Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XLIX - After Waterloo; Dr. Chalmers; the Radical Rising

IF facts were wanted to show that a nation's greatest developments are made during a time of war, they might be found in the experience of Glasgow at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The conflict with Napoleon, in which the country was then engaged, was a life and death struggle, as was the conflict in which Marlborough won his triumphs a hundred years earlier, and our conflict with the Central Powers of Europe a century later. In the carrying on of these wars the nation was forced to exert its utmost powers, and the effort seems to have quickened the national spirit in all directions.

Much has been said already in these pages to show the developments in Glasgow while the Napoleonic war went on. These developments were by no means entirely of a physical or material kind. The city had already for many years been notable for its clubs—not the stately abodes in stone and lime with which the name is associated to-day, but gatherings like those in which Ben Jonson and Dr. Samuel Johnson were the leading spirits in London in their times—for social intercourse of a quickening kind. By way of illustrating the history of Glasgow from the year 1750 downwards, Dr. John Strang has described the proceedings and personalities of some thirty of these bodies in his entertaining volume, Glasgow and its Clubs. The habits and proceedings of the Anderston Club, the Hodge Podge Club, the Coul Club, and their like, live again in his pages. A body of more definite purpose, however, was the Glasgow Philosophical Society, whose objects are sufficiently indicated in its name. This learned society, still active in 1934, was founded in 1802, and has afforded a platform and furnished an audience for many valuable contributions to the thought of its time.

A distinct fillip to the intellectual life of the city, again, was afforded by the founding of the Hunterian Museum in 1804. Its donor, William Hunter, the famous anatomist, was a native of East Kilbride and a graduate of Glasgow University, who attained in London the positions of Physician in Ordinary to the Queen, and President of the Royal College of Physicians. The collection which he left to the University was valued at £130,000, and contained a library of 12,000 volumes, one of the finest collections of coins and medals in the world, and a number of pictures by such masters as Rembrandt, Rubens, and Salvator Rosa. The building to contain the collection was erected at the rear of the College in High Street in 1808, and was regarded as the best example of classic architecture then in Britain.

The same year saw the founding of the Glasgow Society for Promoting Astronomical Knowledge, and the building on Garnethill of a complete observatory. Among its appliances the institution had a revolving cupola, a sidereal clock, and two Herschelian telescopes, one ten feet long on the terrace and another fourteen feet long on the roof. It was the finest observatory in Britain, after that at Greenwich. [An earlier Observatory was that set up by the University on the College Green in 1757, with, among others, the instruments bequeathed by Alexander Macfarlane of Jamaica. For that bequest the donor's brother, the Laird of Arrochar, himself a noted antiquary, was made an LL.D. The first Professor of Astronomy was Alexander Wilson, the typefounder, friend of the brothers Foulis.—Coutts, Hist. Univ. Glasgow, p. 229.] The institution, however, was not sufficiently provided with funds, and the citizens of Glasgow soon tired of their new toy. In 1812 it was offered to the University, whose own observatory on the College Green was sadly handicapped by the smoke in its neighbourhood ; but the University was without money for the purchase. Presently the Astronomical Discourses of Dr. Chalmers at the Tron Church revived interest in the subject, but when St. John's Church was built for him on the south side of the College grounds it seriously obstructed the view from the College Observatory. In 1819 and in 1821 the Garnethill Observatory was again offered to the University, and again was refused, whereupon the enterprise seems to have come to an end. [Ibid. p. 353.]

