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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XXVIII - Borrowing and Bridge Building


NOTHING could be more significant of the change that was taking place in the character of the country in the middle of the eighteenth century than the removal of the ancient "ports" or gateways of Glasgow. These ports had served as a means of protection in a ruder and more hazardous age, but they had come to be regarded as a mere obstruction to traffic. The west port in Trongate, at the head of the Stockwellgate, was, as already mentioned, demolished in 1751 to allow of the building line on the south side of the street being continued westward without interruption. [Burgh Records, 22nd Jan.] And the Gallowgate port suffered the same fate three years later when the Town Council was arranging to sell Little St. Mungo's graveyard, which lay on the north side just beyond it, for building purposes. [Ibid. 21st Jan. 1754.] The burial-ground was presently disposed of to Robert Tennent, gardener and vintner, for a yearly ground annual of five pounds sterling, with the condition that he should build upon it "a commodious and convenient inn three storeys high." At the same time he was allowed to demolish the old gateway and take the stones for his own use on the understanding that he paid £10 for the stones and cleared the rubbish from the ground. ['Ibid. 22nd Nov. 1754.]

The inn thus built was the famous Saracen's Head, which was to be the chief hostelry of Glasgow for the greater part of a century, and to entertain such noted guests as Dr. Samuel Johnson, Robert Burns, and William Wordsworth. [The inn gave its name to Saracen Street, at hand, and that in turn to the Saracen Foundry, which carried the name at a later day to the far northern outskirts of the city. The inn was finally demolished in 1905. There is a tradition that Tennent was allowed to use the stones of the Bishop's Castle for the building of his inn, and that he was responsible for the removal of that ancient structure. His activities, however, seem to have been confined to the demolition of the gateway of the palace, from which he removed Bishop IIunbar's coat of arms to a tenement he was then erecting in High Street. The castle at anyrate was still standing in 1782 when the Town Council resolved to apply for a grant of the ruins (Senex, Old Glasgow, 241; Burgh Records, 27th March, 1782).] There it was that the Lords of Justiciary held their levees and gave their dinners, and that the sporting Duke of Hamilton put up when he came to Glasgow for the chances of a main at the cockpit. [Strang, Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 161.]

At the same time, inspired perhaps by the enterprise of General Wade, the Town Council spent considerable sums in road and bridge making. It contributed i000 to the making of the road by Kirk of Shotts to Edinburgh, £goo on the construction of the road to Renfrew, and £150 on the road to Inchbelly Bridge, near Kirkintilloch; while it assigned an unnamed sum for a bridge at Inchinnan, and subscribed £15 for the building of the bridge over the Tweed at Kelso and "fifteen guineas of gold" for a bridge over the Kelvin at Garscube Mill. [Burgh Records, 29th March and 10th Dec. 1754; 2nd Mar. 1755; 6th May, 14th July and 23rd Aug. 1756; 5th June, 1758. The Bakers' Incorporation itself undertook to make the road from St. Enoch's Burn to Partick Bridge, where its own mill stood upon the Kelvin.-8th Oct. 1755.] It also between 1760 and 1768 subscribed various sums for the building of bridges at such widely scattered places as Elvanfoot, Dunbarton, Coldstream, and Forteviot. These sums were all borrowed, mostly from the banks, which provided all too easy means for running into debt.

Other large sums were borrowed light-heartedly in the same way £380 for the payment of cess in 1754, and £1500 for the support of the poor during a time of scarcity in 1757, while a credit of £i000 was opened with the Glasgow Arms Bank for general purposes in 1754. When the time came for repaying the bank loans in 1758, the Town Council went farther afield, and borrowed £2000 in London, then in the following year gaily borrowed other £1500 "to pay debts." [Ibid. under dates.]

