Cowcaddens had been a village just beyond the West Port of the city on the edge of the common where cows were pastured. What changed it was the coming of the Forth and Clyde Canal during the 1790s. Its convenient situation close to Port Dundas on the canal encouraged industrial development with foundries, cotton and silk mills, flour mills, granaries, warehouses and timber yards all appearing over the next few decades. Housing followed industry from the early 1800s.
In 1846 the area was incorporated within the city boundaries and growth continued, filling the undeveloped land on both sides of Cowcaddens Road, north to Dobbie's Loan and south to Sauchiehall Street. It was after 1866 that living conditions began to deteriorate rapidly. The work of the City Improvement Trust in demolishing some of the worst housing off the High Street, as part of a first concerted attempt at slum clearance, forced the poorest to look for accommodation elsewhere and many moved to Cowcaddens. By the 1880s the area along the Garscube road from Cowcaddens to Maryhill had developed into a new slum district. While most other areas of the city experienced some improvement in life expectancy during the last quarter of the 19th century, there was little sign of this in Cowcaddens and it remained the area with the highest levels of infant mortality (190 per thousand births) well into the 20th century. This was almost three times the level in Glasgow's west-end.
Despite the increasingly notorious housing conditions, Cowcaddens seems to have had a distinct identity and it was convenient for the city centre. Going through the Wellington Arcade from the north side of Sauchiehall Street people could make their way to the Theatre Royal or to the Grand Theatre (later the New Grand Cinema). Here too, from the 1840s, was David Stow's Free Church Normal School for training teachers.
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