Old Streets and Buildings, Part 3, pp.140-150.

[Old Glasgow Contents]

At the foot of the High Street stood the old Tolbooth. We have no account of its appearance, or when it was erected. In the records of Our Lady College it is mentioned as the “Pretorium burgi de Glasgu jacens in via S. Teneu ex parte boreali ejusdem.” And in_20181013_062420.JPG the ancient charters it is repeatedly mentioned as the place of meeting of the burgh courts – “the heid court of the burcht and citie of Glasgow halden in the Tolbuithe thairof.” From an entry in the council records in 1574 it appears that there were “buythis vnder the tolbuyth,” the rents of which were appointed to be applied “in mendyng and reparyng of the tolbuyth and to na vther vse.” This old building having become dilapidated was taken down, and a new tolbooth erected in 1626. This, as will be seen from the cut, was a fine picturesque structure. A traveller in the time of the Commonwealth describes it as “a very sumptuous, regulated, uniform fabric, large and lofty, most industriously and artificially carved from the very foundation to the superstructure, to the great admiration of strangers, and is without exception the paragon of beauty in the west.”1 This building served as a prison and as the place for the council meetings till early in the present century, when it was removed and the present building erected on its site.

When the old jail was taken down the magistrates had the good taste to preserve and repair the beautiful tower attached to it, now known as the Cross steeple. But it nearly experienced at the hands of their less worthy successors the fate which, somewhat later, befel the western tower of the Cathedral. The demolition of the steeple was actually under the consideration of the town council for several weeks, and it was only saved by the vote of a majority. This was in 1814!

They must have witnessed some curious incidents, those old tolbooths, and like all the other prisons in Scotland, till a comparatively recent period, they must have been the scene of much suffering. Prisoners of all sorts were crowded together without classification; men and women often confined in the same apartment; and young offenders, imprisoned for trifling matters, locked up with hardened criminals, even murderers. Ill clothed most of them, cold and hungry, and in filth, imprisonment was then a real punishment. Those who could afford to bribe the jailer might fare better, for that functionary exercised a very despotic power, and had the means of subjecting his prisoners to painful suffering. Even so late as 1818, when Mr. Gurney visited the prisons in Scotland, his account of what he observed is almost incredible.

Our burgh records contain but few notices of the prison discipline in the old tolbooths of Glasgow; but one curious incident may be quoted which illustrates the relations subsisting between the jailers and their prisoners. In the year 1666 an individual called “Johne Rowat merchand,” held the office of jailer of the Tolbooth at the Cross, and one of his prisoners – committed for what cause is not stated – was “the Laird of Branshoyle.” John had some dispute with his prisoner, which he ended by putting him in irons. Possibly the laird deserved it, but he had friends who brought the matter before the magistrates, and the jailer lost his place. He applied to be reponed, and his supplication and apology is recorded in the council minutes. After stating his appointment to the office of “keiper to their Lordships tolbuith quhilk he hes attendit theis divers yeares bygane,” it proceeds thus: “And laitlie ane of the prisoners therein, the Laird of Branshoyle, haveing far exceeded the bounds of ane prisoner towards the supplicant, his keiper, trew it is that in ane passioune the supplicant did exceid his power and commissioune, in laying him in the irones, for the quhilk he is very sore grieved from the bottom of his heart, albeit he was heighlie provocked therto: And trewlie he dar say that he hes dearlie payit for it, for with the anger he took at that time he hes never sensyne bein quyt of ane most cruell collick and gravell, quhairby he was very lyklie to have lost his lyfe and is not ʒit fullie quyt of it.” He then acknowledges the justice of his dismissal, and craves the council to pitie him at this tyme seing their Lordships know he hes lived honestlie heirtofoir, and come of honest and ancient parents within this burgh, besyde that he is awand fyfe thowsand marks and hes the burdone of four motherles childerin; and that your Lordships wald be pleased to readmitt the supplicant againe to his charge, and be the grace of God the lyk should never be sein in him againe.”2 He was reponed, but he lost his place again soon afterwards for allowing a prisoner to escape.

