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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914


By John F McCaffrey

Robert Napier The industrialists were major influences in shaping Glasgow in the 19th century. Robert Napier (1791-1876) who revolutionised marine engineering and shipbuilding, and William Beardmore (1823-1877) of the great Parkhead Forge, are only two of a bewildering array of textile, chemical, and commercial pioneers who gave the city its distinctive character as a world centre of industry. However, the contribution of the thousands who were drawn to work these new industries is often overlooked because of their anonymity, yet they were just as important. This mixture of native Glaswegians and lowland Scots, of Irish, Highlanders, English and, later, substantial groups of Italians and Jews produced a city of contrasts. Numbering a million people by 1914, as late as 1881 almost half of Glasgow's residents were incomers. A population so huge and culturally diverse was unique in Scotland. Their resilience in adapting to the challenges of change is a significant element in the city's 19th century history.

Public Servants

James B Russell Also important were those responsible for running the city and shaping its response to rapid growth. John Ure (1824-1901), a flour merchant who eventually became Lord Provost in 1880, was the driving force behind attempts (which resulted in the Police Act of 1862) to regulate sanitary conditions. From this came a distinguished line of Medical Officers of Health - William T Gardiner (1824-1907), James B Russell (1837-1904) and Archibald K Chalmers (b 1856) - who led the fight to make the municipality more responsive to Glasgow's environmental problems. Russell became a significant figure in British public health. In a city with one of the highest density rates in Europe (as late as 1914 some 750,000 persons lived within three square miles of the city centre) his social realist writings were a major force in stimulating the authorities to action. These leaders created an ethos whereby public services were run efficiently and honestly by the municipality, not by market forces. Lord Provost John Blackie (1805-1873) of the world famous publishing firm was the man behind the 1866 City Improvement Act, designed to control the future planning and development of the city. From 1859 services such as water (with the opening of the Loch Katrine scheme), then gas, electricity, public transport (the tramway system under its energetic manager, James Dalrymple) were provided by the city fathers who eventually, under Lord Provosts Samuel Chisholm, wholesaler grocer (1853-1923) and Daniel M.Stevenson, coal exporter (1851-1944) began to venture more actively into housing provision for the poor.

Charing Cross The visual impact of such efforts, seen in Glasgow's 19th century civic buildings and in street and housing patterns, also influenced the character of the city. This was reinforced by the range of commercial and domestic buildings constructed by a band of local architects remarkable for their independence of style. In addition to the Glasgow School of Art by the internationally recognised Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) Alexander "Greek" Thomson (1817-1875) designed tenements as well as remarkable churches such as that at Caledonia Road. Equally impressive is Charles Wilson's (1810-1863) Park Circus, John Burnet's (1814-1901) Cleveden Crescent and his son's (John James Burnet, 1857-1938) Charing Cross Mansions. Many small building firms provided the city's characteristic tenements ranging from comfortable three and four rooms in the west end to the cramped room-and-kitchens of the Saltmarket. The growing service outlets - furniture, clothing, general merchandise, food - reached their peaks in the shops of Thomas Lipton (1850-1931) and the great stores such as Walter Wilson's (1849-1917) Colosseum and Treron's and John Anderson's Polytechnic whose large glass window displays dazzled J J Bell's "Wee Macgreegor" and his parents when strolling in Sauchiehall and Argyle Streets.


James Moir None of this would have been possible without the domestic management skills and endurance of Glasgow's women who, despite the dark environment in which most of them lived, gave it the cleanliness and moral care which allowed the city's families to develop and prosper. Some of these are known individually for their fight for better working conditions and for better opportunities for women. Grace Paterson (1843-1925) became one of the first women to be elected to the Glasgow School Board and, with Margaret Black (1830-1903), founded Schools of Cookery which have become part of today's Glasgow Caledonian University. Others notable for the advancement of women's educational and political rights were Janet Galloway, Isabella Elder, (1827-1905), wife of the famous shipbuilder John Elder, and Dr Marion Gilchrist (1863-1952).


Archbishop Eyre Glasgow was noted for its support of moral crusades. It was an important centre for the anti-slavery movement organised locally by two Quaker grocers, James and William Smeal (who were strong supporters of womens' right to participate in such agitations). Both the Chartist and Anti-Corn Law movements flourished in a city whose vitality depended on ideas of personal and economic freedom. The ex-Chartist James Moir, a tea dealer (1805-1880) became a noted civic activist and spokesman for the rights of Glasgow's East-Enders. The city's predominant Liberal political tradition produced MPs like Archibald Cameron Corbett, Lord Rowallan (1853-1933), a keen supporter of Glasgow's civic improvement tradition who gifted Rouken Glen park to its citizens. It also provided fertile ground for later radicals like John Ferguson, partner in a stationery business and originally from Belfast (1836-1906) who linked the causes of Irish Home Rule with that of the Highland crofters and the nascent Labour movement. This intellectual ferment was sustained by a lively local press. Editors like James Pagan (1811-1870), in his support of Free Trade and business, made the Glasgow Herald into an important opinion maker. The proprietor Charles Cameron did the same for the North British Daily Mail, in promoting the causes of temperance and Highland land reform.

Horatio Frederick Lloyd Much of Glasgow's tradition for sober improvement sprang from its strong Presbyterian background. Thomas Chalmers' (1780-1847) effort to create "The Godly Commonwealth" in the city inspired evangelical welfare schemes such as the Glasgow Spoutmouth Bible Institute run by the merchant, Michael Connal (1817-1893). The temperance movement was influential throughout and the Superintendent of the Glasgow Halls, Walter Freer, inaugurated popular concerts for working folk in halls and parks as a drink-free alternative to public houses. One notable offshoot of temperance was the famous Miss Kate Cranston's (1849-1934) Tea-Rooms, founded in 1878. William Alexander Smith (1854-1914) established the Boys' Brigade in 1883 to inspire boys with a sense of moral purpose. Archbishop Charles Eyre (1817-1902) presided over the largest and most important centre of Roman Catholicism in Scotland and, in the parishes he established, encouraged similar ideals of temperate living and good citizenship. Two statistics demonstrate the need for such crusades: in 1871, 41.3 per cent of Glasgow families lived in one-room houses ("single ends"); between 1871 and 1874, 126,529 Glasgow men and women were arrested for being drunk and incapable.

Men of Culture

Glasgow in the 19th century was not only a workshop but also a cultural centre. Its citizens were devotees of theatres and music halls, famous for "Glasgow Comics" like W F Frame who strongly influenced the youthful Harry Lauder. Sir Hugh Roberton (1874-1952) founded the Glasgow Orpheus Choir in 1906. The classical pianist, Frederick Lamond (1868-1948), studied under Liszt. The coach builder Archibald McLellan (1796-1854) and Alexander Reid (1854-1928) the art dealer helped the city amass its famous art collections. Popular pastimes like swimming, bowls and cycling flourished in the latter part of the century. Football, however, outstripped them all in excitement and interest, producing local heroes like R S McColl (Queen's Park), Tom Vallance (Rangers) and the legendary Jimmy Quinn (Celtic).

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