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The River and Harbour, pp.248-266.

[Old Glasgow Contents]

I have as yet said very little of the river, but the subject is well deserving of attention, apart from its connection with the trade and commerce of the city. The physical history of the Clyde, and the wonderful changes which in the course of ages it has undergone, are matters of the deepest interest.

It is certain that at a time not remote, geologically speaking, but not so late certainly as the beginning of the Christian era, the district through which the Clyde flows was the bottom of an inland see, of which Loch Lomond, with its tributary valleys, formed a branch.1 Dr. Bryce conjectures that it was an estuary connected with the sea by a narrow strait near Erskine, where the hills on either side press close upon the stream. This estuary, whose limits reached as far as Johnstone and Paisley, was narrowed upwards by the projecting Ibrox and Pollokshields ridges, but again widening out to wash the base of the Cathkin and Cathcart hills, swept round north-east in a wide bay so as to cover what is now the Glasgow Green and the suburb of Bridgeton. The water would then enter probably about Bothwell or Rutherglen.2 That the sediment formed over this tract of the Clyde valley during this early period was deposited under marine conditions is conclusively shown by the discovery of marine shells and other organisms in various localities near the river.

At what period this state of matters existed it is impossible to say, but we have unquestionable evidence that what is now the Trongate, with other lower streets of Glasgow and many parts adjacent, were covered with water at a time when the district was occupied by man. The discovery in 1830 of a canoe on elevated ground at Castlemilk, at a place a long way back from the river, and of the bones of a whale, which must have been forty feet in length, near Erskine in 1855, together with canoes in the Trongate and other localities far above the present level of the river – all of them covered by strata of transported sand and gravel – show clearly enough that there has been an elevation of the land, and that it took place within the human period. The discovery in the Green, in 1876, of a beautiful Roman bowl of Samian ware, four and a half feet below the surface – covered as it was by stratified sand – has been pointed to as evidence that another elevation had taken place since the Roman occupation, but the weight of evidence is entirely against that hypothesis. The subject is interesting: it has given rise to much controversy, and relating as it does to the ancient condition of what is now a part of the city, it will not be out of place to notice shortly the facts which have been ascertained.

To begin with the canoes. One of these was discovered in 1780 when digging the foundation for St. Enoch’s Church; and what made this discovery the more important was that within the canoe was found a beautiful polished stone hatchet or celt, one of the instruments, no doubt, by which it had been fashioned. Another canoe was found at the Cross, while excavating the foundation for the Tontine buildings. in 1824 one was found in Stockwell Street, near the mouth of Jackson Street; and another was discovered as high up as Drygate, on the slope behind the new prison. One of these ancient vessels was in a vertical position with the prow uppermost, as if it had sunk in a storm, and there were found within it a number of marine shells.3 At a later period a considerable number of canoes of the same description were found on the lands of Springfield, on the south side of the Clyde, and others were found at Clydehaugh. The average depth at which these last were lying was about 19 feet from the surface of the ground, and they were all at a distance of more than 300 feet from the modern margin of the river. They were all imbedded in and covered by stratified sand, which bore the clearest marks of having been deposited by the action of water. Whether this was so in the case of the canoes found at such high elevation as the Drygate, has unfortunately not been ascertained. That canoes were found in these localities is undoubted, but we have no account of the state of the soil around or over them at the time of the discovery.

All the canoes were of the most primitive kind. They were formed of single oak-trees roughly scooped out – some more carefully made, and others so rudely constructed that the roots had not been entirely cut off, but merely rounded in a rough way, and fire employed to burn out the interior.4 I subjoin a representation of two of the canoes which were found at Clydehaugh in 1852, from drawings made at the time by Mr. Robert Hart, which he kindly permitted me to copy. No. 1 is the largest and finest of the group, measuring 14 feet in length, 4 feet 1 inch in breadth, and 1 foot 11 inches deep. It has been hollowed out of a magnificent oak, cleanly sawn through at the thickest part. There has been a seat across the middle, and on the bottom there are rests for the feet of the rower. The end is closed by two boards joined, and at the centre where they meet a vertical incision has been made in each edge all the way down, so as to form a sheath into which a thin slip of oak had been neatly introduced, and made to draw out when necessary. In this way the seam caused by the meeting of the two boards has been made completely water-tight. No. 2 is a very curious little vessel. It was 10 feet long, 3 feet 2 inches broad, and 1 foot deep. The sides were perforated by a number of holes. These were for fixing the two quarter boards, as shown in the sketch. The boards had been separated from the canoe in raising it, but they were found by Mr. Hart and fitted into their places. The wooden pegs were as well made as if they had been turned. The quarter boards were half checked in the gunwale.

