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The History of Glasgow
Chapter V - Early Place Names


JOCELINE says that on Kentigern's first arrival he came as far as Cathures, which is "now called Glasgu." Thus far the time when the latter name came into use is not indicated, but as we are told that, on his election as bishop, Kentigern established his cathedral seat in a town called Glasgu, and that, following upon the death of two of his enemies, King Morken and his wicked follower Cathen, he "for many days enjoyed great peace and quiet, living in his own city of Glasgu," it may be assumed that, so far as the narrator knew, the two designations were used contemporaneously. There has been much discussion on the interpretation of these names. "Cathures," it has been supposed, indicated the Fort or encampment of the chief who held sway in the district. With regard to "Glasgu" there have been various conjectures. In one of the MSS. of Joceline's Life of St. Kentigern it is said that his first church was erected in the town called "Deschu," but, in the biographer's time, called "Glaschu." The initial letter "d" in the first name is now generally regarded as a misreading of "cl " (these letters in old writing being often indistinguishable), so that, with this correction, we are told that the town was at one time called Cleschu and afterwards Glaschu. [St. Kentigern, pp. 51, 55, 72 ; Rottenrow, pp. 36, 42.]

Ancient place names are very often derived from the distinguishing physical feature of the locality, and from the interpretations given in the footnote * a reasonable and fairly convincing theory is established for the city, as it existed in Joceline's time, being called Glaschu, a name which by easy transition has now become Glasgow. The qualities indicated by these interpretations fit the site of the cathedral and adjoining ground in a sufficiently general way; and it is not unlikely that this corner of the future city alone bore the name before it acquired a `eider application. "Glasgow" was the earliest name of the stream now usually called St. Enoch's Burn. This burn, rising near the cathedral, flowed westward, and after receiving some small tributaries, joined the Clyde close by the chapel dedicated to St. Tenew, the mother- of St. Kentigern. Between the burn and the precincts of the cathedral there was from early times a piece of land called Glasgowfield, a name which still occurs in title deeds. This locality, chosen as the site of the primitive church or cells and the dwellings of St. Kentigern and his evangelistic and colonizing community, might be supposed to have grown in importance as the rath by comparison diminished, till the name Cleschu or Glaschu would gradually supersede Cathures, if indeed the latter designation was ever applied

[* In his Old Glasgow, pp. 29-31. Dr. Macgeorge gives several variations of the name in early writings and on seals. Discarding the interpretation "grey smith," given by some local historians, and also the suggestion "dais," a ravine or hollow, and "dhu," dark, he arrives at the conclusion that the name means the beloved green place—from the British branch of the Celtic language " glas," viridis, and "cu" or "gu" carus; and, he adds, "it probably took its origin from the spot where Kentigern and Columba met, and where the first church was erected."

In a paper read to the Glasgow Archaeological Society on 18th January, 1883, Dr. William George Black has gathered the opinions of various eminent authorities, and there is general concurrence in holding that the first syllable means green or grey, the translucent colour of still water. The puzzle lies in the second syllable. One suggestion was that it might be a phonetic rendering of the Gaelic achadh, a field; and Glasachadh would thus mean a green field. Among suggestions reaching Dr. Black through the public press, were glas, blue, gwy, water; and glas, green, cal, a field. (Glasg. Arch. Soc. ist series, ii. pp. 219-28.)]

to anything but the ancient fort and its surrounding structures.

[In his Medieval Glasgow (pp. 7-12) Dr. James Primrose adopts Joceline's interpretation of Cleschu—the dear family—as applicable either to the people or the church, and after full discussion, comes to the conclusion that the name signifies the dear church, a term bestowed by St. Mungo on his return from Wales to the scene of his earlier labours. Keeping in mind, however, that place names have usually a tenacious hold, even under the most changeful circumstances, it is not easy to see how the suggested alteration could be permanently effected. The greater likelihood is that the district within which St. Mungo planted his church retained its descriptive name, a designation which has been continuously recognizable in all its forms from Cleschu to Glasgow.]

