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Industrial Revolution: 1770s to 1830s

Everyday Life

By Irene Maver

Carlton Place Population growth and building development were among the most striking features of life in Glasgow from the 1770s. According to writer Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), in 1770 there were around 30,000 inhabitants; a figure that did not intrude upon the city's spacious and attractive physical appearance. By the 1830s the population had risen to over 200,000 and the urban fabric evoked far more negative images, especially in the congested inner city. Inevitably, the pressure of growth led to residential segregation. The East End was a predominantly working-class centre of textile production; the West End was mostly residential and middle-class. Developing districts such as Gorbals reflected both characteristics. The fine new riverside terraces of Laurieston, erected in the 1800s, could not prevent the encroachment of industry towards the Clyde.

New Homes and Public Buildings

Fashions and... Quadrilles Signs of the construction boom were inescapable. In 1783 Glasgow's booster poet John Mayne (1759-1836) wrote effusively, "Look thro' the town; - the houses here / Like royal palaces appear". He may have been making specific reference to Queen Street's imposing Cuninghame Mansion, completed in 1780, but as the New Town took shape so many more attractive buildings were completed. The confidence of Glasgow's commercial and professional classes was visibly demonstrated in the growing number of private dwellings and public edifices. Some new buildings were intended to accommodate the life-style of the urban elites. For instance, from 1796 the Assembly Rooms, erected in Ingram Street, provided the main venue for balls, concerts and supper parties. In 1805 the luxurious Theatre Royal was opened in Queen Street and in 1818 it became one of Glasgow's first gas-lit public buildings. These were places where a fashionable dress code applied and which served the important function of introducing prospective marriage partners.


Broomielaw, 1829 The prevalence of new buildings was a sign that Glasgow had become a consumer-based society with sophisticated tastes and preferences. Social status was displayed by living in a New Town residence, while the quantity and quality of material possessions indicated the wide range of consumer choices. In 1787 Jones's Directory listed an eclectic array of Glasgow shopkeepers, including grocers, confectioners, bakers, tobacconists, perfumers, wig-makers, hairdressers, haberdashers, drapers, hatters, glovers, breeches-makers and stay-makers. Exotic goods were imported from Europe and the colonies and included Canadian furs and timber, West Indian sugar and spices, and East Indian products like tea. The city was also the centre of west of Scotland manufacturing production and accommodated vast warehouses for the distribution of finished goods. All this had a practical impact on the city's consumer development. Above all, the market economy was intensified by the ongoing development of the River Clyde, which by the 1800s was transforming Glasgow into a busy sea-going port.

Food and Health

Glasgow Bridges, 1806 Despite material improvements, the city's fast-growing population put pressure on the supply of food and water. There were years, notably 1800, when there were riots over shortages of provisions such as oatmeal and potatoes. Civic leaders became acutely aware of the importance of modern, well-regulated and accessible food markets. A notable example from 1818 was the custom-built Cattle Market in Graham Square, designed to ensure that live animals were no longer sold on the open streets. While the city displayed relatively few rural characteristics by the 1820s, the municipally-owned Glasgow Green remained important as a grazing area for the city's milk cows. As for water, Tobias Smollett identified problems even in 1770, when he commented on the "hard and brackish" quality of the supply from public wells. Two private water enterprises were established during the 1800s, but these only served districts to the north of the city. By the 1830s, as the population continued to increase relentlessly, there were still vocal complaints about the inadequacy of provision.


Consumption of Smoke, Present Concern about the water supply was bound up with ongoing public debate about the city's environmental deterioration. Industry may have been a boon in stimulating wealth and creating job opportunities, but the pollution of streams and rivers was an unhealthy side effect. The onset of steam power from 1800 shrouded the industrial districts in a permanent pall of smoke. The typhus epidemic of 1817-1818 further eroded the city's 18th century image of salubrity; the disease thrived in squalid and overcrowded living conditions and tended to be most apparent at times of unemployment. Glasgow's pioneering Police Act, inaugurated in 1800, was an attempt to introduce more professional environmental services. The Police Board dealt with matters like cleansing, paving, lighting and fire fighting, as well as law and order. Separate policing arrangements followed in Gorbals (1808), Calton (1817) and Anderston (1824), although critics of the system argued that Glasgow and the suburbs would have been better served under a single co-ordinating authority.


A Regular Row Fear of rising crime rates was an important reason for the middle-class flight to new residential districts like Blythswood. Whatever the reality, contemporaries perceived that the dislocating effects of industrialisation were responsible for anti-social behaviour, especially among the young. Increasingly, the link was made between delinquency and the city's drinking culture. This was ironic, as taverns and dram shops reflected yet another aspect of the thriving consumer economy. Some, such as Lucky Black's tavern in the Gallowgate, became famous as places where rum punch and whisky toddy could be consumed in an atmosphere of cosy conviviality. Taverns and inns were central to the success of Glasgow's many clubs and societies. Even the Medical Club met in Mrs Pollock's Prince's Street hostelry. While the members of Glasgow Golf Club played matches on Glasgow Green, their off-course activities revolved around an elaborate dining culture, using venues such as the Buck's Head Inn.


The Sober Alternatives

Some Glaswegians were critical of the tavern-based lifestyle. The city's magistrates expressed widely held concerns when they claimed in 1805 that the proliferation of "tippling houses" was encouraging bad habits among the working classes. The influential temperance movement, which took root in Glasgow during the 1820s, was an attempt to raise public awareness about alcohol's corrosive influence. On the other hand, not all leisure activities in Glasgow were drink-related. Some institutions, such as the Tontine Coffee House and Reading Room, prohibited alcohol and tobacco. The large number of city bookshops and subscription libraries indicated more contemplative habits. The churches and charitable organisations were an important focal point of community activity, especially for women, who were excluded from male-dominated club culture. The home domain provided opportunities for domestic entertainment, where musical and literary talents were important. However, as a rule alcohol and home-based hospitality were inextricably linked, especially on festive occasions like Glasgow Fair or Hogmanay.

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