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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XXI - The Year of the Great Frost

BY the year 1740 the population of Glasgow had increased to 17,043. [Burgh Records, v. p. x.] The "Common Good" revenues of the city from their older sources had reached a high level in the previous year. As realized by roup or auction they were, for the malt mills of the burgh—the old mill at Partick, the new mill on the Kelvin, the new mill at Townhead and the Sub-dean's mill—10,150 merks, with fifty bolls ground malt formerly payable to the Archbishops; for the ladles and dues of the meal market 5250 merks; for the dues of the tron, new weigh-house, and fish market, and "two little shops below the stair" 2020 merks; and for the dues of the bridge and of the Broomielaw quay and crane 3230 merks; altogether 20,650 merks, or £1175 18s. 0½d. sterling, and fifty bolls of malt. There were also, of course, revenues from other sources, such as the feu-duties of Provan and other lands, the coal heughs of Gorbals, and the town's possessions at Port-Glasgow, but the older resources quoted show that progress was being made. Eleven years previously, in 1728, the sum realized from the dues was 18,980 merks, or £1080 16s. 1d. and fifty bolls malt.

Since 1716, when the first Clyde-built vessel in the West India trade crossed the Atlantic from Glasgow, [Brown's History of Glasgow, p. 330.] the foreign commerce of the city had grown steadily. In 1735 the merchants of Glasgow had forty-seven vessels trading abroad, and altogether possessed no fewer than sixty-seven ships, with a tonnage of 5600. In that year the whole tonnage of Scotland is estimated to have been no more than 12,342. [Knox's British Empire, xxxvi; History of Port-Glasgow, by W. F. Macarthur, M.B.] By the year 1741 the tobacco trade of the city had grown to such a size that much inconvenience was felt by the merchants who discharged their cargoes at Port-Glasgow from the want of storage "cellars" or warehouses there, and the tacksmen or lessees of the port proposed to build additional "cellars" at their own cost to contain a further eight hundred to a thousand hogsheads. [Burgh Records, 3rd March, 1741.]

It was fortunate for the poor of the city in the year 1740 that Glasgow was no longer dependent for its livelihood merely upon its internal trade. Owing to the backwardness of the seasons the price of meal rose in September to sixteen pence the peck, and the poorer citizens were threatened with serious want. To meet the emergency the Town Council approached the Merchants House, the Trades House and the General Session of the kirks with the proposal that together they should purchase up to ten thousand bolls of meal, and sell it to the poor at cost price. For this purpose £3000 sterling were borrowed from the Royal Bank. It was also agreed that each of the four bodies should contribute a sum in cash for the support of the poor, and for its own part the Town Council agreed to pay £15 sterling per month for three months. [Ibid. 17th Sept., 15th Dec., 26th Dec., 1740.]

That was the winter of the great frost, when the Thames was frozen over from Christmas till the end of February, and a great fair was held on the ice. Labour was stopped throughout the country, the fruits of the earth were destroyed, and many persons died of hunger and cold.

Ten months later the distress among the poor of the city still existed, and the Town Council applied to the bank in Edinburgh for a further f 500. This time, however, the request met with a refusal. Either Glasgow's security was not good enough or the bank's resources were limited. Perhaps both reasons lay behind the refusal. Thus rebuffed the city fathers turned to another source. Several private persons had already offered to lend money to the Town Council, and it was resolved to accept these offers. Some £goo was accordingly borrowed in this way upon bills bearing interest at five per cent, and as no difficulty was found in the operation, and the security of the city's credit was evidently considered good enough, a beginning was made of a system which has continued till the present day, when the municipal debt of Glasgow amounts to many millions sterling. [Burgh Records, 29th Oct., 26th Nov., 1741, 9th Feb., 1742.]

