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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter LI - The Last Years of the Old Regime


THE ten years which followed the visit of George IV. to Scotland were the last of the old regime in the country and in Glasgow. With the passing of the Parliamentary Reform Bill in 1832, and of the Burgh Reform Bill in 1833, the system of government by aristocracy came to an end, and the great experiment of government by democracy was begun. It will be the business of the historian of the future to compare the efficiency of the two systems, and to ascertain how far the glowing hopes have been realized of the enthusiasts for the new order who, like the poet Tennyson, foresaw a noble future of "freedom broadening slowly down from precedent to precedent."

Meantime, so far as Glasgow was concerned, those last ten years, in which the affairs of the city were managed by a "close corporation," a Town Council which elected its own successors without any popular voting, were years of wise and steady administration. In those years the Town Council rebuilt two of the city churches, St. Enoch's and the Ramshorn, re-named from that time St. David's, at the request of the minister, the Rev. Dr. Ranken; as a heritor in Gorbals it contributed to the rebuilding of the parish church of Govan, and it undertook an extensive repair of the Cathedral, towards which the Government was induced to make a grant of £3000. [Burgh Records, 15th Feb., 28th Dec., 1827; 13th Jan., 1824; 8th Sept., 1825; 18th Feb., 1827; 5th Mar., 1824.] It also erected a new stone bridge at the foot of Saltmarket, and arranged for the rebuilding of the bridge at the foot of Jamaica Street, this last at a cost of £27,979 5s. 8d. [Burgh Records, 4th Feb., 1825; 5th March, 1833; vol. xi. p. 686.] It took an active part in encouraging the development of railways, which was presently to become one of the most outstanding .features of the time. Though it refused to support the project of a railway from the Monkland coalfields to Kirkintilloch, which lay in reality outside its sphere of interest, [Ibid. 5th Mar., 23rd Mar., 1824. This was the first successful locomotive railway line in Scotland—(Mackinnon, Social and Industrial Hist., p. 132) and the first instalment of the great North British system.] it petitioned Parliament in favour of the Glasgow and Garnkirk line, the earliest part of the great Caledonian Railway system, [Ibid. 4th May, 1827.] and in favour of a railway and tunnel for conveying coal from the north-east of the city to the Broomielaw [Ibid. 14th Jan., 13th Feb., 1830; 2nd Feb., 1831.]; it opposed the scheme of the Glasgow and Paisley Railway to cross the river and invade the city streets, [Ibid. 2nd Feb.,1831.] a scheme which was nevertheless carried out fifty years later; and it took action in Parliament against the Pollok and Govan Railway Bill, which threatened to damage the property of the city and of Hutcheson's Hospital on the south side of the river. [Ibid. 22nd Sept., 1831 ; 18th Jan., 1832.] In this last case the Town Council shrewdly foresaw that it would one day wish to use, for an extension of the harbour, the Windmillcroft, opposite the Broomielaw, which the railway projectors proposed to convert into a coal terminus. At a later day the Kingston Dock, Glasgow's earliest harbour basin, was constructed on the spot. At the same time the city fathers were quick to realize the advantages of a proposed railway between Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Leith, and petitioned both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in favour of the undertaking. [Ibid. 16th Mar., 1832.]

Among internal developments, the fashionable terrace, Monteith Row, facing Glasgow Green and looking over the Clyde to the Cathkin Braes, had been named in compliment to the Lord Provost, the great mill-owner, Henry Monteith, and its area was steadily feued and built upon by substantial citizens. [Ibid. 8th July, 1819; 21st Aug., 1823; 6th Aug., 1824.]

To afford a worthy approach to Monteith Row and the Green from Glasgow Cross, the Town Council encouraged the formidable enterprise of creating London Street. For this purpose a joint-stock company was formed by Kirkman Finlay, Henry Monteith, and other outstanding citizens. In that company the Council took shares to the amount of £1,000, at the same time granting it the imprimatur of a "seal of cause." [Ibid., 20th May, 19th June, 25th July, 21st Aug., 17th Sept., 1823; 20th Jan., 1824. The undertaking was financed by "The Glasgow Lotteries." Glasgow Herald, 6th Dec., 1902.] he street itself almost changed the direction of Glasgow's development, eastward instead of westward.