Referring to these Clydehaugh and Springfield canoes, the late Dr. Scouler, than whom, on such a subject, there can be no higher authority, says, “The depth at which they are found is that of the present channel of the river, and cresting waves were quite competent to have carried down all the beds of sand and gravel by which they were covered. Here then we may infer that no geological change of any importance has taken place in this part of the valley of the Clyde. But besides these canoes there were others found which do indicate geological changes – that is, changes in the relative position of the sea and land from elevation. Thus, in the case of the canoes found in London Street and at the Tontine, although they were buried at the same depth from the surface, they are more than twenty feet above tide mark; in other words, what was once the channel of the river has been elevated by that amount, and consequently these last canoes must be of greater antiquity than those found at the lower levels of Springfield and Clydehaugh. The history of canoes found at such elevations as Drygate would carry us back to a much higher antiquity, but, unfortunately, beyond the undoubted fact of canoes having been found in these places, we have scarcely any information. If they were found imbedded under transported sand and clay they would point to a very great antiquity, but it is possible the aborigines may have left them in such places for concealment or security. The result, however, of what we have on undoubted evidence, is that no elevation of the land amounting to more than twenty feet has taken place since the estuary of the Clyde was navigated by these ancient canoes.”5

The organisms existing in the superficial deposits that now fill the Clyde valley tell clearly their own tale. The boulder clay, the oldest of these deposits, is the product of a sheet of land ice that descended from the higher levels of the country to the sea level during the glacial period, and deposited there its burden of stones and other rubbish – the land being then much lower under the sea than at present. The next series of beds in the Clyde valley – namely, the older sand beds and brick clays – still testify to the presence of the sea by the arctic marine fauna contained in them. These deposits were succeeded by an upheaval of the land of probably twenty feet, when we have evidence of a sea of less depth. It was after that upheaval that the sands and gravels were laid down which form our raised beach beds, and which contain a marine fauna still living in the Clyde waters; and the probability is that the earlier canoemen lived during this period. And next we have evidence of a farther rise of perhaps twenty feet more – which is Dr. Scouler’s conjecture – and this, the latest rise, shut out the sea from the Clyde valley above Bowling, as well as out of Loch Lomond, where similar marine deposits are found. After this last rise the Clyde would for a long time run through a tract of country with no proper river channel, and the deposits than laid down would be of fresh water origin. The matter thus deposited will fully account for the rise in the bed of the river and of the bordering land, as well as for the river shifting its channel from time to time, without resorting to the hypothesis of any further upheaval. There is, as is well known, a tendency in all tidal rivers that flow through a flat tract of country not only to gradually elevate their beds, but likewise the land on either side, so long as the river is allowed to remain in a state of nature. This silting up of the river valley goes on, of course, most rapidly when the river is in flood, and it is hastened when the downward current is checked by an advancing tidal wave. The deposit, too, will be greatest in the river itself, as there will be always more sediment there than elsewhere. The river will thus come to flow on higher and higher levels, till at last it bursts its bounds and takes a new course over lower ground. That this was the case with the Clyde in its later history is certain, for we have evidence of its having changed its course more than once within a limited tract of country both above and below Glasgow.