Ingenuity and enterprise were especially quickened in developing the means of communication. The device of John Loudon M'Adam for making roads of broken stone—"macadamizing," as it has since been termed—was hastening and improving road construction in all directions from Glasgow, and already even better facilities were being devised. In 1809 the Town Council agreed to subscribe thirty pounds towards the survey for an iron railway to run from the Monkland Canal to Berwick-on-Tweed. [A survey for this railway was made by Telford, the celebrated engineer, who estimated its cost at £2926 per mile, but the work was never begun.] Shortly afterwards it sold ground to William M'Dowall of Garthland for the making of a railway from the coal works of Govan to the basin of the Ardrossan Canal; and five years later it considered a proposal by the Monkland Canal Company to lay a railroad from that canal by Dobbie's Loan, Sauchiehall Road, and Nile Street to the Broomielaw. These railroads were iron tracks on which the wheels of heavy waggons could run more smoothly and easily than on the surface of the ordinary thoroughfare, and they prepared the way for the iron railroads on which steam locomotives were afterwards to run. [Burgh Records, 30th May, 19th June, 29th June, 1809; 4th Sept., 1912; 11th Feb., 1814; 7th April, 1818.]

In the midst of these very modern developments it is curious to find that six hours a day were still devoted to the study of Latin in the Grammar School. The time was only reduced to four hours in 1813. The curriculum was then, however, increased to five years, and, reviving the former office, a rector was appointed to carry the classes into the higher branches, including the elements of Greek. [Burgh Records, 6th April, 3oth April, 1813; 6th Dec., 1814; 4th April, 1815.]

The older world, however, had not yet altogether passed away. Representing that older world, the Tolbooth Steeple still stood at the foot, of High Street. With the intended removal of the Tolbooth itself, after its purchase by Dr. Cleland, the security of this interesting feature of the city was threatened, and the Town Council discussed the question of demolishing, repairing, or rebuilding it. Following a report by experts, the iconoclasts were defeated, the steeple was strengthened and repaired at a cost of £450, and the beautiful old building, so closely associated with Glasgow's history, was assured of existence for another hundred years. [Ibid. 22nd April, 5th May, 28th June, 1814. Curiously enough, the same arguments were used when the demolition of the steeple was twice proposed in the early years of the twentieth century.]

Though no longer carried out at the Tolbooth after that date—when the new Court-houses at the foot of Saltmarket were at that time opened—executions for trivial offences were still frequent. In 1787 three culprits were hanged, one for stealing a piece of cloth from a bleachfield, the other two for attacking and robbing a surgeon at the west end of Argyll Street. The place of execution was the old Castle yard, and so dense was the crowd that it took an hour to march the condemned men from the Tolbooth to the spot. [Glasgow Mercury, 30th May, 1787.] For duty on these occasions the Town Council kept a hangman of its own. While the office was vacant in 1813 the city paid £40 4s. 4d. sterling for the services of the Edinburgh executioner to despatch two delinquents. [Burgh Records, 12th Nov., 7th Dec., 1813. As late as 1833 arrangements were made for the provision of an assistant to the city's hangman.—Ibid. 14th May, 1833. The last of the Glasgow hangmen was Thomas Young, who lived with his family in two apartments within the Justiciary Buildings, on a wage of one guinea a week, with coal and candle. After his retiral the city made use of the services of Calcraft, the London executioner.—Mackenzie, Reminiscences, p. 304.] There is an old-world atmosphere about the fact that highway robberies were common round the city and neighbouring counties, and were the subject of special measures of repression as late as 1814, when Higgins and Harold, two practitioners of the Dick Turpin fraternity, were hanged for their exploits. [Ibid. 18th Nov., 1814.]

From their names these two "stand and deliver" adventurers were obviously importations from the south. During these years the surge of war was constantly flowing and ebbing through the city, and no doubt casting up its flotsam and jetsam of undesirable kind.

For eleven long years the war went on, with its anxieties and preoccupations, and when at last, in June, 1815, the news arrived that Napoleon had been finally defeated by the Duke of Wellington on the field of Waterloo, the population let itself go in an orgy of rejoicing. There were public bonfires, the city was illuminated, and, at the request of the magistrates, the bands of the regiments in the garrison paraded the streets. At the same time the Town Council celebrated the great event in its own way, and sent an address of congratulation to the Prince Regent.

