Early State of the Land near Glasgow, pp.175-181.

[Old Glasgow Contents]

To pass to another interesting subject of inquiry regarding ancient Glasgow – the state of the country around the infant city. There can be no doubt that for a period long after the restoration of the see by David the land around Glasgow, except that near the river, was waste muir, with probably a considerable amount of wood and bush land. A large district lying to the north and west was called the Bishop’s Forest, but that name did not necessarily imply that it was all in wood. The term was frequently applied, as it still is, to ranges of land set apart and having privileges for the preservation of game; and there is evidence that in early times the southern division, at least, of Scotland was not by any means a well-wooded country.1 The Bishop’s Forest, whatever it consisted of, was of considerable extent, and certainly in some parts it was covered with wood. Probably also it abounded in wild animals. One of the legends told by the monk of Furness is that there being no men to plough the land, St. Kentigern commanded two deer which he saw on the edge of the wood to yoke themselves to the plough. They obeyed, and continued daily to perform their task. But on one occasion a wolf came out of the wood and attacked and devoured one of the deer, whereupon the saint commanded the wolf to take the stag’s place in the plough. “This he did with great humility, and, yoked with the other stag, ploughed up nine acres, whereupon the saint freely allowed him to depart.”2 Whatever credence we give to the story, we may accept it as a memorial of the fact that in ancient times the Bishop’s Forest was infested by wolves. Bishop Jocelin, indeed, to whom the monk’s work was dedicated, might well accept the story of the wolf, for in his own time (1176) wolves abounded in the neighbourhood of his old monastery of Melrose; and in the following century (1225) there is an act of the Scottish Parliament empowering the monks of Melrose to set snares for wolves in Eskdale. Wolves, indeed, continued to infest the forests of Scotland till nearly the middle of the eighteenth century. The last was killed in Morayshire in 1743. Like the other old Caledonian forests, the Bishop’s Forest at Glasgow contained also wild cattle, including the white species, of which remains are still preserved in the ducal domains at Hamilton; and by some accounts even bears were found in them.3

Even so late as the middle of the seventeenth century the lands around Glasgow – beyond the gardens and the few cultivated fields – must have been almost in a state of nature. From the inventory of the personal estate of James, Archbishop of Glasgow, it appears that the whole amount owing by “the fewaris, farmeris, tennants, occupiers and possessors of the lands and baronie of Bishops forist” for the crop and year 1632 was only £33, 6s. 8d. Scots, equivalent to £2, 15s. 6½d. of our money.4 But this of course included only what was feued or under lease, and, as we have seen, the feu duties were very moderate. The Bishop’s Forest embraced probably the whole of the Easter and Wester Commons, which, under the liberal administration of the bishops, the inhabitants were allowed to use as common pasturage and for casting peats, and for which no rent would be paid.

A portion of the ancient forest appears to have remained in its original state till so late as the year 1795. Brown, writing in that year, in describing the newly formed village of Anderston, says that the ground on which it is built “is bounded on the north by the wood of Blythswood, the only remains of a forest, formerly belonging to Glasgow, in a natural state.”

Among the lands held in common by the citizens, besides the Easter and Wester Commons, were the Burgh Muir, and the district known as Garngad Hill. For some time after the flight of Beton, his faithful steward William Walker, continued to manage the temporalities, and to enter the “Rentallers;” but about the year 1568 the magistrates – following the example of the Duke of Chastelherault when he seized Lochwood – took possession of the common lands – as they did of many other properties and endowments belonging to the Church – and proceeded to dispose of them in lots to the inhabitants. Walker, whose heart was sorely grieved at this spoliation of his lord’s benefice, wrote to the archbishop, then in France, that he had been “in great trublis, as is knawin utuartlie be the changeing of the colouris of my hair qlk was blak and now is quhyte.” In this curious letter, which is dated 6th April, 1569, Walker tells his master that he had been required and commanded by the provost and bailies of Glasgow to become a burgess, which he had refused, and in consequence of that refusal, he says, “I can in no wayis haif justice ministrat unto me in quhatsumever actioun I haif ado befoir the provest and baillies.” He goes on to tell that “al the borrow muir of Glasgw on the Southe syde of the towne, and als Garngad hill on the north part of the toune, ar distribuit be provest baillies and communitie of the towne to the inhabitaris thairof, every ane his awin portioun conforme to his degrie, and hes revin it oute and manuris it this ʒeir instantlie, bot I wald have na parte thairof qll [until] it plies God and ʒoure L. to make my parte, be ressoun I knew thai hade na power to deill ʒour L. loands w’oute sum consent of ʒoure L. or sum utheris in ʒoure L. name.”5 The archbishop, as already mentioned, was restored by act of Parliament in 1600, but the feus which had been given off he did not recover.

