Skip Navigation / Jump to Content



Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914

Trade and Communications

By Gordon Jackson

Shipping News In 1830 Glasgow was poised on the threshold of immense changes in inter-related trade and industry that together created "the second city of the empire". The most obvious expression of this was perhaps less the growing forest of factory chimneys in the suburbs, than the withdrawal of shipping activity from Greenock and Port Glasgow to the heart of the city itself. Engineering skills allowed better dredging of the river and by 1851 Glasgow had created 51 acres of deep water harbour and 3,591 yards of quays. The earliest beneficiary of this extension was the Clyde and Loch Fyne distribution trade. Its new coastal steamers carried goods for city centre haberdashers, vintners, brewers, bakers, grocers, and for the general warehouses which were the forerunners of the "catalogue" companies and the great emporia of late 19th century Glasgow. The new facilities supported a vastly increased coastal trade, particularly with Liverpool (linking the two great cotton regions). More important was the great boost given to coal, iron and machinery production by significant savings in transport costs. In particular, rails behind the quays connected with local railway networks and with the Garnkirk & Glasgow Railway (1831) running to the south-east; the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock & Ayr (1841) to the south west; and the Glasgow & Edinburgh linking Glasgow more effectively with the Forth ports. The Caledonian and North British Railways linking Glasgow with England conveyed chiefly passengers at first.


P & W MacLellan The deepening of the river resulted in a slump in demand for trans-shipment facilities in the lower Clyde towns such as Port Glasgow and Dumbarton. Imports of materials such as foodstuffs, wood and cotton were increasingly carried up the Clyde directly to the city. Exports were transformed, with a surge in exports of "coal & goods" destined chiefly for Southern Europe, North America, the Middle East, and "pig iron & goods" to Northern Europe. In the second half of the century a huge surge of all imaginable forms of metal manufactures from railway engines to tin tabernacles crossed the quays. Surprisingly, cotton goods were still the second most valuable exports, and there were also various miscellaneous goods, chemicals, oils and paints, whisky and eventually some 35,000 tons per annum of Tennents' "Export" bearing the "Red T" (from 1876) throughout the empire. Indeed, "Second City of the Empire" was no idle boast; nowhere else in Britain was so deeply involved in the ramifications of imperialism.


Anchor Line Crucial to expansion was the emergence of major shipping lines as developments occurred in iron and steel shipping, leading in the 1880s to the introduction of triple compound engines with greatly increased power and efficiency. The Allan Line sailed to Canada, the Anchor Line to New York, and Donaldsons to South America. The opening of the Suez Canal encouraged Anchor, Glen and Clan Lines' voyages to India (which overtook the USA in tonnage of shipping in the 1870s), and the Albion Line ran to Australia and New Zealand from the 1860s. Diversions to Rangoon for return cargoes led to the formation of the British & Burma Steam Navigation Company (1873), and the famous Irrawady Flotilla Company (1865) was also Glasgow-owned.


Merklands Lairage By the end of the century transatlantic imports of cotton, tobacco and sugar were no longer of major concern. Jute, flax and hemp came from India. A huge variety of metals and ores was received from various sources, and especially Spanish iron ore for the steel works - the origin of the Burrell shipowning fortune. Imports of foodstuffs rose rapidly with with the growth of the urban population: corn and flour from North and from India and Russia; meat on the hoof from Ireland and South America for the butchers, in cans from Argentina and Australia, and as hams and bacon from North America. The Albion line was importing frozen meat from South America and Australasia by the 1880s. Fruit arrived in great variety from the Continent, sharing space with sulphur for St Rollox.

Malcolm Campbell's This food trade eventually required a revolution as great as that in industry. Imports, especially of frozen, chilled and perishable commodities, required a new sort of distribution system for urban markets: Thomas Lipton and Malcolm Campbell, selling cheap groceries and fruit to the working class, created the first examples of the modern "multiple" shop chains combining the wholesale and retail function.

Custom House Quay Many foodstuffs also arrived courtesy of the coastal trade, with the advent of the "puffers" as general carriers and coal boats towards the end of the century. In fact between the 1830s and 1914 Glasgow's imports from more distant coastal areas grew mightily. First there were the large amounts of sugar, tobacco, cotton, miscellaneous foodstuffs and industrial materials (especially iron ore) brought from Ireland and England. Secondly a huge amount of building materials were brought into the city (especially slates and cement) supporting massive urban growth in the late 19th century. Coal and metal goods were the leading items exported to these coastal markets, but chemicals, whisky, beer and miscellaneous manufactures were always present; almost anything could be got from Glasgow, from a pin or a warship to printing ink and books.

Harbour Developments

Prince's Dock The port of Glasgow was not shut away from the public gaze as in many other major commercial centres, so that people of middle age in 1914 could not fail to be aware of the stupendous growth in their lifetime. The tonnage of the thirteen principal foreign imports rose from 125,988 tons in 1851 to 2,559,630 in 1911; shipping entering the port from foreign countries rose from 126,607 tons in 1851 to 2,774,028 in 1911; tonnage owned in Glasgow rose from 137,909 tons in 1850 to 2,026,954 in 1910. In the pre-war decade Glasgow was indisputably Britain's third commercial port (behind Liverpool and London), and this position resulted from the happy conjunction of a major industrial region and an excellent modern port.

Crane at Queen's Dock To accommodate the dramatic rise in traffic the Clyde Navigation Trust opened Kingston Dock (1867), Queen's Dock (1880) and Prince's Dock (1897), all with Rapid Transit Sheds, hydraulic power and appropriately heavy cranes (including the giant preserved at Finnieston Quay). They were followed by Merklands Quay for livestock (1907), Meadowside Quay for cornstuffs (1912), and Rothesay Dock (at Clydebank) for the coal trade. By 1914 Glasgow had facilities for handling vast numbers of ships, many locally owned and engaged in global trade, with an extensive back-up of commercial and financial enterprise and skill. Trade growth had been phenomenal since steam revolutionised oceanic traffic from the 1840s, especially since the 1880s when Glasgow also became a coal port. This trade interlocked on both the consumption and production side with local industries: they served each other, rising together to produce a major port/industrial complex unlike any other in Britain.

Quick Search

Photo Album

You have 0 images in your photo album.

View Photo Album

Log-In (Optional)

Not a user? Register now for FREE!

Other Options