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The History of Glasgow
Chapter XXXVI - The River Clyde and Foreign Trade—The Elphinstones in Glasgow—Election of Bailies and other Officers in Burghs


IN conformity with earlier usage a statute of James II., passed in 1457, ordains that sailors engaged in merchandise should be freemen of burghs and indwellers within the burgh; and by an Act passed in the reign of James III., on 31st January, 1466-7, it is more specifically provided that none of the king's lieges should sail or pass with merchandise for trading purposes, furth of the realm, except freemen of the merchant class dwelling within burgh. But stringent conditions were imposed with the view of ensuring that those engaged in foreign trade should be financially able to implement their engagements. [Ancient Laws and Customs, ii. pp. 26, 30, 31.] Though the Scottish shipping ports at this time were still chiefly on the east coast and the trade with Flanders was far in advance of that in any other quarter, some share of shipping activity was manifesting itself in the Clyde estuary before the end of James the Third's reign. This is shown by a Precept of James IV., in 1490, whereby he confirmed an undated decree by the Privy Council, in his father's time, ordaining that all manner of ships, strangers and others, should come to the king's free burghs, such as Dumbarton, Glasgow, Ayr, Irvine, Wigtown, Kirkcudbright and Renfrew, and there make merchandise, strangers being

required to buy merchandise only at free burghs, and to pay their duties and customs there. [Lanark and Renfrew, pp. 188-9; Glasg. Chart. i. pt. ii. pp. 87-88.]

Notwithstanding its inland position and the incommodious state of the river for miles below its site, [The unnavigable condition of the river Clyde at Glasgow is shown by the provisions of an agreement dated 14th May, 1507, whereby Thomas Tayt, burgess of Ayr, sold to the archbishop a quantity of lead, part of which he undertook to deliver either at the burgh of Renfrew, or at the shallow of Govan if his ship could be conveniently brought to the latter place (Diocesan Reg. Prot. No. 233). The editors of the Register suggest that the lead may have been destined for the south transept of the Cathedral which the archbishop began but did not live to complete (Ibid. i. p. 16).] Glasgow was not content to confine its seaward enterprise to traffic in salmon and herrings, but was ready to compete with its neighbours for a share of foreign trade. With four burghs having an interest in the narrow part of the river between Rutherglen and the eastern bounds of Dumbarton there was need for careful diplomacy if seaboard advantages were to be equally distributed, and a few isolated particulars of such negotiations have been preserved. The liberties of the burgh of Renfrew, embracing its shire, took in both sides of the river, and accordingly between it and Dumbarton arrangements connected with both land and water required consideration. To provide for the settlement of questions likely to arise, twelve representatives from each burgh met in the kirk of St. Patrick (Kilpatrick), on 29th August, 1424, and resolved that for the maintenance of friendship, six persons from each burgh, making twelve in all, with an oversman to be chosen alternately by the one and the other, should decide all complaints that might be made. Anything that might happen, either by sea or land, which it was not in the power of this body to determine, was to be referred to the quartet where the earliest competent decision could be got. It was also agreed that no one in the burghs should forestall or buy within the shire or freedom of the other without obtaining the requisite permission, but that all should intercommune with each other within their burghs to buy and sell freely and in good neighbourhood. Five years later questions arose between the burghs as to certain freedoms and fishings, and these were settled by an assize which met at Glasgow on 22nd November, 1429, in presence of the great chamberlain of Scotland, who pronounced his decree on 3rd January, thereafter. Renfrew was found to be in possession of fishings called the Sandorde and of the midstream of the Water of Clyde, and also to have the custom and anchorage of the river to a place called the Blackstane. Below that point the profit was to be divided between the burghs. [Lanark and Renfrew, pp. 282-4.]