At the same time, by way of adding further to the amenities of the region, the Town Council undertook the making of a carriage drive round the Green. It was a time of serious unemployment among the, weavers, and the work served the urgent purpose of relieving distress. It was carried out partly by public subscription, and, by way of inducement, certain privileges were accorded to subscribers. A subscription of £20 secured a free ticket for life for the holder's carriages and horses, while a subscription of £10 procured a permit for two-wheeled carriages, riding horses, and the admission of friends living more than ten miles from the city. Upon all other persons on horseback or on wheels a substantial toll was levied. For this work, for which £2050 was raised, an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1827, and the ride and carriage drives were opened in 1828. [Ibid. 15th May, 23rd May, 1826; 3rd Mar., 1827.] Under these arrangements the Green became a fashionable resort, with very much the character of Hyde Park and Rotten Row in London at the present day. It was so described in John Maynes' spirited poem, "Glasgow," already quoted.

A still greater undertaking, in the way of street construction, was the forming of Parliamentary Road. The purpose of the new thoroughfare was to connect the Kirkintilloch Road with the Garscube Road, the cost was some £13,000, and it is difficult to understand why the Town Council were eager to push forward the undertaking, seeing it enabled traffic to pass from east to west without entering the city. Like other enterprises of the time, however, the work afforded subsistence to the unemployed, and, from their experience with other streets, the Town Council no doubt foresaw the likelihood of making a handsome profit from the feuing of the building sites along the line of the thoroughfare. Such feuing, in fact, formed a considerable part of the revenue of the city at that time. In the Act of Parliament authorising the enterprise the magistrates and council were appointed trustees for the making of the road, and they proceeded vigorously with the undertaking. [Act Parl. 6 George IV, c. 107.] Parliamentary Road runs along the upper course of the St. Enoch's Burn.

Less formidable as an undertaking, but not less interesting by reason of the memories of the spot, was the improvement of High Street by still further reducing the height of the "Bell o' the Brae." To this undertaking the Town Council agreed to contribute the sum of £500. [Burgh Records, 24th Mar., 1829; 26th Sept., 1832; 16th Oct., 1833.] Before its successive reductions the scene of Wallace's traditional conflict with the English garrison of the Bishop's Castle must have been a knoll of quite considerable height, completely concealing the High Street even from the ramparts of the castle. [Ibid. 25th July, 1823; 31st Aug., 1824. See supra, p. 423.]

The Town Council, however, was by no means occupied entirely with material considerations. In 1825 it subscribed a hundred guineas for the memorial to James Watt by Chantrey, which now stands in George Square. [Burgh Records, 11th Jan., 1825.] In 1826 it supported an application to the House of Commons for an allowance to the somewhat luckless Henry Bell, projector of steam navigation on the Clyde. [Ibid. 25th Oct., 28th Dec., 1826.] Bell's successive "Comets" had both been wrecked, the first in the tide-race off the Dorus Mohr, outside Crinan, in 1820, and the second by a collision off Gourock, with a loss of seventy lives, in October, 1825. [Williamson, Clyde Passenger Steamers, pp. 12 and 45.]

