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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Buildings and Cityscape


By Irene Maver

Municipal Buildings The Scottish Reformation of 1560 did not immediately have an impact on the structural integrity of Glasgow's religious buildings. Indeed, the Cathedral was regarded as such a source of pride, especially by the craft guilds, that the edifice was preserved, albeit with a less opulent interior than under the Roman Catholic regime. However during the 17th century Glasgow's identity as a "Merchant City" began to be reflected in the urban landscape. The embodiment of civic order was the new Tolbooth or Town House, built in 1626, and prominently located at the commercial centre of Glasgow Cross. The Tolbooth served as the burgh's jail as well as administrative centre, hence the cautionary inscription which adorned the entrance: "This house doth hate all wickedness / Loves peace but faults corrects …".

Hutchesons' Hospital City centre reconstruction continued during the 1630s with a major project to replace the existing University, or College, in the High Street. Visitors were greatly impressed by the new buildings, in the Scottish Renaissance style, and by the 1670s one English tourist described the College as structurally "the best in Scotland". Glasgow acquired other imposing buildings at this time, notably Hutchesons' Hospital (1641), located in the Trongate, and the Merchants' House (1659) in the Bridgegate. Yet for all the flurry of new building, by the mid-17th century the city's architecture still retained substantial medieval influences. Above all, houses tended to have thatched roofs and timber exteriors.

Shawfield Mansion Such dwellings posed a serious fire hazard and, inevitably, Glasgow succumbed to major conflagrations in 1652 and 1677. The extent of damage was such that many properties had to be demolished and replaced. After the second disaster the Town Council insisted on the strict regulation of all new building, including construction in stone rather than timber. In the long term this was beneficial to Glasgow's physical appearance and by the 1720s the journalist and writer Daniel Defoe (1659-1731) was effusive in his praise of the "large, stately, and well-built city". Commercial success further enhanced Glasgow's 18th-century reputation for the quality of the built environment. In particular, the town-houses of merchants, such as the Shawfield Mansion (1711), were intended to display the wealth that was accruing from overseas trade.

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