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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XLVI - A Police Act and a Third Canal


THE stresses of the war with France, and the scarcity of food, brought about certain changes which may not have appeared very striking at the time, but which were actually the signs of far-reaching new developments. One of these changes was the giving up by the Town Council of what was known as the "assize of bread." From time immemorial the city fathers had ordained not only the weight of the loaf, but the price at which it must be sold. This custom deprived the public of all the advantage which should accrue from the competition of different bakers. It was an interference with the law of nature which secures efficiency and rewards enterprise. Under the pressure of necessity the Town Council made up its mind to depart from its ancient custom. It ordained that the weight of the loaf must remain uniform, but it left the bakers to sell at their own prices, and trusted to the competition among them to protect the public from an overcharge. [Burgh Records, 29th Jan., 1801.]

To the same period belongs what may be regarded as Glasgow's first comprehensive "omnibus" Act of Parliament. This included such various matters as the extension of the royalty of the burgh over certain adjoining lands, the division of the city into wards, the paving, lighting, and cleansing of the streets, the regulation of police and markets, and the raising of money for these purposes. The Lord Provost himself attended in London to secure the passing of the bill, and the account he afterwards furnished to the Town Council of his activities to that end throws an interesting light on the procedure of that time. He had to persuade the Speaker, in a preliminary interview, that certain points were relevant, had to yield certain points to Lord Walsingham before his lordship, as chairman of committee, would introduce the bill to the House of Lords, and had to secure the presence of a sufficient number of peers to have the measure passed. Finally, the expense incurred in securing the Act was £259 7s. 8d. Evidently both tact and energy were required on the part of the Lord Provost, and so well pleased was the Town Council with his efforts that it presented him with a special piece of plate. [Burgh Records, 10th Jan., 3rd July, 1800; 1st July, 1801.]

Curiously enough, the omnibus bill did not include powers to deal with another important matter which was then calling for attention. For years the labour entailed in carrying on the affairs of the city had made it difficult to secure men of ability and standing as magistrates and councillors. Fines for refusing to accept office were again and again increased, till in 1801 they amounted to as much as £80 for a lord provost, bailie, dean of guild or deacon-convener, and £40 for an ordinary councillor. [Ibid. 5th Feb., 9th March, 2nd Oct., 1801.] As a way out of the difficulty it was resolved to increase the number of councillors and magistrates. This involved an alteration in the "sett" or constitution of the burgh. It might have been supposed that this alteration could be made by Act of Parliament. The Speaker of the House of Commons, however, gave it as his opinion that the proper procedure was by a charter from the King. [Ibid. 10th April, 1801.] In the end it was ascertained that since the Union similar alterations in the setts of several burghs in Scotland had been made by authority of the Convention of Royal Burghs. A petition was therefore prepared, and the desired alterations were made by that authority. Under the new sett the town was provided with three merchant and two trades bailies instead of two and one respectively. [Ibid. 31st July, 1801. The powers of the Convention to alter setts of burghs was challenged in 1824 by the law officers of the Crown, but the Glasgow alterations of 1748 and 1801 were not interfered with.—Ibid. 29th Oct., 7th Dec., 1824.]

Considering its traditions, and the actual powers which it possessed, there is room to marvel and perhaps to regret, that the Convention of Burghs did not assume a larger share in the local government of Scotland. After the Union of the Parliaments it had an opportunity to develop functions which might have been of very great service to the country, but, perhaps for lack of a leader of vision and energy, its powers and possibilities were allowed to slip and disappear, till, in the end of the nineteenth century, its existence was all but forgotten.

Midway between the two dates, however, it still retained something of its earlier prestige. Proof of this is seen in a contention made by the Provost of Perth. At the meeting of the Convention in 1801 that dignitary produced and read to the members a letter written by James VI. in 1594, commanding the Earl Marischal to give the commissioner of Perth the second place, next the commissioners of Edinburgh and before the commissioners of Dundee, in the Scottish parliament. Taking this as a general patent of precedence, the Provost of Perth demanded that the Lord Provost of Glasgow should give up to him the seat on the right hand of the president of the Convention of Royal Burghs which he and his predecessors had occupied without challenge for a great length of time. The Convention itself decided the question by declaring that no member except the preses had a right to any particular seat. Against this the Provost of Perth protested, but the Lord Provost of Glasgow thought it more consistent with the dignity of his city to acquiesce in the decision. [Ibid. 7th Feb., 1803; 16th July, 1804.]