Further, in 1827 the Town Council was induced to countenance, with qualified ardour, the erection of another monument, that of the redoubtable John Knox. As long previously as the year 1650 the Merchants House had acquired from Stewart of Minto some five acres of the Wester Craigs, the height afterwards known as the Fir Park, on the east side of the Molendinar, opposite the Cathedral. This it had laid out as a pleasure-ground for its members, when a group of enthusiasts, led by the Rev. Stevenson M`Gill, D.D., Professor of Theology in Glasgow University, set afoot a proposal to erect a statue to the Reformer. In 1824 Dr. M'Gill secured permission from the Merchants House to erect the monument on the Fir Park, and he himself laid the foundation stone in the following year. When all expenses were paid, the Town Council agreed to hold the balance of subscriptions, some £71, for future upkeep, "under this express declaration, that the Corporation shall not, by doing so, be held to have become in any shape responsible for the expense of repairing and maintaining the said monument, beyond the sum so deposited." [Burgh Records, 16th Oct., 1827. The Merchants House of Glasgow, pp. 44 and 330.] It was not till 1829 that, on the suggestion of James Ewing, afterwards Lord Provost and M.P., the Merchants House agreed to convert the Fir Park into a burying ground, and the first burials in the new Necropolis took place in 1833. [The Merchants House, p. 347; Burgh Records, 14th May, 1833.] Meantime it is curious to note that, if tradition is to be believed, the monument to John Knox stands on the spot on which the rites of the sun-worshippers of pre-Christian times were performed.

Not least important of the civic transactions of those years were its acts in the arena of education. In 1824 the magistrates and council granted a seal of cause to the Mechanics Institution. [Burgh Records, 23rd Mar., 22nd June, 1824.] That seal of cause gave the imprimatur to a movement which had far-reaching beneficent results. The Mechanics Institution had originally been the Mechanics Class formed in Anderson's University by the celebrated Dr. George Birkbeck while Professor of Natural Philosophy there. In 1823 it hived off from the parent college, and opened proceedings in the upper part of a disused chapel in Shuttle Street, on 8th November, three days before the formation of the London Mechanics Institution was decided upon. It was the first of all Mechanics Institutions, and continued to flourish and increase in usefulness till 1886, when, under the Educational Endowments Act, along with Anderson's College and other institutions, it was formed into the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College, the first of all technical colleges. [Humboldt Sexton, The First Technical College, p. 69.]

In those same years the fortunes of the ancient Grammar School reached something like a crisis. So far, as its name implied, the school had been devoted only to the branches of knowledge necessary for students entering the University. But with the change of times, and the opening of lucrative careers in industry and commerce, this purpose had become less important, and the numbers attending the classes at the Grammar School had seriously diminished. The masters in the school itself were invited to give an opinion, and they urged that the school should be equipped to furnish a complete English education, with arithmetic, mathematics, modern languages, geography, and drawing, suitable for the requirements of a large commercial city. By way of experiment in this direction the Town Council added the teaching of arithmetic, writing, and mathematics. [Burgh Records, 4th Feb., 1825; 9th Nov., 1826.]

The Town Council at the same time took the opportunity of putting an end to an ancient custom of the school which was open to many objections. It had always been the habit for the scholars, on Candlemas Day, to bring offerings to the masters. This had long been felt to be degrading to the masters, a temptation to the boys, and invidious to the parents. The custom had been abolished elsewhere, but retained in the Grammar School probably from reluctance to break with an ancient tradition. It was now, however, ordered to be discontinued and the loss made up by a quarterly payment of 19s. to the rector and 13s. 6d. to each of the other masters. [Ibid. 10th Jan., 14th Feb., 1826.]

The demand for Latin and Greek, however, continued to decline, and four years later the city fathers found it advisable to reduce the staff. Once again, after fifteen years of trial, the office of rector was abolished, and each of the four masters was directed to take his pupils through the whole four years of their course, the plan followed by the ancient "regents" at the University. [Ibid. 2nd Sept., 1830.] Four years later, in 1834, the system of the school was entirely remodelled, and the name was changed to High School, [Cleland's Historical Account of the School (1878), pp. 58, 59.] but the rectorship was only restored half a century later still, when the school was removed once more, to Elmbank Street, a mile west of its third site, in John Street.

