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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Industry and Technology


By Elaine M Edwards

Early transport was determined by topography. Hills and lack of roads prevented the use of wheeled vehicles while waterways encouraged water borne transport. The earliest roads in Scotland were Roman as the Romans used wheeled vehicles. Poor records create difficulties in establishing the existence of roads in and around Glasgow, but scanty references to road repair and construction during Edward I's advance on Scotland in 1296 infer that there was a road system capable of coping with an army on the move. Churches are recorded as using wheeled vehicles to move both produce and construction material and in 1555 an Act of Parliament stated highways should be kept open.

People walked, for miles if necessary, though most only walked to church or market. Only the rich rode horses. Stepping stones were used to cross rivers where possible. Ferries, operational for centuries, carried livestock and people. Good bridge building predates good road building. Glasgow Bridge was built in 1345, replacing an earlier wooden structure.

Transportation required in an agrarian economy was largely met by "back-packs". Goods, like grain or peat, were carried in baskets or creels made of local materials such as straw or heather. Women were often used in place of beasts and creels filled with dung or peat were carried on their backs or they pulled harrows. Packhorses carried a wooden packsaddle from which creels hung. Some loads such as bags of corn did not require a saddle as they could be laid over the horse and secured with rope.

Wheeled transport was used in medieval times only by armies, church and royalty. For bulky loads slipes were used. A slipe, consisting of two side panels and two parallel poles, the front being the shafts while the back slid on the ground, could be drawn by man or beast. Heavy wagons for long-distance transport were introduced during the 16th century though passenger wagons predate these. Coaches, introduced into Scotland c.1570, were used only by aristocrats.

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