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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter VI - Domestic Annals


As the seventeenth century drew to a close, signs of change were to be noted in many of the conditions of life in Glasgow. The strange superstition regarding demoniacal possession and the possibility of making a pact with Satan, which for four hundred years smeared the page of Christian history with its cruel stain, was to demand victims in Scotland for another quarter of a century. [The last case of witch-burning in Scotland took place at Dornoch in 1722.—Scott's Demonology and Witchcraft, ninth letter.] As late as the month of October, 1696, the relatives of Christian Shaw of Bargarran brought that child to Glasgow to consult an eminent physician, named Brisbane, regarding the curious symptoms from which she suffered. Brisbane sensibly attributed the symptoms to hypochondria, but a commission of the Privy Council presided over by Lord Blantyre, and an assize court at Paisley, in which the Lord Advocate Steuart acted as prosecutor, declared for witchcraft, and in consequence on 10th June, 1697, five poor creatures were hanged and burned on Paisley Gallow Green. ["The Renfrewshire Witches," Chambers's Domestic Annals, iii. 167.] The death of these unfortunates, however, did not end the witch hunt. In the following year Glasgow Town Council paid £66 8s. Scots for the maintenance in the Tolbooth of certain witches and warlocks, imprisoned there by order of the commissioners at Paisley. [Burgh Records, 12th March, 1698.]

But while this superstition still claimed victims, another affliction which had for centuries been still more serious had apparently quite died out. The ghastly disease of leprosy had become a thing of the past. In 1694 the council considered an application for a feu of the old leper house, known as St. Ninian's Hospital, at the south end of Glasgow bridge, and five years later, in the grant of a precept of Clare constat to the heirs of a certain Claud Paul, the buildings of the hospital were stated to be ruinous. [Ibid. 27th Jan., 1694; 14th Aug., 1699.] Thus almost certainly had passed away, from the burgh and neighbourhood of Glasgow at any rate, a disease which in its deadly ravages had included no less a victim than King Robert the Bruce himself.

This change may no doubt be accounted for, to a considerable extent, by a growing consciousness of the need for more cleanly habits among the people themselves. Everyone has heard of the shocking custom which persisted in Edinburgh till comparatively late in the eighteenth century. There, any time after ten at night, the passenger in the street might hear the cry of "Gardyloo!" and despite his shout of "Haud your hand!" might find himself drenched in a moment with the contents of a bucket of filth discharged by a servant from some window in a tenement far overhead. The same disgusting custom prevailed in Glasgow, but was stopped by the magistrates at a much earlier period. In 1696 the city fathers, "taking to consideration the many complaints made by the inhabitants of the growing and abounding nestiness and filthiness of the place," forbade the heads of families to allow the throwing from their windows, front or back, by day or night, of any waste matter, liquid or solid, on pain of being fined five merks for each offence. [Ibid. 16th Jan., 1696.] Thus the passer-by was relieved, at a comparatively early period, of the possibility of receiving these unasked blessings descending from above, and McUre the historian, writing in 1736, was able to rejoice in the "odoriferous smell " of the orchards and gardens which mingled so pleasantly with the tenements and houses of the burgh.

There was still, to be sure, a sufficiently old-world spirit about the Magistrates, who, after fining and committing to prison certain burgesses who, "being too late frae their respective families," had assaulted the town's sentries, added a clause to their sentence—"In regaird the morn is the Lord's Day, allowes them to goe at libertie till Tuesday nixt, at eleven of the clock in the forenoon," when they were duly to return to the Tolbooth, and remain there till they paid their fines. [Burgh Records, 21st Mar., 1696; 12th Mar., 1698.]

At the same time a distinctly modern note was sounded by the occurrence of a strike of the bakers in the burgh. The movement appears to have been a concerted rebellion of the craft against the authority of the Town Council. In October, 1695, according to custom, the Magistrates had made their annual regulation. The twelve-penny loaf was to weigh 9 ozs. 5 drops 12 grains, and it was, of course, to be of standard quality. In the following June, no doubt in consequence of complaints by the burgesses, thirteen of the baxters, probably all the members of the craft, were imprisoned by the provost [This was one of the many instances in which Anderson of Dowhill, as Provost, showed his ability to act with promptitude and firmness in an emergency.] for "making insufficient bread, and for not furnishing the market as formerly"; and they were ordered to be kept in prison till they had given their bond to supply the citizens with such "good and sufficient bread " as was furnished by the bakers of Edinburgh, under a penalty of £100 Scots for each offence. The baxters refused to give the bond, and applied to the Town Council for their freedom. They had evidently supporters in the council on whom they relied. "By some mistake," or more probably with connivance, "some of the bailies" took upon themselves to set the delinquents at liberty without giving the required bond. The council, however, ordered them to be re-imprisoned till the security was given in the terms arranged with their agent in Edinburgh, the only concession being a reduction of the penalty to fifty pounds. [Burgh Records, 27th June, 1696.]