But the city's most formidable effort in bridge building was yet to come. If the level of water in the river was raised by means of locks, as Smeaton proposed, it was obvious that the fords immediately above and below the ancient bridge at Glasgow would become too deep for passage, while the bridge itself was so high and narrow, and had also become so frail, that horse and carriage traffic could not be allowed upon it. In this dilemma the "gentlemen of Renfrewshire" were invited to consult with the magistrates, and it was decided that, instead of widening and strengthening Bishop Rae's old bridge, a new bridge should be built farther down the river, at the Broomielaw. Accordingly in the Act of Parliament authorising the magistrates to make locks and improve the river on Smeaton's plan, authority was also secured for the building of that bridge. As Smeaton's plan was not proceeded with, the need for the new bridge became less urgent, and it was not till 1772 that the first Jamaica Bridge was actually built. It was thirty feet wide and took its name, like the street at the foot of which it was built, from our greatest West Indian island colony. [Ibid. 15th Dec. 1757; 22nd Dec. 1758; 9th Jan. 1759 ; 20th April, 1768. The new bridge was built by "John Adam, mason in Glasgow," evidently a man of enterprise, for at the same time he was building several houses on the east side of Jamaica Street (ibid. z9th June, 16th Aug. 1768). Carting on the old bridge was stopped as dangerous in 1765, an Act of Parliament, which cost £1000, for stopping the river fords, was secured in 1768; and the widening of the bridge, along with the rebuilding of the southern arch, was proceeded with in 1774 and 1776.]

The building of this bridge may be said to have brought to an end the history of Rutherglen as a seaport. Till this took place there were sometimes more vessels lying at the harbour of Rutherglen than at the Broomielaw. [Glasgow Past and Present, iii. 820.] The laying of the foundation stone of the bridge was a great occasion in Glasgow, marked by a procession which started from the Saracen's Head Inn in Gallowgate. [Strang, Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 161.]

The city was then on the high tide of the prosperity derived from the great tobacco trade, but it felt compelled by its growing expenses to make the most of every source of revenue. It secured from the Government another renewal for thirty-eight years of the right to levy twopence Scots (one-sixth of a penny sterling) on every pint of ale consumed within its jurisdiction, and the value of that duty may be gathered from the fact that the expenses of Provost Murdoch in going to London to secure renewal of the grant amounted to no less than £412 sterling. A further sum of £13 7s. was paid to the Shuttlefield factory for 44 yards white linen at 6s. per yard, sent as a gift by the town to Mr. West, secretary to the Treasury, for his services in the transaction. [Burgh Records, 8th April, 1755. The extension of the grant was secured well beforehand, for the previous grant was still in force till 1763. Thirty years later the duties were valued at £2340 sterling per annum (ibid. 13th Nov. 1794.)] Still another sum of money was secured by the sale at auction of all the feu-duties payable to the town of less than forty shillings sterling annual value. [Ibid. 1st Oct. 1756.]

This latter transaction no doubt also relieved the town of a good deal of troublesome factorage and book-keeping. A town chamberlain or accountant had just then been appointed, at a salary of £ZOO per annum, to take charge of the Town Council's revenues, and the sale of the smaller feu-duties seems to have been one of his first acts on taking office. [Ibid. 29th April, 18th June, 1755; 1st Oct. 1756.]

There were signs at the same time that others than the chamberlain were beginning to find the details of the town's affairs personally irksome. From time to time individuals chosen to be members of the Town Council refused to act. As those who did so were merchants (among them was Alexander Speirs, the greatest of the "tobacco lords"), and apparently able and willing to pay a considerable fine, it may be taken that they found their own business considerably more congenial and engrossing than that of attending to public affairs. In each case they were made to pay the handsome penalty of £20 sterling. [Burgh Records, 6th Jan. 1755; 4th Oct. 1756; 20th Jan. 1757; 19th Jan. 1768.]

This somewhat drastic treatment was the result of a change made a few years previously in the "sett" or method of constituting the Town Council. In the preface to the new regulations it was stated that complaints had been made of the tendency of the older arrangements to continue the government of the city in a particular group of persons longer than might be for the public interest; also that there was sometimes difficulty in getting the more creditable burgesses to accept office. The new regulations made an effort to remedy these drawbacks by providing that a certain number of councillors should retire each year, and be ineligible for re-election till three years afterwards, and they introduced fines for refusal to accept office. While the fine of an ordinary councillor was £20 sterling, that of a provost, dean of guild, deacon-convener, or treasurer was no less than £40. [Ibid. 15th April, 1748.] The Town Council still remained a close corporation, electing its own new members, as it had done since the middle of the fifteenth century, when a more democratic form of election had brought itself into disrepute. [See supra, p. 78.]