As a matter of fact, by 1830 the Grammar School no longer enjoyed a monopoly, but found itself competing for pupils with many other schools in the city. There were the private "English" schools, which no longer, as in the seventeeth century, required a licence from the Town Council, and which supplied education in the subjects needed for the commercial and industrial life of the time. There were also the parish schools which owed their start to the enthusiasm of Dr. Chalmers. [Burgh Records, 23rd Aug., 1833.] Hutcheson's School, founded in 1641, had grown immensely in resources through the development of its lands on the south side of the river. And between 1823 and 1831 no fewer than four handsome legacies for educational purposes were intimated to the Town Council. First came a sum of £8972 4s. bequeathed by a Calcutta merchant, John M`Lachlan, for the establishment of a free school for poor Highland children. [Ibid. 4th Feb., 1823. Notes on Mortifications, printed for the Magistrates, 1878, p. 29.] Next, the widow of James Maxwell, a merchant of Lisbon, who died suddenly in Glasgow, fulfilled her husband's dying wish by "mortifying" a sum of £2000 in the hands of the City Chamberlain to endow a school for poor children in the city. [Ibid. 28th June, 12th Aug., 30th Aug., 1825.] Again, James Murdoch, a Glasgow merchant, bequeathed £5000 to maintain a school for boys, for the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic. [Ibid. 28th Dec., 1826.] Most notable of all was the great legacy of Dr. Andrew Bell. A native of St. Andrews who had been a tutor in Virginia, an army chaplain in India, superintendent of an orphan asylum in Madras, rector of Swanage, and prebendary of Westminster, Dr. Bell, before his death in 1832, directed £120,000 of bank stock to be divided between five towns, of which Glasgow was one, for the promotion of education upon the Madras or Lancastrian System, which he had originated. [Notes on Mortifications (1878), pp. 51-61. Burgh Records, 21st June, 18th Aug., 18th Nov., 1831.] Glasgow's share of the bequest was £9007 0s. 10d., and, as it was found that the system, which was built upon mutual instruction and moral discipline, could be fitted into that of the parochial schools of the city, the annual interest of the bequest, along with that of Murdoch's legacy, was turned to the support of these seminaries. [Burgh Records, 23rd Aug., 12th Sept., 1833.] The name of Dr. Bell's system has not been perpetuated in Glasgow, but the Madras College remains one of the best-known institutions of the generous educationist's native town, St. Andrews.

A more unusual bequest, still of an educational kind, was that of £zoo from an Edinburgh lady, Mrs. Gibson, niece of the celebrated Dr. Hugh Blair, for the preaching of an annual sermon against cruelty to animals by a popular minister of the Church of Scotland. The sermon is still preached in the month of March each year. [Ibid. 8th Mar., 1828.]

Partly educational and partly philanthropic, again, was another gift, the first of its kind received by Glasgow. In 1829, Mr. James Yates, of Woodville, in Devon, a native of Glasgow, gave the island of Shuna, off the West Coast of Scotland, to the city, the University, the Royal Infirmary, and Anderson's College. To start with, the experience of the Town Council in connection with this gift was inauspicious, for the heir at law brought an action to reduce the settlement; and after holding it for a hundred years, at a frequently falling rental, the legatees were glad to sell the island in 1911. [Ibid. 2nd Feb., 1831.] In view of that and later experiences it is apparent that sheep farming in the Highlands or islands is not the sort of enterprise to be successfully attempted by the Town Council of Glasgow. It is true that, a few years before receiving the gift of Shuna, the magistrates had contributed fifty pounds towards the expense of the cattle show held by the Highland Society in the city, and had conferred the freedom of Glasgow on Lord Tweeddale, president of the Society, who had taken a leading part in the enterprise. [Ibid. 14th Sept., 9th Nov., 1826.] But the interest of the magistrates arose less from the desire to encourage agriculture than from the wish to bring to the city possible purchasers of its merchants' wares. Their purpose appears to have been fulfilled, for the city renewed its support for the Highland Show held in Glasgow two years later. [Burgh Records. A grant has been given for subsequent shows.]

