Police, Water Supply, &c., pp.289-299.

[Old Glasgow Contents]

In the state of the streets and other matters of police the contrast between the present and former state of things is very remarkable. Till towards the end of the eighteenth century none of the streets in Glasgow were causewayed, and from all accounts they must have been in a state of great disrepair. In 1577 the magistrates appointed “a calsaye maker” for two years,1 and to meet the expense imposed on the inhabitants a tax of two hundred pounds – £16, 13s. 4d. It would appear, however, that no one of sufficient skill could be had in the city, and there is an entry in the burgh records in the following year authorizing “a calsaye maker” to be brought from Dundee. It was not till 1662 that the street from the West Port to St. Enoch Square was causewayed. Before that time St. Enoch’s Burn was an open limpid stream running across the highway,  unspanned by any bridge, and in that year the magistrates appointed “ane handsome little brige with ane pen to be put over St Tenowes burne, and that the casay be brought in therfra to the West Port; and recommends to the Mr of Wark to send for the calsay layer in Rutherglen to do the work.”2

Till so late as 1780 the inhabitants had to find their way in the Trongate by means of their own “bouets” or hand-lamps when there was no moonlight. In that year the magistrates agreed to put up nine lamps on the south side of the Trongate, between the Tron Church Steeple and Stockwell Street, on condition that the proprietors along that line would lay a foot-pavement similar to that which had been formed on the opposite side. The absence of lamps in a town then so small as Glasgow is less remarkable when we know that till near the end of the seventeenth century the streets of London remained unlighted. In the last year of the reign of Charles II. a projector named Heming obtained letters patent confirming to him for a term of years the exclusive right of lighting up the metropolis. After all, what he undertook was merely to place a light before every tenth door on moonless nights – that is, one night in three – from the beginning of October to the 25th of March, and only from six o’clock till midnight. This accommodation, scanty as it was, was hailed as something wonderful, and the projector was overwhelmed with applause.3

Not till the beginning of the present century was there any regular police force in Glasgow. At an early period a watch, such as it was, had been instituted, but it does not appear to have been very efficient. The first notice on the subject in the burgh records occurs towards the middle of the seventeenth century, when the council “ordains ane watche to be keepit neightlie heireftir” from six o’clock at night till five in the morning.4 And in the following year there is an order appointing one of the citizens to keep watch at each port from seven in the morning till ten at night.5 These orders appear to have received little attention, and in 1659 there occurs the following minute: “The same day for preventing of the great hurt and damage in the futur quhairof sundrie inhabitants hes fand the smart heirtofoir throw the breking of thair houssis and buithes be thiefes: it is therfor heirby statute and ordained that ane watch be keipit nightly heirefter, to be set ilk night be the baillies in dew tyme, vicissim, to consist of sik ane convenient number as they sall think meet.” This is ordained to be made known “be touk of drum,” and every man, or a substitute, is ordered to come out under a penalty.6 This service appears to have been for a long time performed cheerfully by all the citizens, including those of the better classes. In the diary of Mr. Brown, already referred to – a Glasgow merchant in prosperous circumstances, and who amassed a considerable fortune – there occurs, under date 7th December, 1745, this entry: “Read the fourteenth chapter of first Corinthians and prayed; then went to keep the city guard at ten o’clock at night, where I continued till near four in the morning, when I went to bed.”7 This was at the time when the rebel army was expected, and within a few days afterwards it entered the city with Prince Charles at its head.

But towards the end of the eighteenth century the magistrates made some efforts to establish a more efficient system of watching. About 1788 they created a small police force, for which in the following year a sum of £135, 2s. was paid to Richard Marshall, for himself as superintendent and for his officers. This force appears to have been armed, and it no doubt assisted the citizens in their watch and ward, but it was found necessary to introduce among the citizens themselves a more exact system. A notice was accordingly published bearing that, “in consequence of the great extent and populousness of the city,” it was necessary to establish “a night guard and patrol in order to watch and guard the streets.” The town was accordingly divided into four districts, and all the male citizens, above the age of eighteen and under sixty, whose yearly rents amounted to £3 sterling or above, in rotation, to the number of thirty-six every night, were appointed to mount guard, and to continue on patrol during the night – those claiming exemption being obliged to pay two shillings and sixpence for a substitute.8 This arrangement continued to the end of the century. It was not till 1800 that the police force of the city came to be regulated by statutory enactments.

Until near the end of the last century there was not a common sewer in the city. The first was constructed in 1790, and by 1819 the number of streets which contained common sewers was only forty-five.

So late as 1777 the total force employed by the magistrates in cleaning the streets was two men. It was only by a minute of council in the end of that year that they enacted that “a third person should be employed along with the said two men.” So badly kept were the streets and roads that till far on in the present century, ladies almost universally used pattens when walking out.

