A Brief History of Glasgow Abridged
A Brief Tour of the History of Glasgow, City of Scotland.
Glasgow in the Middle Ages
Glasgow was probably founded in the 6th century when St Mungo built a church on the spot called Glas Gu. (It means green place). A fishing settlement in the green place eventually grew into a small town. Glasgow received a bishop in 1115, indicating that it was quite an important settlement at the time.
Glasgow church was replaced by a cathedral in 1136. The cathedral burned down in 1172 but was rebuilt. Then, in the years 1175-78 (the exact date is not known), Glasgow was granted a charter by the king. (A charter was a document that gave townspeople certain rights.)
In the Middle Ages, Glasgow had a weekly market. From 1190 it also had a fair, which was held every July. In the Middle Ages a fair was like a market, but it was only held once a year and people came from a wide area to buy and sell at one.
In Glasgow there were many craftsmen, including butchers and bakers. There were also skinners, tanners, and glovers (leather glove makers) in Glasgow, as well as fullers (men who cleaned and thickened wool by pounding it in a mixture of water and clay) and dyers. There were also many fishermen in Glasgow.
Medieval Glasgow probably had a population of about 1,500. That seems very small to us, but in the Middle Ages cities were much smaller than they are today. Still, in the Middle Ages, Glasgow was not one of the largest and most important cities in Scotland.
One reason is that Glasgow was on the wrong side of Scotland to trade with European countries such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries. Furthermore, Glasgow competed with other towns on the Clyde (Dumbarton, Rutherglen and Renfrew). The small city of Glasgow only consisted of 4 main streets arranged in the shape of a cross.
However, the Dominican friars (known as black friars because of the color of their robes) arrived in Glasgow in 1260. The friars were like monks and took vows of chastity and poverty, but instead of withdrawing from society they went out to preach.
There were also hospitals in Glasgow run by the Church. In them the monks cared for the sick as best they could. In 1350 a hospital for lepers was founded south of the Clyde.
At the end of the Middle Ages, Glasgow was gaining importance. In 1410 the wooden bridge over the Clyde was replaced by a stone one. Glasgow did not have stone walls, but it did have stone gates (the spaces between them were occupied by houses). In 1491 the Bishop of Glasgow was granted the right to use a public scale to weigh produce. It was called the Tron and gave its name to the Trongate.
As a sign of its growing importance, in 1451 Glasgow was allowed to have a university. The papal document that founded the university described Glasgow as a “place of renown, where the air is soft and provisions abound”. In 1460 a secondary school was founded in Glasgow.
Meanwhile, in 1454, Glasgow became a royal burgh. Then in 1492 Glasgow received an archbishop.
In the early Middle Ages there was a general market in Glasgow, but as the city grew separate markets were held. At the end of the 15th century there was a salt market (which is still the name of a place).
There was also a wool and linen market above the market cross. A fruit and vegetable market was held at Gallowgate. There was also a meat market north of Trongate, a fish market in Westport, and a horse market and grain market on the high street.
In 1526, Archbishop Black Adder founded another hospital in Glasgow. However, Glasgow was besieged several times during the 16th century in 1516, 1517, 1544, 1560, 1568 and 1570. During these sieges the castle was damaged by cannon.
However, Glasgow grew rapidly during this time. In the 17th century, Glasgow probably had a population of 7,000. By the year 1700 there were about 12,000. In 1626 a new toll booth was built. It was demolished in 1812 except for the bell tower.
In 1649 a writer called Glasgow “one of the most considerable burghs in Scotland, both for buildings and for commerce”. Hutchesons ‘hospital’ for the aged and orphans opened in 1650.
However, the plague struck Glasgow in 1646. There was also a disastrous fire in Glasgow in 1652 and another in 1677. However, each time the plague hit Glasgow it recovered and continued to grow and prosper.
The Merchant’s House, where merchants met to discuss business, was built in 1659. The building was demolished in 1817, except for the steeple which remains the merchant’s steeple.