As distinguished, apparently, from "Glaschu," another place of residence is referred to on two occasions. Through a flood the barns and grain of King Morken were carried to "the place called Mellingdenor, where the saint was at that time accustomed to dwell." St. Columba meets Kentigern at "the place called Mellindenor, where the saint abode at that time." [St. Kentigern, pp. 70, 106.] Perhaps the name Glasgu was at first restricted to the area adjoining the old encampment, and Mellingdenor, where the monks dwelt, was situated nearer the banks of the stream which has since then appropriated the name, latterly transformed to Molendinar, from the erroneous notion that it was so called on account of its supplying water power to the several mills erected along its course. The name of the burn appears as Malyndoner in 1463 [Reg. Episc. No. 389.] and 1542, and as Mollendinor in 1455. [Lib. Coll. pp. 24, 253 ("Malyndonar" in 1542).] Joceline says that Kentigern used to bathe in the stream and to dry his limbs on the brow of a hill called Gulath by the water side, near his own home. Wester Craigs, on which the Necropolis has been formed, is on the left bank of the Molendinar, exactly opposite the cathedral, and so far as situation is concerned is likely enough to have been the hill referred to. Though Gulath means Dewhill, [Macgeorge's Old Glasgow (1880), p. 150; St. Kentigern, pp. 54, 344] the suggestion that it and Dowhill, ground situated to the south of Wester Craigs, and sloping towards Gallowgate, are identical, does not seem to be based on sufficient authority. The name Dowhill occurs frequently in sixteenth century title deeds, from 1501 onwards. Old Acts of Parliament contain many regulations as to the erection and maintenance of Dowcats or Dovecots, and if one of these was placed on Dowhill the name is easily accounted for. Part of the Old Green of Glasgow was called Doucat Green and Dove and Dovecot enter into numerous place names throughout Scotland.

Highways in Kentigern's time must have been better than might be gathered from the narrative of his biographer, who represents the bulls yoked to the funeral car as miraculously travelling towards Cathures in a straight line where there was no path. Now it is known that the road from Stirling and St. Ninians, over the Campsie Fells, to Glasgow, is a very ancient route, and there can be little doubt that this or some parallel road was in use in Roman times, if not long before The Roman road which ran from "Coria" by Cleghorn, Carluke, Motherwell and Bellshill to Tollcross and thence through Glasgow, along the old Drygait, to Partick and the wall beside West Kilpatrick has been already referred to. [Antea, p. 7.] A military way was visible in Sibbald's time from Glasgow to Cadder, and seems from thence, he says, "to have reached from Cairpentollach, called now Kirkintillo." Continued still further to the north, this would be the route which was followed by St. Kentigern. [Rottenrow, pp. 37, 38; Sibbald's Historical Inquiries (1707), P. 39.]

Most of the devices on the bishops' seals, the chapter seals and the early seal of the municipality, represent incidents of a miraculous or legendary nature narrated in Joceline's work. [The theory has been propounded that the emblems are not to be accounted for by the legends, but rather that the legends arose from the presence of relics and monuments of pre-Joceline times. (See Lecture by Ludovick McL. Mann, reported (with illustrations) in Evening Times, 1st April 1918.)]

One exception is the bell, though even here all the stories regarding its history cannot be accepted. That the Pope, as is asserted, gave Kentigern the bell while the latter was in Rome, on the occasion of his seventh visit, is not believed, nor is there any probability that Kentigern was ever in that city. But the bell is known to have been in existence in Glasgow from a very early period till so late as the middle of the seventeenth century. Quadrangular in shape and similar to those made in this country or in Ireland up to but not much later than the ninth century, it is just possible that the bell may have been given to Kentigern at the time of his ordination by the bishop who came from Ireland to perform that office. Such bells, usually four or five inches in height and a little less in breadth, were used at altar services and were also rung through the streets by friars or clerics for the repose of the souls of the departed. The printed records of Glasgow contain several references to the ringing of St. Mungo's bell through the town in services for the dead.

The salmon with the ring in its mouth represents the recovery by St. Kentigern of the Queen of Cadzow's ring, which she had furtively given to a knight from whose scrip it was abstracted by the King and thrown into the river. This put the Queen into a serious plight, and, having sought Kentigern's assistance, the saint got one of his people to take a salmon from the river, in the mouth of which fish the ring was found. It was at once sent to the Queen, thus enabling her to show it to the King and save her life. The whole scene is represented on the counter seal of Bishop Robert Wyschard, made about the year 1271.

The tree was at first only a twig or branch, and is so shown on the oldest seal of the burgh, an impression of which is affixed to a document granted in 1325. This device commemorated the frozen bough which Kentigern miraculously kindled into flame when the holy fire in the refectory at Culross monastery had, during his sleep, been maliciously extinguished by his envious companions. The remaining device, that of the bird, represents the robin redbreast, a favourite of St. Serf, which had been accidentally killed but was miraculously brought back to life by St. Kentigern.

[These devices or emblems, fuller particulars of which will be found in Macgeorge's Old Glasgow (i88o), pp. 19-29, are alluded to in this popular jingle:

"The tree that never grew
The fish that never swam
The bird that never flew
And the bell that never rang."]


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