Previous to 1817 the streets were seldom watered. In exceptionally dry and sultry weather, when this was done, it was effected by men with watering cans. In the year mentioned the present mode of watering by means of carts was introduced. It was the invention of Mr. Black, the superintendent of fire-engines.

As to the general water supply of the city there is nothing in our burgh records to show that there was ever any scarcity, but it could at no time have been very abundant. Of course, the supply was, till a comparatively recent period, derived entirely from wells, but of these there were a considerable number for the size of the city. McUre, writing in 1736, says: “There is plenty of water, there being sweet water wells in several closses of the toun, besides sixteen public wells which serves the city night and day as need requires.”9 For the ordinary wants of the inhabitants, as then understood, these were no doubt sufficient; but in those days there were no baths or other conveniences, such as we now consider so indispensable. Some few families had private wells, but as a rule the inhabitants had to resort to the wells in the public streets; and it was an every-day sight – morning and evening – to see the wells surrounded by housewives and maid-servants, with their “stoups” set down in rows, waiting their turn to be served. On Saturdays there was an extra pressure, as a supply required to be provided on that day for the Sunday. One of the most noted of these old wells, and the one which finds earliest mention in the old charters, was the Deanside or Meadow well, the water of which was so prized that the Friars Preachers, as I have already had occasion to mention, had a charter authorizing them to conduct it into their convent. Another was Bogle’s well, in regard to which there is a minute of the town council “that Bogillis well should be assayed for bringing and convoying the water of the same to the Hie street according to the right the town hes therof,” and the magistrates are recommended to arrange for having this done “by conduits of led.” There was another, an open draw-well, at the Barras yett, near the port of that name at the foot of Saltmarket. It is mentioned in a minute of council in 1664, which ordains that “in respect of the heighting of the calsay at the Barrazet the well there be heightit twa stones higher round about, for preservation of childerin falling therin.”10 Opposite the old Black Bull Inn in Trongate was another open draw-well, afterwards covered in, which was famous in the palmy days of cold punch, and which is alluded to in Cyril Thornton as “the west port well.”11 On ordinary occasions this favourite well was surrounded by large numbers of the town’s people waiting a supply. There was also an old well on the banks of the Molendinar Burn, near the Necropolis bridge. It was called the “Minister’s” or “Priest’s Well.” Farther down on the east bank of the burn was the “Lady Well.” In early times there was also a well at the present Cross. There was another “at the Vennell,” which appears to have been, like the one in Trongate, a draw-well, as there is a minute of council in 1656 arranging with John Scott, mill-wright, to “rewle and governe” this well and “the new well in Trongait,” he undertaking to uphold them “in cogis and rungis, the toun vphalding all ganging greth quhan athir it weiris or breckis.” There was another well on the Green, the Arns Well, so called from the arn or alder trees which were planted beside it; and there were various others. There were thirty in all, besides a few private wells. Among these last one of the finest in the city was within the precincts of the mansion in Jamaica Street belonging to Mr. Black of Claremont, which was taken down in 1849.

In 1776 the magistrates had under consideration the necessity of obtaining a larger water supply, and in that year “the Treasurer is ordained to pay to Dr. Irvine £8, 8s. for his trouble in searching round Glasgow for water to be brought into the city.” In 1804 Mr. Harley constructed in what is now West Nile Street an extensive tank or reservoir, into which he led water from springs in his lands of Willowbank, and he carted it through the streets in barrels for sale at the rate of a halfpenny for each “stoup.” This water was much in demand, and Mr. Harley made a considerable sum by it. It was not till 1806 that any effectual attempt was made to introduce a general supply. In that year the Glasgow Water Works Company was projected, and afterwards, in 18808, the Cranstonhill Water Works, and by these companies the city was for a long time fairly supplied. In 1846 the supply was increased by the establishment of the Gorbals Gravitation Water Company. Ultimately the corporation took the matter into its own hands, with the result that at present no city in the world is better supplied with water than Glasgow is. During the year 1877 the average daily supply introduced into the city amounted to the enormous quantity of thirty-three millions seven hundred thousand gallons; and as the population supplied was 730,000, this gives an amount of more than forty gallons per head each day for every man, woman, and child in the city.

In 1776 the magistrates enacted a scale of charges for porters. For carrying a letter or parcel any distance not exceeding half the length of the city the charge was to be a halfpenny, and to any place not exceeding a mile from the Cross a penny. For a back load from the Cross to the Broomielaw the allowance was twopence. For an hour’s work the porter was to have threepence, and for each hour afterwards a penny.