That the canoes found at Clydehaugh were at least as old as the time of the Roman occupation there can be no doubt. The probability is they were much older. If, then, their presence in the places where they were found precludes the hypothesis that any elevation of the land has occurred since they were left there, and if the deep covering of stratified sand over them can be accounted for by periodical floods, still less do we require to resort to the theory of elevation to account for the position of the Roman bowl found in the Green. There is abundant evidence that in times long after the departure of the Romans our Green was a low-lying swamp, repeatedly covered – perhaps covered every year – by floods or “spates,” every one of which would leave a deposit of sand or clay. The place where the bowl was found was on the slope of the Fleshers’ Haugh, four and a half feet under the present surface, and about twelve feet above the then level of the river. But this by no means implies that the spot was so much above the level of the river when the bowl was left there. I have referred to the process of elevation cause by the deposit of matter brought down by the river, but we are in possession of actual data which show that by the improvements carried on in the Clyde, by deepening and otherwise, the bed of the river has been greatly lowered since 1758, when these operations commenced. So much has this been the case that between that year and 1876 – the year in which the bowl was found – the level of low water in the harbour of Glasgow had been lowered to the remarkable extent of eight feet. We have no information how much it had been lowered above the harbour. The extent was no doubt less there than eight feet, for a weir was formed towards the end of the last century above the harbour to protect the foundations of the then recently erected bridge at the foot of Jamaica Street. This weir remained till 1842, when it was removed, and another erected on the underside of Stockwell Bridge, and this again was removed in 1852 to allow of the erection of Victoria Bridge. The formation of these weirs would, of course, from the time of their erection, prevent so great a lowering of the bed of the river as that which was taking place below; but that a process of lowering above the bridges had been going on for a very long time is certain, and it must have been hastened to some extent by the large quantities of sand which we know the inhabitants were in the custom of taking from the bed of the river below the old bridge of Glasgow. The foundations of this old bridge had been laid in what was then the bed of the river by Bishop Rae in the year 1350, and when the bridge was taken down in 1850 the remarkable fact became apparent that the original foundations had stood no less than five feet above the modern bed. It was also found that means had been taken from time to time to compensate the lowering process by artificially raising the portion of the channel immediately adjoining the piers, partly by compact masses of stone and partly by strong ranges of piles. The old foundations had been laid on beams of oak, and it is interesting to know that when these were taken out, after the lapse of 500 years, they were found to be as fresh as when first put in. This, however, is not so surprising when we know that the older canoes found under the Trongate were comparatively fresh when found, although they had been made from oaks which must have been growing where Glasgow now is at least four thousand years ago.

As showing also that the river was formerly broader, as well as its bed higher, that it was in our day, it is important to note that the bridge as built by Bishop Rae consisted of eight arches. Of these the two nearest the northern bank were built up, and the pier on that side removed in or before 1776, having by that time become of no farther use owing to the lower level and subsequent contracted breadth of the river – the space being filled up with earth. From this it may be inferred that the brink of the river was, in Bishop Rae’s time, considerably nearer the row of fishermen’s houses than the present Stockwell Street, which probably occupies their site.

On the moderate assumption, then, that the depression of the bed of the river above the bridges amounted since the time of the Roman occupation to six feet, it will follow that the place where the Samian bowl was found was, in the Roman time, not more than six feet above the then level of the river; and deducting a foot of soil – which the contractor who found the bowl reported was over the stratified sand and clay – there remains a depth of only five feet of transported sand, which may easily be accounted for by deposits left by floods during the fifteen centuries or more since the bowl was lost in this swampy spot.

How frequent were these floods or “spates,” and to what depth the water attained, the present generation can have little idea. From the diary of Mr. George Brown, already quoted, we learn that a great flood occurred in 1712; and we have some interesting particulars of this flood from another eye-witness, Mr. James Duncan, Bookseller – the first, by the way, who introduced the art of type-making in Glasgow. Mr. Duncan, speaking in 1735, as a witness in the lawsuit between Mr. Fleming and the corporation already referred to, and himself at that time a man of eighty, says: “In the year 1712 there was an excessive high speat in the river. At that time the deponent saw a boat swim over the bridge at the foot of the Saltmarket and swim up the said street opposite to the north gavel of the tenement lately built by Thomas Blackstock, the south end of which house fronts the Bridgegate street, and there the deponent saw the said boat take in some people who came off an old house which then stood there; then the said boat swimed down to the foot of the Saltmarket street and up to the foot of the Closes in the Old Yards, and there the said boat also took in some people who were in houses at the foot of the said closes, and carried them up the Saltmarket street.”

