Town Council promptly agreed to pay him an annuity of 4o sterling. [Burgh Records, 24th June, 1735. In connection with this annuity an interesting transaction took place three years later. Matthew Cumming, the city's session clerk, was over eighty years of age, and he resigned his post in favour of Miller, on condition that the town should pay him an annuity of 25 sterling, and his wife, should she survive him, io yearly for life. By this arrangement the town was relieved of its annuity to Miller, and was enabled to provide for the aged session-clerk without further burden to the "Common Good."]

At that time, quite suddenly and almost entirely, payments came to be reckoned in sterling, which was twelve times the value of the old Scots currency, the pound Scots being worth only is. 8d. sterling. Yet payments were made, and salaries and "gratifications" arranged, in the new coinage as cheerfully as they had been in the old, a pretty sure indication of the sudden growth of wealth in the city.

Quite obviously, the increasing prosperity was due in the first place to the growing trade with the tobacco planters of Virginia and the sugar planters of the West Indies. That trade was highly profitable in itself, but it also gave a direct and strong stimulus to the starting of industries in the city. To begin with, for the manufactured goods which they shipped out to pay for the tobacco cargoes which they brought home, the merchants had to rely upon purchases from England and the Continent. More and more rapidly, however, factories were established in the city itself, and the merchants were provided with goods for export at their own door.

An early outstanding example of this was the linen industry. The making of linen cloths, lawns, and cambrics was the first effort of the Glasgow looms, and, as an unlimited demand for these products came from across the Atlantic, the Town Council and merchants of the city did all they could to prosecute and perfect the linen industry. Note has been already made of the establishment of a spinning school in the city by the Trustees of Fisheries and Manufactures, and the appointment of a salaried mistress for that school by the city fathers. [Supra, chap. xviii.] Four years later an application was made by Andrew Aiton and Richard Allan for a piece of ground in the Old Vennel for the setting up of a weaving factory, convenient for the washing of yarn in the Molendinar. [Burgh Records, 21st Oct. 1728, 5th Dec. 1732. In connection with this linen factory the first notice occurs of water being conveyed through pipes in the city. The supply was brought from "the four cisterns at the Spouts." At the same time the owner of a malt-kiln at the Cow Loan asked liberty to lead water from a well under the roadway into his kiln through a pipe (Ibid. 8th May, 1740).] Three years later still a "society of linen dealers" induced the magistrates to grant a lease of the town's waulk mill on the Kelvin to be converted into a linen factory, and secured from the Trustees for Improving Manufactures of Linen a grant of 25 for the carrying out of the alterations, while the town advanced a similar sum by way of encouragement." There were technical difficulties in the way, however, as the home-grown lint, when woven into cloth, showed strips, bars, and rows which did not appear in cloth made of lint brought from Holland. Accordingly the Trustees brought a Dutch flax-dresser to Edinburgh, who prepared the ground for the seed, and watered, grassed, and dressed the lint in the foreign fashion. They further invited Glasgow to send a young man to learn the business from this Hollander, and they offered 5 to help to defray his expenses. [Ibid. 28th March, 1735.] A subsidy also was offered for the sowing of lint, which the Town Council increased by 10 sterling for three years. [Ibid. 1st May, 1733.] These details will serve to show the pains which were taken to foster the linen industry. Its progress, however, remained slow until Parliament came to its help. In 1748 an Act prohibited the importation or wearing of French cambrics; another Act in 1751 allowed weavers in flax or hemp to settle and ply their trade anywhere in Scotland free from all corporation dues; and gave a bounty of 1d. per yard on all linen exported at or under eighteenpence per yard. Upon these encouragements the business throve amain, and it became a vast source of wealth, the most important Glasgow industry till it was superseded in the last quarter of the century by the weaving of cotton. [Gibson, Hist. Glasg. 237, 248.]

The beginnings of the iron industry about the same time are also interesting. In 1734 the Town Council paid Robert McKell, a stranger millwright, a gratuity of 3 for making and perfecting the model of "ane engine for slitting and clipping of iron, and rolling of iron hoopes," and a like sum was contributed for the inventor's encouragement by a number of private persons. [Burgh Records, 27th Sept. 1734.] The invention was evidently of practical value, for, four years later, three substantial burgesses, Robert Luke, goldsmith, and John Craig and Allan Dreghorn, wrights, applied to the Town Council for a piece of land below the mill of Partick, on which they proposed to erect a mill for the slitting of iron. The cost of the enterprise, they explained, would be very great, but, if successful, the business would contribute highly to the prosperity of the whole country. A supply of water was necessary for their purpose, and they asked and received permission to lead an aqueduct, or "watergang," from the town's mill dam farther upstream. The new factory was known as the "Slit Mill," sometimes as the Nail Work or Naillary. [Ibid. 30th May, 1738; 23rd April, 1739.] Its founders were, in fact, the same individuals as had started the making of hoes, spades, and other ironmongery six years earlier under the name of the Smithfield Company, and their undertaking succeeded so well that forty years later they were able to supply any demand whatever on better terms than the English manufacturers. [Gibson, Hist. 242.]

