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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XXX - Prosperous Years


THE twenty years that preceded the break-away of the American colonies were perhaps the happiest and most prosperous that Glasgow ever saw. The stern and arid asceticism of Covenanting times had been largely modified. Men of original thought, and even of genius, like Professor John Anderson, founder of Anderson's College, and Professor Adam Smith, author of "The Wealth of Nations," occupied the chairs of the University, and mellowed the social atmosphere with their sentiments. The working classes were frugal and easily able to live upon their earnings, and enterprises of almost any kind could be undertaken with full assurance of success. At that time, the average wage of a Glasgow mechanic was seven shillings per week, and though the city was by no means a cheap place to live in, this wage was "more than sufficient to supply him liberally, and he must therefore save money." [Gibson, History, p. 201. Oatmeal then cost 11d, per peck (8 lb. of 22½oz.), beef from 4d. to 7d., butter 6d. to 9d., cheese 2d. to 6d. per lb. of 22½oz. Milk was 1d. to 1½d. per English quart, ale 10d. to 1s. 4d. per Scots gallon (four English), and coal 2s. 8d. per cart of 9 cwt. Rents were from 30s. per annum upwards.—Ibid. pp. 195-199.]

Even the great merchants and tobacco lords were simple in their taste at table, to judge from the accounts of feasts given in Strang's Glasgow and its Clubs. Their chief extravagance lay in the matter of liquid refreshment. The tavern expenses of the Council committee which visited the dock, town, and harbour of Port-Glasgow in 1761, ran to £15 6s., and the bill for a dinner for the three Glasgow magistrates and a guest or two at Renfrew, in connection with the election in 1762, was £1569 5s. 2d. sterling. [Burgh Records, 24th Aug., 1761; 3rd Feb., 1762.] With money at three times its present value, these were fairly substantial amounts, which show that the city fathers knew how to do themselves well.

Out-of-door recreation also was not forgotten. Of a summer evening the New Green by the pleasant riverside had its groups of golfers moving in twos and fours along the greensward. In 1760, they craved permission to make an addition to the lodge there at their own expense, doubtless to serve the purpose of a "nineteenth hole"; and a few years later the magistrates themselves considered the project of building a new golf house there. [Ibid. 23rd Sept., 1700; 7th May, 1779.]

The Golf Club flourished as long as the Green contained the hazards necessary to make the game interesting. In winter also there was the Roberton Hunt, otherwise the Glasgow Hounds, which held its first meet in 1771, and followed the fox from the wilds of Tollcross over Hamilton Moor and upper Clydeside. [Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 164.]

They snuffed extensively, as they feasted and golfed, these Glasgow burgesses of that prosperous time, and not the least thriving of the smaller industries of the town was the manufacture of the pungent brown powder. Perhaps the most considerable of the snuff-makers was Ninian Bryce who for years carried on the business at a mill on the Kelvin, three miles from the city. As age grew upon him he began to find the journey a considerable toil, and he approached the Town Council to let him have an old disused mill above the High Kirk, on adapting which to his purpose he proposed to spend £200. He had to introduce strong joists, to bear the weight of the tobacco in the drawing room and the strain of the machinery in the grinding room, and it is pleasant to think of the room for the petitioner himself, with a fireplace and two windows, where doubtless he could sit with a friendly customer, and sample the aroma of his own products. [Burgh Records, 9th Nov., 1762.] Glasgow, which probably had the first, certainly had the last, of the old Scottish snuff mills. This, beside the old bridge at Cathcart, only ceased manufacture before the beginning of the Great War.

The prosperity of those years brought an increase of population, and a demand for more houses, and the city expanded rapidly towards the west.

The muddy Cow Loan, by which the town's herd used to drive the townsmen's cattle to Cowcaddens, was paved and became Queen Street, and the Back Cow Loan was straightened by purchases of ground from the front of the Inkle factory, where Hutchesons' Hospital now stands, and from the back of Alexander Speirs' mansion at the head of Virginia Street, and laid out as Ingram Street. [Ibid. 8th April, 1766; 12th May, 1772; 13th Aug., 1st Feb., 1782.] The Town Council bought the lands of Ramshorn and Meadowflat from Hutchesons' Hospital, and proceeded to lay off streets westward on these lands from High Street and from the head of Candleriggs to Queen Street. [Ibid. 12th May, 1772 and on.] Further west still, as early as 1760, the Town Council laid off a street from the Broomielaw northward to the Wester or St. Enoch's gate, now Argyle Street, and began to dispose of building sites to form what was immediately called Jamaica Street. [Ibid. 31st July, 1760. The price at which the first of the ground was sold was 2os. Scots per square yard. Afterwards the price of each site of 55 feet frontage and the same depth (336 square yards) was £28 sterling—Ibid. 27th Jan., 1763.] The laying out and building of St. Enoch Square followed almost at once, and the public joined in a rush for building sites. It was Glasgow's first "building boom." [Ibid. 16th Aug., 30th Aug., 1768; 24th June, 1772.]