Before long, however, Glasgow was to discover that victory in a war is followed by evils only less deadly than defeat. Already, before the war was over, some change had appeared in the spirit of the people. The change became early evident in the attitude of the public towards the Church. In 1813 it had become apparent that additional parish churches were required to accommodate the rapidly increasing population. Previously the city churches had been built out of the revenues of the " Common Good," or property belonging to the city, supplemented by the seat rents, the sale of burial-places, and the like. It was now becoming doubtful, however, whether this plan could be continued. A proposal therefore was made to raise the money required by levying a rate on the rents of houses. By the citizens of a previous generation the building of these churches would have been regarded as a sacred duty, but another spirit was now in the air. The Trades House led the revolt with a respectful but strongly worded protest, declaring its "repugnance and disapprobation"; a committee of the citizens followed with the intimation that it would resist the passing of the necessary Act by every constitutional means ; and a memorial against the project was even presented by the Society of Friends. Faced with such formidable opposition, the Council withdrew the proposal. [Burgh Records, 26th Nov., 7th Dec., 1813.]

The city's ordinary revenue in 1813 was £13,161 5s. 8d., and its ordinary expenditure £12,736 9s. 1d., while there was a debt of £98,000, covered only in part by available assets of £62,533, along with certain other property yielding no revenue, but valued at £71,679. The revenue of the existing churches was £2250, while their expenditure was £2986, and there was a further loss of £50 on the stipends paid to the ministers of the High Church and the Barony. [Ibid. 24th Feb., 1814.] In these circumstances the Town Council acted with liberality in raising the stipends of all the city ministers from £300 to £400, [Ibid. 3rd Mar., 1814.] but the building of additional city churches was delayed for several years.

It came about ultimately through the appearance upon the scene of a man who was to leave his mark upon the history, not only of Glasgow, but of Scotland. Thomas Chalmers was appointed minister of the Tron Church by the Town Council in November, 1814, seven months before the battle of Waterloo. [Ibid. 25th Nov.]

As minister of Kilmany in Fife he had shown himself to be of strong character, with the courage of his opinions, and several quaint traditions are still recounted of him there. No sooner was he settled in Glasgow than his vigour and originality began to be seen. Burning with evangelical zeal, he proceeded to awaken a new religious fervour in the city. The series of "Astronomical Discourses," which he delivered on Thursdays in the Tron Church, drew streams of merchants from office and coffee-room to listen to "the brilliant glow of a blazing eloquence." [Foster, quoted in Hanna's Memoirs of Dr. Chalmers, ii. 87.] When the "Discourses" were published twenty thousand copies were sold within a year, and the editions ran an almost equal race with Scott's Tales of a Landlord. ["These sermons," said Hazlitt, "ran like wild-fire through the country, were the darlings of watering-places, were laid in the windows of inns, and were to be met with in all places of public resort."—Memoirs of Chalmers, ii. 89.] Amid the aftermath of the war, Chalmers was horrified by the utter ignorance and neglect amid which the young people of his parish were growing up, and he noticed that not one-third of the citizens attended any church. In his sermon on the death of the Princess Charlotte, only child of George IV., in 1817, he made the bold demand for "twenty more churches and twenty more ministers for the city. The demand raised a clamour of protest, but already the magistrates had agreed to the erection of one new church, St. John's, off the Gallowgate. [Burgh Records, 15th Oct., 1816.] Chalmers himself was appointed its first minister, [Ibid. 5th June, 1818.] and forthwith proceeded with a series of enlightened schemes which revolutionized the public outlook, both of magistrates and citizens.

His plans met with strenuous opposition from the "General Session"—the ministers and elders of the other city churches. Hitherto the churches had pooled their collections for the help of the poor of the city. But the collection in St. John's amounted to £8 per week, while those in the other churches averaged only £2. Having ideas of his own as to the best methods of affording help, Chalmers asked that his congregation should be allowed to administer its own collections. With full confidence in the good work that the minister of St. John's was doing, the Town Council at once gave its consent, but the General Session was furious. It not only objected to Chalmers's request, but roundly told the Town Council it had no authority on the subject, and threatened that, if the request were granted, it would itself throw up the task of relieving the poor. In its letter to the Town Council the General Session took a high dictatorial and rather insolent attitude. It was a last attempt of the clergy of the city to imitate the Hebrew prophets of old, and dictate a policy to the civil authorities. The attempt failed. The magistrates answered firmly and with dignity; but they took the General Session at its word, and proceeded to remodel the system of parochial poor relief, and provide for the setting up of parochial schools on plans very similar to those of Dr. Chalmers, and independent of the General Session. [Burgh Records, 18th Aug., 7th Sept., 28th Sept., 1819; 20th Feb., 1821 17th Aug., 1826.]