Not less drastic were some of the other ordinances of the city fathers at that time. After the opening of St. Andrew's Church in 1756 it was noticed that a number of seats, both in that and the other churches, remained unlet. They were not, however, unoccupied. By way of ending so discreditable a state of things, the Town Council ordered that the unlet seats should be nailed up. There must be no admission without due payment of rent. [Burgh Records, 3rd Oct. 1757.]

It is difficult to reconcile this action with the institution of the "compurgators," whose activities were still a feature of the city's life. These compurgators were a sort of vigilance committee who perambulated the town on Sundays during church service and in the evening. If any merrymaking, or music other than the singing of psalms, was heard in a house, it was instantly stopped ; and if anyone was found enjoying a quiet stroll, he was ordered either to betake himself to church or to go home. The activities of these compurgators came to an end with the arrest of Peter Blackburn, ancestor of the Blackburns of Killearn. For walking on the Green on a Sunday Mr. Blackburn was thrown into the Tolbooth. Being a man of substance and spirit, however, he raised an action against his assailants, and finally won his case in the Court of Session. Compulsion in matters of Sunday observance had become out of date.

It cannot be forgotten that one other ramble on Glasgow Green at that time produced most amazing and far-reaching results. On a Sunday afternoon, while passing Arns Well, near the site of the Humane Society's house, James Watt conceived the idea of the separate condenser, that vital improvement of the steam-engine which was to change the whole aspect of the world.

With the embargo removed, the New Green became, on Sundays as well as other days, the favourite fashionable promenade of the citizens. The scene there, a few years later, is described by John Mayne in his fine poem, "Glasgow":

Whae'er has daunered out at e'en,
And seen the sights that I ha'e seen,
For strappin' lasses, tight and clean,
May proudly tell
That, search the country, Glasgow Green
Will bear the bell.

There may ye find, in sweetness rare,
The blooming rose, the lily fair,
The winsome look, the gracefu' air,
The taste refined,
And a' that can the heart ensnare
In womankind.

[The Glasgow Poets, p. 84. John Strang in Glasgow and its Clubs (p. 168) describes how, in the end of the eighteenth century, the Green was much frequented as a fashionable promenade. "The verdure of the public park," he says, "and the foliage of the elm and beach, were then in all their pristine beauty, and pedestrians in summer could enjoy a promenade almost round the whole park beneath the canopy of a wide-spreading double row of trees." Another fashionable lounge was the north side of Trongate, as far west as Queen Street.]

As a matter of fact the city fathers themselves had long ago abandoned the rather grim attitude towards the lighter side of life which had characterized their covenanting predecessors in the previous century. When, in 1758, it was proposed to build an Assembly Room adjoining the new Town Hall in Trongate, and the Town Council was approached to give its countenance and afford facilities to the scheme, it declared itself to be "willing to give all due encouragement to lawful and innocent diversions," and agreed to promote the enterprise.

The list of subscribers to this venture included the names of Alexander Speirs, Archibald Ingram, Colin Dunlop, Allan Dreghorn, and nearly a dozen others of the best-known merchants of the city, and their prosposal was to build a public Assembly Room "for the beauty, ornament, and advantage of the town"—as the third floor of a tenement of houses which the Town Council intended to erect. The plans for the building had been made by Allan Dreghorn, and it may be suspected that that enterprising wright and builder, not without an eye to business, was the originator of the project. [Burgh Records, 5th June, 1758.] The Assembly Room was duly completed, and no doubt was the scene of many a gay gathering during the next twenty years. But the fact that the guests had to climb to a third floor to reach it probably put it out of favour when more convenient rooms became available. In 1777 the directors decided to sell it, and in 1783 it was disposed of to the syndicate which erected the famous Tontine Exchange adjoining. [Ibid. 16th May, 1777; 24th Sept. 1783. Senex says he attended the last dancing assembly held in the Iarge hall of the Merchants House before the Assembly Rooms at the Tontine were erected in 1782. He "was carried there through the Bridgegate in a neatly cushioned sedan chair, by two chairmen, the fare of which was sixpence, certainly as comfortable a conveyance as either our modern cabs or omnibuses."—Old Glasgow, p. 88. See also Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 18 note.]


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