This was not the only question of dignity in which the first magistrate of Glasgow was called to exercise a dignified acquiescence. For a considerable number of years it had been the practice, when the Assize Courts were held in Glasgow, for the Lord Provost to sit on the bench with the judges. At the visit of the court in 1800, however, the Lords of Justiciary pointed out that the distinction was apt to appear invidious, as it was extended to the chief magistrate of no other burgh; and they recommended that some other seat of eminence should be provided for the Lord Provost. After consulting the magistrates, the Lord Provost replied with sense and dignity that he considered he would be more respectably seated at the head of his own bench of magistrates than in any other place whatever, and from that date he took his seat accordingly. [Burgh Records, 17th March, 1801.]

The dignity of others besides the Lord Provost was giving the Town Council no little concern and trouble at that time. As a result of the war the cost of living had risen very considerably. To meet the rise, the town's officials one after another applied for and received increases of salary, while the fees charged by the town clerks were revised and augmented. [Ibid. 5th Feb., 1801.] Presently the claims of the city ministers were brought before the Council for consideration. There were now seven of these, besides the ministers of the Inner High and the Barony Churches. As recently as 1788 their stipends had been increased to £165, and in 1796 to £200, but it was stated that these stipends were now inadequate to support the expense of living and the dignity of the ministry. The magistrates and Council accordingly decided to augment the stipends by £50 apiece. [Ibid. 31st July, 4th Sept., 1801.]

Over this proposal arose one of the set battles which have from time to time enlivened the proceedings in the civic parliament. One of the councillors, Robert Finlay, made a formal protest, which he required should be entered in the records, and "took instruments in the hands of the town clerk with one guinea of gold." His protest was based upon the fact that for years the income of the city had been less than the expenditure. In the previous year, 1800, the revenue had been no more than £9817 12s. 3d., while the expenditure had amounted to £11,199 4s. 9d. The Lord Provost and his supporters, however, were optimists ; they pointed out that the city's revenue was growing—in five years it had risen by nearly £1500. The Town Council, further, had lands to feu, valued at £71,000. The protest and answer occupy many pages of the records, but the augmentation of stipend was declared to be both necessary and expedient, and forthwith took effect. [Ibid. 2nd Oct., 6th Nov., 1801. Seven years later the stipends were raised to £300.—Ibid. 24th May, 1808.]

The optimism of the Lord Provost seemed to be justified by the promise of better times when, in the following year, peace was declared with France. Forthwith, upon that event, the Town Council sent a letter of congratulation to King George, and appointed a committee to raise a public subscription for the erection of a statue to William Pitt. [Ibid. 15th May, 7th June, 1802.] That statue, of white marble, by Flaxman, now in the city's Art Galleries at Kelvin-grove, has been esteemed the finest achievement of the sculptor's art in possession of Glasgow.

Alas, the peace with France was no more than a pretence, a device to allow that country to recruit its forces for a still greater effort to over-rule Europe. The war was renewed in 1803, and at once the country and Glasgow again were engrossed in military undertakings. In March the Town Council had still another occasion to congratulate the King on escape from a conspiracy against his life, the design of Colonel Despard to slay the king, seize the Government buildings, and establish "constitutional independence and the equalization of all civic rights." [Ibid. 4th March, 1803. Despard was executed for high treason on 21st February.] In June, a meeting of the citizens sent an offer to the Government to raise a regiment of volunteers, and two months later the Council presented that regiment with a pair of colours, and subscribed 500 guineas for its outfit. Colonel Campbell, Inspecting Field Officer for the district, proposed to raise another regiment at his own expense, if the city would lend him its name. The offer was supported by Campbell of Blythswood, but for some reason was not accepted. [Burgh Records, 9th June, 16th Aug., 21st Sept., 1803.] Another battalion of volunteers, however, was raised by the Trades House, while yet a third battalion had been enrolled by the Glasgow Grocers before the following May. [Ibid. 3rd Oct., 1803; 21st May, 14th Sept., 1804. Further corps raised in Glasgow to meet the national emergency were the Highlanders, the Sharpshooters, the Anderston Volunteers, the Canal Volunteers, the Armed Association, and the Volunteer Light Horse.—Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 375 note. The total ran to 5000 infantry and 100 cavalry.]