Dr. Chalmers then proceeded to carry out his proposal to employ the surplus of his collections for the founding of parochial schools after the fashion of the schools in country districts. These schools were so well managed that wealthy city merchants sought admission to them for their children. For one of them, in Macfarlane Street, beside St. John's Church, Chalmers collected £500, which was handed to the Town Council to furnish a salary of £25 a year to the teacher. [Ibid. 8th Nov., 1822.] At the same time his methods of relief of the poor were thoroughly efficient. While the deserving were sympathetically cared for, the idle and the profligate were thrown upon their own resources, and compelled to work. [The description of the discretionary methods insisted upon by Chalmers in dealing with applications for parochial relief, contained in Hanna's Memoirs (vol. ii, chap. xiii.) affords a very perfect model for all such work.]

It is interesting to remember that for three years, from 1819 till 1822, Chalmers had as assistant the not less famous Edward Irving, afterwards founder of the Catholic Apostolic Church. When Irving returned to Glasgow to die in 1834 he must have had many stirring and pathetic memories of those strenuous early years.

The eight years of Dr. Chalmers's work in Glasgow—ended by his appointment as Professor of Moral Philosophy at St. Andrews in 1823—were among the most troubled and disastrous the city and the country had seen. In 1813, two years before the end of the war with Napoleon, the trouble began with a general strike of 40,000 weavers throughout Scotland. With wages at 8s. 6d. per week, and the peck of meal at 3s., their case was hard enough, but the strike did not make the times better, and with the arrest of the leaders it collapsed after a couple of months. [Mackinnon, Social and Industrial History, p. 100.] But already there was serious distress in the country. A succession of bad harvests threatened the farmers with ruin. To help them, in 1815 an Act of Parliament, the much disputed "Corn Law," was passed, prohibiting the importation of grain so long as the average price was below eighty shillings per quarter. This Act materially raised the price of food for the people. With the end of the war the countries which, in spite of Napoleon's decrees, had been large purchasers of our merchandise, began to manufacture for themselves, and placed tariffs against our trade. At the same time, among our people, starving and unemployed, the ideas of the French Revolution were at work, to propagate discontent and instigate rebellion. So serious was the distress that in some parts of England the poors rates swallowed the whole income of those who had any income with which to pay, and large tracts of the country went out of cultivation. Lord Brougham declared that "the national misery had reached a height wholly without precedent in our history since the Norman Conquest."

The full blast of disaster descended on Glasgow in 1816. In the first three months of that year the bankruptcies in the city involved sums amounting to two millions sterling. [Burgh Records, 27th June, 1816.] In June the distress among the labouring class had become so serious that the Lord Provost called for special provision for its relief, [Macgregor's History of Glasgow, p. 400.] and in the following winter subscriptions amounting to £9653 were distributed among 23,130 people in want. Soon, however, the political agitator was at work. In October some 40,000 persons assembled at Thrushgrove, near the city, and passed resolutions demanding redress of grievances; and so fearful were the magistrates of a riotous outbreak that they had the 42nd Highlanders at the barracks in Gallowgate and the dragoons in the cavalry quarters under arms in readiness for action. [Burgh Records, 27th Dec., 1816; 16th June, 1818.] That gathering marked the opening of the "Radical" movement in the West of Scotland. In December some actual rioting did occur, but was suppressed by the prompt action of the magistrates, the sheriff-depute, and the justices of the peace. [This fact was stated to the writer by the late R. D. Mackenzie of Caldarvan, from his personal observation as a boy. The smuggling enterprise of the district was only suppressed when the Government placed a revenue cutter on Loch Lomond.]