The jailers in those days received no salary. They appear to have been remunerated by fees derived from the fines imposed upon prisoners of the class who could afford to pay, and in earlier times there were doubtless many such; but when only those of the baser sort, or those in absolute poverty, came under their care, their emoluments must have been very small. A keeper of the Glasgow jail who had suffered from this cause applied to the town council in 1661, and there is a minute by which the treasurer is ordained “to pay to Charles McCleane Jylor twentie punds for his extraordinarie paines in attending the tolbuith this long tyme bygane haveing got no profeit therby, having only thiefes and lounes his prisoners.” Witches being an exceptional class a special allowance was made for them. On one occasion the jailer gets “four score two pounds fourteen shillings four pennies Scots money, depensed be him for the maintenance of the witches who are prisoners here in the tolbuith be order of the Commissioners, from the 22d of May last to this day.”3 And on a subsequent occasion “Alexander Cunningham servitor to the jayler” is allowed sixty-six pounds eight shillings Scots as “expenses in maintaining witches and warlocks in the Tolbuith imprisoned by order of the Commissioners of Justiciarie at Paisley.”4

Our prisons now are in a very different state from what they were in the old times, and prisoners are treated after a different fashion; but it is questionable whether we have not gone too far in the opposite direction. A recent report presented to parliament on the subject of prisons tells us that now “the prisoner appears to feel that the prayer for daily bread is rendered unnecessary by the solicitude of his custodians; that nestling comfortably in his hammock he lives less rapidly than before, and that he finds, in many instances, a peace and repose to which as a law-abiding citizen he was perchance a stranger.” We may quite accept the conclusion of the commissioners, that they have “abundant reason to think that, as a rule, imprisonment, as now conducted, inflicts no injury, and that in a large proportion of cases its punitive character is but little felt.”5

Besides the old Tolbooth at the Cross there was a prison in the upper part of the town, which appears to have become necessary in consequence of the insecure condition into which the building at the foot of the High Street had fallen. This upper prison is mentioned in the burgh records in 1574 as “the heicht tolbuyth,” and it was probably a very wretched and uncomfortable place. In the year 1605 there occurs an entry regarding a debtor imprisoned there, whose brother had procured (“purchest”) his removal “out of ward of the heich hows to the laiche tolbuithe,” but the brother – probably in consequence of the insecurity of the lower prison – was obliged first to find caution that the debtor “sall remaine in waird in the laiche tolbuithe” until he has satisfied the debt for which he was incarcerated. After the Reformation the magistrates acquired the building on the south side of the Drygate, which had been occupied as a manse by the prebendary of Cambuslang, and fitted it up as a house of correction for vagrants and women of dissolute character. This building having also become unfit for the purpose, the magistrates, in 1792, obtained a lease from the College of a part of their property adjoining the old meal market in the High Street, and used it as a bridewell, but this was discontinued on the erection of the prison in Duke Street.6

At the foot of the High Street stood the city cross – the one erected after the ancient cross at the head of the street was superseded. Of what form it was there is no authentic record. At the beginning of the seventeenth century – perhaps earlier – the guard-house was built against or round it, and when the guard-house was in 1659 removed farther west – having been found an obstruction to the street – the cross was found to have been so defaced that it was thought necessary to remove it also. The minute of council which records this is interesting: “The same day [1st October, 1659] the Magistrats and Counsall having receavit warrand and ordours for downe taking of the guard house was buildit about and wpon the Croce, and in regard the samyn Mercat croce throw the building of the said guard house thairupon, was altogether defaced, it is therefore now concludid to remove the samyn with all convenient diligence and mak it equall with the ground.”

In each of the four streets that branched from the cross there were arcades or piazzas. Defoe, referring to these, says: “The lower stories for the most part stand on vast square doric columns with arches which open into the shops adding to the strength as well as the beauty of the building.” But it was probably more true of them what Pennant said, that they were “too narrow to be of much service to walkers.”7

The beautiful street which now stretches westward from the Cross was in old times a country road leading to two chapels – one dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury and the other to St. Tanew or Thenew, the mother of Kentigern, who, according to the Aberdeen Breviary, was buried there. In a deed in 1498 mention is made of “the chapel where the bones of the beloved Thenew mother of the blessed confessor Kentigern rest now in the city of Glasgow.” It was surrounded by a burial-ground, now the site of St. Enoch’s Square. When McUre wrote his history in 1736 the remains of this old chapel were still to be seen – a solitary spot in the country, surrounded by cornfields. There appear to have been property in the High Street held in connection with this chapel, as in a charter in 1419 a tenement in that street is described as lying between the tenement of Stephanus de Pollok “et terram Sancte Tanew.”8 The name became subsequently corrupted to St. Enoch.

