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The Anecdotage of Glasgow

AN anecdote has been briefly, clearly, and pointedly defined by one distinguished collector and editor as—" The record of a striking event, a remarkable saying, or a brilliant action." Another collector, extending the scope of the delineation, describes an anecdote as—" A particular, or detached incident, or fact of an interesting nature, a biographical, historical, or topographical incident, story, or tale." Max O'Rell, the brilliant and racy French writer, has exemplified his ideal in Friend Macdonald: Anecdotic Recollections of the Land o’ Cakes, in which lie states:— "Scotland is, perhaps, the only country whose anecdotes alone would suffice to give an exact idea of her inhabitants. Irish anecdotes are exceedingly droll, but they only tend to show the thoughtless side of the Irish character. They are very amusing bulls; but, while they divert, they do not instruct. In Scotland, on the contrary, you find in the anecdotes a picture of the Scotch manners and character as complete as it is faithful. Among the characteristics of his ancestors there are two which the Scot has preserved intact to the present day—finesse and matter-of-fact good-humour. You will find these two traits in every grade of Scotch life—in tradesman, mechanic, and peasant.

"Of all the inhabitants of the more-or-less United Kingdom, Friend Donald (or Sandy) is the most keen, sturdy, matter-of-fact, persevering, industrious, and witty. Yes, the most witty, with all due respect to the shade of Sydney Smith. Add to these qualities a body healthy, bony, robust, and rendered impervious to fatigue by the practice of every healthful exercise, and you will understand why the Scotch succeed everywhere. His religion teaches him to trust in God, and to rely upon his own resources—an eminently practical religion, whose device is—‘ Help yourself, and Heaven will help you."

This is the admirably-expressed opinion of a sharp-sighted and keen-witted Frenchman. Had the same flattering statements emanated from a Scotsman, it would, no doubt, have, been set down to national egotism. But whatever John Bull may think or say, it is the plain, palpable and veritable truth, applicable to Scotland all over—from Maidenkirk to John o’ Groats—and especially so to Glasgow, with the district of which it is the centre.

Who were the people, and of what race of men were these dwellers in Strathclyde, who had the capacity, aptitude, and energy to take the utmost advantage of the natural resources of the district in coal and iron, and to triumph over the physical and political obstacles which obstructed their progress to success? The native race existing before, at, and after the time of the Roman dominion in Southern Britain were undoubtedly Britons of the same sturdy and indomitable race as the Welsh of the present day. At that period, or soon thereafter, their immediate neighbours were the Caledonians or Picts to the north-east, the Scots to the north-west, and the Angles to the east.

From these four races, with a Scandinavian addition, mixed up in varied proportions, the Scottish people of ‘the present’ day have sprung. In Strathclyde the two chief elements seem to have been British and Anglian, with considerable addition in later times from the Scots or Scoto-Scandinavians of the West Highlands. An able local writer of our day, who has evidently studied the subject with great research, care, and judgment, writes as follows:— "Nowadays, of course, our population is a mixed multitude. But the character of the place was fixed before any appreciable proportion of the population was drawn from a distance. In 1605, the first burgess roll was drawn up. It contains 576 burgesses, and nearly all have common Lowland names—there being only six Macs—whereas, in this year's Directory, besides Buchanans, Stewarts, and other Highland names galore, there are sixty pages of Macs, or nearly one-tenth of the whole."

In its origin the city was purely Episcopal. In 1350, when the population numbered about 1500, Bishop Rae erected a bridge of stone in a line with Stockwell Street, in place of the bridge of wood which previously stood there, and which is twice referred to by Blind Harry, in his Wallace, as having been used by the patriot near the end of the previous century.

A great advance was made and a new element of prosperity introduced in 1451, when, at the instance of King James II.,  and under the Episcopate of William Turnbull, the University of Glasgow was established under a bull of Pope Nicholas, of date 7th January, 1450-51. The population of  the city then numbered 2000.

In 1488, through the influence of King James IV., who was a canon of the Cathedral, Pope Alexander VI. issued a bull erecting the See of Glasgow into an Archbishopric. The Bishops of Dunkeld, Dunblane, Galloway, and of Argyle and the Isles, being made suffragans of the prelate of GIasgow. The early Provosts of Glasgow were nominated by its prelates, under the charters of Barony and Regality granted in their favour by the Crown.

In 1546, Glasgow was represented in the Scottish Parliament by its Provost, Andrew Hamilton, of Middop, and continued to be so represented by a person elected by the Town Council, who was always a member of that body, the Provost being frequently so chosen. This continued until the Scottish Parliament ceased to exist in 1707.

The Reformation did not entirely emancipate the city from Episcopal and outside control, as, for a considerable time after the Reformation, the Dukes or Earls of Lennox were supreme, and had a considerable say in the appointment of the Provosts.