The spirit of lawlessness, however, was rising. Large numbers of illicit distilleries were at work throughout the west and north of Scotland. In a single parish, Kilmaronock, on the south-east side of Loch Lomond, the smoke of a dozen "sma' stills" was sometimes to be seen rising into the air at once. The bands of smugglers became so numerous and daring as to defy the revenue officers and the police, and the Town Council appealed to the Government to suppress a trade which not only meant a loss to the revenue, but depraved the habits of the people, excited a spirit of insubordination, and destroyed respect for the law. [Burgh Records, 29th Feb., 1816.]

Still more ominous, an attempt on the life of the Prince Regent, as he returned from opening Parliament early in 1817, drew another address from the Town Council. [Ibid. 3rd Feb., 1817,] At the same time, in Glasgow itself, serious conspiracies were said to be afoot. The unemployed cotton spinners were known to be plotting lawless outbreaks, [Mackinnon, Social and Industrial History, p. 162.] and a secret enquiry by the Government discovered the existence of a treasonable oath by which certain persons had bound themselves to secure universal suffrage and annual parliaments, either by peaceful means or by force. The Rev. Neil Douglas, also, a dissenting minister in the city, did what he could to inflame the crowds which went to hear him, by fierce invective against the King, the Prince Regent, and the House of Commons. Prosecutions against the delinquents in the High Court at Edinburgh broke down, but Earl Grey stated in the House of Lords that Glasgow was "one of the places where treasonable practices were said, in the report of the secret committee of both Houses, to prevail to the greatest degree." [Mackenzie, Reminiscences, vol. i. pp. 113, 123.]

The city's troubles were not made less by a great invasion of Irish beggars who took up quarters in the narrow wynds and closes of the older parts of the town, and kept alive an epidemic of contagious fever, which developed into a plague of typhus in the winter of 1819. [Burgh Records, 21st April, 19th June, 1818; 14th Feb., 1820.]

Meanwhile acts of lawlessness became more and more common. A riot on the King s birthnight, 4th June, 1819, did a considerable amount of damage. [Ibid. 23rd June, 10th Aug., 1819.] So serious were the demonstrations of lawlessness that a very notable personage was prevented from paying the city a visit. Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who had been husband of the much lamented Princess Charlotte, and who afterwards became King of the Belgians, was visiting the Duke of Montrose at Buchanan House, and the Town Council proposed to confer the freedom of the city upon him, and entertain him at a banquet. The Lord Provost, Henry Monteith, accordingly posted out, over the Stockiemuir, to convey the invitation to His Royal Highness. The Prince received him most graciously, and expressed in strong terms his wish to have visited Glasgow, but declined doing so lest his presence might be made the occasion of mischief which he should never cease to regret. [Burgh Records, 13th and 28th Sept., 1819.]

To relieve the distress hundreds of the workless were given employment, as already mentioned, in improvements on Glasgow Green; the Government was approached and agreed to make a grant of £30,000 towards the cost of forming dry and wet docks at the Broomielaw, and, to stave off actual starvation, soup kitchens were opened for the winter. [Ibid. 14th Feb., 2nd May, 1820; 10th Aug., 27th Oct., 27th Dec., 19th Nov., 1819.]

The spirit of rebellion, nevertheless, was becoming more evident. As in all such times of distress, there appeared hotheads who seized the opportunity to urge the proletariat to extreme acts. [Ibid. 19th Nov., 1819.] Among the friends of the extremists it was afterwards urged that the troubles were stirred up by Government agents, who first fomented rebellion, and then profited by betraying the rebels. Even the precautions taken by the authorities to maintain order were blamed as acts of repression which stimulated outrage. But there were shootings at certain millowners and workmen, and throwings of vitriol, which cannot be excused by any such sophistry, [Mackinnon, Social and Industrial History, p. 162.] and the open taking of arms is an act for which the doer of it must at all times himself bear the entire responsibility.

