Old Streets and Buildings, Part 4, pp.150-161.

[Old Glasgow Contents]

In its earliest history – apart from its ecclesiastical position – Glasgow was only known as a salmon-fishing village, and the Clyde as a prolific salmon river. From the earliest times, accordingly, salmon-fishing was a valuable right; it formed a staple branch of trade, and the earliest of our records contain grants of rights of fishing conveyed along with houses in the burgh. In the charter by the master of the Temple already referred to (1180) there is conveyed along with the “toft” unum rete in piscatione de Clud. Down to a comparatively recent period, indeed, salmon-fishing continued to be one of Glasgow’s most important industries. There are those still living who recollect the huts of the fishermen on the banks of the river. I recollect one of these within what is now the harbour of Glasgow, and I have seen the fishermen drawing their nets on green banks where there is now deep water. There was another hut close to the village of Govan, of which I am able to give a view from an original drawing made about the year 1815. The quantities of salmon taken were sometimes very great, and the price of the fish was small. In 1748, when there had been a very plentiful supply, the Glasgow Journal of 18th July in that year announced that salmon was to be sold in the Glasgow Market at a penny the pound. In the early acts of parliament relating to the deepening of the river the rights of fishing were carefully protected, but before long all protection had to be abandoned, and salmon-fishing in the Clyde above Dunbarton is now a thing of the past. The fishing rights of Renfrew were very extensive, and the Clyde Trustees still pay upwards of £200 a year to that burgh as compensation for the loss caused by their operations.


Detached at first from the rest of Glasgow, and probably of a date as old as, or older than, most of the houses in the city, was a row composed of the huts or houses of the salmon-fishers. In a charter so early as 1285 it is called the vicus pischatorum de prope pontem de Clud1 – a description which proves what I have already stated, that there was a bridge at this place anterior to the one erected by Bishop Rae. Afterwards this row is called “the Fyschergate,” and Mr. Cosma Innes suggests that it is to be identified with the present Bridgegate.2 But it is not so. The Fischergate occupied what is now the lower end of Stockwell Street, that name having, in the early part of the sixteenth century, been adopted from a well, called the “Stok Well,” which had for many years stood in the Fishergate. In a deed of sale in 1487 a tenement is described as lying in vico Piscatorum juxta le Stok well; and it is stated to be bounded by a certain tenement on the south, and by another tenement on the north – a description which could not be applicable to a building in the Bridgegate, which runs east and west. But the matter is put beyond doubt by two instruments in the recently published Book of Protocols, both of the same date – 9th November, 1512 – in one of which a tenement is described as situated in “le Fischaregait,” and in the other the same tenement is described as lying “apud Stok-well” – showing that at that time the street was known by both names.3

For reasons to be afterwards stated it is not unlikely that the south end of the Fischergate was near to what was at that time the margin of the river.

By the end of the fifteenth century the fishermen had come to possess better houses, some of them with gardens attached. In a charter of 1487 mention is made of a tenement and garden belonging to John Leiche, fisherman, in the street leading to the bridge of Glasgow.* They formed very much, no doubt, a community by themselves, and at an early period the magistrates established a court, which was held at the Broomielaw, called the Coble Court, which took cognizance of disputes among the fishermen, and of other matters relating to the river. Under date 21st April, 1589, is a minute of “the Coble court of Glasgw halden at ye Brumelaw thairof be honorabill men James Flemyng and Robert Rowat baillees – Dempster Johnne Maxvell.” On this occasion Niniane Hucheson, a fisherman, is decerned to pay to John Clarke, another fisherman, nineteen shillings as the price of “twa salmound fische,” which he had taken from him “in a wrangous and maisterfull way.” According to the value of money at that time this was equal to one shilling for each salmon.

The bridge which came in place of the one mentioned in the charter of 1285 was erected, as I have said, by Bishop Rae in the year 1350. It was only twelve feet wide, and, till altered in 1776, it had a very steep ascent to its centre. The late Mr. Reid (Senex) says he recollects having crossed it when it was still in that state. Before that time it had become very insecure, and carts and carriages, Mr. Reid says, generally crossed the river at a shallow ford immediately above the bridge.4 So unsafe, indeed, was it, even a century before this, that the tacksman of the bridge was ordered by the magistrates “not to suffer any cairtis with wheilleis goe alongst the brig vntill that the wheilleis be taken off and the boddie of the cairt alone harled by the hors.”5 In 1765 the magistrates endeavoured to close the bridge altogether against carts. This was resisted by some of the inhabitants of Rutherglen, and led to the bridge being widened and repaired.

For a long time the Fishergate, or Stock Well Street, was quite a rural locality. It was on the western extremity of the city, and the houses, many of which were quaint buildings with thatched roofs, were shaded by trees, and those on the west side had also gardens and the open country behind them.

Till a comparatively recent period there were no streets in Glasgow besides those which I have named, and the population was very small. In the end of the sixteenth century (1581) the Confession of Faith was signed in Glasgow, at the same time as the rest of Scotland, and as the obligation to sign was stringent the probability is that among the Protestant part of the population, at least, the signature was very general, yet the Confession received only 2250 signatures. The subscription books were carried from house to house by the elders, and as it is recorded that all the names were got in High Street, Gallowgate, Trongate, Saltmarket, Bridgegate, and Stockwell, it may be inferred that these, with the Rottenrow and Drygate, comprised at that time the whole town. That no names were got in the two streets last named may be accounted for by the fact that it was there that the ecclesiastics and their dependents, the adherents of the old faith, resided. Among the earliest houses of importance in the city were the manses of the thirty-two canons of the Cathedral, already referred to, with their gardens and orchards, as arranged by Bishop Cameron about the middle of the fifteenth century. These, with the residences of the choral vicars and the officers of the Cathedral, were situated in the Rottenrow and Drygate and in the extreme upper end of the High Street, and down to the time of the Reformation they formed the centre of the city. It is not probable, therefore, that in this ecclesiastical region, under the shadow of the Cathedral, the elders would obtain any signature to the Confession of Faith that could possibly be evaded.

To say that the Confession received 2250 signatures does not by any means imply that so many of the adult population could write. A certain number would adhibit their own names, and those of the rest would be adhibited for them by some one – probably the session-clerk – having their authority to do so. This was done in all the parishes of Scotland when the Solemn League and Covenant was signed.

Even so late as 1708, after the Union, the population of Glasgow was under 13,000. In the first year of the present century, when a census was taken, it had increased to only 83,000.

Of the wonderful growth of the city after this time I must confine myself to a general notice. Much of the story has been well told in the attractive pages of Mr Reid (“Senex”) and of the late Dr. John Buchanan.

There continued to be gardens behind the houses in the Trongate till near the close of the last century. In the Glasgow Journal of 16th January, 1766, there is an advertisement of the sale “in whole or in parcels of the garden at the head of William Anderson’s tenement and close of houses in Trongate;” and in 1789, in the Glasgow Mercury, the sale is announced of a garden “lying on the north side of the Trongate Street, on the west side of the Candleriggs Street and on the south side of Ingram Street, with an entry of 30 feet wide from the Candleriggs into the said garden.” Through this garden Brunswick Street was subsequently formed. In the same year (1789), Mr. Reid tells us “the whole of the Deanside brae was vacant ground. The Deanside or Meadow well was situated on a meadow at the west end of Greyfriars’ or Buns Wynd, close to a footpath leading up to the Rottenrow. It is now on the street at 88 George Street, opposite the lane leading into Shuttle Street. This well was then a rural spot – the whole lands on the west as far as Partick being garden grounds and cornfields.” In 1780 an advertisement in one of the local papers announces “summer quarters to be let at the west end of Rottenrow, in the common gardens.”

The Candleriggs was opened as a street in 1724, but for a long time there were few buildings in it. At first it was called the New Street, and it bears that name in McUre’s History. At the corner of Candleriggs and Bell’s Wynd was the Wester Sugar-house, among the first, if not the very first sugar manufactory erected in Scotland. It was established in 1667 by four merchants in Glasgow. Sugar was then a scarce luxury, and it is only within a period comparatively recent that tea and coffee and potatoes came into use amongst use.6 McUre, referring to this Wester Sugar-house, says that “having got a little apartment for boiling sugar, and a Dutchman as master boiler, the undertaking proved very effectual, and their endeavours were wonderfully successful.” They afterwards left this “little apartment” and erected a larger building. Other sugar-works were afterwards established, but for a long time they were all on a comparatively small scale.


So late as 1750 the head of the Stockwell, where the Trongate ended, was the western extremity of Glasgow – the old West Port marking the boundary. Outside of this gate a market for the sale of cattle was held on the open road. On the south side of the street adjoining what became Dunlop Street was a malt kiln and barn, and on the opposite side – near what was afterwards Virginia Street – was a small thatched hostelry for drovers. To the west of this was a farmhouse, standing back from the highway, flanked by byres or outhouses, the gables of which projected to the road. In front of this house the cows were milked, and Dr. Buchanan, writing in 1851, says: “People are yet alive who have witnessed this scene.”7 A few malt kilns or barns, with a one-storey thatched house here and there, occurred along the road, which was then called St. Tennoch’s gate or the Dumbarton Road. The last to disappear of these old buildings was a thatched malt barn and kiln, which stood back from the roadway at the foot of Mitchell Street. It was taken down about the year 1830. The above view of it is from a drawing made, I believe, about the year 1820. For a long time the only opening from the main road was the Cow Lone, afterwards Queen Street – a lane between old hedges, and an almost impassable quagmire.

The first mansion built in this rural locality was erected by Provost Murdoch on the south side of the road, and nearly opposite the farmhouse just mentioned. This mansion afterwards became the Buck’s Head Inn. Soon afterwards another house, similar in design, was built by Mr. Dunlop to the east of Provost Murdoch’s. This fine old mansion still remains, but much disfigured by being adapted to business purposes. At the time of the erection of these houses the ground to the south was vacant all the way down to the Clyde, and on the other side of the street, towards the north, there were only gardens and cornfields. This was after the middle of last century.8

Virginia Street was opened in 1753. At the head of it, on the site now occupied by the Union Bank, stood the splendid mansion of Mr. Buchanan of Mount Vernon, “a Virginia merchant,” erected in 1752. At that time, at the place which is now the bottom of the street, there was a small house, with a malt kiln and barn and a “kailyard” behind, and all around were cornfields and vegetable gardens. Miller Street was not opened till 1771. Before that date it formed the garden ground of Mr. Miller, a wealthy maltman. The garden extended back to what is now Ingram Street, and at the south end, facing the Trongate, were Mr. Miller’s malt kiln and barns.9 After the street was laid off no lots were sold for a considerable time – the locality being considered too far out of town! The first steading was sold in 1771, and the price was 4s. 6d. per square yard.10

Nelson Street, Brunswick Street, Hutcheson Street, and Glassford Street – at first called Great Glassford Street – were all opened subsequently to that date. Buchanan Street was opened in 1778. It may be interesting to give the advertisement announcing the opening of this street. It is dated April, 1777, and ran thus: “Andrew Buchanan, merchant, has made improvement on his former plan, and now proposes to take down his house in Argyle Street and to make the entry to his intended street correspond exactly with opposite the entry leading into St. Enoch’s Square. The lots are laid off 65 feet in front, with sufficient room backwards for garden plots. The situation is very pleasant and convenient, and affords a prospect rural and agreeable.”

The Back Cow Lane was not converted into Ingram Street till after 1777. In June of that year the north-west portion of the Ramshorn grounds, then lying in grass fields, was offered for sale by the magistrates at the price of 2s. 6d. per square yard. These lands had originally belonged to the Church. In a charter by the king, Alexander, in 1241, confirming to the bishop “terras suas circa Glasgu,” the lands of “Ramnishoren” are included; and in a subsequent charter in 1494 they are described as “terras domini episcopi Glasguensis que appellantur Rammyshorne.”11 The dingy old Ramshorn Church, which was erected there in 1720, is described by McUre – writing in 1736 – as that “stately and magnificent structure, the North-west Church, lying at the head of the New Street in a pleasant valley.” The church, indeed, when erected was quite out of the town, and surrounded by fields and gardens. When the ground was taken for the building, the tacksmen were paid the sum of £108, 16s. 4d. Scots, about £9, “in full satisfaction to them for loss and damage by the rooting out of their cherry and apple trees, gooseberry and curran bushes, kaill, leeks, and other ground herbs.”12

In 1751 the Broomielaw Croft was chiefly in cornfields, and the portion of it facing the river was covered with the remains of an old wood. So late as the beginning of the present century broom bushes were growing on a rocky elevation at the foot of Robertson Street.13 What is now Jamaica Street was then an enclosed field. It is described in an advertisement in the Glasgow Courant of 3d June, 1751, as “that field belonging to the Merchants’ House beautifully situated between the Broomielaw on the south, and the West Street [Argyll Street] on the north,” and intimation is made that the field is “now planned out in a large open street of 45 feet wide, with convenient lots of ground for building upon.” This was what became Jamaica Street, but with an increased breadth. The first house built on it was the mansion erected in 1761 by Mr. George Buchanan, which afterwards became the property of Mr. Black of Clairmont. Mr. Black occupied it as his winter residence, and went out to Clairmont – now part of the city – to spend the summer in the country.

The rise in the value of property in this locality has been very remarkable. In 1788, just after Buchanan Street was opened, a lot of ground fronting the street was sold for 2s. 6d. the square yard. In 1777 the magistrates resolved to dispose of “the towns building ground” in Argyll Street and neighbourhood, and by their minute of 24th March in that year they fixed the prices. They resolved that the ground in the old green – the “Dowcat green,” lying between Jamaica Street and Stockwell – should be sold at 3s. 6d. the square yard; that St. Enoch’s Square, the ground in Argyll Street “westward of Mr. Robertsons,” and the west side of Jamaica Street, should all be sold at 4s. 6d. the square yard; and that for the steading on the east side of Jamaica Street, “as it is a corner steading,” the price should be five shillings the square yard. Within the last few years ground in St. Enoch’s Square has been sold at prices ranging from £20 to £25 the square yard, and one lot was sold as high as £50 the square yard; while in Argyll Street, near St. Enoch’s Square, the prices have ranged from £50 to £80, and one steading was sold at £100 the square yard. These were the prices paid for the ground alone, over and above the value of the buildings at the time of the sales.

By the rapid extension of buildings, what were till quite recently rural villages have been absorbed into and now form portions of the city. Anderston, Finnieston, Gorbals, Hutchesontown, Tradeston, Kingston, and Calton – each till a recent period a detached village – are all now parts of Glasgow. Anderston acquired its name from a Mr. Anderston, then proprietor of the lands of Stobcross, who in 1725 formed the plan of a village on part of these lands; but very few houses, and these of a mean description, were then erected. At that time what is now Stobcross Street was the avenue to Stobcross House, the entrance to the avenue being at what came to be known as the “Gushet-house” in Anderston. The estate on which Anderston was built came into the market i n1735, when it was bought by Mr. Orr of Barrowfield. At that time the projected village consisted of only a few thatched houses, one of them built of turf. About thirty years afterwards Mr. Orr projected another village farther west, on part of what was then an unproductive farm. This village he named Finnieston, in compliment to a Mr. Finnie, then a tutor in Mr. Orr’s family. Such was the beginning of these important suburbs. In 1776 Mr. Orr sold the whole of the Stobcross lands west of Finnieston to Mr. David Watson, merchant in Glasgow. At this time there was nearly a mile of space between the westmost part of Glasgow and the first houses in Anderston. It was still a country road inclosed by hedges, with fields and gardens on both sides, and was then known as Anderston Walk. On the south side of this road, between Anderston and Glasgow, there was a piece of ground, part of the Broomielaw Croft, extending to something more than nine acres. So late as 1791 it consisted of open fields. It had been acquired in 1774 by Brown, Carrick & Co., manufacturers of lawn and cambric, in whose title it is described as a park or enclosure consisting of nine acres, one rood, and ten falls, bounded by the high road leading from Glasgow to Anderston on the north and by the river Clyde on the south; with “the ground or grass on the water side opposite the said enclosure.” The whole price paid for this property, now so valuable, was a ground annual of £46, 12s, 3d. for the field, and 15s. for the water side ground. Brown, Carrick & Co. used the ground as a bleachfield until it began to be built upon, when it became known as the village of Brownfield.14 It is now in the heart of the city.