Another flood fell under the personal observation of Mr. George Brown on the 11th of September, 1746. On this occasion, he tells us, “the river rose to such a height as to cover all the Laigh Green, to over flow the Bridgegate till near Allan Stevenson’s house, the Stockwell till near James Corbet’s house, and the Saltmarket till it stopped the entry into the Bridgegate.”6 Another Glasgow citizen, Mr. Reid (“Senex”), gives us his own recollections of two other great floods. Referring to one which occurred in 1782 he says: “In King street the river reached the second shop above the Mutton Market. I stood on the upper step of that shop on the 12 of March of that year, and while I was there a boat arrived close to me, having been through the Bridgegate with provisions for the inmates of houses in that quarter. Both the markets were inundated, and I remember how the flood cleared them of rats.” This flood covered all the lower parts of the Green, “and the then village of Gorbals was so completely surrounded that it seemed like an island rising up in the midst of an estuary.” The river on this occasion rose twenty feet above its ordinary level. Speaking of another food in 1808 Mr. Reid says: “I was living at that time in a self-contained house on the south side of the city, quite detached from any other, but the ground on which it was built was a little higher than the surrounding grounds. At night the river had put out all the fires of our lower apartments, and when I went to bed it stood three feet in our dining room. Outside of the house the water all around was deeper than the height of a man, and it was running past us with the rapidity of a mill race. I think that we were not less than 400 feet from dry land.” Mr. Reid adds that on the evening of the next day, the river having fallen considerably, he ventured to attempt his escape from the house – tying his clothes in a bundle and carrying them on his head; but even then the water was as high as his shoulders. The rest of the family did not get away till the day following. In this flood the Green was again covered, and a young man sailing over it in a boat lost his life.7 It is quite possible that the Roman bowl may have been dropt from a boat in similar circumstances, and covered by the deposits of subsequent floods. In 1816 there was another great flood. On this occasion the Clyde rose seventeen feet, again submerging the Green; and there were many floods after that till the continued deepening of the river put an end to them.

Almost every flood covered the Green. Mr. Reid tells us that even in his recollection the “Laigh Green” lay so low, and its surface was so irregular, that a very slight rise in the river, and sometimes even a heavy fall of rain, left it under water.8 And Mr. Hart, to whom I have already referred, and whose testimony as a man of science is peculiarly valuable, told me he quite recollected that after each flood a stratum of sand or mud was left on the Green often an inch thick.

The extent and effect of these floods is further illustrated by a curious advertisement which appears in the Glasgow Mercury of 28th November, 1781. It announces “that there is a Ferry boat or lighter Lying in a park adjacent to the Green of Glasgow possessed at present by John King, late Deacon of the Fleshers, supposed to have been cast in by a flood more than twelve months byegone;” and it intimates that the owner may have it on defraying charges. So that we have it here stated, as an ordinary occurrence, that a boat, so large as to be described as a ferry-boat or lighter, was left by the flood, not on the Low Green, but in the “park adjacent” – namely, the Fleshers’ Haugh. From all these facts it is easy to understand how the Samian bowl could in a long course of centuries have come to be covered by a strata of transported sand. The whole Green, indeed, may have been under water during the Roman occupation, without resorting to the hypotheses of a subsequent elevation of the land. And it was the same with the low-lying lands farther down the river. Even at Dunbarton the land between the castle and the town was, so late as the beginning of the eighteenth century, “an impassable morass.”9

But the proof that there has been no elevation since the Roman period, or even since the probably earlier time of the canoes which were found at Clyde Haugh, is much stronger than Dr. Scouler had supposed. His inference that no geological change of any importance had taken place in this part of the valley of the Clyde was founded on the assumption that the site of the canoes was that of the channel of the river; but he was not aware of the important fact, since supplied in the valuable work of Mr. Deas, that there exist plans and sections which show that at this place the bed of the river was, in 1853, fully seven feet lower than what it was a hundred years before – namely, in 1758. IN other words, the site in which the canoes lay was all that depth below the level of what had been the bed of the river even so late as the middle of the last century.