It would appear, however, that the division had not been an impartial one, and that the inhabitants did not get “every ane his awin portioun.” The people also had got alarmed lest the whole of the muir should be thus alienated, and the land which the bishops had permitted them to use as common pasture-ground for their cattle, taken away. We find accordingly, about this time, repeated protests made by the merchants and deacons of crafts, in name of the community, against the alienation – “geving furth or delying” – of any part of the “common muirs.” Such a remonstrance occurs under date 1st May, 1574, against a grant to one James Boyd, and the parties making it protest that “the partis thereof ellis delt and gevin furtht by [without] thair consent in tymis bigane suld nocht prejuge them but that thai may have tym and place for recalling and remeid thairof.” Again, in 1576, a more formal protest is made, and the magistrates are entreated “for the luf ye beir to God and the commoun weill of our toune” not to alienate any more of the common lands, so necessary as pasture “for the sustening of our babies.” This touching protest was successful for the time, and under date 21st June, 1576, there is a minute of council which bears that after mature deliberation it was statute and ordained, “in respect that their commoune muris, yet left wndelt and set furthe, will scarslie serue the tounschip for halding of thair guddis and firnesing fewall necessour,” no part of the common muir shall in time coming be set or given in feu to any person, “bot to ly still in communitie to the weill of the haill tounschip.”

We cannot in our days so well understand the discontent of the people at the invasion and inclosure of commons. In Scotland, as well as in England, the land held in common was in the old time of vast extent. Only on the lower grounds, along the river banks and the sea, was the land appropriated and cultivated. The inland portion – upland, muir, and mountain – was, as a rule, not occupied for agricultural purposes, or specially appropriated at all, but served only to keep the poor and their cattle from starving. It was only as cultivation increased with greater wealth, and a higher civilization came to prevail, that the common land began to be inclosed, and the poor man’s grazing ground appropriated by the neighbouring barons or burghal authorities.6 But the ecclesiastics, who held the church lands, were the last to make these encroachments, and the appropriations by the magistrates of Glasgow of the “common muirs,” which had been included in the patrimony of the Church, would probably not have been made by the bishops had they continued the feudal superiors.

In connection with the subject of commons, I may mention in passing that the proceedings of the Enclosure Commissioners in 1878 disclose the interesting fact that so late as that year there existed tracts of common land in England, forming part of a high and wild range of hills in Somersetshire, in which red deer still roamed at large.

Having referred to the common muir of Glasgow, which was on the north side of the city, I may mention that there stood upon it the small church or chapel of St. Roche the Confessor – called in a minute of council in 1647 “Sein Rokis Kirk.” It was founded in the beginning of the sixteenth century by Thomas Muirhead, canon of Glasgow and prebendary of Stobo, and the cure was served by one of the order of the Blackfriars. It was surrounded by a burying-ground, which, when the town was visited by a pestilence in 1647, was used for the reception of the infected poor, for whose accommodation wooden huts were erected on it. From a corruption of the name of this chapel the district called St. Rollox took its name.