An outstanding event was the great review of troops held on Glasgow Green in the autumn of 1804. The forces comprised some seven thousand men with eight guns, and, besides a regiment of dragoons from Hamilton, a regiment of infantry of the line, and a regiment of regular militia, included Glasgow Volunteer Light Cavalry, Glasgow Volunteer Sharpshooters, five regiments of Glasgow Volunteers, Canal Volunteers, two battalions of Paisley Volunteers, Greenock and Port Glasgow Volunteers, and Volunteer companies from Dunbarton, Kilsyth, Cumbernauld, Airdrie, and Hamilton. The troops were reviewed by the Earl of Moira, afterwards Marquis of Hastings, Commander-in-Chief in Scotland, and with the smoke and fire, the thunder of the artillery and the continuous roll of musketry, thrilled the immense gathering of people who had crowded into the city for the occasion, almost as much as an actual battle would have done. [Glasgow Past and Present, vol. i. p. 236.]

The patriotic enthusiasm apparently fired all classes. On one occasion this gave rise to serious trouble. Two mason's apprentices broke their indentures, and went on board His Majesty's ship Tourterelle as volunteers. Their master applied to the water bailie for a warrant to apprehend the runaways, but the bailie's messenger was deforced by Captain Simpson, the commander of the warship. The water bailie thereupon issued a warrant for the apprehension of the captain himself, and he was duly arrested at Greenock. Captain Simpson, however, asked permission to call upon the magistrates of Greenock, then sitting in their council chamber. These magistrates forthwith denied the power of the water bailie to grant warrants within their jurisdiction. They accordingly liberated the captain and committed the messenger. Simpson then brought an action before the High Court of Admiralty, but the orders of that court were "declined to be implemented" on the ground that it had no authority in the matter of jurisdictions. Against its decree an action was brought by the water bailie before the Court of Session, where Lord Woodhouselee called for the appearance of both Simpson and the High Admiral. Petitions and complaints were prepared, and altogether something of a cause celebre appeared to be on the way, when it was deemed more prudent, in the position of public affairs, to make the action one for declaration of the water bailie's jurisdiction over the River Clyde and its harbours. [Ibid. 14th Sept., 1804. The jurisdiction of the Water Bailie had been previously questioned in 1792 in a decision regarding a case of theft from one of the boats carrying merchandise between Glasgow and Greenock. Against the powers of the Water Bailie the jurisdiction of the ancient Vice-Admiral of Scotland was cited, but the Court of Session decided in favour of the Water Bailie.—Senex, Old Glasgow, p. 326.] Altogether it was a very pretty embroilment which arose out of the warlike ardour of a couple of runaway apprentices.

Amid these military preoccupations, nevertheless, the general life and enterprise of Glasgow went forward with surprising steadiness. Among other matters the music lovers of the city carried on their accomplishment. As early as 1775 there .was an organ in use in the English Episcopal Chapel beside Glasgow Green, which from that fact got the name of "the Whistlin' Kirk." [Glasghu Facies, p. 562.] Twenty-one years later a Sacred Music Society was started, and brought from York an organ of nineteen stops, "more powerful and smooth than any in Scotland." [Denholm, Hist. Glasgow, p. 350.] The society set up its organ and held its practisings and concerts first in the Trades Hall in Glassford Street. Presently, however, it was granted by the Town Council the use of a middle space in the Cathedral, known at that time as "the Choir." [Burgh Records, 7th Aug., 22nd Aug., 1800; 8th Jan., 1802.] This was the first organ set up in a Presbyterian church in the West of Scotland, but it was not used for public worship there. Upon the decline of the Sacred Music Society it was bought by a company of the sitters in St. Andrew's Church. But the hopes of these enthusiasts were destined to disappointment. In August 1807, the news went round the town that an organ had been played at a Sunday service in that church. It was not the organ purchased from the Sacred Music Society, but a smaller "chamber" instrument hired apparently by way of trial. Instantly an angry storm of protest arose, which was joined by presbytery, provost, and public, and before the outcry the Rev. William Ritchie, D.D., minister of the congregation, deemed it prudent to bow. The organ went back to its lender, James Steven, music-seller in Wilson Street, but the controversy went on for months. In the end the organ in the Cathedral, which had belonged to the Sacred Music Society, was acquired by St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, and was transferred thither through the snows of 1812, the Moscow winter. [Old Glasgow Essays, p. 45. Burgh Records, 8th Sept., 1806; 1st Sept., 24th Sept., 1807; 24th May, 1808.] Several generations were to come and go before Town Council and Presbytery gave their consent