With the tobacco and sugar trades overseas growing in their hands, and the industries fostered by these trades promising additional advantages, the citizens began to turn their attention to the improvement of the harbour of Glasgow itself. Their original seaport at Irvine had silted up in the middle of the previous century, and though they had spent great sums and devoted much effort to the creation of Port-Glasgow, they were still hindered by many obstacles in the portage to and from that harbour by the shallow reaches of the river. It was now resolved to make some further effort to improve the waterway. The story of that effort will be found detailed in a later chapter. [Infra, chap. xxv.]

In the midst of these developments Glasgow was visited by a devastating experience from which it had hitherto been remarkably free. On 13th and 14th January, 1739, a great gale broke over Scotland. Nothing like it had been known within living memory, and it wrought grievous havoc on sea and land. Trees were uprooted, roofs were stripped, and immense damage otherwise was done. In Glasgow the top of the Tolbooth steeple was blown down, many buildings were wrecked, and parts of the spire of the Cathedral were hurled through the roof into the church below. [Scots Magazine, 1739, No. i; Burgh Records, 23rd May, 1739.] At Port-Glasgow the quays were seriously damaged, and houses wrecked. The repairs to the Cathedral alone cost over 380 sterling, a sum only slightly offset by erg sterling received for the trees blown down in the Cathedral churchyard and on the green. The vane of the spire received a twist in that gale from which it could be seen to suffer until the whole roof was renewed in 1908; and it is to be feared that the gardens and orchards amidst which the houses of Glasgow nestled, and which the city's earliest historian John McUre had just then commended so highly for their "odoriferous smell," suffered serious destruction. The town's orchard at Gorbals, at anyrate, had its trees broken and branches torn off in disastrous fashion. [Burgh Records, 16th Feb., 23rd April, 28th May, 27th June, 28th Aug. 1739.]

McUre, himself, if he was so minded, may have regarded the great storm as a visitation upon the magistrates for their neglect of his request for a subsidy for the publication of his history. McUre applied for this gratification twice, before the book was printed, and after its publication, but in each case the application seems to have gone no further than to be referred to a committee for consideration. His Ancient and Modern State of Glasgow, [Burgh Records, 22nd June, 1732: 4th Oct. 1736.] nevertheless, remains to-day perhaps the most frequently quoted work on its subject, and is chiefly valuable for the light it throws on the condition of the city in McUre's own time.

The Town Council of McUre's day appears to have been not too generous in countenancing literary and journalistic enterprise. In view of the opening of the coffee-house in its own new town-hall building next the Tolbooth, it withdrew the subsidy of three guineas it had previously paid towards the supply of news-letters to the old coffee-house in the Merchants House tenement at the corner of Saltmarket opposite. [Ibid. 26th Oct. 1738.]

Three years later, however, the need for the "news-letter" was superseded by the establishment of the Glasgow Journal. This second Glasgow venture in journalism made its appearance on 10th July, 1741, and the city treasurer's accounts show that the civic authorities both purchased copies and inserted advertisements. The paper was printed by Robert Urie & Co., a firm which produced a number of important books, and rivalled its more famous contemporaries, the Foulises, in excellence of workmanship. When the nerve of its first editor, one Andrew Stalker, failed in the critical emergency of the Jacobite rebellion, and, declaring plaintively that, "considering the situation of affairs, I cannot with safety publish so as to please the generality of my readers," he vacated the chair, the

editorship was taken up by one of the Uries themselves, who carried it on till his death in 1771. [The Earl, Glasgow Press, by Michael Graham, p. ii; Burgh Records, 28th Sept. 1750.]

But while the Town Council does not appear to have been over ready to spend money on literature and journalism, it had no shortcomings in the matters of hospitality and loyalty. The minutes contain frequent notices of the entertainment of notables like General Wade; a festival was held to celebrate the marriage of the Prince of Wales, and a "treating" with wine on the occasion of the Queen's birthnight in 1736; while 34 1s. sterling was paid for a portrait "and frame thereof" of George II., to be added to the city's gallery of royal personages, from James VI. downwards. [Burgh Records, 21st Sept. 1732.]

The city fathers were also willing enough to subsidise another, more utilitarian form of art. One John Watt, "mathematician and teacher of arithmetic," uncle of the famous improver of the steam engine, made a succession of surveys, plans, and maps of the town and neighbourhood and the river channel, for which a succession of payments was made. For a survey of the lands of Provan, and a map showing the extent of each mailing or farm, he received twelve guineas in 1727. For another survey of the same lands for renting and feuing, two years later, he and two others received forty guineas between them. And for later plans of Port-Glasgow, Gorbals, and "the sixteen merk land of Glasgow" itself, he received further successive sums. Some of these early examples of civic cartography remain highly interesting at the present day. [Ibid. 27th July, 1727; 26th Sept. 1729; 22nd June, 1732; 2nd Jan., 11th Dec. 1733; 1st Oct. 1739. Plans reproduced in Williamson's Memorials of James Watt.]


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