By the end of the 17th century there were several industries in Glasgow, including boiling soap making, sugar making, rope making, glass making, cloth making and porcelain making. There were also factories where candles were made.
Meanwhile, the first wharf was built at Broomielaw in 1601. It was rebuilt several times during the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1668 the council purchased land along the Clyde. There they built docks and warehouses and Port Glasgow was born.
In 1674 the first shipment of tobacco arrived in Glasgow. It soon became one of Glasgow’s biggest imports. Once colonies were founded in North America and the West Indies, Glasgow benefited from its position to the west of Scotland.
However, Glasgow, like all cities at the time, was dirty and unhealthy. In 1685, when the authorities forbade people to leave dung heaps outside their houses, an attempt was made to make things better. (There was, of course, a lot of horse manure, as well as animals on their way to market or slaughter.)
At the beginning of the 18th century, Glasgow probably had a population of around 12,000 and grew rapidly. By the end of the century, the population of Glasgow had reached 84,000. By the standards of the time, it was a large city.
In the 1720s, Daniel Defoe described Glasgow: “Glasgow is, indeed, a very pretty city, the four principal streets being the prettiest for width, and the best built I have ever seen in a city put together. The houses are all of stone and generally equal and uniform in height’. He also said: “It is the cleanest and most beautiful city, and the best in Great Britain, with the exception of London.”
As Glasgow grew, new streets were built. Candleriggs and King Street were built in the 1720s. In 1751 the West Harbor or gate was demolished and the main obstacle to growth to the west was removed. Virginia Street was built in 1753 and Jamaica Street in 1763. Queen Street followed in 1777 and St Enochs Square in 1783.
Buchanan Street was built in 1786 and St Georges Square in 1787. Hutcheson and Glassford streets were built in the 1790s. In the 18th century, in Gorbals, a new neighborhood was built. Meanwhile Pollock House was built in 1752. The Royal Exchange was built in 1775. In 1772 a second bridge was built over the Clyde.
In the 18th century Glasgow was famous for its fine linen. In the late 18th century, cotton spinning became a major industry in Glasgow. Meanwhile, Glasgow got its first newspaper in 1715. Pollok House was built around 1752. It was donated to the city in 1966.
A second bridge over the Clyde was built in 1772 and the castle was finally demolished in 1792. Glasgow got its first (not very effective) police force in 1788 and the Royal Infirmary was built in 1794. Meanwhile the Monkland Canal was opened in 1793.
In the 19th century, Glasgow continued to grow very rapidly. In 1871 it had reached a population of half a million inhabitants. This was despite a very high infant mortality rate. (Up to half of all children born died before their 5th birthday.) The poor of Glasgow lived in appallingly overcrowded conditions. Most of them lived in one or two rooms in tenements.
Meanwhile, the Nelson Monument was built in 1806. Glasgow’s first museum, the Hunterian, opened in 1807. It is named after Dr William Hunter, who left his collection at the university in 1783.
The Botanic Gardens were built in 1817. Andrews Roman Catholic Cathedral in Glasgow. Argyle Arcade was built in 1827. The Necropolis Cemetery was built in 1833. Many wealthy merchants were buried there in elaborate tombs.
Glasgow Green was established as a park between 1815 and 1826. Kelvingrove Park was opened in 1852. In 1862 Queens Park opened. Alexandra Park followed in 1870, while the Custom House was built in 1840. St George’s Cross was built in 1837.
In 1843 a corn exchange was built on Hope Street where grain was bought and sold and in 1845 the Glasgow School of Art was founded. The Athenaeum was built in 1847. Glasgow Academy was founded in 1846.
Caledonia Road Church was built in 1857 but burned down in 1965. St. Vincent Street Church was built in 1859 by Alexander Thomson (1817-1875). Great Western Terrace was built in 1870.
Many more buildings were built in Glasgow in the 19th century. The Stock Exchange was built on Buchanan Street in 1875. Also in 1875 the Fish Market was built. The Mitchell Library was built in 1877.
The City Chambers were built in 1888. Queens Cross Church was built in 1897 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928). The same man also built the Glasgow School of Art building in 1909.