The ringleader of the strike was evidently a certain Alexander Thomson, and the Town Council next proceeded to deal with him. He was charged at the instance of the procurator-fiscal with "utering many vyle and ignominious words against, and insolent carriage and behaviour towards, the provest." On acknowledging the truth of the charge, he was fined five hundred merks, deprived of his burgess privileges, and ordered to stand for an hour at the head of the Tolbooth stair, the place where public proclamations were made, with his head uncovered and a paper fixed to his forehead describing his offence. He was further ordered to remain in prison till his fine was paid, and afterwards to leave the burgh and never to return. [Ibid. 4th July, 1696.]

This firm handling settled the main trouble with the baxters. But the recalcitrance of the craft had gone a step further. In defiance of public rights, and notwithstanding an agreement made by themselves, the baxters had raised their mill dam on the Kelvin to such a level that it deprived the town's mill above it of the fall of water necessary to drive its wheel. Here, again, the Magistrates and Council took prompt action. On examination the dam was found to have been raised twelve inches above the stipulated level. Thereupon the baxters, being threatened with a fine of five hundred merks, acknowledged their fault and placed themselves at the discretion of the council. They were then ordered to reduce their dam to the proper level, and keep it at that, under a penalty of a thousand merks. A committee was appointed to see the work done, and the baxters were provided with a gauge, of which a duplicate was kept by the Town Clerk. The baxters evidently realised that the council was not to be trifled with, for the level of the dam was reduced within a month. [Burgh Records, 26th June, 24th July, 7th Aug., 18th Sept., 1697.]

In the absence of a banking system throughout the country the Government still made its payments in the manner of the feudal centuries, not by the remitting of money from a central fund, but by local payments out of the readiest moneys levied in the district. Thus the Magistrates of Glasgow are found paying two sums of fifty pounds sterling each to the officers of Colonel Douglas's regiment, and charging the amount against "the Mertimess supplie," or taxation due to Government at 11th November; and a month later they record the payment of £450 Scots to Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton, to be taken out of the half-year's stipend of the Barony parish, then vacant, and therefore in the hands of its patron, the King. [Ibid. 21st Nov., 19th Dec.., 1696.]

Again and again it appears that the levying of regular "supply," or taxes for Government purposes, which had been introduced since the Revolution, was felt as a drawback to the prosperity of the burgh. Under this pressure the Magistrates were driven both to economise expenditure and to seek new sources of revenue. In 1695 they passed a resolution which must have borne hardly upon a number of persons. "Taking to consideration the present low condition of this burgh," the city fathers, at one stroke, "rescinded and annulled" all pensions granted before the year 1690. [Ibid. 26th Oct., 1695.]

The Town Council next turned its attention to the cost of maintaining its harbours at the Broomielaw and Port-Glasgow. That charge, it was felt, could no longer be borne by the "Common Good" funds of the burgh, "now brought so low, as said is." With the approval of the Merchants House and the Trades House, the Magistrates therefore proceeded to institute harbour dues. The highest charge was £12 Scots for vessels loading or unloading at the quay of Port-Glasgow. This was

for burgesses only; strangers and unfreemen were to pay double. At the same time the Council took the opportunity to make rules for the management of the harbours. For the carrying out of these at Port-Glasgow the bailie of that place was made responsible. Among other matters, masters of vessels were not to cast ballast or dirt overboard in the river or roadstead, no anchor was to be laid in the water without a buoy attached, and cursing and swearing were to be punished by the bailie "conform to the Acts of Parliament."

The city fathers also took notice of the damage done to the paving of the streets by the iron-shod carts of the burgesses and of incomers. Within and without the ports, the record declares, the streets, causeways, and highways were "exceedingly damnified and ruined" by this traffic, and it was felt to be just that a charge should be made to relieve the Common Good of the burden of upkeep. Upon burgesses the charge was laid in the form of an annual payment of £2 Scots for each shod cart, unfreemen paying double, while for strangers carting loads into the town the charge was in form of a toll—two shillings or four shillings Scots in and out, according to distance. [Ibid. 30th Nov., 2nd Dec., 1695.] Thirty-three years later, in 1728, "considering the great dammage which the streets of this city, and avenues thereof sustain thro a late method of fixing the iron bands to the trades of carts by square-headed stob naills," the magistrates strictly prohibited this practice. [Ibid. 21st Oct., 1728.]

