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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter IX - Glasgow at the Union


THE main purpose of the Union of the Parliaments of Scotland and England, which was consummated in 1707, was, of course, political, to obviate the possibility of a renewal of the old conflicts between the kingdoms which had proved so ruinous for three centuries. For full discovery of the other advantages and disadvantages time was required. The material gain was not all, by any means, upon the side of Scotland. The Union, for instance, opened the rich Scottish fisheries to English enterprise. It also enabled England to take a hand in the Scottish wool trade. Hitherto, by the export of Scottish wool, the industrialists of Holland and Sweden had been enabled to establish in these countries manufactures which competed severely with the woollen products of England. On the other hand, while Scotland benefited in many ways, the advantages were not at all equally distributed. Edinburgh, for example, lost much of the prestige and wealth which accrued from the meeting there of all the most notable people of the country to attend the Parliament. The harbour towns of the East Coast, too, which once prospered so greatly upon their trade with the Scandinavian countries and the Baltic, began presently to find their commerce diverted into other channels. Little is left to-day, at Culross and Pittenweem, Crail and Anstruther, of the busy traffic which tempted James V. to describe Fife as "a rough Scots blanket fringed with gold." The part of Scotland which profited most from the Union was undoubtedly the west, and especially the city of Glasgow. Other towns in the west, such as Dumfries and Ayr and Dunbarton, had an equal opportunity with the ancient archbishop's burgh on the Clyde. Indeed, Glasgow had many handicaps, chiefly by reason of its inland position. But the imagination, shrewdness, and enterprise of its citizens enabled them to see and seize the happy chance. As the trade with America opened to them, they rose to the occasion, and began to lay the foundations of a great business overseas.

This development of trade did not, of course, come about quite immediately. In common with the other royal burghs of the country, Glasgow continued for some time to suffer from severe depression. The Union at first, indeed, rather increased than diminished its burdens. Of the four burghs, Glasgow, Rutherglen, Renfrew, and Dunbarton, which united to send a member to Parliament, Glasgow was much the most important. Probably for this reason, at the first election, on 26th May, 1708, the Provost of Glasgow, Robert Rodger, was chosen as representative, [Burgh Records, 25th May, 1708.] and from that date onward constant entries appear in the records of considerable sums paid by the city for its Provost's attendance in London.

That attendance had a serious effect upon the private fortunes of at least one worthy citizen upon whom this somewhat doubtful honour was conferred. In 1716, after the death of Thomas Smith, merchant and Dean of Guild, who had represented the four burghs in Parliament for several years, his widow was reduced to petition the magistrates and council for assistance on the ground that her husband's attention to public business, and frequent long absences in London, had brought about the neglect and decay of his private affairs, so that nothing remained for the subsistence of herself and her son. After enquiry the Town Council authorised the investment of 2000 merks for behoof of the boy, then seven years of age. [Ibid. 27th Aug. 1716.]

The city itself, just after the Union, petitioned the Convention of Royal Burghs for help, and actually obtained a gratuity of 1000 merks on the curious ground of respect for Robert Rodger, its Provost and Member of Parliament. [Convention Records, iv. 466.]

The reading of the Council minutes gives one the impression from time to time that the city fathers of those days were by no means ashamed to "make a poor mouth" when the performance seemed likely to prove profitable. At the time of the Union, however, they seem to have had fair reason for their complaint. In an appeal made to the Convention of Burghs in 1711 against an addition of £1 10s. to the proportion of the tax roll payable by Glasgow, the commissioner for the city recounted some considerable disheartenments. He estimated that the city merchants had made a loss of more than £30,000 in their trading during the three previous years, and he pointed to the fact that during the current year they had lost four of their West India ships, and feared the loss of more. [Ibid. v. 7-9; Burgh Records, 30th Aug. 1711.]

