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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XXXVIII - Hard Times, Town Planning, and Institution Building


"IT was discovered early in this period," says Jupiter Carlyle, "that the revolt and final disjunction of our American colonies was no loss to Great Britain, either in respect of commerce or war." [Autobiography, p. 532.] Meanwhile, just before the war ended, there was much serious distress in Glasgow. In rural districts the population lives largely by the produce of its own exertions in field and farmyard, and is not immediately reduced to destitution by political events. In cities, on the contrary, the inhabitants depend on the wages of trade and industry, and any interruption of these organizations brings inevitable want. The winter of 1782 was a hard one in Glasgow. America, the chief market for the city's manufactures, was closed, and the industries which depended upon that market had been slowed down. Though there were still hay stacks not far from the Trongate the city was no longer the half rustic place of John McUre's time, in which every family had a cow that grazed at the Cowcaddens or on the New Green. When wages stopped at the Nailree, the Delft factory, the Glasswork, and the cotton mills, the pinch was felt at once. The citizens, however, rose to the occasion, as they have done on every similar occasion since. A public fund was started, the Town Council, the Merchants House, and the Trades House - each subscribed £200 sterling, and quantities of oatmeal, wheat, and pease were brought in and distributed at low prices to the industrious poor. [Burgh Records, 31st Dec., 1782; 9th Jan., 1783.] Among other supplies, the Lord Provost, Patrick Colquhoun, ordered from Ireland a consignment of harts and shirts. These, valued at £230 18s. 9d., Irish money, were packed in sixty casks, but unfortunately the vessel with its cargo was entirely lost. [Burgh Records, 4th Oct., 1784.] Further, to cheapen grain, the Town Council asked that the Convention of Burghs should request the Government to stop for a time the use of barley for distilling purposes. [Ibid. 9th Jan., 1783.] So serious became the distress that in March the city had to grant three bonds of £2000 each for money to purchase grain.

A chief figure in these transactions, and in general dealing with the poor of the city was one of the city ministers, Dr. William Porteous. A rather invidious task which was set him in 1782 was that of preventing poor strangers from settling in the city for such time as might entitle them to the city's charity. The appointment was for three years, [Ibid. 14th Aug.] and so well did he fulfil his instructions that he came to be known as "Buff the Beggars." But the real value of his services—"his uncommon exertions, skill, and ability in suggesting, framing, and completing a system whereby the poor entitled to the charity of the community are more comfortably provided, and strange and vagrant paupers prevented from establishing settlements in this city"—was recognized by the Town Council, which presented him with a piece of plate of the value of forty guineas. [Ibid. 15th Jan.] He was afterwards the originator of Sunday Schools in the city, helped to found the Society of Sons of Ministers, and was one of the committee which carried out the feuing of the High Church glebe in the neighbourhood of the present Glebe Street. [Ibid. 27th Sept., 1787; 29th Nov., 1790; 1st April, 1791; 9th Sept., 1793. Interesting details of the person and career of Dr. Porteous are furnished by Dr. Strang in Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 367.]

A more permanent institution for the relief of the poor which owed its origin to the distress of that time was the Royal Infirmary. The idea was propounded in a letter from one of the physicians in the city, Dr. Stevenson, to the Town Council, stating that a subscription was on foot for the erection of "an infirmary for the reception of indigent persons under bodily distress in the West of Scotland," and expressing the hope that the magistrates would take it under their protection. The Town Council gave the scheme not only its patronage, but a subscription of £500. No time was lost. Already in 1784 the town had been making enquiry regarding the ownership of the ruins of the ancient Bishop's Castle near the Cathedral, with a view to having the site vested in the magistrates and council. This was now secured; a royal charter was obtained, and on the spot associated with the warlike deeds and church pageantry of an earlier time arose the greatest of Glasgow's institutions for the alleviation of suffering and pain. Among his many activities, David Dale found time to act as manager of the infirmary for the first few years, and only retired in 1796 on account of his health. [Ibid. 15th Jan., 1784; 4th Dec., 1786; 8th Mar., 1787; 19th Jan., 19th Sept., 10th Dec., 1792; 31st Dec., 1795.]