The first of these private lenders, and the contributor of the largest amount, was Allan Dreghorn, wright and bailie. Evidently he was a man of substance, for the sum he tendered was £500 sterling. The largest of the other loans was £166 13s. 4d. by James Ballantine of Kelly. Dreghorn's father, Robert, had been a wright before him in the city. He was one of the tradesmen commissioned to report on the steeple of the Ramshorn Kirk when it threatened to collapse at its first building, and he engaged in various enterprises outside his regular business, becoming lessee, for instance, in 1720, of the dues for the Broomielaw quay and crane, and tacksman, five years later, of the town's coal pits in Gorbals. [Ibid. 25th Sept. 1725; 27th Aug. 1730.] Allan Dreghorn himself was a man of property when he enclosed the lands of Broomhill in 1732. Two years later he applied to the magistrates for a piece of ground on the Old Green, between the town's hospital and the ropework, on which to build the house which still stands, one of the last examples of the better-class Glasgow mansions of its time. [A fine picture of the Dreghorn mansion forms the frontispiece of Glasgow Burgh Records, vol. vii.] He was city treasurer in 1739, and after the disastrous hurricane of that year he was deputed to inspect the damage done to the cathedral, and estimate the cost of repairing the fane. He was indeed constantly employed by the city in his business capacity, and it was under the civic auspices that he performed a highly notable achievement in 1740. The Town Council was about to build its new church on the gardens so painfully acquired on the bank of the Molendinar, between Gallowgate and Saltmarket. Plans for the building were submitted by Dreghorn and by another wright named Nisbitt. Dreghorn's plans, based, it would appear, on the model of St. Martin's in the Fields, in Trafalgar Square, London, were preferred, and accordingly the most beautiful of all the city churches remains a monument to his fine taste and architectural genius.

The subsequent career of the worthy wright and architect is outstanding in the city annals. He was a partner in the great Smithfield iron company, and one of the six original partners in the Ship Bank. In 1741 he was chosen a bailie. Ten years later he proposed to undertake a tenement building scheme on the Old Green, and the Town Council agreed to further his plans by removing a public thoroughfare nearer to the wall of the Town's Hospital. [Burgh Records, under dates named; Cleland's Annals, i. 33; The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry, p. 224.] In 1757 he acquired the estate of Hogganfield, part of the old lands of Provan, to the north-east of the city, and he appears again and again as one of the chief actors in the city's most important business affairs. The carriage, which was built for him in his own woodyard behind his house on the Old Green, was the first in Glasgow. By his enterprise and ability Allan Dreghorn established the fortunes of a family which was to have a tragic ending half a century later. The handsome dwelling-house on the Old Green, with Ruchill mansion and estate to the north of the city, acquired later, remained Dreghorn possessions till 18o6. In that year Allan Dreghorn's nephew and heir, Robert Dreghorn of Ruchill, better known as "Bob Dragon," and celebrated for his peculiarities of feature, person, and habits, took his life with his own hand within the walls of his town house. For that reason the mansion, which forms the back part of a furniture warehouse at No. 20 Great Clyde Street, was for many years reputed to be haunted—a sad sequel to the story of the brilliant craftsman and architect to whose genius the city owes the beauty of St. Andrew's Church. [Strang, Glasgow and its Clubs, pp. 283, 284, note. "Bob Dragon" was a very wealthy man. He inherited Broomhill, Ruchill, and Hogganfield from his uncle, Allan Dreghorn, and Blochairn from his father, Robert Dreghorn.Burgh Records, 27th Sept. 1765. For the riot which at a later date sacked the Dreghorn mansion, see Mackenzie, Reminiscences, ii. p. 299.]

But the state of distress in Glasgow, which compelled such unprecedented borrowing of money and provision of meal for the poor, was not attributable entirely to the backwardness of the seasons, or the severity of the winter. In October 1739 the British Government had declared war upon Spain. The Spanish demand that Britain should withdraw her fleet from the Mediterranean, and that British ships should submit to be searched, was felt to be intolerable, and the declaration of war roused immense popular enthusiasm in London. Sir Robert Walpole, George II.'s minister, had been forced into the war against his own judgment, and when he heard the huzzahs of the populace and the pealing of the bells he is said to have exclaimed "They may ring the bells now: very soon they will be ringing their hands!" Rather unjustly he was himself the most outstanding sufferer. Many hardships inevitably were entailed by the war, and for these Walpole's Government was blamed. Demands were made that the Government should prosecute the campaign with more energy, and place more ships of war upon the seas ; and when the ministry sought to man these ships by commandeering the crews of merchant vessels, the merchants sent a protest to the House of Commons.

The quarrel was brought home to Scotland when the Duke of Argyll and Greenwich, the rival of Marlborough, and the victor of Sheriffmuir, for attacking the Government in the House of Lords, was deprived of all his employments, civil and military. Walpole was already unpopular in Scotland because of his enforcement of the malt-tax in 1725, and by his repressive measures after the Porteous riot in 1736. Notwithstanding his long reign in the House of Commons, and all the forces which that long reign might be expected to have accumulated against him, he was still able to defeat the motions for his removal urged in both Houses of Parliament in 1741; but, in the General Election which followed, the Opposition roused all its forces against him.