How then did they get there? That they were not purposely buried at that depth is clear, for they were covered with strata of transported sand which had been quietly deposited around and over them. The only inference is that all the low-lying land adjacent was under water at the time when the canoes were left there, and that it has been since filled up by debris and detritus brought down by the river subsequent to the last elevation of the land. This hypothesis receives confirmation from the fact that in digging the trench for the quay wall of the Victoria Dock in 1875 there was found another canoe, about twenty feet from the then bank of the river, and at a depth of upwards of fifteen feet from the surface. It was covered by stratified sand and gravel, and lay at a point nearly eight feet below the level of what had been the bed of the river in 1758.

But other discoveries made in the course of the operations by the river trustees in the same locality gave still more interesting results – results which not only afford evidence of changes in the bed of the river, but which tend to show that the land at this place was under water at a period not by any means so remote as might be supposed. In the course of excavations at a point about 200 feet from the present bed of the river the workmen uncovered the remains of an ancient pavement or causeway – the centre of it lying at a depth of more than twenty feet from the present surface, and the extremities at depths varying from nine to ten feet. The stones highest situated were covered with a muddy soil, and were about the present high-water level. From this point the causeway appears to have sloped downwards and then risen again; and the stones at the lower levels were covered with beds of stratified clay, and gray and brown sand, alternating with beds of leaves in which hazel nuts were found. The greater part of the clay was arenaceous. The lowest point at which the stones were found was fully ten feet below what had been the level of low water in 1758. The pavement was thirty feet broad, and was traced to a length of soo feet. From the positions and levels of the stones the probability is that they formed a causeway across – not the present bed of the river, but across an older channel more to the north, and that since that time the river has formed a new bed for itself. If the lowest of the stones were, when found, bursting through when the new channel was opened, may have undermined the centre of the causeway and caused the stones to fall down; and this is the opinion of a gentleman connected with the operations of the River trustees who saw the stones when they were discovered; but it is more probable that the old level of the river where the stones were laid was lower than the present. I have already referred to the habit of rivers to silt up their old channels, and this I apprehend to be the case here. The river would silt up the channel over the causeway, and afterwards seek a new course for itself farther to the south, and there again it would proceed to raise its bed until its low-water level was in 1758 ten feet above the level of the causeway. However that may be, the important fact with which we have to do is that the stones were covered with beds of stratified sand and clay and beds of leaves, the aggregate depth of which was nearly ten feet.

The first inquiry which suggests itself in regard to these stones is, to what age are they to be ascribed, and here we are assisted by a material fact. The stones are all tool-marked, and te marks are those of several kinds of iron tools. Therefore, whoever placed them there were acquainted with the use of iron, and there is every reason for supposing that they belong to the Roman period. But if so there has been no elevation of the land here since the time of the Romans. The evidence, in short, is equally conclusive with that afforded by the Roman ford at Drip on the Forth, above Stirling, at which place a depression of twenty or twenty-five feet would now lay the whole of that country under the sea.

But there are still farther grounds for concluding that this old causeway is not pre-historic. The beds of leaves and nuts with which it was covered contained fragments of wrought coal. More than this. In close proximity to the stones, and covered by the same stratified deposits, were found logs of oak bearing distinct marks of the ends having been cut with axe and saw. For these interesting facts I am indebted to Mr. Deas, who also furnished me with sections of the excavations, showing where the canoe was found and the position of the logs and stones. One of these stones I had an opportunity of examining, and I found the tool-marks on it very distinct.

Here, then, we have unmistakeable evidence that at a time within the historic period the river, at this part of the valley, was on a lower level than it was in the last century, and that it and the adjoining land have been raised, not by upheaval, but by the gradual deposit of sand, clay, and gravel.

That the river, at and below Glasgow, was deeper in the twelfth century that it was in later time there are, I think, pretty clear indications from history. In the reign of Malcolm Ceanmor the kingdom was, in 1164, invaded by Somerled, who, it is recorded, having assembled a large force, and collected a fleet of 160 ships, “landed at Renfriu” with the intention of subduing all Scotland; but he was attacked and defeated by the people of the district, and with his son Gillecolm slain – the defeat, by the way, being ascribed in a contemporary poem to the merits of St. Kentigern.10 It is very certain that in the last century Somerled could not have carried to Renfrew a fleet containing an army, with all the accompaniments necessary for so formidable an invasion, if the depth was no more than one foot at low water, which was all that it was on some of the shoals there in 1758. In early times the river came close to Renfrew, and it continued to do so till at least as late as the middle of the seventeenth century. This will be seen from Blaeu’s map,11 which shows a branch of the river coming close to the town and forming the island called the Sand Inch, which has since become joined to the mainland. On this island stood the ancient castle of Renfrew.

We have another proof from history of a greater depth in the river in the middle ages. Fordun tells us that King Alexander raised an army and with his fleet sailed for Argyll to subdue that wild district, but a storm having arisen he was obliged to put back, “and he brought up at Glasgow in safety.” The king’s ships were not, of course, like those of modern navies, but in order to be fit for a sea voyage, and to be capable of carrying the troops and store necessary for the subjugation of a province, they must have been of dimensions far beyond those of the insignificant craft which alone could come to Glasgow in the middle of the eighteenth century, when the depth of water in the harbour was only fourteen inches at low water, and at high water did not exceed 3½ feet.

One reason, besides, for predicating that the Clyde in its present channel would be deeper in the middle ages than during more recent years is to be found in the fact that recently the river must have been silting up its bed more rapidly owing to the increasing cultivation of the land throughout its area of drainage – the land when cultivated being, of course, more rapidly denuded of its soil than when it lay uncultivated and covered with dense vegetation. The same fact has been observed in all the large river valleys of the country.

A farther evidence still that the depth of water in the river was greater in the middle ages than it was in later years is afforded by the fact that in former times herrings came up as far as Renfrew, and were fished for there. This interesting fact we learn from the great charter granted by David to the monastery of Holyrood (circa 1143), by which the king conveys to the monks “unum toftum in reinfry,” with a right not only of nets “ad salmones,” but “et ibi piscari ad allechtia libere” – a free right of fishing herring there, that is, at Renfrew.12

Before leaving this subject I may mention a fact pointed out by the late Mr. Smith of Jordanhill, which goes to prove that no elevation of the land near Glasgow (otherwise than by deposits from the river) has taken place since the Roman occupation. It is this, that the Romans had evidently constructed their great wall at both ends with reference to what is the present water level; and in this Mr. Smith is corroborated by Mr. Dobie Wilson, a sound antiquary, who resided near the Clyde terminus of the wall.

I may also mention, in passing, an interesting pact pointed out by Dr. Scouler, which had not been previously noticed, namely, that the constructors of the earlier canoes were contemporary with two animals of whose existence near Glasgow we have no historic record, viz. the reindeer and the bos primigenius, remains of which were found in the Clyde and brought up by the dredge near Whiteinch. These animals, Dr. Scouler surmises, the ancient inhabitants of what is now Glasgow must have hunted with no other implements than those of stone and bone, and in a state of barbarism similar to that of the Fins, so graphically described by Tacitus. The Bos primigenius survived till a comparatively late period, but the reindeer, and the stone implements found in one of the canoes, take us back to a very remote age.

Dr. Scouler suggests that these early settlers were of the primordial Aryan race, the descendants of Japhet, who dwelt somewhere about the rivers Oxus and Jaxartes, and on the north of the mountainous range called the Hindoo Koosh, and to whose language, the Sanscrit, so many of our words may be traced. There can be no doubt that the Celts who came to inhabit our Western Highlands, and all the district around Glasgow, were of this great family, but it is doubtful if the first canoemen were of that race. They were more probably the men of the second stone age – the aborigines whom the Celts found there, and whom they either mingled with or exterminated.

