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The History of Glasgow
Volume 2 - Chapter XXII - Domestic Annals about 1640

WHILE Glasgow was thus playing a decided and vigorous part in the larger affairs of the nation, it was also attending to its own internal affairs with efficiency and credit. The municipal records afford a picture of orderly and wise arrangement, with no disturbance of steady progress and painstaking forethought.

Among many similar matters the annals of Glasgow throw valuable light on the methods of government, local and national, of early times. It is a common mistake to suppose that in the dawn of history—an imagined golden age—communities elected their rulers by a free vote of all their members, in the democratic fashion of to-day. The facts of history show that this was not the case. The Anglo-Saxon Witan, [Liebermann, National Assembly, 5.] the British or Welsh Cantref, [Lloyd, History of Wales, i. 301-2.] the high council of the Picts, [Adamnan's Life of Columba, ii. 36.] and the governing bodies of the Irish Gael [Fustel de Coulange's Histoire, i. 1-22.] and the Gauls across the Channel were all alike selected rather than elected assemblies, in the choice of whom the common people had no part. It is interesting to find to what a late period this system prevailed in Scotland. Even in the seventeenth century the Assembly of the Scottish Estates, or Parliament, remained, like the high councils of the Picts, Britons, Gael, and Saxons, a body composed of nobles, landowners, clergy, and representatives of burghs, no one of whom was elected by the people. The representative of Glasgow was appointed by the Town Council, and the appointment was in each case only for the duration of a single meeting of the Estates. Thus on 14th October, 1637, the Council "ordaines" Walter Stirling to ride to Edinburgh with "Maister Robert Wilkie" for the next meeting of Parliament "to attend ane gracious ansuer of his Majestie anent the buik of commoun prayer"; and a month later the city fathers similarly "ordained" Matthew Hamilton to accompany Wilkie for the same purpose. [Burgh Records, i. 385.]

But the magistrates and Council of Glasgow were not themselves elected by the people. Down to the year 1637 the provost and magistrates were appointed by the archbishop. After the abolition of Episcopacy they were selected by a commissioner appointed by the king. [Ibid. 432.] There appears, however, to have been no settled or regular arrangement for the election of the Town Council. That body, still a close corporation, was chosen, not by the citizens in general, but by the provost and old and new bailies, with perhaps the most influential members of the previous Council itself. [Burgh Records, i. 375. It was by an Act of James III. in the 15th century that retiring town councils elected their successors. This usage was only abolished by the Burgh Police Act of 1833.] On 19th August of that year, however, the provost, bailies, and Council took the matter in hand. They formally resolved that in future the members of the Town Council should be chosen, not in any haphazard fashion, but by the provost and three bailies, along with the provost and three bailies of each of the previous two years, a body of twelve in all, which, in case of the death or absence otherwise of any of them, should make up that number by co-opting other individuals for the purpose. [Ibid. i. 382.] Accordingly, in the October following, the archbishop having appointed James Stewart of Floack, a merchant burgess, to be provost, and John Anderson and Ninian Anderson, merchants, and Colin Campbell, craftsman (founder of the Blythswood family), to be bailies, the provost and bailies of that and the two previous years, with one person chosen to make up the number of twelve, elected thirteen merchants and twelve craftsmen to act as the council of the burgh. [Burgh Records, i. 384.]

Three years later, in 1640, occurred the first instance of the appointment of a town clerk depute. The occasion was the illness of the town clerk, John Hutcheson of Scotstoun. The individual appointed was William Nair, notary, and "servitor to the said John," and he was granted full powers to act during Hutcheson's illness. His deputeship, however, was short. Eleven days later, Hutcheson having died, he was himself appointed town clerk. [Ibid. i. 417.]

As the educational authority of its day, the Town Council took a creditable interest in the teaching of more than "the three R's." From time immemorial, by reason, no doubt, of the example and teaching of the vicars choral, who carried on the services of praise in the Cathedral, Glasgow had been a musical place. An instance of the real concern felt regarding this matter appears in the Town Council records of 1638. One James Sanders had previously been granted a monopoly of music teaching in the city, but in course of time, probably through his years or infirmity, the music school under his charge had been allowed to decay. This the Council regarded as "a great discredit to the city," and a cause of discontent to sundry honest men who had children they wished to be instructed in the art. Accordingly, Sanders was summoned before the city fathers, and with his consent the licence was transferred to Duncan Burnett, a former teacher of music in the town. [Ibid. i. 388.]

Ordinary education was also not less highly esteemed or well provided for in the city. In order that the work should be in respectable hands and properly controlled, the Town Council ordained that there should be no more than four English schools and one writing school in the burgh, the masters of them being licensed and kept under strict surveillance by the magistrates themselves. [Burgh Records, i. 397.]