Throughout the autumn of 1819 the Town Council had found it necessary, for the preservation of peace, to have cavalry stationed in the city. [Burgh Records, 27th Oct., 1819; 28th Jan., 1820.] A corps of special constables also was requisitioned. Night after night the streets were crowded with an idle populace, ready for riot, and again and again cavalry was required to clear the thoroughfares. [Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 498.] Glasgow was believed by the Government to be the headquarters of the revolutionists in Scotland, and it was in Glasgow that the actual outbreak took place.

On Sunday morning, 1st April, 1820, the citizens, as they went to church, found posted on the walls a direct incitement to rebellion. "Friends and Countrymen," it ran, "Roused from that state in which we have been sunk for so many years, we are at length compelled ... to assert our rights at the hazard of our lives." It then went on, in glowing terms, to urge the people to take arms to regenerate their country. The document was signed "By Order of the Committee of Organization for forming a Provisional Government." Rumours were spread that England was already in arms for the cause of reform, that fifty thousand troops were on their way from France to help the movement, that five thousand French soldiers were to encamp on Cathkin Braes, and that Glasgow and its wealth were to be seized in name of the Provisional Government. Already, it was said, an army from England had reached Falkirk, and was about to seize Carron Iron Works, the great cannon foundry of the kingdom.

So seriously was the proclamation regarded that the Rifle Brigade, the Both and 83rd Regiments of Foot, the 7th and 10th Hussars, several regiments of Yeomanry, and the Glasgow Sharpshooters, a body commanded by Samuel Hunter, editor of the Glasgow Herald, were all ordered to be under arms in Glasgow and its neighbourhood. All shops were ordered to be shut at six o'clock, and the streets to be cleared by seven. On 8th April a Royal Proclamation at the cross offered £500 for the detection of the authors and printers of the treasonous document. [Macgregor, History, p. 408.]

Not a great many obeyed the call of the revolutionaries. On hearing the news, James Wilson, a weaver at Strathaven, otherwise known as " Perley Wilson " from the fact, it is said, that he invented the pearl stitch in knitting, set out from his house with some twenty followers. As the country seemed quiet, however, and there were no signs of a general rising, they presently changed their minds, and returned home. There, on that same day, Wilson was arrested and taken, first to Hamilton barracks, and afterwards to Glasgow jail. Next, late on the Tuesday night there was a gathering in the Fir Park, now the Necropolis, when pikes, swords, muskets, and ammunition were handed out, and about seventy men, headed by a weaver, Andrew Hardie, ancestor of Keir Hardie, a similar spirit of a later day, started to join their English friends at Falkirk. At the village of Condorrat, where they halted for a space, they were joined by John Baird and another small party of weavers. On approaching Falkirk they were surprised to find no signs of the English, and, thoroughly disheartened, most of them abandoned the company and went home. The remainder, some thirty strong, were resting among some enclosures at Bonnymuir, when a troop of the 7th Hussars came up with them. They refused to surrender, and made some attempt at defence, but on the cavalry attacking they were all made prisoners, most of them being wounded. On 6th July eighteen of them were brought up for trial at Edinburgh on a charge of high treason, and notwithstanding the eloquence of Francis Jeffrey, who was retained for their defence, all were convicted. Hardie and Baird, as ringleaders, were executed at Stirling on 8th September, and the others were transported. James Wilson was tried at Glasgow on 20th July, and hanged and beheaded on 30th August, in the presence of 20,000 spectators in front of the jail at Glasgow Green. [Macgregor, History of Glasgow, pp. 407-411.] Late that night his daughter carried his body home to Strathaven, and buried it in the cemetery there, and every spring the site of the cottage from which he set out on his ill-fated adventure is bright with a thick carpet of crocuses.

Thus ended the notorious "Radical Rising" of 1820. The object of its leaders was legitimate enough—to redress their grievances by securing a voice in the government of the country, but their method of attaining that object—by force of arms—made them justly liable to the penalties they suffered.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus