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The Clyde from the Source to the Sea
Chapter V. The City of Glasgow


Glasgow is the centre of wide and varied industry. The great coal and iron fields of the neighbourhood have afforded unlimited scope for the enterprise of the Middle Ward to develop itself in the form of coal-mines, blast furnaces, puddling-furnaces, rolling-mills for iron and steel manufacture. The sandstones have been quarried for the buildings which now stretch for miles in all directions around the old historic centres of the Cathedral and the Cross. The application of chemistry to the arts has developed many and special branches of products, the tall chimney of St. Rollox being a memorial to the foundation of several notable industries, viz. the manufacture of soda, soap, and bleaching-powder.

The introduction of steam-power, and the improvement of the spinning and weaving appliances, caused the construction of cotton and other mills;1 while the great shipbuilding and engineering industries of the Clyde, from very humble beginnings in 1812, have developed and flowed onwards like their parent river in ever-widening volume. The rise of many of these industries is of comparatively recent date; some which at one time flourished have largely disappeared, whilst other and newer forms have taken their place. Glasgow, fortunately, is manysided in this respect, and therefore not so much affected by times of depression as are other cities which depend upon a few special processes of manufacture.

In earlier days the productive operations were carried on mainly for home consumption, and the produce would be bargained for on a large scale at the various fairs held during the year; a survival of the name only now remaining in the “Fair Week” and “Fair Saturday,” well known to Glasgow citizens as a period of recreation. Then the commercial activity relaxes, the clank of the steam-engine is hushed, and the black smoke from its accompanying boiler-chimney is scarcely seen. This is the time for a stranger to visit the city, if he wishes to get some idea of its extent and the character of its architecture, as then the almost smokeless atmosphere will offer little impediment to his inquiring gaze.

The most notable export in early times appears to have been the natural product of the river and the firth, as we find that in the fifteenth century salmon was exported, and later in the seventeenth century both salmon and herrings were cured and exported to France; brandy, wine, and salt being returned as imports.

The union of the Scottish and English crowns took place in 1603, when James YI. of Scotland ascended the throne of England; but it was not till the union of 1707, when the parliaments were united, that any special commercial benefit was felt by Scotland. After that union a great stimulus to commercial enterprise was obtained in the new fields opened up by the colonial trade being thrown open to the energy of the Clydesdale merchants.

The “Tobacco Lords” rose and flourished in the Virginia trade, and walked the “ plainstanes ” at the Cross with great importance, dressed in rich attire even in business hours:

“When on the ’Change the gay-drest merchant shines.”

The American war put an end to this colonial trade, so that about the year 1775 new fields of enterprise had to be looked for and opened up, and the great cotton industries were started, together with dyeing and the printing of cloths.

Pennant tells us that when he visited Glasgow in 1772 there were carried on quite a variety of industries, such as linens, cambrics, lawns, fustians, tapes, striped linens, sugar-refining, glass-making, rope-spinning, shoes, boots, and saddles. Speaking of the latter he says: “The Magazine of Saddles is an amazing sight; all these are destined for America.” One wonders now what became of the stores in this “magazine,” as about that time the disputes were just arising which led to the war being declared in 1775, and the blockade-runners of the eighteenth century would hardly equal in speed those of the nineteenth. It is somewhat curious to find that at that time there was “a great porter brewery which supplies some part of Ireland.” The export of coals was also going on to the same country and to America.

In speaking of the origin of the foreign trade of Glasgow, Pennant says it was due to a Walter Gibson, who, in 1668, cured and exported in a Dutch vessel about 1800 barrels of herrings. These herrings went to France, and the return was brandy and salt. The profit on this venture enabled the enterprising merchant to buy vessels for himself, with which he traded to Europe and Virginia. He even imported iron and wine; previously to that Glasgow depended for those commodities on some of the other Scotch towns. M‘Ure, in his quaint History of Glasgoiv, published 1735, tells us that “Walter Gibson, eldest Son of the deceast John Gibson of Overneirtoun, Merchant and late Provost of Glasgow, his first appearance was in malt-making, and his stock being improven that way, he left that trade, and betook himself to merchandizing, and began first with the herring-fishing.” He appears to have been Provost of Glasgow in 1687. After all this Pennant remarks: “Yet I find no statue, no grateful inscription to preserve the memory of Walter Gibson.”

In the early centuries of our era the rise of centres of life and energy, which we now designate towns and cities, appears often to have been due to one or other of two causes, viz. religion or war. In the one case the influence from the cell of the recluse became like a light shining in the darkness, and penetrated the obscurity which lay around, gradually spreading until communities were formed, moved more or less by united aims. In the other case, especially later 011 in feudal times, the strong castle of the baron gave shelter and protection to those who acknowledged his sway, and were prompt to defend and further his interests.

Glasgow appears largely to have originated in the former of these causes. Kentigern placed his cell on the banks of the Molendinar, and the collection of huts which at one time must have grown around this centre of light and leading gradually took upon itself the form of a town, and in gratitude to the early recluse adopted him as its patron saint under the designation of St. Mungo. The religious aspirations of the young town and growing city showed themselves in the motto which the early rulers chose to accompany the arms: “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word.”

According to Mr. Macgeorge it was towards the close of the sixteenth century that armorial bearings were used by Glasgow, and from that time till about twenty years ago great variety appeared in the forms used, until it was authoritatively settled at the request of the magistrates by the Lord Lyon in 1806. A seal Avas used in early times which appears to have exhibited the leading features shown afterwards on the city arms, these being the head of St. Mungo, the bell, fish, bird, and tree.

Mr. Macgeorge, in further speaking of the motto, “Let Glasgow flourish,” says that it is first met with on the bell of the Tron Church, of date 1592, an Inscription on which reads, “Lord, let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of the Word and praising Thy name.” This, however, was only an ecclesiastical motto, and it was not till 1099 that it appears in the heraldic form upon the city arms; but in this case again it is still connected with a church (the Blackfriars in High Street), where it simply reads, “Let Glasgow flourish.” This motto was afterwards confirmed in I860 by the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

St. Mungo, or St. Kentigern as he was at first called, is so associated with the early history of Glasgow, that both in records of a historical and fabulous character we find frequent reference to him in the earlier traditions of the city. He was the

“Prophetic seer, whose visionary eye,
Saw Glasgow’s glory in the future lie.”

St. Mungo appears to have been one of the early Culdee monks, and selected the banks of the Molendinar for the site of his cell. About 580 he appears to have founded a church in the rising village or town of Glasgow, where he died about 601, his tomb being still shown in the crypt of the Cathedral which bears his name, and which rose in later years (1123), on or near the site of his early abode. The passing years brought with them many changes; one not the least important in the civil life of the town was the increased power of the clergy, as we read that a castle was afterwards built for the bishop close to the Cathedral. This castle, or episcopal palace, was removed in 1791 to make way for the Royal Infirmary, which now occupies the site.

The legends relating to St. Mungo’s powers are many and various. Some have been associated with the arms of the city. “ The Legend of Saint Mungo ” is told by “Keelivine” (the late A. D. Robertson) in verse, who says:—

“He was the gentlest of his kind,
Beloved by grit and sma’;
A welcome guest where’er he gaed
In cot-house or in ha’;”

the poet then makes a beautiful and quaint reference to the robin of St. Mungo’s former master St. Servanus or St. Serf, which he when a boy had restored to life:

“He looked east, he looked west,
His hand on his ee-bree,
He looked north, he looked south,
There Clyde flow’d to the sea.

Nae signal-fires1 on Tintock blazed,
Or Deichmont’s sacred height,
Nae smoke arose frae Catlikin Braes
To vex Saint Mungo’s sight.

"But hark ye weel, my honny bird,
Upon the tree sae high,
Was that the curlew’s distant call,
Or lapwing’s warning cry?

'Or was it, what I weel mot guess,
The sough of angry men;
Or but the burnie’s playful sang,
That wimples down the glen?’

The birdie flew a mile about,
A mile but barely three,
O’er howm and height wi’ steady flight,
To see what he could see.”

The bird on returning tells Saint Mungo amongst other things that

“Thy prayer has quench’d the Beltane fires,
For helpless victims laid;
And furious priests shout for revenge
On thy devoted head.”

After many enterprises in which the saint was engaged in calming the troublous spirits of the times, the author finishes by saying:

“While Christian truths Saint Mungo taught
His people to discern,
And under God that gentle saint
Was hailed as Kentigern.”


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