The agreement of 1424, was still operative a hundred years later, and at a meeting of six representatives from each burgh, held in the parish kirk of Kilpatrick, on 18th May, 1524, the procedure thereby prescribed was observed. At that meeting Renfrew complained that Dumbarton had made a "band and confederatione" with the city of Glasgow without their consent, and that a bailie of Dumbarton had intromitted with the custom and toll of a French ship within their bounds and freedom. [Irving's History of Dumbartonshire (1857) pp. 155-7.] The " band and confederatione " here referred to has not been conclusively identified, but it may have been the " mutuall indenture," not now extant but said to have been entered into in 1499, between Glasgow and Dumbarton, for the maintenance and defence of each other's privileges, "condiscending to ane equal entres of the river Clyde, neither of them pretendand priviledge nor prerogative over the other."  [Glasg. Chart. ii. p. 62.]

The contract of 1424 is valuable as indicating how by friendly negotiations facilities were afforded for carrying on trade between communities to their mutual advantage, notwithstanding the restrictions imposed by early burghal legislation. It is difficult to understand how the hard and fast rule of giving each burgh exclusive privileges within the limited area of its own freedom could ever bear the strain of actual practice, and it is probably safe to assume that arrangements similar to those agreed upon by Renfrew and Dumbarton were, either by tacit implication or express contract, in general operation throughout the country. With regard to Glasgow its interests were so far protected by the royal charters and precepts which the bishops, through their influence as state officials and otherwise, were able to procure, but even here, in addition to the contract of 1499, there is trace of an earlier arrangement between the city and the burgh of Dumbarton with reference to their respective rights in the river Clyde.

Without superseding the system of cross-country transport, practised between the city and Linlithgow port on the east and Irvine harbour on the west. [Antea, pp. 177-80.] Glasgow merchants were from early times in the habit of dealing both in imports and exports by meeting ships at landing places in the Firth and, after concluding purchases or sales, transferring cargo from or to small boats of draught suited for passage along the shallow water between these landing places and the city. In the later stages of traffic so conducted some city merchants had ships of their own engaged in foreign trade, but in the fifteenth century, when we first have any references to the subject, the trading vessels belonged to foreigners. In the year 1469 Glasgow's representatives bought a quantity of wine out of a Frenchman's ship, but the magistrates and community of Dumbarton interfered and forcibly stopped the completion of the transaction. Thereupon Bishop Andrew and the magistrates and community of Glasgow summoned the Dumbarton authorities before the Lords Auditors of Causes and Complaints, who, after investigation, found that Glasgow, as "the first byars of the wyne," had been wronged, and Dumbarton was ordained to desist from such interference in future, and to be in the meantime punished, at the will of the sovereign, for the injury done by its representatives. This decision was arrived at after examination not only of charters and evidents but also of "the instrumentis and indenturis of baith the partiis," from which it may be inferred that at that time there was in existence a contract between the two burghs regulating the mode of procedure in the purchase of imports. With the authoritative pronouncement of the Lords Auditors on their respective rights, any need for further contention between Glasgow and Dumbarton on sea questions must have been removed for the time, though eventually, in consequence of changes in views or circumstances, the "band and confederatione" complained of by Renfrew, in 1524, may have introduced modifications, the full terms of which cannot now be definitely ascertained. [Glasg. Chart. i. pt. ii. p. 54. The River Clyde, pp. 11-13, and authorities there cited.]

John M'Ure asserts that "the first promoter and propogator of trade in this city was William Elphingston, a younger brother of the noble family of Elphingston," who took up his abode in Glasgow in the reign of James I., and became a merchant; and Gibson, in his History of Glasgow, published in 1777, adopts the statement, and adds that the trade which he promoted was in all probability the curing and exporting of salmon. On the authority, apparently, of George Crawfurd, [Officers of State, (1726), P. 47.] M'Ure states that the wife of William Elphingstone was Margaret Douglas of the house of Mains in Dumbartonshire, and that this couple were the parents of William Elphinstone, bishop of Aberdeen and founder of