Not far from the present church, and near where the old chapel had stood, there was a sacred well dedicated to St. Tanew, which, before the Reformation, was much resorted to for cures. In 1586 James VI. addressed a letter to Mr. Andro Hay, commissioner for the west country, in which, among other things, he condemned the practice of people making pilgrimages to such chapels and wells; but I have little doubt that for some time after that St. Tanew’s well was resorted to. It was shaded by an old tree which drooped over the well, and which remained till the end of the last century. On this tree the devotees who frequented the well were accustomed to nail, as thank-offerings, small bits of tin-iron – probably manufactured for that purpose by a craftsman in the neighbourhood – representing the parts of the body supposed to have been cured by the virtues of the sacred spring – such as eyes, hands, feet, ears, and others – a practice still common in Roman Catholic countries. The late Mr. Robert Hart told me that he had been informed by an old man, a Mr. Thomson, who had resided in the neighbourhood, that, at the end of the last century or the beginning of the present, he recollected this well being cleaned out, and of seeing picked out from among the débris at the bottom several of these old votive offerings, which had dropped into from the tree, the stump of which was at that time still standing.

The road or street leading to St. Tanew’s chapel and well is in a charter of 1426 called the “magnis vicus extendens a cruce fore versus Capellas Sancte Thomæ marteris et sacte Tanew.”9 In a later charter (1487) it is called “vicus Sancte Thanew,”10 and in a still later deed (1548) it is called “the gait passing fra the west port to sanct Tenewis chappil.”11 By the year 1520 this road or street had come to be spanned, at a point not quite half-way between the Cross and St. Thenew’s Chapel, by the gate walled the West Port.12 The privilege of having “a free Tron” in the city and barony of Glasgow had been granted to the bishops by James IV. in 1489, and the portion of the street lying within the port acquired the name of “the Troyngate,” from the place of weighing being there. The outer portion, west of the port, obtained, about two centuries later, the name first of West Street and then of Argyll Street.

For a long time there must have been few houses in the Trongate, and most of these had gardens and fields behind them. In the charter of 1426 just referred to, the granter, Malcolm Lytstare, burgess of Glasgow, sells to John Stewart, sub-dean of Glasgow, a tenement on the north side of this street or road, with the garden adjacent on the north. In 1505 there is a deed in which mention is made of “a garden with pertinents” in commune via sancti Tenew,13 and there are many other deeds of still later date in which mention is made of houses in the Trongate with gardens and orchards attached to them.

On the south side of the Trongate, on the site now occupied by the Tron Church, stood the collegiate “Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Ann” – called in some of the old writs “our Lady College,” and afterwards the Church of St. Mary. Mr. Robertson says that the erection and endowment were completed in 1549. The endowment may not have been completed till then, but the church must have been erected before 1528, as in a charter of that year of lands adjoining, mention is made, “nove ecclesiæ beatarum Marie virginis et Anne matris ejus.”14 There could have been no houses near it then, as it was surrounded by a large burying-ground. After the Reformation the market for grass and straw was, by a minute of the town council in 1577, appointed to be held in this burying-ground – called in the minute “the New Kirk yarde.” It was required that one of the prebendaries of this church of St. Mary should be expert in playing the organ, and that he should perform on it daily according to the use and wont of the metropolitan church. He was also required to keep a school for the instruction of youth “in plain song and descant.” This school stood in the Trongate, on the west side of the Collegiate Church, and is mentioned in the burgh records as “the scuile sumtyme callit the sang scuile.” In 1575 there is an entry in the burgh accounts of a payment “to Thomas Craige of the New Kirk scule for straye to the mending thairof and for onputyng of the samyn xxij s.” (1s. 10d.), from which it appears that, like most of the other buildings in the city, it was thatched. Neither the “sang scule” nor the churchyard, nor any other portion of the collegiate property, ever belonged to the corporation. They held it in trust only for the benefit and endowment of the Tron Church, but they disposed of it nevertheless in 1588, along with some properties belonging to the corporation, at a time when they were greatly pressed for funds.15

Behind the Collegiate Church, within an open area, and on the site of what is now the presbytery house, stood the old manse of St. Mary’s. It fronted the south, with its back to the church. It was a narrow two-storey building, rough-cast, with a steep roof and crow steps on the gables. It had five windows in front, three in the upper flat, and one on each side of the door, which was above the level of the ground, and was approached by two or three steps. Around the house was a garden inclosed by a hedge. This old manse remained till the middle of the present century.

“Our Lady College” was founded by James Houston, sub-dean of Glasgow, in the early part of the sixteenth century. The provision made for the services embraced a provost, eight canons or prebendaries, and three chaunters. The number of the prebendaries was increased by subsequent benefactors. All the prebends were endowed, partly from lands and houses within or near Glasgow, and partly from the fruits of the parish churches of Dalry and Maybole. After the Reformation the revenues within the city were appropriated by the magistrates, but the prebendaries were allowed to draw their stipends until they died out. Even subsequent to the Reformation, however, the church received (in 1650) an endowment of some value by a  deed granted by the magistrates, with consent of the Stewarts of Minto, “for the use and profeit of their two ministers serving the cure at the New Kirk [the Tron] as part of their stipend.” What has come of this endowment I do not know, but certainly it cannot be said of this church, whatever may be the case as to the others in the city, that the support of its ministers has come exclusively from “the common good.”