The carters had been dealt with by an earlier edict. In 1655 the magistrates, “takeing to their consideratioune the great and exorbitant pryces takine be the kairters within the brughe serving about the water of Clyd,” enacted that only the following rates should be charged – I state them in sterling money:- From the Broomielaw to the Trongate, Gallowgate, and Saltmarket, twopence; from the Broomielaw to any part betwixt the Cross and the College, twopence three farthings; and from the Broomielaw to above the College, to the Wynd head, and to “the fardest place in the towne,” fourpence.12

Hackney-coaches are said to have been introduced in Glasgow in the middle of the seventeenth century, but if so they disappeared again. Under date 15th March, 1673, the council “refers to the provest, and to thame he pleases to tak with him, to settle and agrie with ane coachman for serving the toune with haikna coaches the best way they can.” What came of this does not appear, but for a long time there were few if any coaches in Glasgow, either private or for hire. Dr. Carlyle, writing of the year 1744, says “there were then neither post chaises nor hackney coaches in the town.”13 Some sedan chairs were to be had for hire, and a few were kept by gentlewomen of the better classes. From an account preserved of the household expenses of Thomas Hutcheson, one of the founders of the Hospital, who lived, as already mentioned, “in a house at the Cross,” we know that his lady possessed a sedan chair – one of the items being “for dressing ane siddan with thrie losanes of frenshe glass, 12s.,” that is, one shilling sterling. These chairs continued to be let for hire till after the middle of the present century. In 1817, according to Mr. Cleland, there were then eighteen so let, but only one was kept in the city for private use. This was by a lady in George Street.14

In the beginning of the seventeenth century the town maintained a horse post between Edinburgh and Glasgow, but this was soon abandoned, and after the middle of the century there was for some time only a foot post between the two cities. In 1663 there is a minute appointing John Fergusone to this office, and fixing his wages at three pounds Scots – five shillings, “and to receive a penny sterling for ilk letter he receaves and als much for ilk letter hamewards.”15 It is interesting to see a penny postage thus established in Glasgow more than two hundred years ago. In 1667 the general postage rate in Scotland was for a single letter not exceeding one sheet of paper, for any distance not exceeding forty miles, twopence; and for a double letter, fourpence. The post to Edinburgh went at first only once a week. Towards the end of the century an attempt was made by “the trading merchands” to obtain a post three times a week, but with what result does not appear. A horse post was again established, but not for some time after the beginning of the eighteenth century. In the year 1688, indeed, the only horse posts in Scotland were those between Berwick and Edinburgh, and thence to Portpatrick for the Irish mail. All other places were supplied by foot posts or runners.16

From a notice in the Glasgow Mercury of 13th November, 1782, it appears that letters for London, despatched from the post-office in Glasgow on Saturdays, did not arrive in London till the morning of the following Thursday. At this time the post-office was in Prince’s Street, then called Gibson’s Wynd, and it consisted of three apartments. The front one measured about twelve feet square, and the two behind were mere pigeon-holes, not more than ten feet by six, one of these being the private room of the postmaster. The letter box fronted the street, and the place for delivery of letters was a small hole broken through the wall into the close, which was then a common thoroughfare entry to King Street.17 In 1787 the entire staff of the post-office in Glasgow consisted of five, of whom two were letter-carriers. In the same year the complement of the custom-house was two individuals.

There was no stage-coach between Glasgow and Edinburgh till late in the seventeenth century, and none to London for a long time afterwards. In 1678 the magistrates contracted with “Wm. Hoome merchand in Edinburge,” to set up “ane sufficient strong coach to run betwext Edinburgh and Glasgow to be drawn by sax able horses; to leave Edinburgh ilk monday morning and return again (God willing) ilk Saturday night the passengers to have the liberty of taking a cloak-bag to receive their clothes linens and sick like; the burgesses of Glasgow always to have the preference of the coach. the fare to be £4, 16s. Scots (s.) in summer and £5, 8s. Scots (9s.) in winter, and the said Wm. Hoome to have a sallerie of 200 merks (£11, 3s.) a year for five years.”18 Of this “sallerie” he received two years’ payment in advance. How the project succeeded does not appear. Probably it was a failure, as in 1743 a proposal was submitted to the magistrates by one John Walker “for erecting a stage coach betwixt Edinburgh and Glasgow, to set out twice a week from Glasgow to Edinburgh, and the coach or lando to contain six passengers, with six sufficient horses, for twenty weeks in summer, and the rest of the year once a week – each passenger to pay 10s. sterling and to be entitled to 14 pund weight of baggage, and the toun to insure to him that 200 of his tickets shall be sold here each year.”19 The proposal was remitted to a committee, with what result does not appear. Thirty years afterwards20 Patrick Heron, vintner at the Black Bull, advertises “that there sets out from his house, and from Mrs. Gibsons Inn Grassmarket Edinburgh that evening, and to run it from Glasgow upon Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays, and from Edinburgh on Tuesdays Thursdays and Saturdays.”

