The interest of the drawings in this collection was that it provided a progressive view of the growth of Glasgow. Starting with Slezer’s three well-known views of Glasgow from the North East (867), Glasgow from the South East (868), and the College (869), we get the close-packed many-gabled city as it existed in the end of the seventeenth century. The growth on the North has been slowest of all. Not many years ago the Cathedral was nearly as solitary us when Slezer drew it. The two College Quadrangles and the College Tower, so long as they stood, were the same as in the drawing, as those who were born Consule Planco can remember. On the South though, what a change! In the drawing (868) there is a little cultivation on the low ground along the edge of the river, but all else seems to be rough, unenclosed, and untilled. This is confirmed by Foulis’s view of Glasgow from the South-east in 1762, No. 871. The next representation of Glasgow in point of date was No. 870, called ‘A view of the Broomielaw about 1760,’ although it probably is somewhat earlier. In this print we see the gradual westward growth of the city. The Bottlework Cone, for long such a conspicuous object, rises on the site of the present Custom House. There is no Jamaica Street Bridge; indeed, there seems to be 110 Jamaica Street. The trees of the old green make a brave show, and justify the consolation that McUre laid to his soul for lack of a wall. ‘The third enclosure is the old green, lying close to the south-west corner of the city, and is much less than the other two; it is only fenced round with palisadoes, and no stone wall, but that loss is made up by one hundred and fifty growing trees round the green, pretty large.’ The whole shipping in the river consists of three gabbarts. On the south side is seen the windmill, and the bank is absolutely in a state of nature, the sand furrowed and torn by the winter floods.
There was another interesting view of the city from the south-west in 1780, No. 914. This also gives the Broomielaw, with eight vessels this time, all sloops. The fact is, that the river was so shallow that no large vessels could come up. It is recorded that a worthy Paisley magistrate was once induced to go down the river in a flyboat. The tide was low, and the vessel bumped and ground along over the shallows. ‘Weel, Bailie,’ said a friend, ‘we’re having a fine sail the day.’ ‘Sail, do ye ca’ it?’ said he, ‘it seems to me liker a hurl.’
Nos. 880, 881, and 883, were all views of the Broomielaw, and show the slow steps of the mighty progress which was soon to advance by leaps and bounds. The vessels are still small, mere coasters, but there is more stir and life, and evidently a larger business being done. We are so much accustomed now to the river being full of large ships, that we forget how recent it all is. A gentleman who died in 1884, aged ninety-two, used to tell how he remembered the sensation created in Glasgow by a small brig, the first square-rigged vessel that ever came up to the Broomielaw. This was probably shortly before the drawing No. 795, ‘The Broomielaw in 1807,’ was made. The shipping by that time had largely increased, for we find in this sketch no less than three brigs, a schooner, and seven sloops.
An interesting exhibit was an engraving of the Trongate about 1770, No. 873. This gives a good idea of the old Tolbooth with the single stair, the antique houses with the gables facing the street, and the Piazzas that lined both sides of the way. The ‘plain-stanes’ too, where the Tobacco Lords used to pace in their scarlet cloaks, are well shown. Perhaps, however, the most striking thing about the picture, is the deadly quietness of the street. There is only one vehicle to be seen, and the passers-by could almost be counted on one’s fingers. This quietness indeed was the chief impression left on the mind by all the pictures of old Glasgow in the collection. As might be expected, there were many views of the Cathedral. They all confirm the feeling of solitariness we have already referred to. The picturesqueness of the situation is well shown in the two drawings, Nos. 877 and 878. No. 877 was a view of the Cathedral from the north in 1797. No. 878 was a most careful and highly finished drawing of the Cathedral from the south in 1807. In both, the gorge of the Molendinar is utilised as foreground with excellent effect. Very good too is the effect produced by the western Bell Tower and Consistory Tower. Would they had been left alone! A drawing of great interest as showing the Bishop’s Castle very shortly before it was destroyed to make room for the Infirmary, was No. 796. The great tower, said to have been built by the magnificent Bishop Cameron, is shown in the foregound with McUre’s ‘noble stone wall of ashler work.’ This drawing is engraved in Swan’s Select Views of Glasgow, 1828, p. 13. There was, in No. 937, an interesting view of the ruins of the theatre in Queen Street after the fire in 1829, and a good view of the Lainshaw Mansion, the stateliest of all Glasgow houses. It is now imbedded in, and forms the eastern part of the Exchange.
There were a good many of Nichol’s excellent lithographs of various parts of the city in 1840. And lastly there were Fairbairn’s twenty-five beautiful water-colours,1 lent by the Corporation. The majority, if not all of these, have been reproduced, so it is not necessary to say more of them than that they form an invaluable record of most that was picturesque in Glasgow. In nearly every case the subject they represent has been demolished or altered out of recognition, and without them we should know little of old Glasgow.
The Glasgow maps in this collection were few but interesting. No. 939 was a map of Lanarkshire in 1773, in one corner of which is the earliest known complete plan of the city. It shows what may be called the articulation of the skeleton of the Glasgow of to-day. The main streets are the High Street running from the cathedral to the old bridge, and the Trongate and Gallowgate running east and west At the upper end of the High Street, the Rotten Row and the Drygate make a cross, while lower down, the Gallowgate and the Trongate make another cross. Till you come to the College, the High Street consists (as do the Rotten Row and Drygate) of a single line of houses on each side of the street. South of the college the closes begin and down to the river the ground is thickly covered. Between the Saltmarket on the east, and Maxwell Street on the west, the ground between Trongate and the river is almost completely covered with buildings. On the north side of the Trongate the buildings are much less dense, and in but few cases reach up to the present line of Ingram Street, Virginia Street Miller Street, and Queen Street, are in a rudimentary state, and Buchanan Street cannot be said to exist. Probably the most important map of Glasgow exhibited was No. 889, Peter Fleming’s Map of 1807. It is on a large enough scale to show the boundary of each tenement, and in many cases the name of the owner is given. In 1807 Glasgow had just begun her rapid expansion. Indeed, on the east, in Calton, there is a surprisingly large amount of building. The centre of the town is thickly covered with buildings with all sorts of through closes and communications. Not much more than the east side of Buchanan Street is built. Jamaica Street has buildings on both sides, but westwards there is a gap till we come to Anderston where there are many buildings. Those squalid streets which run from Stobcross Street to the Clyde, Cheapside Street, Clyde Street, Piccadilly Street, are fairly well built up. Both sides of the Dumbarton Road are built on, but to the north there is nothing – excepting Bishop Street – but a few villas. The lands of Blythswood are all laid out for feuing, but not yet built on. The town had not begun to grow to the north at all, and the Rotten Row was still as it had been for centuries, its northernmost boundary. On the south side of the Clyde the land had been laid off in lots, and we can see the outline of what the town has since become, but little actual building had taken place. The old village of Gorbals at the Brigend was still practically all that was then on the south side. It is a pity the continuation of this map to 1821 by David Smith was not exhibited. The growth of the city in these fourteen years was marvellous. Dr. Cleland of course was represented. His sketch-plan of the Barony Parish and the Royalty, is No. 893, but it is not of general interest. No. 896, a plan of the town in 1807, was interesting for comparison with Flemings Map of 1807, as showing the growth of the city in one generation. There was also the excellent Bird’s-eye View of 1853, No. 912, which may be called a pictorial plan. It is very accurate and gives probably a better idea of what Glasgow was at that time than any other plan or drawing in existence.