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Contrast Between Former and Present Condition of the City, pp.325-328.

[Old Glasgow Contents]

In bringing these notices to a close it may be interesting to mention a few prominent points in which the Glasgow of to-day differs from the city of the last century. The contrast will be found very striking.

In 1779 the population was less than 43,000. Including its connected suburbs it now exceeds 740,000.

We do not know what the rental of the city was in the last century, but it must have been very small. In 1878-79 it amounted in round numbers to £3,400,000, and of this the increase within the last twenty-five years has been more than £2,000, 000.1

A hundred years ago the river was almost in a state of nature. It was fordable on foot at Dunbuck – twelve miles below Glasgow – and only small gabbarts could come to the Broomielaw. Now, ships drawing 24 feet of water, can come up to the harbour.

A century ago shipbuilding on the Clyde was practically unknown. For the seven years ending with 1877 the tonnage of all the vessels built in the United Kingdom amounted to 3,220,000, and of this there was built in the Clyde no less than 1,360,000.

Of the increase in commerce I shall mention only two items. In the middle of the last century a “small apartment” in Bell Street sufficed as a manufactory for all the sugar imported into the Clyde. By the last returns the imports of this article amounted in one year – 1878 – to the enormous quantity of 250,000 tons.

A hundred years ago a very few boxes of tea must have sufficed for the yearly supply of the few families of the better classes who used it – the ladies being almost the only consumers. In 1875 duty was paid on more than six million pounds of tea imported into Glasgow.2

Equally striking is the contrast in matters of police. So late as 1777 the total force employed by the magistrates in cleaning the streets and removing refuse was two men. For the year 1878-79 there was paid, in the cleansing department of the police, in wages alone, upwards of £24,000.

Towards the middle of the eighteenth century two individuals contracted with the magistrates “to keep up maintain and uphold the whole causeys of the public streets, wynds, vennels, lanes, high ways and roads, within and about this city and territories thereof.” They undertook to do this for fifteen years, for a sum equal to a yearly payment of £66 per annum.3 In this department – statute labour – the expenditure of the corporation for the year 1878-79 was, in the mere repair of streets and sewers, upwards of £25,000, and during the previous twenty-two years the amount paid for paving alone amounted to £320,000, or on average upwards of £14,000 per annum.

Till so late as 1780 there was not a lamp in the city. In that year the magistrates resolved to put up nine on the south side of the Trongate. At present there are nearly twelve thousand lamps lighted by the corporation in the streets and courts of the city, at an expenditure of upwards of £20,000 annually. this is exclusive of upwards of five hundred lamps lighted by the Clyde Trustees at the harbours and docks; and in addition to all these there are upwards of twenty-five thousand lamps on common stairs, which are lighted by the corporation and partly charged to the proprietors. Altogether there are thirty-eight thousand lamps lighted every night in the city by the corporation and the Clyde Trustees.

In 1788 the magistrates established their first paid police force, and the expenditure in the following year, for the superintendent and his officers, was £135. In 1878 there was paid in this department, in salaries and wages alone, exclusive of clothing to the force, and various other charges, upwards of £60,000.

As regards the post-office the change has been great over the whole kingdom, but nowhere has it been greater than in Glasgow. A century ago the post-office of Glasgow consisted of three small apartments, each less than twelve feet square. The only place for delivering letters was a hole broken through the wall into a dark close, and the entire staff, besides the postmaster, consisted of four individuals, of whom two were the letter-carriers. At present4 in the palatial establishment in George Square there are employed, besides the postmaster, upwards of 100 clerks, and of letter-carriers and stampers there are more than 220. In addition to all these, there are engaged in the postal telegraph department 175 operators and 168 messengers, besides superintendents, controlling officers, and various other officials.

But I need not pursue this. In all other matters the contrast between the old city and the Glasgow of to-day is equally remarkable.

As to the city itself an inhabitant of the last century could not recognize it. Apart from its extension, a large part of the old town has entirely disappeared, and in what remains startling changes have been made. This has been going on since the beginning of the century with a wonderful rapidity, but the changes which have taken place within the last eight years are very remarkable. During that short time no less than three and a quarter miles of new streets have been formed, many of the old ones have been widened and altered, and whole streets of houses have been swept away. The whole of the upper part of the High Street, including the Bell-of-the-Brae, with its primitive and picturesque houses, has been removed, the gradient of the street has been reduced, and a large open space – Cathedral Square – has been formed at the top. The east end of Rottenrow is gone, with large portions of Drygate. Farther down on the west side there are many changes. Bell Street has been widened, and nearly all the north side of it pulled down. On the east side of High Street the whole of the extensive area between the College and Græme Street – with all the narrow closes and vennels which ran eastward from it – has been swept away. Of the College little more than the front remains, and in what were but yesterday the quiet haunts of students the scream of the railway whistle is now heard. Almost the whole of the east side of Saltmarket, with its unhealthy closes, has disappeared. On both sides of Trongate many objectionable buildings and unwholesome passages – places which bore the worst character, and which defied police and sanitary supervision – have been annihilated. A great part of both sides of the Gallowgate, and large extents of street in Gorbals and Calton, besides many other parts of the old city, have been remodelled or entirely swept away – the old buildings being, in many instances, replaced by structures which would have struck with amazement an inhabitant of even fifty years ago. Ill-ventilated, overcrowded, and filthy, these old places had become to a large extent the hot-beds of disease and the resorts of criminals. By their removal the picturesque has in many cases suffered, no doubt, but in a moral and sanitary point of view the action of the City Improvement Trustees – by whom these great changes have been effected – has conferred a lasting boon on the inhabitants.

So much cannot be said of those who preceded the Improvement Trustees. Nothing could excuse their destruction of historical monuments. The demolition of the Castle of Glasgow, in order that its materials might be used to build an inn in the Gallowgate, was an act of vandalism which only found its counterpart in the crime of those who mutilated the Cathedral.

Of the extension of the city within a century nothing that I have written can convey any adequate idea. It will be better understood from the annexed map. As engraved it shows Glasgow as it is. The portion coloured red shows its entire extent in 1773.

1  Statistics of Glasgow, 1878-79, p. 87.
2  Ibid., p. 134.
3  Burgh Records, 7th March, 1728.
4  1879.
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