Still another evidence of the enlightenment of the rulers of the city is to be found in the encouragement which they gave to the establishment of printing in their midst. This was one of the instances in which something of the nature of a subsidy was granted by the town in order to secure the establishment of an industry. Encouraged by such goodwill, George Anderson had been induced to set up his printing press in the city, and the Council honourably stood by him in his enterprise. In January, 1640, it paid him a hundred pounds as the balance of cost of transporting his gear to the burgh, ten dollars having been given him previously towards the expenses. [Ibid. i. 407.]

It is interesting to discover that within twenty years of this enlightened proceeding the Town Council actually did something in the way of providing Glasgow with a newspaper. In September, 1657, James Fleming was directed to write his representative in London to send a journal weekly to Glasgow for the town's use. Glasgow was thus the first community to provide itself with a municipal newspaper.

These efforts to start and encourage industries did not always meet with the approval of the citizens, and a considerable amount of tact had to be used by the city fathers to secure the smooth working of the policy. In 1638 a merchant, Robert Fleming, and certain partners approached the Town Council with an offer to set up a "house of manufactory," by means of which a number of the poorer people would be provided with employment. The advantages which must accrue to the burgh from such an undertaking were at once perceived by the Council, and for encouragement it was unanimously agreed to grant Fleming and his partners, free of charge for fifteen years, the town's great lodging and yard in the Drygate, as well as a shop under the Tolbooth. The Council even undertook to maintain the roof of the great lodging during the period, free of all charge to the tenants. [Burgh Records, i. 385.] The agreement, however, at once excited the fears of the Incorporation of Weavers, which appears to have complained to the Town Council. An arrangement was therefore made with the partners of the factory, and it was "enacted and ordained" that during the time of the lease no webs should be woven there by the servants of townsfolk, but that weaving should only be done on the premises by the freemen of the Incorporation. [Ibid. i. 388.]

To the same period belonged the beginning of a new method of dealing with the poor. Down till the end of 1638 the derelicts of the community appear to have sustained themselves by common begging in the streets. On the occasion of the great General Assembly of that year in the Cathedral, however, an order was made forbidding the poor to appear in the streets, and making provision for their maintenance in their own houses. This was found to be so great an improvement that the Town Council resolved to continue the practice, and for the purpose to institute a special stent or levy upon the inhabitants. [Ibid. i. 395.] This was, as a matter of fact, the origin of the modern poor-rate in Glasgow. The levy, to begin with, added a fifth to the amount of the stent or assessment then being raised for municipal purposes, [Ibid. i. 396.] and as the first sum allocated for the purpose was £600, the city rates previous to the imposition of this addition may be taken to have amounted to the modest sum of £3000 Scots, or about £150 sterling per annum. Intimation of the levy was made by tuck of drum, and the penalty for non-payment was the exaction of double the amount, and the publication of the names of defaulters in the churches. [Ibid. i. 397, 406.]

Another great improvement followed the arrangements made for the credit of the burgh at the time of the epoch-making General Assembly. On that occasion it had been ordained that the streets should be cleared and kept clear of middens and filth. The order was evidently given effect, and the Town Council, having discovered how comely and decent and creditable to the city it was to have the streets thus kept in order, immediately passed a regulation permanently forbidding the deposit of middens on the thoroughfare. [Burgh Records i. 396.]

Still another nuisance that was then done away with must have contributed not a little to the amenities of the burgh and to improve the health of the people. A practice had evidently grown up among the butchers or tanners of the town of steeping limed hides in holes and pools of the Molendinar. This was no doubt an easy method of getting rid of certain deleterious properties preparatory to the curing of the hides, but it must have destroyed completely the beauty and healthful properties of the stream. Accordingly, in 1641 the Town Council gave the Dean of Guild and the Deacon Convener warrant to have the practice done away with, and the Molendinar cleared of all such holes. [Ibid. i. 426.] Whether or not this order was entirely effective, it is a curious fact that down to the twentieth century workmen were to be seen in a tanners' yard in the heart of the city scutching wet hides into the flowing Molendinar where it appeared from underground for a space beside a main thoroughfare.