The Trongate has undergone many changes. The above view is from a drawing made in 1845.

Early in the fourteenth century the formation of the Gallowgate must have been commenced, as in the charter of 1325 already referred to mention is made of a tenement “in vico qui dicitur le Galogate.” In other charters it is variously called via furcarum; vicus furcarum juxta torrentem Malyndoner; and via furcarum tendens a cruce forali ad orientem portam.

On the site now occupied by the old Saracen’s-Head Inn, and just outside the City Port, stood the chapel called Little St. Mungo’s, surrounded by a burying-ground. It was founded some time before 1500 by David Cunningham, archdeacon of Argyll. In a deed granted by him in that year, endowing the chapel, he describes it as “unam capellianam cum capellano extra muros civitatis Glasguensis in communi via furcarum extra torrentem de Malindoner et prope arbores vocatas Sancti Kentigerni.”16 By extra muros the granter meant beyond the city gate. The churchyard was surrounded by trees. After the Reformation it became the property of Donald Cunningham of Aikenbar and Marion Lyon, his wife, from whom it was purchased by the magistrates in 1593 at the price of 200 merks – £13, 6s. 8d. according to the value of Scots money at that time – on the condition that the “chapell, hous, and ʒaird” were to be maintained as an hospital for the poor. The magistrates did convert it into an hospital for lepers, and for some time maintained it as such; but, in breach of their trust, they conveyed it about the middle of the last century to Robert Tennent, for the purpose of his building on it a first-rate hotel, which he did. This was the Saracen’s Head.

Even so late as 1736, when McUre wrote his history, the Gallowgate extended no farther than the East Port. Beyond that was only a narrow country road, chiefly between hedges, leading to the old village of Camlachie. Between that port and the Cross, and not far from the old chapel, the street was crossed by the Molendinar Burn. Like St. Enoch’s Burn, it crossed on the surface, and there was a considerable descent to it on each side, with stepping-stones in the stream for foot passengers. When it was swollen by rains people had to cross in carts or on horseback. The burn was a favourite place for watering horses and cattle, and Dr. Buchanan, writing in 1856, says he had conversed with old people who remembered it in that state.17 Now a foul underground sewer, it was then a clear limpid stream. In the Glasgow Courant for 1755 there is an advertisement of a piece of ground at the Spoutmouth to be let, and one of the inducements held out to a tenant is its vicinity to the Molendinar as suitable for bleaching.

Beside the “trees of St. Kentigern” mentioned in the foundation charter of Little St. Mungo’s Church, there was near the same place a well, called St. Mungo’s Well. – Fons Kentigerni. Like many of the old saints Kentigern is said to have had his bed, his bath, and his chair. The bed, Jocelin tells us, was hollowed out of the rock. He bathed in the Molendinar, and his seat, according to an ancient tradition, was super lapidem in supercilio montis vocabulo Gwleth. Gwleth, forming in combination Wleth, signifies dew, and hence, it has been said, the hill was called the Dew Hill, corrupted afterwards into the present name of Dow Hill. In a charter in 1581 it is called “Dowhill alias Gersumland.”18

The Gallowgate ended in a common called the Gallowmuir. The place of execution was there, and till near the end of last century the gallows – which gave their names to the street and the muir – was still standing. It was on the north-west end of the common, near the upper corner of what is now Barrack Street.

A continuation of the High Street, leading to the South Port or “Nether Barras yett,” was inhabited chiefly by fullers and dyers, and from them it was called the “Walcargate” – in the old charters via Fullonum – a name which about the middle of the sixteenth century was superseded by that of Saltmarket.

1  Franck’s Northern Memoirs.
2  Burgh Records, 2d October, 1666.
3  4th September, 1697.
4  12th March, 1698.
5  Report by Mr. Briscoe, Inspector of Prisons, and other Commissioners, presented to Parliament, Session 1878.
6  Cleland’s Statistical Tables, 3d edit. p. 97.
7  Tour in Scotland, 1771, p. 200.
8  Lib. Coll. N. D., p. 240.
9  Lib. Coll. N. D., p. 244.
10  Munimenta Universitatis Glasg., vol. i. p. 35.
11  Ibid., p. 248.
12  Ibid., p. 73.
13  Lib. Coll. N. D., p. 258.
14  Lib. Coll. N. D., p. 90.
15  Burgh Records, 24th Dec. 1588.
16  Regist. Episc. Glasg., p. 501.
17  Desultory Sketches, p. 664.
18  Reg. Epis. Glasg., p. 588.

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