The portions of the land round Glasgow, which were saved from appropriation, continued till a comparatively recent period to be held in common by the inhabitants for pasturing their cattle. Certain parks in the locality now called Cowcaddens, and elsewhere, including the Green, were used for this purpose till near the end of the last century. The cattle were collected every morning, and sent out to pasture on the common muirs, under the charge of herds appointed by the magistrates. In 1589 there is a minute of council appointing two individuals “to be common Hirdis of the toun for this yeir to cum,” one for the “nolt and guidis aboue the croce” and the other “for the nolt and guidis beneth the croce, and the rest of the nether pairtis of the toun.” “Nolt and guidis” mean black cattle and milch cows. The herds were required to give their oath of fidelity, and to find caution “for leill and trew administratioun in their office.”7 The cattle from the lower district were collected by the herd and driven through the west port, and up the common thoroughfare called the Cow Lone, now Queen Street, to the Cowcaddens parks, and he brought them home the same way in the evening. At that time there was on the site of what is now the Royal Exchange a thatched farmhouse, with large dungsteads at either end. Cow Lone, as I have previously mentioned, was then a rural, muddy lane, neither bottomed nor causewayed, and in wet weather the cattle often sunk in it so deeply as to get “laired” – causing the herd no small trouble in their extrication. It continued in this state till so late as 1760, when it was causewayed. Sometimes the cattle were taken westward by what was called the Back Cow Lone – now Ingram Street – a rural lane which led westward from the High Street by Buns Wynd, Shuttle Street, and Canon Street, till it joined the main Cow Lone. This practice of leading out the cattle to pasture continued till a comparatively recent period. Dr. Buchanan, writing in 1855, says, “I have conversed with people who perfectly well remembered the last Town herd collecting the cows and driving them along the streets and both of the lones, in the manner now described. His name was John Anderson, and he lived in Picken’s Land, Rottenrow. I am in possession of his horn, and a very primitive looking wind instrument it is.” It was made out of a cow’s horn, with an indentation round the mouthpiece for the purpose of suspending the instrument from the worthy official’s neck.

Originally there appears to have been a herd for the cows and a separate herd for the calves. In 1579 there is an order of the town council by which “Matho Wilsone is maid and constitut calf hird, and is ordanit to have vjd (a halfpenny) for ilk calf, and his meit daily about, or ellis xijd (a penny) for ilk melteth [each meal] gif thai failzie and to be poyndit thairfoir.”8 Perhaps the calves were pastured on the Green. There was certainly a house for the herd there, situated near the site of Nelson’s Monument.

No one was allowed to pasture his cattle apart from the common herd. There is a minute which bears that “John Hogisyarde is fund in the wrang and amercement of court for halding of ane kow by [apart from] the herde, contrare to the statuts of the toune; quhilk kow was fund and gottin in James Flemynges corne;” and the delinquent is ordained to make good “the skaitht to the said James.”9

The prices at which the magistrates disposed of the common lands were very small. The agricultural value of the ground was certainly not great, as may be judged from the fact that in 1712 the whole of the muir known as the Wester Common, extending to about 100 acres – now part of the city – was let to one James Bell at the rent of “11, 8s. 6d. That was probably all that could be then got for it; but the magistrates were not justified in permanently alienating lands which they held in trust – if not for the Church, to which they really belonged, at least for the citizens – at prices which were merely nominal. On the 18th of June, 1730, they sold sixty acres of this Wester Common to James Rae, a merchant in Glasgow, at the price of £145, 16s. 8d. and an annual feu-duty of £5, 11s. Taking the feu-duty at even twenty-five years’ purchase, this is less than £285 for sixty acres of land. And in 1747 they sold the remainder of the common, extending to between thirty and forty acres, to John Young, a tailor, at the price of £130 and a feu-duty of £1, 13s. 4d. Again, on the other side of the city, the magistrates so late as 1764, sold to Hugh Tennent, a gardener, what is described in the conveyance as “the town’s lands and muir of Easter Common consisting of 42 acres,” for payment of a feu-duty of only £10 sterling. In the same way other valuable lots of ground were disposed of at prices equally inadequate.

1  Sketches of Early Scottish History, p. 101.
2  Life by Jocelin, c. xix.
3  Caledonia Romana, p. 16.
4  Hamilton’s Lanarkshire, p. 149.
5  Papers in possession of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. Contribution to Maitland Club of the late Andrew Macgeorge, Esq., p. 24.
6  Scotch Legal Antiquities, p. 155.
7  26th March, 1589.
8  26th May, 1579.
9  Council Records, 16th August, 1579.

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