This enlargement of the city brought about a demand for the building of a seventh city church, and it brought about also a conflict in the city and the Town Council over the question of the right to appoint a minister. The church which was built was the Wynd Church, in 1762, but the settlement of the minister was delayed by the struggle between the Town Council and certain elements in the city over the right to appoint an incumbent. The Council maintained its right, as representing the community, who paid the stipend, to make the appointment, but declared its willingness to consider the wishes of the kirk session in the matter. Twice, after an agreement with the kirk session, it nominated a minister, only to have him rejected by the General Session, which refused to accept the arrangement. In the end the Council applied to the Court of Session, which decided that the right of appointing the ministers of all the city churches, except the High Church, belonged solely to the Town Council. [Burgh Records, 25th May, 6th April, 1762; 27th Jan., 1763; 2nd May, 1765; 8th April, 1766.] Thus was decided in Glasgow an outstanding episode of the great controversy which was to have its climax in the Disruption eighty years later.

To each of the seven churches a separate district was allotted. These districts had an average of four thousand inhabitants, and the total population of the city in 1765 was thus made out to be 28,099. [Ibid. 11th June, 1765. Twelve years later, including Gorbals and Calton, it was computed to be 43,000.—Gibson, History, p. 124.] In these circumstances the city ministers might be considered fully justified in asking an increase of stipend. In 1722 these stipends had been raised from £90 sterling to 2000 merks Scots (£111 2s. 2½2d.), but the ministers pointed out that the cost of living had greatly advanced since that date, and that it had become impossible to maintain their families upon the sum allowed them without changing their manner of living to such an obscure inhospitable style as must be thought unsuitable to their position. The Town Council saw reason in this appeal, and added a very acceptable 500 merks to each stipend. [Ibid. 10th Feb., 1762.]

Probably for a similar reason the teachers in the Grammar School had their salaries raised not long afterwards. The rector's payment was increased from £40 to £55 sterling per annum, while each of the three " doctors " had his salary increased from £15 to £20. [Ibid. 3rd Dec., 1765.]

Another demand brought about by the growth of population, but by no means so easy to satisfy, was that for a sufficient supply of water. So far this first necessary of life had been obtained from wells sunk anywhere in the streets and "yards" or gardens. In view of the common habit of allowing middens to accumulate in these yards and streets, the water thus obtained must have been in most cases of very doubtful purity, but it was probably a growing scarcity rather than any fear of infection which suggested another source. It was in 1769 that the first suggestion was made of bringing water to the city in pipes. The Town Council was evidently impressed, and in the following year brought two plumbers from Edinburgh, Elias and William Scot, to advise on the problem. These experts must be credited with suggesting the method by which the city was to secure a full supply for its needs nearly a century later. Their plan was to bring water from a distance in pipes. They were paid £12 12s. sterling "for their trouble in searching for good water to be brought in to the town, levelling the ground from Castletown to Glasgow, and making a plan of the ground through which the water was to be brought." [Ibid. 8th Nov., 1769; 1st Oct., 1770.] Two years later the Town Council granted permission to two burgesses to lead water to their own premises in pipes from the wells at Spout-mouth and at the foot of Virginia Street [Ibid. 24th June, 1772.] and three years later still, in presenting a bill to Parliament for extending the royalty of the city and "for cleaning, paving, lighting and lamping the streets thereof," it was recommended to seek powers, also, "for bringing in good fresh water to the said city." [Burgh Records, 16th March, 1775.] The difficulty evidently was the necessity which would arise of levying a tax for the purpose, and the project ended for the time with the repeated expression of pious opinions on the subject, and the employment of Robert McKell, engineer, "to enquire and search for fountains, springs, and water of good quality in the contiguity of the city of Glasgow, sufficient to serve the inhabitants thereof." ['Ibid. 28th and 29th Nov., 1775. For later efforts and developments, see infra, chap. xlv.]