to the introduction of the "kist o' whistles" in the city churches.

In i800 the Town Council spent a modest sum in repairing the foundations of the Old Bridge at the foot of the Stockwell-gate. In the following year it built its first police office above the guardhouse in Candleriggs; and in 1802 it encouraged James and David Laurie to make improvements on the south bank of the river, to enable them to lay out their new southside suburb of Lauriston, with its stately riverside front of Carlton Place. [Burgh Records, 17th Oct., 1800; 9th March, 1801; 22nd June, 12th July, 1802.]

The cleansing of the streets was still carried out by the police, the night watchmen devoting two hours twice a week to the job. [Mackinnon, Social and Industrial History of Scotland, p. 246.] Modem ideas of hygiene, however, were on the way. For nearly a hundred years, since Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote her famous letter from Adrianople, endeavours had been made to meet the deadly ravages of smallpox by inoculation from the human patient. Nevertheless at the end of the eighteenth century as many as one tenth of the population died of the disease, and large numbers of persons, including the national poet, Robert Burns, were "sair marked wi' the pox." [Hedderwick, Backward Glances, p. 23.] Between 1796 and 1798, however, Dr. Jenner introduced " vaccination," or inoculation with the cow-pox, as a preventive of the disease. Within five years, on the suggestion of Mr. Scott-Moncrieff, Glasgow Town Council appointed a committee to consider the new process, and five years later still it unanimously admitted Jenner to be an honorary burgess as a mark of the high sense it entertained " of the important benefits conferred on mankind by his invaluable discovery." [Burgh Records, 22nd April, 1803; 1st Sept., 1808.]

At the same time the first hint was given of another problem affecting the health of the citizens which has troubled the well-wishers of Glasgow from that day till now. With the rise of industrialism and the coming of the steam engine, the clear atmosphere of what had formerly been a garden city began to be darkened with the cloud of smoke. Already, apparently, some alarm or complaint had arisen on the subject, and there was one ingenious individual who saw his way to turn that public feeling to his private advantage. James Murdoch, junior, owner of a property in the Havannah, a district north of the College in High Street, proposed to set up a factory there. For this he required a supply of water, and he petitioned the Town Council to allow him to lay a one-inch pipe from the Molendinar. By way of inducement he stated that the engine he proposed to introduce would "consume its own smoke." Permission was granted, but the Council took the precaution of stipulating that the chimney of Murdoch's engine should be at least fifty feet high. A month later the ingenious manufacturer asked to be relieved of his undertaking to consume his own smoke, but the Council held him to it, and presumably he had to do without his free water supply. More than a hundred years have passed since then, and the City Fathers are still battling with the problem of enabling and inducing the citizens of Glasgow to "consume their own smoke." [Burgh Records, 11th March, 1st April, 26th May, 1803.]

The Town Council, however, was just then invited to consider another and greater project which illustrates the undaunted spirit of the citizens in face of the great war then raging. In February 1803, the Council subscribed twenty guineas towards the expenses of surveying the route of a canal proposed to be made from Glasgow to Saltcoats. [Ibid. 28th Feb., 1803.] The projector of this enterprise was Hugh, 12th Earl of Eglinton, the "Sodger Hugh" of Burns's poems, and perhaps the author of the beautiful "Canadian Highlanders' Boatsong." On inheriting the title and estates this enlightened nobleman had conceived the idea of doing a service to the city of Glasgow and improving his family possessions at the same time.