But the distress of that time and the increase of an industrial population had also another and less happy result. In such circumstances a criminal element invariably comes into evidence. Owing to the increase of petty thefts and other crimes, the prison at the Tolbooth now became too small. The Town Council therefore in 1785 fitted up a number of cells at the rear of the Town's Hospital or poorshouse by the Clyde side, where offenders were to be punished with hard labour. Three years later part of the city's granary was fitted with cells and a workroom as a bridewell or reformatory for the correction of idle and disorderly persons. These, however, were more or less temporary expedients. So serious, evidently, was the state of affairs that the Trades House urged the Town Council to build a bridewell upon an extensive scale. In consequence a number of devices were considered. It was not, however, till 1795 that the town acquired a site on the south side of Drygate, and began the building of the place of correction and punishment represented by the grim fortress-like Glasgow Prison of to-day.[Burgh Records, 10th Jan., 1785; 29th Oct., 10th Dec., 1788; Vol. viii. p. 698.]

Confinement in these later prisons, it may be gathered, was a more serious matter than in the old Tolbooth. The jailer in the Tolbooth did quite a good business in the sale of liquid refreshment to his prisoners. In 1786 when he was prohibited from selling "ale, porter, spirits, or liquors of any kind " to these prisoners his annual profit from this source was reckoned at £40, and he was compensated to that amount accordingly. A later jailer in 1791 estimated his loss from this source at £121. He was then allowed to continue selling porter and beer, though the sale of spirits was stopped. [Ibid. 11th Jan., 1786; 15th June, 19th Sept., 1791.]

Evidently the task of preserving order and protecting property was giving the magistrates considerable anxiety. In 1783 they proposed to ask parliament for authority to appoint from twenty-five to forty watchmen to patrol the streets in the night time, but as the project implied a charge of sixpence in the pound on the rents of the citizens it was not carried out. [Ibid. 12th and 28th Feb., 1783.] Five years later the magistrates decided that, with their many other duties, they were no longer able to carry on the police work of the city on the patriarchal plan, personally directing the arrest of evil-doers and disturbers of the peace. They therefore appointed an intendant or inspector of police, with a clerk and eight men under him, for the special business of preventing crime and arresting criminals. An ex-bailie, Richard Marshall, was appointed inspector, and for a police office he was assigned "the low back room in the ground storey of the town clerk's chamber." He was provided with a gold chain, and was directed to carry a white rod when on duty, while his men were to wear a red uniform with badges numbered and inscribed " Police." The men had to take an oath, and find caution to the amount of o each for their good behaviour, and their remuneration was to be not more than is. 6d. per day. Thus modestly was begun the police force of Glasgow which to-day forms an army of over two thousand officers and men. [Ibid. 26th Nov., 10th Dec., 1788.]

The tiny police force of 1788, however, was obviously too small to protect the persons and property of the citizens both by day and night. The Town Council therefore revived its idea of a civic guard of the townsmen themselves, avoiding the obstacle of expense by making the duty compulsory and without pay. All citizens under sixty years of age and above sixteen, whose yearly rents were £3 sterling or more, were summoned in rotation, to the number of thirty each night, to meet in the "laigh council chamber" and patrol the city in parties of eight from ten o'clock at night till the following morning. The guard was under the command of the sitting magistrate, with a captain and other officers, and it seems to have served its purpose efficiently enough. The duty could be avoided by the payment of 2s. 6d. sterling for the payment of a substitute, and it may be presumed that a large part of the guard very soon came to consist of these substitutes, permanently employ ed. [Ibid. 17th Dec., 1790.]

While these arrangements were being made the great convulsion of the French Revolution of 1789 broke out. In Glasgow this was taken at first as the dawn of a new and better era. Professor Anderson, the patron of James Watt, sent over an artillery device which was accepted by the Republic, and a subscription of £1200 was raised among the citizens to aid the Government of Paris in its war against the emigrant princes. [Forbes, Memoirs of a Banking House.] It was in the flush of the same generous sentiment that Robert Burns got into trouble with his superiors in the Excise, when he presented the French revolutionaries with the guns he had captured from a smuggling brig on the Solway. But presently it began to be seen that a savage beast had broken loose, and would, if unchecked, tear civilization itself to pieces. In Ireland, India, and Britain itself the agents of France were found sowing the seeds of anarchy and revolution. The execution of Louis XVI. and his queen, and the ghastly September massacres in Paris, struck this country with horror, and when France, mistaking Pitt's pacifist policy for weakness, declared war in February, 1793, Britain was thoroughly roused. The worst of the panic was seen in Scotland. Among others accused of sedition, the young advocate, Thomas Muir, son of a Glasgow merchant, owner of the small estate of Huntershill in Cadder parish, was tried and sentenced to fourteen years transportation to Botany Bay. He had become prominent as an orator of the association known as "The Friends of the Constitution and of the People." [Glasgow Mercury, 9th and 30th Oct., 1791.] Glasgow Town Council passed a special resolution against factious meetings and seditious writings, which it ordered to be published in the London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow newspapers; and it presented an address to the King, declaring its abhorrence of attempts to overturn the Government, and condemning the attempt of France to disseminate her destructive principles and to aggrandise herself on the ruin of every established and well-regulated government in Europe. [Burgh Records, 10th Dec., 1792; 27th Feb., 1793.]

