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Industrial Revolution: 1770s to 1830s


Agnes Baird

By Irene Maver

Agnes Baird (1770-1832) was a writer and historian of Glasgow whose forthright style provoked controversy. Born in King Street, she was the daughter of William Brown, a glove manufacturer. Her parents and grandparents had a fund of stories about the city from the early 18th century and this inspired Agnes Baird's lifelong interest in history. However, her early years were difficult. Her father and then her tailor husband, James Baird, were dogged with financial problems. It was only much later in life, when her children were grown and she had inherited sufficient money to live securely, that she developed her writing talents.

Baird first came to prominence in 1830 when she produced a pamphlet highly critical of James Cleland (1770-1840), a well-known civic official. She evidently knew Cleland personally and felt that his fame as a historian and statistician of the city was not entirely merited. She itemised a long list of factual errors appearing in his various publications and rigorously corrected these. Baird felt herself superior in scholarly abilities and aggrieved that in 1826 Cleland had been awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters by Glasgow University, an honour that as a woman she could never aspire to. There were also sharp political differences between Baird and Cleland. He was an active promoter of the Tory cause; she was much more of a radical.

Her pamphlet caused a minor sensation and although the Glasgow Courier, a Tory newspaper, dismissed her as "an antiquarian dame", she won many admirers for her robust and irreverent views. Encouraged, she planned to write a history of modern Glasgow, giving a "warts-and-all" assessment of city politicians and worthies. However, she died suddenly in 1832. Her biographer noted that although an artist had been approached, he had never got round to recording her likeness.

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