In that election the Town Council of Glasgow played a new and rather astonishing role. It was the turn of Rutherglen, among the four burghs, to be the scene of the election, and Glasgow apparently thought it desirable to secure the suffrage of a large number of the people of that burgh. The Town Council began by conferring burgess rights upon a number of the inhabitants of Rutherglen. No fewer than twenty-three were thus favoured, without payment, and as several of these were recorded as "land labourers," it is clear that there was an ulterior purpose to be served. As many were admitted from other districts, such as Possil, Polmadie, and Cumbernauld, and the whole transaction appears something akin to a creation of faggot votes. [Burgh Records, 28th April, 27th July, 1741.]

The magistrates next, on the eve of the election, proceeded to spend money freely in the "houses"—probably the inns and taverns—of Rutherglen. Thus the city treasurer was ordered to pay to David Scot, "late provost of Rugland," £10 19s. 3½d. sterling expended in his house by the magistrates and others, "upon the town's account, at and before electing the member of parliament." No fewer than ten such payments are openly recorded, most of them being to late provosts and bailies, the sums ranging from £55 7s. 5d. down to £8 8s. 4d. sterling. [Burgh Records, 18th May, 30th June, 28th July, 5th Oct., 1741.] The transaction was obviously a case of open bribery on a somewhat extensive scale. It was Walpole's own method of achieving his ends, and quite in the manner of the time. Perhaps it was just that the minister should be hoist with his own petard, yet one cannot but regret to find the fair fame of St. Mungo's city besmirched by recourse to such base means.

The magistrates had the satisfaction of securing the return of their candidate, Neil Buchanan of Hillington, and the further satisfaction, in the following February, 1742, of learning that Walpole had been defeated in the House of Commons, and had resigned all his offices. In March they wrote a letter to their member thanking him for what he had done, and expressing the desire that he should use his endeavours towards " limiting the number of place-men and pensioners in the House of Commons, and repealing the law for septennial parliaments, and procuring a law for triennials." [Ibid. 5th March, 1742.]

Such was the part played by Glasgow in bringing about the fall of Sir Robert Walpole. Whatever may have been its merits from a political point of view, it set a precedent which might have led to very undesirable practices. A beginning of these was made almost immediately, when the Town Council proceeded to send their member of parliament a letter containing something very like definite instructions regarding the measures he should support and those he should oppose in the House of Commons. This precious epistle ran as follows:

"Sir.—The securing and restoring our liberty and constitution, and preserving the independence of parliament, having been our chief care in promoting your election as member of the house of commons for this city and district, it is with the utmost pleasure we observe that in your parliamentary conduct you have answered these our intentions, for which we make you our most grateful acknowledgment.

"But as the present conjuncture is extremely critical, you will permit us to give our sentiments at the opening of this new session, which we have no doubt are perfectly agreeable to your own.

"We earnestly request of you, in name of the corporation, to promote every maxim for preventing and restraining all manner of pecuniary influence over the members of your house—the unhappy source of all our calamities; for restoring frequency of new parliaments, and for giving such vigour to our once happy, but now exhausted constitution; that you be as sparing of the national treasure as the present exigencies will admit, and join in all the parliamentary enquiries into the past conduct and management of public affairs; whereby his Majesty's government will be founded on its proper basis, the affections of his people, former managements and grievances may be corrected and redressed, and all further abuse of power we hope be prevented.

"Your attention to these points, and any others that may come before your house for the good of your country will endear you to all lovers of liberty and be particularly acceptable to all the members of this community." [Ibid. 9th Nov., 1742.]

The Town Council was evidently in danger of becoming a political caucus, instructing its member strictly as to how he should vote, and fortifying itself in control by a system of wholesale bribery at the public expense.