The inscription on one of the most ancient of the sculptured stones of Scotland, that at Golspie, may have some connection with the early Aryan settlers. Dr. Moore of Hastings, in his work on the Ancient Pillar Stones of Scotland, reads the inscription as being in the ancient Sanscrit character, and supposes the stone to have been erected to a Buddhist missionary by his followers, who introduced much of their system into the west at a  period long before the Christian era.13

In the history of the Clyde nothing is more interesting than the wonderful progress made between the comparatively recent time when it was a shallow stream at Glasgow, capable of floating only small craft drawing two or three feet of water, and the present time when the largest ships can come up to the harbour.

From 1752 to July, 1770, a period of eighteen years, the total revenue derived from the river was only £147, 0s. 10d. For the year 1878 it amounted to upwards of £217,000.

The first attempt towards deepening the river was made in 1740. In that year, under date 8th May, the following entry occurs in the minutes of council:- “Which day the Councill agree that a tryal be made this season of deepening the River below the Broomielaw, and remit to the magistrates to cause dothe same, and go the length of £100 sterling of charges thereupon, and to cause build a flatt bottomed boat to carry off the sand and chingle from the banks.” For 1878-9 the expenditure, including new works, was for that one year upwards of £450,000. The total amount expended by the Trust from 1770 to 1879 amounted to nearly eight and a half millions sterling.

When James Watt made his report in 1769 the depth of water within the harbour at low water was only fourteen inches, and at high water three feet three inches. The depth at low water at the same point is now fourteen feet, and at high water twenty-four feet. Even till within the last few years vessels of 15 feet draught were two, and often three tides in the river in their passage up or down, being, from the shallow state of the channel, afloat for only one hour or so before and after high water. Now vessels drawing 22 feet leave Glasgow two or three hours before high water and get to sea in one tide.14 In 1812 our first steamer, the tiny Comet, with a draught of only four feet, grounded at Renfrew, although Henry Bell was careful to regulate her time of sailing so as to avoid low water. This was told to me by Mrs. Bell, who said she was on board at the time. “And what was done then?” I asked. “Oh,” was the reply, “the men just stepped over the side and pushed her across the shoal.” Over this same spot, not many years afterwards, the great iron-plated line-of-battle ships, the Warrior and Black Prince, with all their machinery on board, passed with water to spare.

Previous to 1662 there was no quay at all at the Broomielaw. Under date 24th July of that year the following minute appears in the council records: “The said day it is concludit for many guid reasons and considerations for the moir commodious laidining and landing of boats that there be ane little key builded at the Broomielaw, and that the samyn be done and perfectit with the best convenience be sight and advys of the magistratis Deane of Gild and Deacon Conveiner.” This first structure, which extended above what is now the site of Jamaica Street Bridge, appears to have been of stone, but it must have been of very small dimensions. In the following year the council “appoynts the key at the Broomielaw to be heightit twa stones heigher nor it was ordained to be of befor, and ordains the Deane of Gild to try for moir oakin timber aither in the Hie Kirk, or back galrie, for facing the samyn.” The zeal for the preservation of the Cathedral, which the magistrates had evinced in the earlier part of that century, appears not to have been shared by their degenerate successors. They seem to have forgotten, or they did not choose to remember, that one of the reasons stated in the act of Parliament, passed only thirty years before (1633), by which so many grants and privileges were confirmed to them, was “the great charges susteinit be thame in upholding the great kirk of Glasgow.”

Even with the aid of oak from the Cathedral, however, the first wretched structure appears to have been found of little use, and the first quay, properly so called, was built in 1688. But this also was of very small dimensions, and the total cost of it did not exceed £1600. At the present time there are four miles of quayage; and, besides the large dock on the south side of the river, there is on the north side at Stobcross a magnificent dock, having a water area of thirty acres, capable of accommodating one million tons of shipping per annum.