The financial affairs of the city itself were at that time quite prosperous. When the chamberlain's books were examined by a committee in 1767 it was found that the annual revenue was "nearly equal to the town's annual expence"; and in 1775, when another enquiry was made, the revenue was found to be -Actually £400 sterling more than the expenditure. [Ibid. 30th Jan., 1767; 23rd Nov., 1775.] In these circumstances the magistrates felt themselves justified in ordering gold chains to be worn by themselves as "bages of honour."  [Ibid. 15th Jan., 1767.] The Town Council, however, seems to have made little distinction between capital sums which it derived from the sale of property and otherwise, and revenue which it derived from feu-duties, rents, market and bridge dues, and the like. Thus the ancient property of the archbishops—the Easter and Wester Commons and the lands afterwards laboriously reacquired to form the new Green—were from first to last disposed of, and the proceeds, which should have gone into a capital stock, the "Common Good," as it is called to-day, used to meet current expenses and emergencies of the hour. In this way, in 1767 the Town Council parted with its last possession in Provan—the feu-duties of that "twentie pound land"—for sums amounting to £41,423 Scots (£3451 19s. 6d. sterling) [Ibid. 23rd Dec., 1766; 3rd Feb., 1767.] and there is no evidence that this capital sum was kept apart, or separately invested in any way. [The feu-duties amounted to £1055 4s. iod. Scots, and the purchasers were William Macdowall of Castle Semple, John Campbell of Clathic, and James Hill, writer, who thus gave nearly forty years' purchase for their possession.]

But, notwithstanding any questions as to book-keeping, the city's credit was good. An Edinburgh firm offered the Town Council a loan of £400 sterling, part at 41 per cent. and part at 5 per cent, interest, and, while the city fathers were willing to accept the loan, they refused to pay more than 4½ per cent. [Burgh Records, 6th April, 1766.] Quite a number of individuals also took to depositing capital sums with the town, to be repaid in the form of annuities. Thus the sum of £500 sterling was "advanced to and sunk with the town," by Alexander Stirling of Deanside, " to remain with them for ever, and never to be repaid," in consideration of an annuity of £45 per annum to himself and his daughter Janet after him, "each year of her lifetime, and no longer." The usual rate of annuity for a person of about sixty years of age was ten per cent, on the capital sum. On one occasion, indeed, the Town Council refused an attempt by a spinster of fifty-nine to extract 12½ per cent., and the lady saw it to her interest to modify her demand. [Ibid. 20th Aug., 1771; 15th Dec., 1778; 26th May, 1779; 17th May, 1780.]

Another interesting function which the Town Council was called upon to exercise to a large extent at that time was the granting of "seals of cause" to various semi-public bodies. The seal of cause conferred on its holders power to exercise certain stated functions. In each case the warrant was inscribed in detail in the minutes of the Town Council, and the Town Council could exercise certain powers of control. One of the purposes of these incorporations was the support of their decayed members, but other objects of various kinds were also secured. Among the bodies which were granted seals of cause at that time were the Graham Society and the Wilson Society, the Ayrshire Society and the Dunbartonshire Society, the Painters, the Sedan Chairmen, and the Tobacco Spinners. Even the managers of the Gaelic Chapel, erected at the north corner of Queen Street and Ingram Street in 1767 for the benefit of Highlanders coming to Glasgow, who wished to hear a service in their native tongue, found it desirable to have the sanction of a seal of cause to enable them to deal with funds and make rules for the regular carrying on of their society. [Burgh Records, 2nd Jan., 28th June, 1770; 2nd Aug., 1771; 31st Aug., 1773; 19th Dec., 1775; 12th March, 1778; 8th Sept., 1st Oct., 1779. "Corporations are constituted by royal charter (or letters patent) or by special Act of Parliament. ... Chartered corporations, further, used to have the power of creating minor corporations within their own body by "seal of cause," as in the case of guilds and crafts in burghs. But these are not independent methods of creation: the one is held to imply, and the other ex hypothesi implies, an original charter from the Crown. ... Since 1846 trade monopolies ("exclusive privileges") of guilds and similar incorporations in burghs in Scotland are altogether abolished (9 and 10 Vict. c. 17, s. i)."—Green's Encycl. Scots Law vi., 311; xi, 103.]

At the same time the Town Council took several steps towards the better ordering of its own affairs. In 1766 the Town-Clerk, Thomas Miller of Barskimming, was raised to the Bench in the Court of Session as Lord Justice-Clerk. Eighteen years previously, as a young advocate practising in Edinburgh, he had been appointed joint town-clerk with Alexander Finlayson, with the intention that he should attend to the legal interests of Glasgow in the Scottish capital. [Ibid. 8th April, 1748.] Finlayson had then served the city, as agent and clerk, for sixty years, and wished to retire, but there was a competent Town-Clerk Depute, John McGilchrist, who could be trusted to carry on the city's business at home, so no change was made at the time. Finlay-son, however, was now dead, and on Miller's elevation to

the Bench, and resignation of his town-clerkship, the Town Council took the opportunity of enumerating and recording the functions and duties of the office. A full list of these services and duties was made, in two divisions, those from which the emoluments of the Town Clerkship were derived, and those which yielded little or no profit to the holder. Among the former were attendance at the town's court and the dean of guild court, the keeping of the sasines, extracting of decreets, and granting of acts of warding. Among the latter were attendance at the meetings of the Town Council and committees, as well as at the meetings of Hutchesons' Hospital and the Town's Hospital, with the management of the town's business and the keeping of the town's charters and records. These duties having been duly enumerated and recorded, the Town Council proceeded to appoint as joint town-clerks, Archibald McGilchrist, a son, it may be hoped, of the town-clerk depute who had served the city so long and so well, and John Wilson, another Glasgow writer. Their appointment, however, was not for life, as had previously been the rule, but only "during the will and pleasure of the magistrates and council." [Ibid. 16th June, 14th July, 1766. ]