The revolutionaries and reformers, however, proved to be only a handful ; the panic soon subsided, and the country rose nobly to meet the emergency. Within a few months no fewer than eight new regiments were raised in the Highlands, as well as fourteen battalions of "Fencibles," a militia enlisted for special service and local defence. Several of our most famous Scottish regiments came into existence at that time, among others the Cameron Highlanders and the Gay Gordons, recruited by the famous Duchess with a guinea and a kiss for each recruit.

While these events were taking place a succession of military forces were quartered in Glasgow. By way of lodging, officers and men were billeted on the citizens, and this proceeding was felt to be a very real grievance. Occupants of houses rented at more than £20 were liable to have two soldiers quartered upon them for no less a period than eight weeks. Certain classes, such as the procurators, claimed exemption, but the difficulty was only overcome when on the suggestion of Aberdeen the Town Council joined with that city in asking that the Government should build barracks in both places. In the end the city gave the ground and the Government built the barracks. [Ibid. 30th Aug., 10th Oct., 1788; ,8th Oct., 1790; 22nd March, 18th June, 1792; 4th March, 1794.] Curiously enough, the site on the north side of Gallowgate was that of the ancient Butts, or archery ground, scene of the fierce battle between the Earls of Arran and Glencairn for possession of the bailieship of Glasgow in 1544.

Previous to the building of these barracks the military headquarters of the city were at the Guardhouse in Candleriggs. [Previous to 1789 the Guardhouse stood, a somewhat imposing building, at the foot of the street on the west side. In that year, as a valuable site, it was sold for £1400 to James MacLehose, who erected a new Guardhouse on the Green market farther up the street.—Burgh Records, 15th June, 1789.] In 1794, the year in which the barracks were built, that Guardhouse was the scene of a serious riot, in which the soldiers themselves made the trouble. The first battalion of the newly raised Breadalbane Fencibles was then quartered in the city. A deserter of the battalion, who had escaped from the Guardhouse, was recaptured, and sentenced to a severe punishment. This his comrades determined to prevent, and, defying authority, they actually stood out for several days, and, as the mob took their part, the riot assumed dangerous proportions. Part of the battalion, however, remained loyal to its officers, and the Royal Glasgow Volunteers, a force then being raised in the city by Colonel Montgomery, also backed the civil authorities. But it was not till Colonel Hugonin, at the head of the Fourth Dragoons, rode into the city on the evening of 16th December that the riot was effectively quelled, and the mutineers surrendered. Lord Breadalbane sent them to Edinburgh for trial, and himself accompanied them part of the way. But on his return, along with Major Leslie, the mob rose again, assailed him with stones, and forced him to take refuge in a house, till the Lord Provost and magistrates, with a force of officers, hastening to the spot, rescued him and dispelled the rioters. [Scots Magazine, Dec. 1794, PP. 799, 800. MacGregor's History of Glasgow, p. 378. Burgh Records, 20th Dec., 1794.]

It was probably in anticipation of some such troubles that, only a month previously, a body of respectable citizens had offered their services to assist the magistrates of the city "in supporting peace and good order, and suppressing seditious insurrections and tumults." Their services were accepted as special constables, and it is not unlikely that they took part in suppressing the riot. [Burgh Records, 13th Nov., 1794.]

Still another building which owed its erection to the demands and developments of that time was the new Grammar School. For over two hundred years this school had carried on its work in the Greyfriars Wynd, the site of the old Greyfriars monastery on the west side of High Street. From the first its interests and the quality of its teaching had been carefully fostered by the Town Council, which exercised its powers of appointing and discharging its teachers, or "doctors" as they were long called, with great discretion. Thus in 1782, when the number of scholars had notably increased, the city fathers tackled the situation with energy. They abolished the office of rector as unnecessary, gave all the four masters equal status, appointed the master of the oldest class at the time to preside in the common hall, and to have a casting vote, and arranged that a committee of the Council, "accompanied with some gentlemen of learning," should visit the school every month, to report upon its progress, and ensure uniformity of teaching. The regenting system in former use at the University was adopted, one master enrolling all the new pupils each year, and carrying them through their entire four years' course. If any class exceeded fifty in number the teacher of that class was obliged to give an hour's longer tuition each day to one-third of the number—the worst scholars.

