Skip Navigation / Jump to Content



The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Industry and Technology

Food, Drink and Tobacco

By Ian Donnachie

As Glasgow's population grew so did its market function. The increasing importance of food and drink products is reflected in the incorporation of trades such as the Coopers (barrel makers), the Fleshers (butchers) and, around 1600, the Maltmen (who made the malt necessary for making beer) and the Gardeners. The appearance of the coopers may well have been linked to brewing. The Tennent family were leading participants, associated with the industry from at least the 1550s, Robert Tennent (born 1580) becoming a member of the Maltmen in 1632. Beer became a significant consumer product, as evidenced by the Malt Tax riots of 1725 protesting at higher duties.

As well as malt and ale, there was an increasing demand for meal (oats ground in a mill to make oatmeal). Besides the original mill on the Molendinar, a second mill on the Kelvin was acquired in 1577 and two others, including Partick, were obtained in 1698. By 1692 the burgh mills contributed nearly a third of the total revenue of £16,900.

Like Bristol and Liverpool, Glasgow's commercial prosperity was built on trade in colonial products, mainly from the West Indies and the North American colonies. After the opening of Newport (later Port Glasgow) in 1668 trade grew rapidly. Glasgow's first cargo of tobacco from Virginia (along with sugar) is recorded in 1674 and others soon followed, successfully evading England's Navigation Acts prohibiting trade with her colonies. Sugar for a time was more important than tobacco, "sugar-houses" being erected from the 1660s to produce this luxury item from the imported molasses.

The tobacco trade accelerated rapidly after the Union of 1707 and by 1725 Daniel Defoe estimated that Glasgow merchants were sending fifty ships a year to Virginia, New England and other colonies. As the trade grew in extent and volume Glasgow merchants were better equipped to fight off English competition and after the 1730s the age of the Tobacco Lords had arrived.

Quick Search

Photo Album

You have 0 images in your photo album.

View Photo Album

Log-In (Optional)

Not a user? Register now for FREE!

Other Options