Further to set its house in order, in the following year the Town Council accepted an invitation of the Lord Rector of the University to make up an account of all charters, documents, and facts regarding the jurisdiction of that body, and settle, once for all, a question which had on several occasions threatened to make serious trouble between the College and the civic authorities. [Ibid. I5th June, 1767. See supra, p. i 15.]

Almost immediately afterwards the Town Council found itself called upon to support the jurisdiction of a still greater authority. The claim of Archibald Stewart to be the son of Lady Jane Douglas, and therefore heir of the vast estates of the Duke of Douglas—the action popularly known as the Douglas Cause—had just been decided against the claimant in the Court of Session. The decision was most unpopular in Edinburgh, and throughout the country excitement reached an extraordinary pitch. In the midst of the furore a letter reached the Lord President threatening to "tear him limb from limb, and give his bowels to the cats," unless he revoked the decision. This unpleasant fate, the letter added, was too good for his lordship. This was regarded as a high insult and indignity done to the Court of Session and the whole justice of the country, and it was addressed from Glasgow. The agent for the Crown accordingly called upon the magistrates and council of the city to pursue every possible method to discover the author or authors of the epistle, in order that they might be severely punished. For such a purpose the resources of the Town Council were strictly limited. There was no police detective department in those days. But the magistrates did their best. They advertised in each of the Glasgow newspapers, offering an unprecedented reward, the sum of £100 sterling, for the discovery of the culprit. As nothing further is heard of the matter it may be presumed that the writer of the letter remained unknown. [Burgh Records, 22nd July, 1767. When news reached Edinburgh later that the decision of the Court of Session had been reversed by the House of Lords, popular feeling reached an astonishing height. Bonfires were lit, and the Lord President, and other judges who had decided with him, had to be protected from the fury of the mob by a detachment of troops.—Hume Brown, History of Scotland, III., 344.]

It may have been this occurrence which suggested to the magistrates the desirability of securing further powers. In earlier times the bailie appointed by the Archbishop had held courts and carried on the legal administration of the barony and regality of Glasgow. The possession of the office, which was then of importance and emolumental advantage, had been the subject of fierce rivalry between the families of Hamilton and Lennox in the days of Queen Mary. Latterly, with other pertinents of the archbishopric, it had fallen to the Crown. When McUre wrote his History of Glasgow in 1736 the Duke of Montrose was Bailie of the Regality, and his deputies administered justice in the Court Hall of the city three times a week. By the Act abolishing heritable jurisdictions, which followed the Jacobite rising of 1745, the Regality Court was brought to an end, most of its powers being transferred to the Sheriff Court. [Glasgow Archceological Society Transactions, Old Series, ii. 273; Green's Encycl. vol. xl. 395.] Now the Town Council proposed to have this baronial office vested in the lord provost, with power to him to name substitutes. Accordingly, on the occasion of a visit to London in 1772, to secure the passing of certain bills through parliament, the lord provost, Colin Dunlop, was desired to make application in the proper quarter for a deputation of the office to himself and his successors, "to the end a legal check may be put to the commission of crimes in and about the city of Glasgow, and the offenders punished in terms of law." [Burgh Records, 25th Feb., 1772.] Nothing further, however, is recorded regarding this effort, and the desired powers were left to be secured by later police Acts.

An office of much less dignity, but evidently also of some emolument, was that of the jailor of the tolbooth. Not only did the post afford a living to its holder, but it could afford to be burdened with pensions to other persons as well. When John Rowand resigned the office in 1774 on account of his age —he was 72—he besought the Town Council, because of his years and the fact that he had a wife and family to support, to allow him something out of the profits of the appointment. Thereupon the Council agreed that the next jailor should pay him an annuity of £20 sterling out of the emoluments. They also did something more curious. There were two candidates for the jailorship. In an endeavour evidently not to disappoint anyone, the Council agreed that whichever of the two received the appointment should not only pay the £20 annuity to Rowand, but also an annuity of the same amount to the unsuccessful candidate. The profits from keeping the town's prisoners were evidently fairly substantial when John Lawson accepted the post burdened with these two considerable payments. [Burgh Records, 2nd Aug., 1774.]


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