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The Social and Industrial history of Scotland, from the Union to the present time
Eighteenth Century: 4. The Growth of Towns


The industrial and commercial progress of Scotland is also apparent in the expansion of its towns and the growth of population. In the early years of the century Edinburgh, including Leith, which since the Reformation had been a dependency of the Capital, had a population of 30,000. In 1760 Macpherson records it at double the number. At the close of the century it had swelled to over 80,000. Before the middle of the century a beginning in town extension had been made by the erection of two streets—New Street and St John Street—off the north and south sides of the Canongate respectively. In 1763 the North Loch was drained and the North Bridge completed in 1772, three years after the collapse of the south end of it owing to the scamped work of the engineer, W. Mylne, and the lack of proper surpervisioii on the part of the Town Council. Further west a huge mound had been constructed across the valley some years earlier. In 1788 the Register House was finished and before the end of the century the magnificent New Town had taken shape as far west as Castle Street, the plan of this northern extension being prepared by James Craig, a nephew of the poet Thomson. A beginning of expansion on the south side had also been made by the construction of the South .Bridge over the Cowgate and the building of George Square. Town extension was a much-needed boon in a city like Edinburgh which, owing to its situation on a ridge between two ravines and its lack of cleanliness, was long a cramped and unsavoury place to live in. The migration which began in the second half of the century to the New Town was the beginning of a much belated change for the better. Previous to this period the quaint, homely life of an earlier time had changed little. Even lords and lairds, judges, professors, lawyers, ministers, and physicians lived in scanty flats up the dark, dirty stairs of its closes and wynds, as well as in its spacious High Street and Canongate. For business as well as for drinking, which was an essential of many a transaction, numerous taverns were available. A regular practice was to repair thither several times a day, and for this dubious practice bad and insufficient housing was probably largely responsible. Drinking bouts, with their multifarious toasts and sentiments, were also an obligation of private hospitality throughout the greater part of the century, though conviviality was happily becoming more self-respecting towards the end of it. Life and character might become less original owing to such changes, but the loss was counterbalanced by the gain in refinement and propriety.

At the time of the Union Glasgow was a pretty town of 12,500 inhabitants. In 1760 Macpherson describes it as " a beautiful and increasing city " with 26, or 27,000. Three years later the number was 28,300 and in 1801 its population of 77,385 nearly equalled that of Edinburgh. Its commerce had suffered a temporary eclipse during the American War. For this check its merchants speedily found a remedy in the extension of the trade with the Continent and the West Indies. The deepening of the Clyde and the competition of the Forth and Clyde Canal contributed materially to its recovery. In the year in which the war ended it established a Chamber of Commerce for the promotion of trade and manufactures. Here is the picture of its surging industry and commerce sketched by Macpherson in 1800. "Before America became independent of Great Britain, the foreign commerce of Glasgow was chiefly with that country; and consequently it was deranged by that event. But the enterprising spirit of the merchants has found new channels of commerce, sufficient to employ their capitals and industry. They have also turned their attention more than formerly to manufactures, whereby the city has become the centre and fostering parent of a prodigious number of manufacturing establishments. There are thirty printfields within the influence of this hive of industry. The towns and villages ill a circuit of many miles around, and some at considerable distances, are filled with spinners, weavers, and the many other classes of work-people, depending upon the fabrics of the loom and the stocking frame; and there are in the neighbourhood several ironworks for making cannon and all other articles of cast iron, which, taken collectively, are perhaps scarcely inferior in importance to the Carron Works. The works for window glass, bottle glass, and ornamental glass are extensive and thriving. Sugar baking, malting, and brewing are old established concerns. But it would be almost as difficult to particularise all the manufactures of Glasgow as those of London, and it may suffice to say that manufactures of almost every kind are carried on with spirit and activity, and generally in joint stocks by companies, or, as they are generally called here, concerns, under the management of one or more of the partners; and that the manufactures requiring fire have the vast advantage of coals close to the city."

Glasgow's neighbour, Paisley, had a population of only about 4,000 in the middle of the century. In 1792 it had reached 14,000 and a large part of the town had been rebuilt within the previous half-dozen years. In the same interval that of Dundee, which had suffered direly at the hands of General Monk in the seventeenth century and had only slowly recovered, had increased from 12,000 to 20,000, of Perth from 9,000 to about the same total, of Aberdeen from 15,000 to 24,000. Over the whole country the population had risen from over a million at the beginning of the century to millions in 1797, and in 1801 by fully an additional 100,000.


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