The population, nevertheless, continued to increase. According to the census ordered by the magistrates in 1708, a year after the Union, it was 12,766—only 818 more than it had been in 1688. But four years later, in 1712, it had increased to 13,832. In this latter year the rental of the built portion of the city was £7840 sterling, while that of the burgh roods, lands, mills, and New Green was £1068, altogether £8908 sterling. [Ibid. 27th May, 1712; Convention Records, V. 54; Brown's Hist. ii. 88-97.] In the national tax roll of 1714, the proportion payable by Edinburgh was £40, that of Glasgow £16 14s., while Rutherglen's was 5s., Irvine's is., Rothesay's 4s., and Dunbarton's and Renfrew's 6s. each. [Convention Records, v. 139-40.]

As a matter of fact, though the city was suffering from serious depression at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the seeds of prosperity had been sown and a spirit of enterprise was in the air. In 1699, for example, `William Cochrane of Ochiltree, John Alexander of Blackhouse, William Dunlop, Principal of the University, Mungo Cochrane, merchant, and a number of others, applied to the Privy Council to have the privileges and immunities of a manufactory granted to a woollen mill they proposed to set up in Glasgow. Their intention was to produce damasks, half-silks, draughts, friezes, druggets, tartans, crapes, russets, etc., from Scottish wool, as good as any imported and "at as easie a rate," and they expected by this means to keep within the kingdom a vast sum of money—as much as £10,000 a year—then being sent abroad, chiefly to Ireland, for such stuffs. [Reg. Priv. Council, 21st Dec. 1699.]

In the same year a similar application was made by a company of English traders, who had brought English workmen to the city, and proposed to set up a hardware factory for the production of such articles as pins, needles, scissors, scythes, tobacco boxes, and knives. And in the year following a company of Glasgow merchants applied for and received a licence for a factory of similar goods, by which they expected not only to retain much money within the country, but to give employment to " many poor and young boys who are in these hard and dear times a burden to the kingdom."

Then in February 1701 the privileges of a manufactory were granted to two other sets of petitioners. Matthew and Daniel Campbell, merchants in Glasgow, proposed to establish an additional sugar refinery, and in connection with it a work "for distilling brandy and other spirits from all manner of grain of the growth of this kingdom." For their purpose they had brought foreign experts to the city, and they pointed out that "the distillery will both be profitable for the consumption of the product of this kingdom, and for trade for the coast of Guinea and America, seeing that no trade can be managed to the places foresaid, or the East Indies, without great quantities of the foresaid liquors."

The other proposal which received the sanction of the Privy Council was for a soap-work in connection with a glasswork. A Glasgow merchant, James Montgomery, younger, pointed to the cost and hazard of bringing bottles from works at Leith and Morison's Haven to the west country. He also pointed to the abundance, in the West Highlands, of ferns and wood ashes, "which serve for little or no other use, and may be manufactured, first into good white soap, which is nowhere made in the kingdom to perfection, and the remains of these wood ashes, after the soap is made, is a most excellent material for making glass." [Reg. Priv. Council, 1701. Chambers's Domestic Annals, iii. 126-8. Two of the persons chiefly concerned with these proposals were among the most notable Glasgow citizens of that time. Daniel Campbell of Shawfield was the future M.P. for the city, who built, before 1712, the famous Shawfield Mansion opposite the Stockwell in Trongate, which was to play a considerable part in Glasgow history, and who afterwards with its compensation money purchased the island of Islay. Mungo Cochrane was the purchaser, along with Andrew Gibson of Hillhead, of the great estates of the unfortunate Provost Walter Gibson. He was also lessee of the city's great property of Provan, part of which, at Riddrie, he enclosed with a stone wall. He had, besides, many other prosperous interests in Glasgow.—Burgh Records, 19th Dec. 1712, etc.]

Instances like these show that the spirit of industrial enterprise was already kindling in Glasgow, and waiting only the breath of opportunity to burst into vigorous flame. Meanwhile several of the matters which came up for decision in the management of the public affairs of the city throw interesting light on the everyday life of the time.

One of the most serious blemishes in the public life of the early eighteenth century is more than hinted at again and again in the burgh records of Glasgow. Officials of the Government were clearly not above accepting gifts from parties bringing requests and disputes before them. The value of the gifts, too, appears to have become more considerable as time went on. Evidently the city fathers and their agents in Edinburgh in the seventeenth century were fully assured that business could be expedited, and probably decided in their favour, by a timely gift to the persons in authority, and there are accordingly frequent entries of payments for a keg of herrings and the like, sent as presents to "the town's friends." After the seat of government was removed to London a keg of herrings was apparently no longer regarded as a sufficient gift. A hogshead of wine was now de rigueur, and the hogshead cost two hundred merks (£11 5s. sterling). [Burgh Records, 18th Sept. 1707.]