To this rule a curious exception was made. Carts belonging to the Duchess of Hamilton and her town of Hamilton were admitted free. The exception was probably allowed in recognition of the kindness of the Duchess Anne, who, after the battle of Bothwell Bridge, is said to have saved the lives of hundreds of the fleeing Covenanters by sending a request to the Duke of Monmouth asking him to "spare the game in her coverts." The Duchess, moreover, had quite recently given the handsome sum of i8,000 merks to provide bursaries in Glasgow University. [Burgh Records, 9th Jan., 1697; 27th Sept., 1694.]

These tolls and dues were not levied directly by the Magistrates, but, like the other dues of the burgh, were leased by public auction to a private collector. [Ibid. 16th May, 1696.]

By this time, also, notwithstanding its various almshouses, like St. Nicholas, Hutchesons', the Merchants, and the Trades House, the town was feeling the burden of the growing number of poor. The Merchants and Trades "stented" or taxed themselves for the support of their own decayed members, but there was another unattached class also to be provided for. Under Provost Anderson of Dowhill the Magistrates proceeded to grasp this nettle vigorously. First, to prevent the exploiting of its charity, the Town Council appointed constables to keep strange beggars out of the city. [Ibid. 14th Mar., 1696.] Then it appointed a committee, the first managers of the poor in Glasgow, empowered that committee to purchase or build almshouses and infirmaries, and drew up a set of rules of management which remains a model to the present day. All poor or disabled persons who applied were to be admitted, all foundlings were to be taken in charge, and all idle and vagabond persons who could give no account of their method of living were to be apprehended. They were to be provided with lodging, clothing, washing, and sufficient wholesome food, detained for specified periods of years, set to work at various employments, and, in case of refusal, chastised by corporal or other punishment, "not extending to life, limbs, or mutilation of any member." For maintenance, three-fourths of the ordinary collections at the church doors were assigned, and the supervisors were empowered to raise any further necessary sum by levying a rate of not more than one per cent. on the income of every inhabitant of the burgh. The younger poor were to receive Christian instruction and to be bred up in some useful trade or employment. [Ibid. 6th March, 1697.]

Curiously enough, while the members of the Merchants House and of the General Kirk Session unanimously approved of these proposals, the majority of the Trades objected. The Magistrates and Town Council, however, finding that " the generality of the inhabitants were cheerful in concurring," ratified the arrangement, and secured the approval of the Privy Council, which included Sir John Maxwell of Nether Pollok. The order was thereupon put into action. [Ibid. 10th March, list Aug., 1697.]

But while the Magistrates and Town Council felt it necessary to curtail waste and extravagance in those difficult years, they did not hesitate to expend money when the expense appeared to be necessary, or likely to bring a profitable return. We have seen how they invested a handsome sum in the adventures of the Company of Scotland. A year previously they made a grant of £12,000 Scots to the Trades House, to help the building of its great tenement at the corner of Saltmarket and Gallowgate, the spot where the restored Market Cross of Glasgow now stands. [Ibid. 10th March, 1695. The building, known as Tradesland, was demolished in 1824.] This was part of the great effort to secure the rebuilding of parts of the city which had been ruined by the conflagration of 1677. The building also balanced the Merchants House tenement, at the opposite corner of Saltmarket and Trongate, for the building of which the Town Council had made a grant thirteen years before. [The Merchants' House tenement contained a coffee-house which evidently was Glasgow's first Exchange. The Town Council made it a grant of £3 per annum for the provision of newsletters till its own Town Hall and coffee-house next the Tolbooth were opened in 1738.—Ibid. 31st May, 1718; 1st July, 1719; 1st Oct., 1720; vol. vi. p. xiii.]

As a further inducement to house-building, curiously suggestive of procedure in the twentieth century, the city fathers further decreed that tenements and houses built on the main streets to a certain standard should be free of taxation for a period of ten years. [Burgh Records, 20th April, 1699.]