During the sixteenth century most of the Trade Incorporations were formed; and in 1605, the offices of Dean of GuildI, and of Deacon Convenor were created, which regulated the relations between merchant and trade burgesses. In the year 1600, the population of Glasgow numbered 7000, and in 1610 it was 7644. In 1688 the General Assembly, held in Glasgow, abolished Episcopacy—and for twenty-three years thereafter there were no Archbishops of Glasgow.

The city had been made a Royal Burgh by King Charles I., but the rights of the Archbishops and Dukes of Lennox were reserved. While they were in abeyance it is probable that the city authorities had the power to manage its affairs pretty much in their own way, and it would appear that they did so with success. Commissioner Thomas Tucker, in a report on the revenue of the Excise and Customs of Scotland, prepared for Cromwell’s Government in 1656, gives a flattering account of the city and its trade to Ireland, France, Norway, the West Highlands, and even as far as Barbadoes. He states that— "With the exception of the collegians, all the inhabitants are traders;" and he adds, "the mercantile genius of the people are strong signs of her increase and growth, were she not checked and kept under by the shallowness of their river, so that no vessel of any burden can come up nearer than within fourteen miles. There are twelve vessels belonging to the merchants of this port, from 12 to 150 tons, none of which come up to the town— total, 957 tons." In 1660, the year of the Stuart Restoration, the population of the city had increased to 14,678, having thus in the course of fifty years, in spite of civil war, plague, fire, and famine, nearly doubled its population.

On the Restoration of Monarchy and Episcopacy in 1660, the city of Glasgow, and the surrounding district, came under the iron rule of Archbishop, High Commission Court, and Privy Council. The result was that the dawning prosperity of Glasgow was not merely checked, but actually began to droop, until it seemed ready to perish under the withering blight of Stuart despotism in Church and State. This is manifest from the fact that the population, in place of increasing, from 1660 to 1688 dwindled down to 11,948.

But when the obstructives, civil and Episcopal, were removed, the ebbing tide again began to flow, and Glasgow, probably for the first time, enjoyed the full and free exercise of its municipal rights as a Royal Burgh. In 1690, the new sovereigns, William and Mary, in their Royal Charter, stated—" Glasgow is among the most considerable of the Royal Burghs within the ancient Kingdom of Scotland, both for the number of inhabitants and their singular fitness and application to trade."

About 1708, a year after the Union, which was highly unpopular in Glasgow, the highest rent paid for a house was £100 Scots or £8 6s. 8d. sterling. A few years later rents had but little advanced. The highest rent paid for a shop at the firrst valuation in 1712 was £5 sterling, and the lowest 12s. The entire average rent for the 202 shops in the town was £623 15s. 4d. sterling, being considerably less than what is now paid for one large shop in any of our busiest quarters.

From the time above referred to, Glasgow shared with Rutherglen, Renfrew, and Dumbarton, the honour and privilege of returning one member to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. All of these places had been Royal Burghs prior to Glasgow. Rutherglen from 1126, Dumbarton from 1221, Renfrew from 1396, Glasgow only from 1636, and as we have seen, not even then fully and freely until 1690. More than once the encroachments of Rutherglen and Dumbarton upon the rising city had to be checked, but even in the days of worthy old M’Ure (1736), he could vaunt:—

"Glasgow, to thee thy neighbouring towns give place;
‘Bove them thou lifts thine head with comely grace."

Alas! that we cannot now with truth, say with him:—

"More pure than amber is the River Clyde,
Whose gentle streams do by thy borders glyde."

When M’Ure wrote these vaunting lines, Glasgow, had done little beyond making up its leeway under the Restoration regimé, as in 1740, eighty years from the date of that event, the population of the city only numbered 17,043. In the year 1768, one hundred and twelve years after Tucker’s report to Cromwell’s Government, in which he refers to the increasing shallowness of the river as the great barrier to the commercial progress and prosperity of Glasgow, the work of improvement was taken up in earnest.

Mr. John Golborne, who was applied to, after due inspection and consideration, propounded a scheme and furnished an estimate, which amounted to the modest sum of .£8,640. In 1769, James Watt, at the request of the magistrates, made an examination, and approved of Golborne’s survey and scheme. The work was gone on with, and it has continued to progress ever since with the most marvellous success, so that the harbour, which in 1768 had only one foot of water at low tide, is now able to float the largest ships. The revenue of the Clyde Trust, which in 1770 amounted to £147, has in consequence increased upwards of two thousandfold, and goes on increasing.

The incidents of the Jacobite rising of 1745-6, relating to Glasgow, will be found pretty fully represented in the text. But nothing has been there furnished with reference to the agitation for Reform about the year 1789, and some years after, when the French Revolution startled and disturbed the repose of the privileged classes all over Europe. At that time the system of parliamentary representation in this kingdom was a sham, as there were then only some 5000 parliamentary electors for the whole of Scotland.

Glasgow became the centre of a resolute demand for Reform, and had for its most prominent and zealous leader Thomas Muir, Esq., advocate, of Huntershill, who in 1764—like his contemporary, Thomas Campbell, the poet, another friend to freedom—was born in the High Street. The story of his life, from his indictment in 1792 until his death, reads like a romance. His position, merit, and ability, coupled with the unjust and shameful treatment he received, having procured for him the active interest of Washington and of Napoleon Bonaparte. But as none of its stirring incidents occurred in Glasgow, we pass on.