The city itself, nevertheless, was now more and more rapidly extending into the country, and westward of St. Enoch's Burn, the line of the present West Nile Street, a good deal of house building had been done. With a view to enjoying the advantages of street paving, lighting, and police equally with the fashionable Charlotte Street and Monteith Row, the inhabitants of that region, the Blythswood estate, petitioned to be annexed to the city. Naively enough, while they desired to enjoy all the advantages of citizens, they expressed the wish to be exempted from the common burdens—assessment for the poor and for statute labour, as well as from the burgh customs and the exclusive privileges of the incorporated trades. By that time the superior had given up the idea of having Blythswood erected into a barony ; the demand of the petitioners for exemption from public burdens was met by compromise, and the Town Council procured an Act of Parliament annexing these lands to the royalty. [Ibid. 28th Dec., 1827; 5th Nov., 11th Nov., 1828; 30th Sept., 1829; 13th Feb., 1830. Act 2 George IV, C. 42.]

This was the third enlargement of the royalty, the first having been the addition of the Tenandry of Rottenrow by James VI in 1613, and the second the inclusion of Ramshorn and Meadowfiat in 1800. During the next hundred years it was followed by ever larger and larger additions.

At that time the ancient "land meithing," or perambulation of the marches of the royalty, which had been abolished as a popular function, was still performed by a committee of the magistrates, deacons of crafts, and officials, and at the next occurrence of the ceremony directions were given for the erection of iron plates to mark the extended boundaries.

The heritors and inhabitants of the Blythswood lands were not without reason in desiring to be exempted from at least one of the burdens of the older royalty. The maintenance of the city's poor cost £9565 in 1826 and £9479 in 1832, and in the latter year it was found necessary to appoint an official to devote his whole time to the work of collecting the money. The burden in the Barony, in which the Blythswood lands had previously been included, was much lighter, and for some years a quarfel went on with the Barony heritors regarding the actual sum to be levied in Blythswood and handed to them as compensation.

Another growing expense also was the cost of maintaining the city churches. In 1829 the ministers of all these churches, except the Rev. Duncan Macfarlane, D.D., of the "Inner High," who was also Principal of the University, petitioned for a further increase of stipends.

In some alarm regarding these growing expenses and the fact that the expenditure of the city exceeded its revenue, the Town Council ordered a careful statement to be prepared, detailing the value of all its possessions. That statement may be summarized as follows:

It was pointed out that in the year 1829, by the sale of superiorities and feuing of land, the revenue of the city had been increased to exceed the expenditure, but, on considering the financial statement, the Council felt that it was not warranted in adding a substantial sum to the burdens already carried, and accordingly, instead of increasing the stipends of the nine city ministers by 5o, as had been proposed, it granted an increase of £25 only.

The crisis was one of those with which the Town Council has been faced from time to time in its long history, when increasing expense has threatened disaster, and the city fathers very wisely met the emergency by resolving to "cut their coat according to their cloth." [Burgh Records, 4th, 23rd, and 26th March, 1830.]

It was while the Town Council was engaged with this problem, and the assessment for the support of the poor was threatening to become a serious burden, that the first suggestion was made of a new basis for the levying of the rates. Hitherto these had been levied according to the means and substance of the citizen—in other words, upon income or ability to pay. It was the method appointed by an Act of the Scottish Parliament in 1579 (c. 74) and by a proclamation of the Privy Council on 29th August, 1693. But this method was found to be invidious, inquisitorial, and difficult. Already the Barony parish had adopted the plan of levying the rates upon rental, and a committee of the Council recommended this simpler method as preferable. A thousand copies of the committee's report were therefore printed and distributed among the citizens, and, apparently with popular approval, the Council resolved to seek the authority of Parliament for making the change. [Ibid. 30th Sept., 1829; 26th Feb., 4th March, 1830.]

But even then the whole structure of society was in the melting-pot, and parliamentary reform and burgh reform were about to inaugurate the great experiment of democratic government, under which many amazing changes were to take place.


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