the University in that city. [M'Ure's History of Glasgow, p. 93 ; Gibson's History of Glasgow, p. 203. ] What authority there was for the trade story cannot be traced, but there is no doubt that Bishop Elphinstone's father, also named William, was a churchman, a canon of Glasgow cathedral from 1451 to 1483, holding the offices of dean of faculty in 1468, prebendary of Ancrum in 1479, and archdeacon of Teviotdale in 1482. He died in. 1486. Bishop Elphinstone is believed to have been born in Glasgow in 1431; he matriculated at Glasgow college in 2457, took his Bachelor's degree in 1459, was a regent in the University in 1465, and its rector in 1474; and between the years 1471 and 1477 he acted as official of the diocese of Glasgow. Of all the written proceedings of the courts of the official only a single leaf has been preserved, and it embraces the record of the part of two days' procedure in court, in 1475, containing the name of William Elphinstone as the presiding judge. [Glasgow Protocols, vol. v. pp. xi, xii.] On his being appointed official of Lothian, in 1478, Elphinstone's more intimate connection with Glasgow was terminated, but the chief events of his great career were still to come. One of the most useful services rendered by the bishop to national progress was the part he took in the introduction of the art of printing into Scotland, he having obtained a grant of exclusive privileges in favour of Walter Chepman and Andro Myllar, two burgesses of Edinburgh, in 1507.

If the William Elphinstone whom M'Ure introduces in. the reign of James I. was a real personage, he may have been. the ancestor of the Elphinstones of Gorbals, as the earliest rentaller traced in the possession of these lands bore that name, and his forebears must have been rentallers for an unknown period prior to 1520. About that time the name of Elphinstone was common in Glasgow, and, as will be afterwards noticed, one John Elphinstone, in the year 1508, obtained royal authority to erect and occupy a fortified building in the High Street of Glasgow. [Early Scottish History, pp. 258-66 ; Hunterian Club, vol. xv. pp. iii-xiii ; Medieval Glasgow, pp. 116-26.]

Various statutes of James III.., on the lines of those of his. immediate predecessor and already referred to, [Antea, p. 203.] were passed for advancing the internal welfare of the burghs, and it seems there was room for improvement in the mode of electing the magistrates and other officers, disturbances being apt to arise when large bodies of the citizens were assembled to choose their rulers at the annual period of election. By Act of Parliament dated 10th November, 1469, it was, for avoidance of the great trouble and contention which yearly occurred at the elections, "throw multitud and clamor of commonis sympil personis," enacted that no officers or council should be continued more than a year, that the old council should choose the new, that the new and old councils should choose the alderman, bailies, dean of guild, and other officers, and that each craft should choose one of its number to have a voice in the election of such officers. The requirement for a new council yearly was modified by the provision in an Act dated 9th May, 1474, stipulating for "four worthy persounis" of the old council being continued on the new; [Ancient Laws and Customs, vol. ii. pp. 32, 35.] but, as was not uncommon with ordinances of the Scottish legislature neither act was strictly observed. The Commissioners on Municipal Corporations, who had evidence before them from the several burghs, remarked in their Report of 1835, that the simple and uniform plan of election prescribed in 1469 was by no means universally adopted, and that the constitutions of burghs royal, technically denominated their "setts," came to exhibit an endless variety in their details, although, there was scarcely any exception to the "leading principle of what has been usually termed self-election, to the exclusion of any near approach to popular suffrage." It was this prevailing distinction which was referred to in the preamble of the Burgh Reform Act of 1833, where it is stated that the right of electing the common councils and magistrates appears to have been originally in certain large classes of the inhabitants of the burghs, "by the abrogation of which ancient and wholesome usage much loss, inconvenience and discontent have been occasioned and still exist," and it was for redress and prevention of such that the "close system" of election was abolished and the " ancient free constitutions substantially restored." Whatever may have been the mode of election in Glasgow previous to 1469, the new rules, adapted to the city's circumstances, seem to have been followed in most of their essential features.


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