To London there was, till a comparatively recent date, no stage-coach from Glasgow. The first which ran from Edinburgh was started about the middle of the eighteenth century. In 1755 the proprietor announced that “it is now altered to a new genteel two end glass machine hung on steel springs,” and that it would accomplish the journey in ten days in summer and twelve in winter – a contrast to our day, when several trains start from each city daily, and accomplish the journey in about ten hours.

Till after the middle of the seventeenth century there was only one grave-digger for the whole city, and until a period still later there was no Register of mortality. It was not till 1670 that the magistrates ordered “that ane register be keepit of all persones who happens to deceas within this burgh.” Samwell Burss was appointed registrar, at a weekly salary of forty shillings Scots – 3s. 4d.21

The first mention of fire insurance in the burgh records occurs in 1726, and the notice is interesting. The magistrates, “considering that there is an agreement signed by several of the heritors within the burgh for a mutual insurance of tenements and houses by losses by fire, do agree that the towns corner house at the cross by likeways insured.”22

The first regular assessment for the support of the poor in Glasgow was made in 1638. The order to keep the poor off the street at the time of the meeting of the Assembly had proved a great success, and the magistrates determined to make perpetual what had only been intended as a temporary measure. Their minute bears that the magistrates, “understanding the great and comendable ordour that was keepit within this brught the tyme of last general assemblie, be reteiring of the poor off the calsay, and susteining of them in their awin houses, to the grait credit of the citie and contentment of all strangeris resorting heir for the tyme; and seeing the same is both godlie and honest, thairfoir they have statut and ordanit that the poor be keepit and sustenit in thair houses as they are now at this present, and the inhabitants of this burght to be stentit to that effect, and this day aucht days ilk counseller to propose his best overtour what way it can be best accomplishit.”23 At subsequent meetings the mode of assessment was arranged, and in the following year there is an order that “intimatioun be made be sound of drum to certifie all personis wha comes not to pay thair contributioun at the ringing of the bell, as sall be appoyntit to that effect, sall be poynded for the double, and thair names oppinlie publisched in the kirks who refuses to doe the samyn.”24

After this two individuals were appointed whose duty it was “to keip the beggars aff the casy,” each of them to carry a staff “having the tounes armes therupon.”25 This order is repeated, but apparently without effect, as more stringent orders on the subject are issued. A distinction is made, however, between the common beggars who are strangers, and those who are “weill knowne to have bein borne within the towne.” The latter are to be tolerated, but, “to the effect they may be the better knowne, appoynts ane badge with the tounes armes thereon to be maid and given to each one who is suffered to begg.”

The first general hospital for the poor was erected in Clyde Street in 1735. It was standing within the recollection of many now living, who must remember it as a very shabby old building, although McUre describes it as “of modern fashion” and so grand that “nothing of that kind at Rome or Venice comes up to its magnificence.” I have mentioned elsewhere the prices of the provisions furnished to its inmates. They appear to have been kept in considerable comfort – being supplied not only with the necessaries of life but with tobacco and snuff, verifying the statement in the first report, published by the directors in 1742, that the poor in general are as really relieved from the distresses of poverty as if they were persons of wealth.” And yet the cost of living of each inmate in that year – including lunatics – was only about 1s. 3½d. per week, or £3, 8s. 5d. per annum. The total number of inmates was 227. the total cost of maintaining the hospital for the year was £787, 11s. 3d., and there was “gained by manufactory,” £40, 5s. 11d.

There are now three great poor-houses connected with Glasgow – the Barony, the City, and that of Govan. In these the average cost of the paupers per head is more than 5s. 9d. per week, and for lunatics 10s. 6d. each per week; and the total cost of the three institutions for the year is considerably upwards of £150,000.

1  19th November, 1577.
2  28th June, 1662.
3  Angliæ Metropolis, 1690, § 17.
4  2d March, 1644.
5  20th Dec. 1645.
6  3d Dec. 1659.
7  Diary of George Brown, printed for private circulation, p. 41.
8  2d Dec. 1790.
9  History, p. 144.
10  18th June, 1664.
11  Dr. Buchanan’s Reminiscences.
12  Minute of Council, 17th Feb. 1655.
13  Autobiography, p. 75.
14  Abridgment of Annals of Glasgow, p. 430.
15  31st Oct. 1663.
16  Short Account of Scotland; London, 1702.
17  Glasgow Past and Present, vol. ii. p. 104.
18  Burgh Records, 29th July, 1678.
19  Ibid., 15th October, 1743.
20  January, 1776.
21  Burgh Records, 12th Nov. 1670.
22  Ibid., 12th April, 1726.
23  22d Dec. 1636.
24  20th Oct. 1639.
25  12th April, 1662.