So far the deepening of the Clyde by Golborne's plan had not succeeded in making the river a highway for ocean-going ships. The barges, gabberts, and fly-boats which carried the traffic still found Dunglass a very necessary half-way harbour when the tide turned or the weather made the passage difficult. [In 1801 the masters and owners of vessels navigating the river complained to the Town Council regarding encroachments by Dunlop of Garnkirk and Dixon of Govan Ironworks on the harbour facilities at Dunglass, and six months later, in drawing up a table of fares for the fly-boats, the Council specified the charge to be made for passengers landing or embarking there. Ibid. 10th April, 14th Oct., 1861.] On the other side of the river the use of the bank as a towing-path had been objected to by Archibald Speirs of Elderslie, the son of the famous "Tobacco Lord," and by his tenants at Shieldhall and Bellahouston, and was presently made the subject of heavy damages in a court of law. [Ibid. 10th July, 1801; 13th Dec., 1803; 24th Jan., 15th Nov., 1804; 16th Dec., 1805; et seq. The salmon fishing on the Clyde was still of some value. In 1798 David Tod, a proprietor on the south bank at the harbour, was accused of interrupting the draft of the town's salmon fishing opposite his grounds, and two years later these salmon fishings from the bridge downwards were let for three years at £26 per annum.—Ibid. 5th July, 1798; 13th Jan., 1800.] In view of these difficulties and the difficulties of the navigation of the river itself, the Forth and Clyde Canal, with its harbour at Port Dundas, was regarded by many as the future shipping outlet of the city, rather than the shallow Clyde, with its harbour at the Broomielaw.

Ideas on the subject were probably quickened by an event which took place in 1802. In that year, William Symington, the Leadhills engineer, following his experiments on Dalswinton Loch, placed the world's first practical steamer, the "Charlotte Dundas," on the Forth and Clyde Canal. Further, in the same year a bid for the Glasgow trade was made on behalf of Greenock. A meeting was held in that town to consider the project of constructing an iron railroad between Glasgow, Paisley, and Greenock, and the Town Council of Glasgow was approached on the subject. That body replied that it had "no interest or concern" in the matter, and refused to give it any countenance; but the suggestion shews that minds were at work on the subject. [Burgh Records, 6th April, 1802.]

The Earl remembered that the original harbour for Glasgow's trade overseas had been Irvine, on the Ayrshire coast, and he reasoned that another harbour on the Ayrshire coast might be made the entrepot of Glasgow's trade in days to come if the proper measures were taken. Saltcoats, on his own estate, was already a place of some shipping of salt and coal, the latter commodity being brought to it from the coal-pits by means of a canal. He planned, accordingly, a great harbour at Ardrossan, close to that place, with a canal across country affording cheap communication with Glasgow. This was the enterprise for the original survey of which the Town Council subscribed twenty guineas. Three years later, on the invitation of the Earl, it subscribed £1000 towards the making of the canal, [Ibid. 26th Aug., 8th Sept., 26th Sept., 1806.] and the work was then begun at the same time as the building of the Ardrossan harbour. Work on the latter came to a standstill in 1815, when £100,000 had been spent on it, and the Earl's resources were exhausted; but it was resumed when his son, the thirteenth Earl, came of age in 1822, and was completed at a cost of as much again.

For similar reasons the making of the canal stopped when it had been completed no farther than from Glasgow to Johnstone in Renfrewshire. By the time when it might have been continued roads had been greatly improved and railways were on the way. For fifty years and more, however, a busy traffic was carried on the narrow winding waterway. Its terminus to the south of Glasgow was named Port Eglinton, from the name of its projector, and when, about the year 1807, by the joint action of Town Council, Trades House, Hutchesons' Hospital, and other land owners, a new "very splendid and convenient approach" to the city from Ayrshire was constructed to Jamaica Bridge, it received from that connection the name of Eglinton Street. [Ibid. 19th March, 8th July, 1807.]


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