At the same time the Town Council was engaged in a proceeding of less doubtful character. The action appears to have been suggested by a movement of the University authorities. It would appear that a reference in the works of Jean Mabillon, the Benedictine scholar at St. Germains, had drawn the attention of these authorities to the importance of the records carried from Glasgow at the Reformation by Archbishop Beaton, and preserved in the Scots College at Paris. In 1738, accordingly, they had written that college asking for a notarial copy of the Chartulary of the Archbishopric. The request, though treated with the utmost courtesy, was not fully complied with till thirty years later, when the copy was received which is preserved in the archives of Glasgow University. [Cosmo Innes, Sketches of Scotch History, p. 493.] The original chartulary was brought to this country at the French Revolution, and from it the "Register of the Bishopric of Glasgow" was edited by Professor Cosrno Innes, and printed by the Maitland Club in 1843. Among other important historical matter it contains the proof of existence of a papal dispensation for the first marriage of King Robert II. to Elizabeth Mure, in other words, proof of the legitimacy of the whole subsequent line of Stewart kings. It was the question of this legitimacy which in the fifteenth century led to such tragic happenings as the assassination of James I. in the Black-friars Monastery at Perth, and the slaying of the Earl of Douglas by James II. in the supper closet at Stirling. Even as late as the reign of Charles I. it cost a too talkative senator of the College of Justice his earldoms of Strathearn and Menteith. It was only by production of a copy of the Register in Scotland that historians were provided with documentary evidence on the subject. Following this, in the year 1789, the Pope's dispensation for the marriage was itself found in the Vatican by a noted antiquary, Andrew Stewart of Torrance and Castlemilk, and the long-debated question finally and absolutely set at rest.

Meanwhile, following the action, and perhaps the advice, of the College authorities, the Town Council in 1739 applied to the College at Douai for authentic copies of the town's writs carried away by Archbishop Beaton at the Reformation. [Burgh Records, 20th Feb., 1739.] In the upshot the magistrates were presented, by the Scots College at Paris, with a carefully transcribed and certified copy of such contents of the Glasgow chartulary as were judged to concern the city. This transcript, a small volume of 136 pages of paper, in the hand of a French scribe, collated by Father Thomas Innes, and bound in red morocco, is now in possession of the city. It was used, along with the copy of the chartulary at the University, and the complete Register of the Bishopric published by the Maitland Club, in the preparation of "Charters and Other Documents relating to the City of Glasgow," edited by Sir James D. Marwick and published in 1897 and following years. [Charters and Documents, vol. i., part i., page iii.]

While the Town Council was engaged upon matters of such political and historical importance, it is curious to realize how primitive the city was in some respects now regarded as of prime importance. The lighting of the streets, for instance, was still confined to a few dim lamps. The whole lighting of the city for the winter of 1738 cost no more than £47 4s. 4½d. sterling, and took little more than a hundred gallons of rapeseed oil, which seems to have been dear enough at 1s. 2d. the pint. Two years later hempseed oil was used, which cost 2s. 2d. the pint. [Burgh Records, 23rd April, 1739, 30th June, 1741.] So far, also, the city appears to have been without any but surface drainage. The first underground conduit for the purpose appears to have been devised to carry away the water from James Spreull's land near the west port. [Spreull's Court is still a feature of the north side of Trongate, a few doors east of Glassford Street.] As there was not sufficient slope to carry away that water by the usual "syver" or gutter on the surface of the street, the Council ordered a covered "canaul" to be made to carry the water across the thoroughfare, to enable it "to fall down and run by the east of the Stockwellgate Street, where there is a sufficient descent upon lowering the strand and covering parts thereof where it is hollow." Before proceeding with the work the magistrates were "to take tradesmen's advice skilled therein." Whoever these tradesmen might be, they were the engineers of the beginnings of the vast underground system of conduits which makes Glasgow a clean and healthy city at the present day. [Burgh Records, 8th May, 1740.] Within a year afterwards another modern amenity was introduced when the Council ordered "that lead pipes in place of timber be made for the well in the New Green." [Ibid. 28th April, 1741.]

Still another interesting fact may be noted, in which Glasgow was late in departing from the manners of bygone times. Beltane, or Baalfire Day, the 2nd of May, was one of the chief religious festivals of pagan times in Britain. The word is commemorated in many place-names, such as Tarbolton and Tilliebeltane, and immortalized in one of the poems of King James V.

At Beltane, when ilk body bouns
To Peblis to the play.

St. Luke's Fair in November and Beltane Fair in May were the two principal of the seven fairs held in Rutherglen till as late as the nineteenth century. [Alison's Anecdotage of Glasgow, p. 164.] As late as the middle of the eighteenth century, in Glasgow, Beltane still remained one of the term days at which entry was given to tenants of various properties. [Burgh Records, 26th Aug., 1743.]

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