Below the Jamaica Street bridge, what was within my own recollection a pleasant green on which clothes were bleached, is now deep water crowded with shipping. So late as 1839 the river above what is known as Napier’s dock was only 168 feet wide. The width there is now upwards of 400 feet, and vessels of 3000 tons burthen float where at that time stood one of the largest cotton mills in the city.15

So few vessels came to Glasgow that not till 1667 was any shipping register kept. In that year it was ordained that “ane book be maid, and to ly in the Clerks chamber, to the effect that the entrie of each ship that come in this river of Clyde may be booked thairintill.”16

Previous to 1780 Glasgow was a mere pendicle to the ports of Port-Glasgow and Greenock. It was not till that year that it was made an independent port.

In the report of Mr. Tucker to Oliver Cromwell, already referred to, he says that in 1656 no vessels of any burden could come nearer to Glasgow than fourteen miles, where they unladed and sent up all commodities by three or four tons of goods at a time, in small cobles of three, four, or five, and none above six tons burthen. The first vessel of any size that arrived at the Broomielaw was a small schooner called the triton, belonging to Mr. Cunningham, which landed some French brandy on the 17th of May, 1780.17 This was twenty-two years after the commencement of the operations for deepening the river. The contrast now afforded by the forests of masts of ocean-going ships and steamers is very striking.

Previous to the year 1767, when the Jamaica Street bridge was commenced to be erected,18 and before the weir had been formed to protect its foundations, the river was navigable for small craft up to Rutherglen, where there was a small landing quay. Mr. Reid says he was informed by the late Mr. Alexander Norris, of Greenhead, “that in his younger days he had frequently seen vessels sailing up the river to Rutherglen, and passing under the arches of the old bridge. These vessels were mostly Highland boats loaded with herrings, ling fish, eggs, and farm produce; and sometimes there were at that period more vessels lying at the harbour of Rutherglen than at the Broomielaw; which by-the-bye,” Mr. Reid adds, “was not wonderful, as I once saw the Broomielaw harbour with only a single gabbart lying in it,”19

Ure, in his interesting history, suggests that in very early times Rutherglen was the only place “of mercantile importance in the strath of Clyde,” and that it probably had almost all the shipping trade. That it was a port is certain, and the ship in the ancient seal of the burgh is confirmatory of this. But there is little doubt that as early as the reign of David I. Renfrew, which then adjoined the river, was also a shipping port. Among the gifts of that king to the Abbey of Kelso were a toft in Renfrew, and a ship, and a net’s fishing in the river.20 It is true, however, what Ure says – writing in 1793 – “that till of late gaberts sailed almost every day from the quay of Rutherglen to Greenock – the freight being chiefly coals.”21

1  Geological Researches, by Mr. Smith of Jordanhill, p. 67.
2  Geological Notes of the Environs of Glasgow.
3  Sir Charles Lyell, Antiquity of Man, 1st edit. p. 48.
4  Account of Ancient Canoes found at Glasgow, by John Buchanan, Esq., LL.D.
5  Paper read at meeting of Archæological Society of Glasgow, 2d May, 1844.
6  Diary of George Brown: privately printed, 1856.
7  Glasgow Past and Present, i. 81, 82.
8  Old Glasgow and its Environs, p. 60.
9  Defoe’s Tour, 1727.
10  Chron. Manniæ, quoted by Mr. Skene, Celtic Scotland, vol. i. p. 473.
11  Ante, p. 122.
12  Liber Cartarum Sancte Crucis, p. 5.
13  Paper read by Dr. Stuart, author of the Sculptured Stones of Scotland, at meeting of the Glasgow Archæological Society in 1865.
14  The River Clyde, by James Deas, 1876, p. 13.
15  The River Clyde, by Mr. Deas, p. 12.
16  Burgh Records, 5th Oct. 1667.
17  Glasgow Mercury, 18th May, 1780.
18  The foundation stone was laid on 29th Sept. 1767, and it was opened for traffic in 1772.
19  Glasgow Past and Present, vol. iii. p. 820.
20  Liber de Kelso, p. 5.
21  History of Rutherglen and East Kilbride, by David Ure, A.M.
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