The 1770s saw the beginning of systematic road construction and improvement in west Central Scotland, which allowed the development of both goods and passenger services. This development was accompanied by agricultural improvement and although food shortages were never far away, these two developments encouraged both population growth and the enlargement of settlements. Glasgow, as a lowest crossing point on a major river, benefited from both.
Obvious road improvements included a new crossing of the Clyde at what is now the Jamaica Street bridge, opened in 1772. Significant improvement of road surfaces took place from about 1800 under the auspices of turnpike trusts using techniques pioneered by Thomas Telford and John Loudoun McAdam. This made long-distance coach travel possible. The Tontine Hotel at Glasgow Cross and the Buck’s Head Hotel in Argyle Street became focal points for the city’s coach services. There were in addition stage carriages, heavier, cumbersome vehicles, for those in less of a hurry, and carriers who would transport goods over a wide radius. The improved road system was also used to cart coal and other materials into the city, to bring livestock, cereals, hay and vegetables into Glasgow to feed its human and horse population.
Road development encouraged the growth of textile manufacture, of brewing, distilling, coal mining and iron-working on a large scale and was also critical in the growth of the port of Glasgow by expanding its effective hinterland. The creation of a new coach road from Carlisle to Glasgow, completed in 1820, opened up effective communication with England, other than by sea, for the first time since the Roman period. The ancient Glasgow Bridge was widened in 1821, a new bridge over the Clyde was opened at the foot of the Saltmarket in 1834, and the 1772 Jamaica Street bridge was rebuilt in 1833-36, all indicators of the growing importance of roads to the Glasgow economy. Owing to physical growth, the first horse buses were introduced in the 1830s.
It would probably not be too much of an exaggeration to say that road improvement was the single most important factor in the development of Glasgow in this period. While the construction of canals and the improvement of the Clyde navigation were also important, neither of these would have been worthwhile without a supporting road system.
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