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Industrial Revolution: 1770s to 1830s


By Irene Maver

The Glassford family Glasgow experienced unprecedented industrial expansion in the late 18th century and a diverse range of personalities emerged as the population grew. At the start of the 1770s wealth was concentrated in the hands of the close-knit tobacco fraternity, and the mansion of William Cuninghame (1731-1799), one of the dominating architectural features of Glasgow's "New Town" (and now the home of the Gallery of Modern Art), became visible testimony to the opulent life-styles of the Virginia elite. However, from 1776 the American War of Independence seriously disrupted the flow of the transatlantic tobacco trade. Glasgow's influential Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1783 to protect local business at a time of profound uncertainty. Among its chief promoters were Patrick Colquhoun (1745-1820), later famous for his innovative ideas on preventative policing, and Gilbert Hamilton (1744-1808). Both men served as Lord Provost.


Tait's Directory p37 While American tobacco declined in importance by the 1790s, Glasgow's overseas trading links with the Caribbean remained strong. Families like the Campbells, Dunmores, Houstons, McDowalls and Raes dominated the West India interest, although a few fortunes were ruined when the giant firm of Alexander Houston & Co failed in 1795. Among the most prominent victims were the McDowall brothers, James (d 1808) and William (d 1810), respectively Lord Provost and MP for the Clyde Burghs. Up to the 1830s the "sugar aristocracy" maintained an entrenched position in the city's institutions. In particular, James Ewing (1775-1853) was a dominating figure in the Merchants House, also serving as Lord Provost and one of Glasgow's MP from 1832. Yet for all Ewing's distinguished position, the sugar trade's association with slave labour in the Caribbean was increasingly contentious. Even Ewing's family was split, as his cousin, the Rev Dr Ralph Wardlaw (1779-1853), a Congregationalist minister, was one of Scotland's most fervent anti-slavery campaigners.

Textile Industry

David Dale Although the Caribbean was a prime focus of commerce, the city's overseas connections were growing in different directions. Kirkman Finlay (1773-1842), son of the textile manufacturer James Finlay (1727-1790), made strenuous efforts to capture lucrative Asian markets, especially in India. Finlay's financial success demonstrated the central importance of cotton textiles in Glasgow's domestic economy. David Dale (1739-1806), who commenced his business career in Glasgow as a yarn merchant, built Scotland's first large-scale cotton mills at New Lanark in 1785. Dale was a self-made man, but some long-established trading families like the Stirlings consolidated their interest in textile manufacturing. Significantly, John Stirling (1751-1811), along with his brothers Andrew and James, was instrumental in extending the Monkland Canal to Glasgow during the 1780s. Although her role is not well known to historians, at least one woman held a position of authority in the textile trade. The journalist Robert Reid (1773-1865) worked for Dale during the 1790s and vividly recalled Mary Brown, who was then Glasgow's principal cotton broker.

Chemicals, Coal and Steam

Summer Amusements Up to the 1800s the main cotton-spinning enterprises were built outside Glasgow, but signs of industrial expansion were also emerging close to the city. In 1799 the driving force behind the massive St Rollox chemical works was Charles Tennant (1768-1838), whose business partner, Charles Macintosh (1766-1843), subsequently became world-famous for his patent waterproofing process. To help fuel industry and supply rising domestic demand for coal, William Dixon (1753-1822) developed the Little Govan colliery to the south of the Clyde. From 1800 the steam-engine, invented by James Watt (1736-1819), transformed Glasgow's urban landscape by bringing textile factories direct to the city. The steam revolution established the careers of cotton-spinners such as Henry Houldsworth (1774-1853). His family later invested heavily in the Lanarkshire iron industry, a growth sector that was given enormous stimulus in 1828 with the discovery of the "hot blast" process by Glasgow engineer James Beaumont Nielson (1792-1865).


John Henry Alexander Several textile manufacturers attained municipal distinction in Glasgow, and Kirkman Finlay, Henry Monteith (1765-1848) and Robert Dalglish (1770-1844) served as Lord Provost. The Town Council had a reputation for efficiency, which was reinforced by the professionalism of officials like James Cleland (1770-1840), Superintendent of Public Works from 1814. Yet the majority of pre-reform councillors were political conservatives, who supported Tory loyalists like Archibald Campbell of Blythswood (1761-1838) as the local MP. Opposition Whig activists in the Glasgow area included Sir John Maxwell of Pollok, 7th Baronet (1768-1844) and his wife, Lady Hannah Maxwell (1764-1841). Glasgow also had a radical movement, which experienced a setback in 1793 with the trial of its leader, Thomas Muir (1765-1799), for sedition. Muir, a lawyer, was convicted and transported to Australia. Until the 1820s the Government was determined to curb manifestations of support for French revolutionary ideas, but the massive working-class demonstration in favour of political reform, held in 1816 on the Thrushgrove estate of James Turner (1768-1858), was a significant challenge to the prevailing order. When reform was eventually implemented in the 1830s, the first Lord Provost under the new regime was the veteran Whig lawyer, Robert Grahame (1759-1851).

Arts and Architecture

Advertisement Population growth meant that there was a building boom in the city and surrounding suburbs. The architect David Hamilton (1768-1843) made a major contribution to Glasgow's structural embellishment, notably in the late 1820s with his imposing Classical design of Royal Exchange Square. He was also responsible for the Theatre Royal, which opened in 1805 to meet public demand for larger and more luxurious dramatic venues. The Scottish playwright Joanna Baillie (1762-1851) had family connections with Glasgow and was educated in the city. The Glasgow stage also produced the flamboyant figure of John Henry Alexander (1792-1851), an actor-manager whose astute publicity skills guaranteed huge audiences for his performances. Glasgow was the birthplace of a number of creative writers, including poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) and journalist and biographer John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854), although their success was achieved in Edinburgh. However, Scots vernacular poets, such as William Motherwell (1797-1835) and Alexander Rodger (1784-1846), published locally and acquired a popular following.

Drink and Debate

The availability of books and newspapers demonstrated that Glasgow was becoming a city of wide consumer choices. The University helped to stimulate demand for literature, but newspapers such as the Glasgow Herald, founded in 1783 by James Mennons (1747-1818), were also useful vehicles for advertising. Literary discussion and debate was one aspect of the thriving club and tavern culture that prevailed up to the 1830s. Women were often tavern proprietors, such as Margaret Jardine (d 1825) of the Buck's Head Inn and Jean Graham of the Saracen's Head Inn. On the other hand, religious evangelicals, who had a strong base in Glasgow, were highly critical of drink-related social activities. In 1830 lawyer John Dunlop (1789-1868) and publisher William Collins (1789-1853) founded one of Britain's first temperance societies. They were influenced by the ideas of Church of Scotland evangelicals, notably the Rev Dr Stevenson Macgill (1765-1840) and the Rev Dr Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), who were concerned about the moral impact of Glasgow's deteriorating urban fabric. A personal insight into the world of the city's underclass at this time is given in the memoirs of William Cameron (1784-1851), better known as "Hawkie", an itinerant ballad seller and street orator.

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