The Magistrates in the same spirit took in hand an important work of restoration on their own account. In 1670 the old kirk of the Blackfriars beside the College in High Street had been struck by lightning. Its steeple had been rent from top to bottom, its roof slates scattered, its gables broken, and its interior fired. [Law's Memorials, p. 33.] The damage might have been repaired at once, as a sum of £io,000 had been subscribed in 1635 for the endowment of the kirk when it was taken over from the University. But that sum had been lent to the leader of the Covenanters, the Marquess of Argyll, and, as we have seen, could not be recovered. The building had therefore remained a ruin. In 1698, however, the need for another place of worship had become pressing. The Magistrates were finding difficulty in securing ministers for the five existing kirks because of the extraordinary size of the congregations. There were 9994 "examinable persons" then in the city. [Burgh Records, 13th Sept., 1701.] The College authorities were therefore approached, and agreed to pay a sixth part of the cost of restoring the kirk, that cost being estimated at £10,000 Scots; [The actual cost of the building was £21,308 3s. 8d. Scots.] the Town Council arranged to devote the seat rents of the other churches to the work, and a further sum was raised, by the ingenuity of the Dean of Guild, from the sale of burial-places to the citizens. The College stipulated that it should have the use of the church for graduation and other ceremonies, as well as the next best seat to that of the Magistrates, and the exclusive privilege of burying in the north-east corner of the churchyard. On the other hand, it agreed to allocate certain rooms in the College itself to the sons of burgesses. [Burgh Records, 3rd Dec., 1698; 6th May, 1699. Charters and Documents, ii. 274.]

With a sixth kirk thus provided the Magistrates and general kirk session proceeded to divide the city into six separate parishes, of which the largest contained 1777 examinable persons, and the smallest 1607. [Burgh Records, 18th Aug., 13th Sept., 1701.]

At the same time the more secular amenities of life were not neglected. As an ornament to the town, and for the good of the burgesses and strangers sojourning within their gates, the city fathers thought it desirable to have a bowling green laid out, and they feued a piece of waste ground at the corner of Candleriggs and Bell's Wynd to a certain Mungo Cochrane, merchant, for the purpose. The yearly feu-duty was £24 Scots, or £2 sterling. [Ibid. 13th April, 1695,] By way of provision, also, for the growing maritime interests of Glasgow, the magistrates secured and subsidised a certain Robert Whytingdale to teach the art of navigation along with book-keeping, arithmetic, and writing. They also encouraged one Delles Debois, a Protestant refugee, who had been a merchant in Rochelle, to settle in the town and teach the French language. And they even permitted the settlement of a dancing master, though this was with the distinct understanding that he should "behave himself soberly, keep no balls, and permit no promiscuous dancing of young men and young women together." [Ibid. 7th Dec., 1695; 19th Feb., 1698; 12th Nov., 1699.]

Matters of courtesy and hospitality also were not neglected. There is the echo of a forgotten tragedy in the record of a deputation sent to Kilwinning to attend the burial of the two Masters of Montgomerie in April, 1696, while a more cheerful note is struck in the accounts for entertainments given to various noblemen and others who visited the city. Thus when the Marquess of Montrose was entertained and made a burgess in 1698, confections and fruits were provided, as well as a white-flowered ribbon with a gold fringe for his burgess ticket; and there was similar provision for "treats" given at later dates to the Earl of Argyll, Sir Hew Dalrymple, President of the Court of Session, the Earl of Donegal, the Duke of Hamilton, and certain ladies. As these "treats" cost no more than about £7 sterling on each occasion, the call for economy was not seriously slighted. [Burgh Records, 23rd Nov., 1698; 14th Aug., 1699; 20th June and 24th Oct., 1700; 8th May, 1701.] Much more expensive was the gift of two hogsheads of wine to Lord Blantyre, but the transaction was really a matter of business, for it was definitely stated to be in settlement of all disputes between the town and his lordship. [Ibid. 18th Aug. 1694.]

At the same period several other important settlements were carried through. These settlements, it is interesting to note, were effected by the energetic and far-seeing provost, John Anderson of Dowhill, and still further increase the surprise that his name has not been more generally recognised as that of a benefactor to the city.

On 10th January, 1700, Anderson reported to the Town Council that he had met in Edinburgh Tobias Smollett of Bon-hill, Provost of Dunbarton, and that, in consultation with the King's Advocate, they had drawn up an agreement. By that agreement Dunbarton resigned to Glasgow all rights to levy harbour dues and charges of any kind on the river, except those on stranger vessels at Kirkpatrick quay, and also gave up the right to the first offer of goods imported in wholesale quantities. It was further agreed that vessels and goods belonging to the burgesses of each town should be free of all dues and customs at the other. By way of compensation to Dunbarton, Glasgow agreed to pay 4500 merks. [Ibid. 20th Jan., 29th June, 1700. Charters and Documents, ii. 280, 289.] Thus at last was cleared away, by the tactful efforts of this very capable provost, one of the chief obstacles which barred the path of Glasgow to the open sea and to the golden regions of prosperous trade which were just then about to open in the West.


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