Sometime between 1175 and 1178 a charter of King William the Lion to the Bishop of Glasgow established the burgh and granted a weekly market, suggesting that this was formalising an existing arrangement dating back to the foundation of the cathedral forty years earlier. Medieval Glasgow was small, but its importance as a religious and educational centre generated increasing demand for food. At the same time the city became a market place for local and imported products.
The first merchant on record was William Elphinstone and around 1420 he was exporting salmon and herring to France and importing brandy and salt. The preamble to the Papal Bull of 1450-51 establishing the University of Glasgow noted that the city was a place where "victuals are plentiful, and great store of other things pertaining to the use of man is found." Apart from the produce of its own lands, the city, cathedral and university had become an important market for the surrounding countryside.
To protect what they saw as their monopoly the merchants and later the craftsmen restricted entry to their trades. The formalisation of these groupings during the later 16th century suggests rising levels of activity in food processing and other industries. Among several important trades, the bakers of the burgh were incorporated by 1559. While craftsmen such as these gradually secured a voice on the councils of the time, the merchants continued to dominate, trying to monopolise trade on grain, meat and other food products. As in other Scottish burghs, efforts were directed at quality control and standardising weights and measures, early forms of consumer protection.
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