The political fever again raged high, as it usually does during a time of commercial depression and industrial distress such as existed from 1816 to 1820. Glasgow was then, believed, by those in authority, to be the Scottish centre of the assumed revolutionary movement, as it certainly was of the political reformers, and unfortunately also of the dupes and victims of the infamous Spy System.

One Richmond, a weaver, from Pollokshaws, the burgh of the queer folks, wove the web of villainy which resulted in Bonnymuir, and brought Hardie, Baird, and Wilson to the scaffold and the block in 1820. Hence the vile name of Richmond all but rivals in infamy that of the detested false Menteith, the betrayer of the patriot Wallace.

By the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, Glasgow was not only restored to its ancient right of independent representation in Parliament, but was doubly blest, as, in consideration of its importance—having then a population of more than 200,000—it had the privilege granted it of returning two members. The first members elected to represent Glasgow in the reformed Parliament were James Ewing, Esq. of Strathleven, Lord Provost, and James Oswald, Esq. of Shieldhall, whose monumental statue stands at the northeast corner of George Square.

Under the next Reform Act of 1868, Glasgow, which had then a population of about 450,000, was granted three members of Parliament; and under the same Act, the Universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen were granted the privilege of jointly returning one member to Parliament. The trio first returned as members for the city were Robert Dalglish, Esq.; William Graham, Esq.; and George Anderson, Esq. The first member for the University was the Right Hon. James Moncrieff, LL.D., Lord Advocate, afterwards Lord Moncrieff, Lord Justice-Clerk.

Space would fail us, and possibly, also, the patience of the reader, were we to enter on royal visits, Burns and Scott centenary celebrations, water supply from Loch Katrine, city improvement operations, transfer of the University to Gilmorehill, the exhibition in 1888, and many other affairs and events of more or less importance. Also as to the erection of various important and imposing edifices, the latest, most extensive, and important being the new Municipal Buildings. Let us, therefore, conclude this summary record of Glasgow’s progress with the following recent interesting and gratifying statement from the pen of an able local writer previously quoted. He says :— "Glasgow is possibly the seventh, or even the sixth city in Europe. The first five (as given by the latest statistics before us) are undoubtedly—London, 3,816,483; Paris, 2,269,023; Berlin, 1,122,330; Vienna, 1,103,857; and St. Petersburg, 876,575. Moscow comes sixth, with 750,867. Including what are reckoned her suburbs, Glasgow, in 1881, had 705,272, and is reckoned now (1891) to have 780,414."

But let it not be thought that Glasgow is simply a huge industrial hive of money-grubbing capitalists, worshipping the golden calf, and of mere wage-earners; no indeed, the genius of the people is not simply and purely industrial and commercial. Such cannot be said or thought of the district and of the race, which at the darkest hour of Scotland’s history, and in her time of direst need, produced the noble patriot and hero, Sir William Wallace, whose very name proclaims him to have sprung from the true old British stock which dwelt in the valley of Strathcltde. Nor was such heroic spirit extinct in, 1571, as the gallant capture of Dumbarton Castle by Captain Thomas Crawford of Jordanhill manifests. Witness, also, the brilliant careers of Major-General Monro, of Sir John Moore, and of Lord Clyde, in comparatively recent times; all three natives of Glasgow, and distinguished upholders of the honour, glory, and military renown of Great Britain.

These noble names, of men of noble deeds and heroic fame, proclaim with trumpet note that the men of Glasgow are not "dead to honour" in its nobler aspects, and do not only "burn for gold." Nor is it only of heroic patriots, who have toiled, fought, and in their country’s cause bled nobly, that Glasgow has reason to be proud, as there is ample evidence that the city and district around it have ever been brimful of the stuff of which martyrs are made. It does not occupy the distinguished position in learning, literature, and art that Edinburgh can justly and proudly claim, but it is far from being barren and unfruitful in these respects, as it is hoped this volume will help to show by the many eminent names in these departments connected with Glasgow who are in these pages referred to, and the roll is very far from being herein exhausted.

But it is certainly in the application of science to the purposes and wants of everyday life, in a useful and practical manner beneficial to man, that Glasgow has specially distinguished itself. Its sons have been in the habit of keeping in view and of practising the industrial golden rule:-

"All that other folks can do,
Why, with patience, should not you?
Only keep this rule in view:
Try, try, try again."

Yes and more than that, namely, to do it better if possible.

Originality is not to be expected in an omnium gatherum such as this. Consequently very many characteristic old Glasgow anecdotes which have stood the test of time will be here found reproduced. One special feature of this collection is that they are all local, and relate either to Glasgow or its suburban surroundings. Another feature, and it is hoped that it will prove one of some advantage, is that the anecdotes are arranged in chronological order.

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