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Early Public and Private Transport in Scotland
by R. S. Rodger
Part 5: Vehicles in the Cities and Towns


Coches in front of the Black Bull, Glasgow City transportation, both public and private, was linked to two things: financial success and the social round. Initially, Glasgow’s domination of the tobacco trade saw her leave well Edinburgh behind, but after the American War if Independence the thirteen former colonies took it upon themselves to sell their own tobacco to Europe at the best available price, thereby cutting out the middle men – the Tobacco Lords of Glasgow.

The second factor in limiting the growth of transport in Glasgow was the city’s attitude to entertainment in all its forms. Whereas theatres blossomed in the capital, they were reviled and even burned down in the west of Scotland, particularly Glasgow, wherever and whenever they arose. The result was that in Edinburgh sedan chairs and carriages congregated outside the Theatre Royal, Taylor’s Hall, the Caledonian, etc., while it was said of Glasgow that in the third quarter of the 18th century, even before the American Revolution, there were no hackney coaches and few sedan chairs to be seen. Those that did exist were for the purpose of conveying old ladies to the kirk.

Sedan ChairAs the grip of religious tyranny in Glasgow eased, so did everything else. The loss of the tobacco trade was unfortunate but not calamitous. There was still rum and sugar from the West Indies, cotton for the mills, calico printing and a great deal more. By 1790, Glasgow had a population exceeding 60,000 and lines of new houses took the place of the former green fields. Sedan chairs, which were in short supply in an earlier time, never really caught on because by then there was no shortage of hackneys. As a point of interest that has little to do with transport, while Dr Reid could say in the mid 18th century that he never heard an oath or saw a drunken man, the male inhabitants of Glasgow now began to swear like troopers, because that was the fashion in London and keeping up with fashion had suddenly become the order of the day.

For some reason no one can quite explain, a form of conveyance sprang up in Glasgow at the start of the 19th century that was never really accepted in Edinburgh. This was the ‘Noddie’, which was a slightly lighter coach drawn by a single horse, and was considered to be a great improvement in city transport. The decline of the sedan chair around this time is recorded in the city records: 1800, twenty-seven sedans; 1817, eighteen sedans, 1828, ten sedans. Thereafter they rapidly disappear from history. In that same period the number of hackney carriages rose to one hundred and fifty, and reflected the new wealth of the industrial capital.

Although both London and Edinburgh enjoyed a thriving trade in the buying and selling of gentlemen’s second-hand carriages, this was never done in Glasgow. There, the man of means paid up to 250 guineas for a new coach, and it was frequently pointed out that the coaches of London and Edinburgh were the worst in Britain, being drawn by the most wretched of animals, while the gentlemen of Glasgow and Manchester had a reputation for only travelling in vehicles of the highest quality.