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Industrial Revolution: 1770s to 1830s

Culture and Leisure

By Stana Nenadic

Fashions for June Various factors shaped the culture and leisure of Glasgow during this period. The relative decline of religion, with its rigid control over time-use and "pleasure", was important. There was growing disposable wealth, which allowed Glaswegians to purchase luxuries such as exotic food and drink for entertaining, books or musical instruments. The availability of greater incomes was accompanied by longer hours of work for rich and poor alike; set by the clock, with stricter management, allowing less time in general for recreation and fewer opportunities for "fun" in the workplace. Gender differences were increasingly important, as notions of appropriate behaviour, especially for women, set limits on what people could do. And finally there was urban expansion, which meant that the leisure of Glasgow's population, which in the 1750s still had a distinctly rural quality, became increasingly subject to civic regulation.


Foulis Academy Exhibition The Enlightenment brought a major transformation in the high culture of Glasgow. A Literary Society was founded in 1752, marking the start of the "rational leisure" movement founded on learning and debate. There were theatres in Glasgow from the later 18th century - although their very existence was regretted by many people in a city of strong Calvinist traditions. The Assembly Rooms in Ingram Street opened in 1796 with facilities for concerts as well as dancing. The Hunterian Museum, which included paintings as well as antiquities and natural history, was opened in 1804 to popular acclaim. There were touring commercial exhibitions as well, which attracted vast numbers. The most remarkable enterprise in high culture was the Foulis Academy, founded in 1753 by the brothers Robert and Andrew in premises adjoining the University. It taught painting, sculpture, engraving and design, held exhibitions of great art and published books of rare beauty. Though the Academy collapsed in the mid-1770s, its cultural legacy was enormous.


On Taste The lives of men engaged in commerce and industry were inevitably dominated by the counting house and the ledger, with little time for leisure beyond that which flowed from ordinary family life or the business of the burgh. Nevertheless, several new types of organisation and facility built with the interests of business in mind, did have a leisure dimension. The Tontine Coffee House, which opened in 1781, was a place for networking and exchanging information, but it also allowed for a few snatches of leisure, chatting with friends or reading the latest news from the United Kingdom and abroad. Businessmen engaged in increasingly elaborate hospitality in the home through sumptuous dinners and the drinking of punch. And although much of this was driven by a commercial imperative - to network and impress potential business partners - it was also done for pleasure, often to excess.


Amateur Concert Female leisure, regardless of status, was focused on the family and home. Domestic responsibilities and the care of children tied most women to a narrower sphere than that available to men. Leisure was possible for women through modest hospitality - notably tea drinking among the middle classes - or chatting, singing or storytelling while working, at, for instance, the public washhouse on the Green. On market days and during the annual Glasgow Fair, working class women still enjoyed the pleasures of a robust street life. But the leisure of middle class women was increasingly confined to areas both indoors and private. Reading became a significant area of leisure for well-off women. Books, magazines and novels written with the female audience in mind were published cheaply and in increasing numbers and several libraries catering for the female taste had come into existence by 1830. Since practical domesticity was no longer considered "polite" among the elite, daughters of wealthy and aspirational parents were now taught music and dancing rather than pastry making, and the piano in the parlour became a feature of domestic leisure. Boys of wealthy families played golf and took horse riding and fencing lessons. But most "ordinary" children entertained themselves, with home-made toys and games and the street as playground.


Dancing Taught Male working-class leisure generated much concern during this time. Sport in the streets included traditional ball games and was often violent, motivated by gambling and accompanied by drunkenness and brawling - characteristics that generated a growing disapproval among the moral middle classes. Indeed, the Scottish culture of heavy drinking led to a vigorous temperance leisure movement from the 1820s. Bare knuckle boxing, cock or dog fights, and badger baiting generally took place in premises adjoining inns. Such events were widely advertised and attracted vast numbers, including middle class men, for the bloody sport and the gambling. But these events were no longer acceptable among the "civilised" classes and were gradually outlawed. The burgh authorities, anxious to exercise control in the vastly expanding city, sought to regulate many aspects of working class leisure, particularly the out-of-doors variety that attracted large crowds. One significant space that was subject to a major programme of control was Glasgow Green. From being a popular space with a wide variety of users and regular abusers, it became a well-ordered park with gravel walkways and carriage drives suitable for the promenades of respectable citizens.

A "Golden Age"

Govan Weavers' Society Skilled workers enjoyed the rough-and-tumble of traditional leisure but were also influenced by enlightened refinements. During the "golden age" of the handloom weaver, when wages were high and hours of work relatively short, this privileged group joined clubs and societies, wrote poetry and song, subscribed to newspapers and kept their own flower and vegetable gardens. But this perceived golden age was brief and in common with most skilled workers the organisational life of weavers revolved around wage protection and insurance against bad times. Friendly Societies and the early trades unions were practical in their focus, but also provided their members with opportunities for cultivating good fellowship and leisure through their regular meetings in inns or ale houses. For the young man alone, just arrived from the country, they were a vital source of support and a vehicle for making friends. Church organisations, including Gaelic and Irish churches, played a similar role in a city of migrants and strangers, which Glasgow had become by 1830.

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