The extension of the city on the south side of the river has been equally recent. In the year 1650 Sir George Douglas and his lady sold the lands of Gorbals, with the office of bailiary and justiciary, to the magistrates of Glasgow, in trust for Hutcheson’s Hospital to the extent of a half, and for behoof of the “Crafts’ Hospital,” now the Trades’ House, to the extent of a fourth, and for the City itself to the extent of the remaining fourth. In 1789 the property was divided among the parties interested, when the Trades’ House acquired the portion on the west of the then small village of Gorbals. this portion was called Tradeston. The part which fell to the Hospital was called Hutchesontown. Part of this lot consisted of the portion of a field lying at the south end of Jamaica Street Bridge on which was a windmill. It is incidentally alluded to in the Presbytery records as early as 1599, in which year proceedings are mentioned against “Andro Nicolson miller in ye vindmylne on gorballis besyde Glasgw.” The wind-mill was still standing in the beginning of the present century, and from it the field acquired the name of the Windmillcroft. In the paper from which I have taken some of these particulars – one of the pleadings in an action in the Court of Session between the magistrates and Mr. Galloway, a brewer, as to certain duties on ale and beer levied in Gorbals – it is added, “The Hospital having feued this ground for building there is now (1805) erected upon it a village called Laurieston, including some elegant buildings called Carlton Place. The other part of the Windmillcroft, that upon the west side of Broad Street, now called Bridge Street, was allocated to the Trades’ House, and upon it has since been built the populous village of Tradestown. The remaining part of Windmillcroft was allocated to the town of Glasgow, and since the commencement of this action a part of it has been feued out for the erection of another village, under the name of Kingstown, are situated without the bounds of the parish of Gorbals.”

Gorbals formed part of the barony of Blythswood, and was part of what was called “the six pound land of Gorbals and Bridgend.” In the beginning of the seventeenth century the village of Gorbals was called Bridgend, and it consisted of only a few houses at the south end of the old bridge of Glasgow. In a charter by Charles II. in 1661 reference is made to “the lands of Gorbals and the town of Bridgend.” It was afterwards erected into a separate barony. In 1607 the Archbishop of Glasgow granted to Sir George Elphinston a charter in feu farm of the barony of Blythswood, comprehending Gorbals and Bridgend, with the office of heritable bailie and justiciary, and power to hold courts. The charter declares that the inhabitants “shall have power of carrying on merchandise and manufactures of all kinds, in the same way as any other free burgh of barony.” The inhabitants were thus formed into a community, and they held a tenement of land in the village, which was called “the community land.” The barony was afterwards acquired by Sir George Douglas of Blackstone. All these villages now form part of Glasgow, and the site of the wind-mill is now deep water near the centre of the river, a little below the bridge.15

1  Reg. de Passelet, p. 400.
2  Orig. Parochiales, vol. i. p. 14.
3  Liber Procollorum, Nos. 595, 596.
4  Glasgow Past and Present, vol. iii. p. 540.
5  Council Records, 18th Sept. 1658.
6  Potatoes were first introduced into the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in 1725. – Mr. Maxwell of Munches, quoted in Murray’s Lit. Hist. of Galloway, p. 337.
7  Glasgow Past and Present, vol. ii. p. 190.
8  Glasgow Past and Present, vol. ii. p. 191.
9  Desultory Sketches, p. 619.
10  Ibid., vol. iii. p. 201.
11  Lib. Coll. N.D., p. 258.
12  Burgh Records, 13th January, 1719.
13  Rambling Recollections of Glasgow, by “Nestor,” 1879.
14  Brown’s History of Glasgow, vol. ii. p. 113.
15  Glasgow and its Environs, p. 47.
*  A print of the Stockwell Bridge can be found in Miscellaneous Collected Pictures.