Transport also improved in Victorian Glasgow. In 1845, the first horse-drawn buses began running in Glasgow. From 1872 they were replaced by horse-drawn trams. After 1898 trams were converted to electricity (Glasgow’s first power station was built in 1893).
Queen Street Station was built in 1842. Buchanan Street Station was built in 1849. Central Station followed in 1879. Glasgow gained an underground railway in 1896.
In the mid-19th century, Glasgow was described as “arguably the dirtiest and most unhealthy of all British cities”. There were cholera outbreaks in Glasgow in 1849 and in 1854. The first time 3,777 people died. The second time 3,885 people died.
But conditions in Glasgow improved in the late 19th century. In 1859 Glasgow got a piped water supply. In 1893 the first electric streetlights were lit in Glasgow, but they only slowly replaced gas. Also in the late 19th century a network of sewers was built in Glasgow.
Also, the Albert Bridge was built in 1871. In 1895 a pedestrian tunnel was built under the Clyde. In 1898 the People’s Palace opened on Glasgow Green.
Glasgow’s main industries in the 19th century included shipbuilding, cotton, engineering, carpet-making, ceramics, and glass. At the end of the 19th century, the port’s facilities were greatly improved with the construction of docks and new docks.
The tonnage of ships built in the city increased from 20,000 in the year 1850 to 5000,000 in 1900. In 1888 an International Exhibition of Science and Art was held in Glasgow.
In the 20th century, Glasgow’s services continued to improve. The Kelvingrove art gallery opened in 1901. The Kings Theater on Bath Street was built in 1904. However, in the 1930s, Glasgow suffered from severe unemployment. Shipbuilding was one of the industries most affected by the depression, although it was revived with the arrival of World War II.
Furthermore, the first slum clearance in Glasgow began in the 1930s and in 1938 the Empire Exhibition was held on the site of Bellahouston Park.
During World War II, Glasgow suffered from German bombing along with other Clydeside towns. However, Glasgow escaped serious damage.
From the 1950s employment in Glasgow changed. In the 1930s most jobs were in the manufacturing sector, but in the 1960s and 1970s the situation changed so that most jobs were in the service sector.
In the 1960s and 1970s, like many other cities, Glasgow embarked on a program of slum clearance. Large areas of the central city such as Gorbals were demolished. Some people were rehoused in apartments. Others were rehoused in “overflowing” towns such as Glenrothes, Irvine, East Kilbride, Cumbernauld and Livingstone.
Other houses were demolished to make way for the M8 motorway. Glasgow’s last trams ran in 1962. In 1965 a tunnel was built under the Clyde. In 1970 the Kingston Bridge was built.
Also in 1970 the Glasgow Central Mosque was built. Meanwhile, the University of Strathclyde was formed in 1964.
In the latter part of the 20th century, Glasgow turned to art and its heritage to attract visitors and create jobs. The Hunterian Art Gallery opened in 1980. In 1983 the Burrell Collection was displayed in a museum on the grounds of Pollock House. The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Center was built in 1985. The Clyde Auditorium was added in 1997.
The McLellan Galleries were severely damaged by fire in 1985. They were refurbished and reopened in 1990. In 1996 the Gallery of Modern Art was built. Meanwhile, in 1988 a Garden Festival was held in Glasgow.
In 1990 it became a European city of culture. Also in 1990 the Royal Concert Hall was inaugurated. In 1996 a Visual Arts Festival was held in the city. In 1999, Glasgow was designated as the British City of Architecture and Design.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Glasgow’s traditional manufacturing industries were in steep decline, but service industries grew. Industries such as retail, finance, and tourism flourished.
The Glasgow School Museum of Education opened in 1990 and the St Mungos Museum of Art and Religious Life in 1993. The Buchanan Galleries shopping center was built in 1999 and the Clyde Maritime Center opened in the same year.
In the early 21st century, Glasgow flourished. The IMAX cinema opened in 2000 and the Clyde Arc Bridge in 2006. Today the population of Glasgow is 598,000.
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