A little later the Council gave a piece of the Ramshorn ground for a new school, to be erected by public subscription, in which there should be rooms for the teaching of French, arithmetic, and book-keeping—subjects not included in the older Grammar School curriculum, but rendered necessary by the new commercial conditions of the city's life. The building of the new school was finished in 1792, and teachers and scholars moved to class-rooms on the pleasant hillside above the Rams-horn Church. [Ibid. 13th May, 26th June, 1782; 26th Mar., 1783; 4th Dec., 1786; 25th April, 1787; 22nd March, 9th Aug., 1792. The original site of the new school was on the line of the present George Street. The buildings there, however, became too small, and the school removed to the ground behind, with an entrance from John Street, while the George Street building was taken over by Anderson's College. The site of both schools is now occupied by the Royal Technical College.—See infra, chap. xlii. Also Burgh Records, 16th and 21st Oct., 1807.]

Meanwhile, the city fathers developed to a high degree the art of "town planning" of which so much is said as if it were a discovery peculiar to the twentieth century. The making of new streets went steadily on. Sometimes this was a difficult enterprise, when portions of private properties had to be acquired, by purchase or excambion. But it must be said that very few owners gave trouble; in nearly every case the value was settled by friendly bargain or arbitration. Thus, on its own ground of the Ramshorn, in 1782, the Town Council planned 44 the lay-out of George Square and the streets on the east of it as far as Montrose Street, and calculated that the ground devoted to the open square, some 11,360 yards, would be more than paid for by the increased price to be got for the building space around it. This price varied from is. to 28. 6d. per square yard, and was calculated to realize a very handsome profit for the city. Restrictions were placed upon the ground thus feued or sold, so that it should remain a residential area. A natural feature which gave some trouble was a narrow ridge of whin-stone which ran from east to west along the south side of the Ramshorn ground. This obstructed the natural drainage of the region till it was cut through at a number of places. [Burgh Records, 14th Aug., 1782; 5th April, 15th May, 1786. See plan at end of Burgh Records, vol. viii.]

In accordance with the Town Council's plan, George Street was laid out along the north side of the square, and eastward between the new Grammar School and the Ramshorn burying-ground, till it met another new road coming westward from Carntyne, and now known as Duke Street, while another street at right angle to this, running from Ingram Street northward past the Grammar School to Rottenrow was laid out and named John Street, from, it is said, the christian names of the Lord Provost, the three bailies, and perhaps the master of work, the water bailie, and the two town clerks, of the year 1785, who all rejoiced in bearing the name of the favourite apostle.

Till 1794 the lower part of Montrose Street was still known as Inkle Street, from the inkle factory at its south-western corner; Cochrane Street, then re-named from the famous provost of 1745, was still partly Cotton Street and partly St. David's Street, and Hanover Street south of George Square was still Pitt Street. [Ibid. 4th Sept. 1802. The dates of opening of a large number of streets at this time are furnished by Strang in Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 342 note.]

In another quarter, on the east side of Saltmarket, the Town Council, immediately after completing the last purchase of ground necessary for the purpose, proceeded to lay out a square round St. Andrew's Church. The frontage of the buildings was designed by William Hamilton, an architect of repute, and the first stance was taken by David Dale. It was that in the south-east corner, to which he presently transferred the office of the Royal Bank. The price he paid was 7s. 6d. per square yard. [Burgh Records, 28th Dec., 1786; 30th Jan., 1787. Hamilton was paid £21 for his plans (Ibid. 6th Feb., 1787).]

These town planning schemes of the civic authorities of those years were well seconded by the activities of a private company or building society organized in 1786 by Dugald Bannatyne, a stocking-manufacturer, who afterwards became postmaster and secretary of the Chamber of Commerce. This company built the greater part of Brunswick Street, Hutcheson Street, John Street, and George Square. [Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship, pp, 133, 175. Burgh Records, 29th Jan., 1801.] It expended £12,000 on the enterprise, [Strang, Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 153] and was the first of the many firms of speculative builders who, from that day till this, have extended the area of the city and provided dwellings for the citizens by their enterprising schemes.


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