At the same time, in keeping with its origin and early history, the city never ceased to display a proper solicitude for the maintenance of religious ordinances. The burgh records contain frequent entries of sums voted to be paid to the city ministers and others for their services. In consequence of the trouble with Charles I. the Town Council had a very difficult situation to deal with. A commission appointed by the king reported that the archbishop during his residence had acted as ordinary minister of the Cathedral, and recommended that the burgh should appoint a minister to the charge at £1000 a year. [Inventure of Wrytes and Evidents (1686).] At the same period, in 1639 and 1640, other vacancies occurred in the pulpits of the city churches, and the Town Council again and again deputed certain of its members to treat with ministers elsewhere with a view to filling the charges. Two members were sent to Kilwinning in November, 1639, to "requyre Maister Robert Bailyie to cum heir conforme to the ordinance of the last provinciall assemblie." In September, 1640, an agreement was made with another minister, Robert Ramsay, after some bargaining, to take up the duties, the consideration payable to him being £800 of yearly stipend, with house rent and two marts or bullocks, of which remuneration 175 merks were to be paid immediately after his first sermon "for causis knawin to the town." A month later the Council elected Hugh Blair to be minister of the High Kirk, and arranged that he should be interviewed as to whether he would " abyde the hezard of the stipend belanging thairto." Apparently Hew Blair declined the hazard, for the Council presently arranged with Maister James Howstoun to preach once on the Sunday and once on a week day during the Council's pleasure. A number of payments were made to other ministers for their services in the vacant pulpits, including ten dollars to a blind minister, Mr. John Campbell, for his preaching, and "out of charitie to supplie his necessitie." At last, in 1641, the Council appointed Mr. Edward Wright, minister of Clackmannan, to the vacant charge, and arranged that he should preach in the New Kirk in the forenoon and in the High Kirk in the afternoon, no minister being appointed to the New Kirk till it should be found that Mr. Wright was assured of his stipend. [Burgh Records, i. 406, 420, 425, 428.] The whole transaction throws light on the practical and legal difficulties which arose out of the act of the General Assembly abolishing Episcopacy, passed without the legalising presence of the Lord High Commissioner and without the Royal assent.

Another difficulty, apparently more easily overcome, arising from this act, was the collection and disposal of certain of the archbishop's revenues which had been payable in kind. Certain teind sheaves were payable to the archbishop from the lands immediately about the burgh. As harvest drew near in 1640 the Town Council bethought them of the need for finding a place in which to store these, and they instructed their clerk to secure two barns for the purpose. Four weeks later, however, and before the harvest was actually reaped, the city fathers hit upon a better plan, which saved them all the trouble of actually handling the grain. They sold the teind sheaves by auction in the Tolbooth. The minutes carefully set down the transaction as the "lawfull rouping of the samein," and the sum realized was "aught hundreth pundis," payable one half at Martinmas and the other at Candlemas following. [Burgh Records, i. 416, 419.]

Among still further difficulties with which the city fathers had to contend were those caused by the fact that England and Scotland were ruled by separate Governments. An instance occurred in 1640. A certain Michael Wilson in Eastbourne, Sussex, had bequeathed the sum of 500 sterling, otherwise g000 merks Scots, to the Provost of Glasgow and the Principal of Glasgow University for the repair of the College and the foundation of bursaries. As Wilson was a stranger in England, and not denisoned or naturalized there, someone at Court had secured a gift of his goods, gear, money, and lands, and it looked as if Glasgow were to lose the benefit of the legacy. The town, however, secured the interest of the Earl of Stirling, then Secretary of State for Scotland, and by his personal efforts at Court the king was induced to have a bond drawn out by which the £500 was made payable out of Wilson's estate. This bond was in the keeping of the Principal, Robert Boyd of Trochrig, at the College in Glasgow, when his apartment was burgled, and the bond and other valuables carried off. News of this occurrence having reached the granter of the bond (one wonders whether the burglary had not been instigated by that individual), he refused to pay the money. The authorities in Glasgow had now to secure another friend at Court in the person of Sir James Carmichael of that ilk, to represent the matter again to the king. The case was desperate when at Iast a new bond was secured, not only for the original 9000 merks, but for an additional thousand in name of annual rent or interest for the years during which the payment had been held back. The money, having been at length obtained, was lent out, after the fashion of that time, to the Earl of Mar and to the Earl of Galloway and his son, Lord Garlies, with certain cautioners, while the interest was applied to the founding of four bursaries, preferably for Michael Wilson's kindred, one to be nominated by the Earl of Stirling and his heirs, one by Sir James Carmichael and his heirs, and two by the Provost of Glasgow, with advice and consent of the bailies and Council. The arrangement was ratified by the exchange of minutes between the University and the Town Council. [Burgh Records, i. 408.]

Altogether, by the year 1640, quickened by the action of the General Assembly of 1638 in its midst, and by the conflict with the king, Glasgow was quite evidently a progressive and business-like place, though the death-bell was still rung solemnly before the dead by an appointed officer as the townsmen were borne to their long home in the Cathedral kirkyard. [Ibid. i. 424.] The city fathers had every reason to be proud of their burgh when they authorised the treasurer to pay five dollars to James Colquhoun "for drawing of the portrait of the toune to be sent to Holland," [Ibid. i. 430.] no doubt for inclusion in Blaeu's Atlas Major, which was then in preparation, or the famous collection of views of towns by the same publisher.

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