In the early 1950s Glasgow's commerce was much as it had been at the end of the 19th century. There were still two commercial banks with their head offices in the city, the Union Bank of Scotland and the Clydesdale bank (the latter a subsidiary of the Midland Bank since 1920). The City of Glasgow Savings Bank could still claim to be the largest institution of its kind in the United Kingdom with branches across the city and increasingly in competition with commercial banks for the deposit of savings. There were four large independent life insurance companies. Many independent department stores still lined the city streets.
By the end of the 20th century all but a few major Glasgow enterprises had been absorbed by national concerns. Some retained their names, such as Scottish Mutual, the Clydesdale and the House of Fraser, while others disappeared almost without trace, such as the City of Glasgow Savings Bank and Pettigrew and Stephens, a once-famous Sauchiehall Street department store. With changes of ownership and the advent of new technology, many of their offices were sold. Only the Clydesdale remains in its original home and even the House of Fraser is run from London.
There were other more subtle changes in the commercial fabric of Glasgow. Merchants or middlemen had traditionally played an important role in securing orders for the city's large number of engineering and shipbuilding businesses and in supplying the city with raw materials and produce. They still survived into the 1950s. For example the bridge builders P & W MacLellan were also machinery factors, supplying machine tools to engineering shops both in Glasgow and to their foreign customers. Likewise produce merchants such as Andrew Clement & Sons and Archibald Fleming & Co kept the city supplied with cheese, ham and bacon and eggs by both imports and buying from a large number of small producers throughout the rural west of Scotland.
By the end of the century many of these concerns, along with the small producers with whom they dealt, had all been swept away. Large numbers perished with the collapse of the city's engineering and shipbuilding industries and others disappeared as a result of changes in ways of doing business or in the method of production. Large manufacturing dairies replaced small farm dairy producers in the west of Scotland and small chains of shops were unable to compete with great national supermarkets. As a result there was no longer any need for middlemen to buy, collect and distribute cheese. A tiny handful survived, mostly dealing in very perishable or specialist goods, such as soft fruits or eggs. Usually, however, they did so only by becoming national concerns themselves, such as Archibald Fleming which became the biggest egg merchants in Scotland.
Behind these changes lay a revolution in transport. In 1950 Glasgow was still a bustling port, with ocean-going ships making their way into the harbour just as they had done when the Clyde was first deepened almost 150 years before. By the end of the century the harbour was closed, the docks filled in and warehouses demolished to make way for new buildings such as the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) and more recently a massive office development. The construction in the 1960s and 1970s of the M8 motorway along the south bank of the Clyde to Greenock meant it was no longer necessary for ships to navigate the long winding channel into the port of Glasgow. Instead freight could be unloaded at the container terminal in Greenock and sent up by road. For similar reasons the Forth and Clyde Canal, whose traffic had all but vanished, had been closed in 1962. However, unlike other abandoned parts of the west of Scotland transport system, it was re-opened for recreation and pleasure craft to celebrate the Millennium.
The most telling symbol of the changes in river transport was the disappearance by the late 1960s of the Clyde steamers. No longer did paddle steamers leave the Broomielaw in the summer to carry holidaymakers to the Clyde resorts and up the west coast. Their luxury was replaced by utilitarian craft serving the islands from Gourock, Wemyss Bay, Ardrossan and other ports along the south west coast. Not long afterwards the Clyde Tunnel (opened in 1963) and new bridges did away with the need for the elaborate network of ferries which had threaded the upper reaches of the river.
Improvements in road transport also brought changes to the railways. Ever since the rail network had been completed in the mid-19th century, increasing quantities of goods had been carried to and from the city by train. New roads and bigger and more reliable vehicles rendered the goods train largely redundant. The vast marshalling yards and the goods stations with their accompanying warehouses were shut. College Goods Station on the original site of the University of Glasgow in High Street closed in 1968 and is now the focus for new technology companies. Buchanan Street Station, which served passengers as well, closed in 1966 and became the site of Glasgow's main bus terminus. Glasgow's intensive railway network, with branches into many of the city's great works and warehouses, was progressively dismantled to become a mere shadow of its former glory.
The coming of the motor bus and the growth in private car ownership, even though the latter lagged behind England and even other parts of Scotland, contributed to the rationalisation of the railway system. St Enoch Station, once the terminal of the Glasgow & South Western Railway, closed in 1966 and its imposing hotel shut in 1974. The site was subsequently cleared to make way for the St Enoch Shopping Centre and a multi-storey car park. Motor transport also heralded the end of Glasgow's once famous tramway system, which closed in 1962.
Although air travel became accessible to well-off Glaswegians in the inter-war years, regular services to the south of England and other destinations were not introduced until the 1970s. The subsequent introduction of cheap and efficient air services from Glasgow's International Airports at Abbotsinch and Prestwick allowed the city to develop a new commerce as a significant international conference and tourist destination. Visitors are attracted by the magnificence of the Victorian buildings in the city centre, the legacy of an older commerce, which were saved from the jaws of destruction by a determined band of enthusiasts in the New Glasgow Society. Tourism now accounts for as many jobs as shipbuilding did a century ago.
Glasgow may have lost its own financial houses, but it has gained a large number of jobs in the financial services sector. Much of the United Kingdom's national savings institution is located on the south side at Cowglen. Scottish Mutual and Scottish Provident, which are owned by Abbey National, have their offices in the former BritOil offices in Anderston. The resurgence of Glasgow's commerce during the 1990s brought many benefits, new shops, a vibrant cultural life and a rediscovered prosperity and pride in the city.
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