Another questionable proceeding, which might have proved dangerous to the liberties of the burgh if carried too far, was a disposition to grant valuable public favours at the mere request of some nobleman or person of importance. Thus again and again individuals were admitted to burgess rank and privileges, without payment, at the desire of personages like the Duke of Montrose, Lord Pollok, and the Duchess of Hamilton. [Ibid. 17th Sept., 18th Dec. 1707; 1st Jan., 1st Oct. 1709; 30th Sept. 1710.] Among these personages the Duchess of Hamilton had a special pull upon the city by reason of the fact that she was High Sheriff of Lanarkshire, and so entitled to act as returning officer at the election of a member of Parliament by the four burghs of Glasgow, Dunbarton, Renfrew, and Rutherglen. [Ibid, 24th Oct. 1710. The Duchess had also a claim upon the goodwill of the city by reason of her gift, already noted (page 49), of 18,000 merks for college bursaries. This great lady was the last of the original house of Hamilton. By her marriage to a younger son of the first Marquess of Douglas her titles and estates passed into possession of that great house, and on the extinction of the senior line, in the person of the Duke of Douglas in 1760, her descendant inherited the honours and chiefship of the Douglases, which the Duke of Hamilton holds at the present day. The Duchess died in 1716.]

By virtue of the ownership of Provan the magistrates and Town Council also claimed the right to appoint a commissioner to vote for a member of Parliament for the county. This right was refused on one occasion, the landed heritors probably resenting the intrusion of burgess influence into county affairs. It is indignantly recorded in the Town Council minutes that "at the last meeting of the freeholders of the said shire at Lanark for electing of their commissioner to serve in the ensuing parliament the commissioner for this burgh was most unjustly and illegally turned out, and the vote for this burgh as freeholder of the lands of Provan refused to be received by a majority, of whom several were not qualified conform to law." [Burgh Records, 27th Oct. 1713.] The magistrates took measures, however, to enforce the burgh's right, and were apparently successful, for, at the next election, Thomas Smith, Dean of Guild, was appointed, "for the lands of Provan and others," to attend a meeting of the barons and freeholders at Lanark to elect a "commissioner," or member of Parliament for the county. [Ibid. 22nd Feb. 1715.]

It will be noted that the people at large had no voice in the election of their representatives. Democracy had at one time been the order of affairs, but had been found wanting, and had been abolished. Down to the year 1469 the whole community had voted in the election of the Town Council. An Act of Parliament in that year, however, narrated "the gret truble and contensione" which occurred at elections, "throw multitud and clamor of commonis sympil personis," and ordered that at the yearly elections thereafter the old Town Council should choose the new. A full account of the method of election was furnished in 1711 in response to an order of the Convention of Royal Burghs, that each royal burgh should send in its "sett," the rules under which it conducted its election. According to this "sett," the Glasgow Town Council then consisted of a provost, three bailies, thirteen councillors of the merchant rank, and twelve of the trades rank. There were a dean of guild, a deacon-convener, a treasurer, and a master of work, who might be chosen either from the members of council or from outside. In the latter case they became additional members of council. The elections began on the first Tuesday after Michaelmas, and were continued on the following Friday and Wednesday. First the old council elected the new provost and two bailies out of the merchant rank, and one bailie out of the crafts rank ; then the new provost and bailies, with the provosts and bailies of the two previous years, and others brought in, if necessary, to make up the number of twelve, chose thirteen merchants and twelve craftsmen as councillors, and afterwards the new magistrates and councillors, along with the deacons of the fourteen crafts and an equal number of merchants, chose the dean of guild, the deacon-convener, the treasurer, the master of work, the bailie of Gorbals, the water bailie, and remaining office-bearers. [Ibid. 22nd Oct. 1711.]


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