The Glasgow Story

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  • Topic: Glasgow, River Clyde, Scotland
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  • Published : January 31, 2013
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The Glasgow Story

By the later 12th century Glasgow’s population had reached around 1,500, making it an important settlement. In 1175, Bishop Jocelyn secured a charter from King William making Glasgow a burgh of barony, opening up its doors to trade. In 1238 work began on Glasgow Cathedral, symbolising the city’s growing role as a major ecclesiastical centre.  

In 1450 James II issued a chapter to the Bishop “erecting all his patrimony into a regality”. Glasgow was now a Royal Burgh in all but name. Later that same year Glasgow Green became Glasgow’s first public park. In the following year, 1451, the University of Glasgow was founded by Bishop Turnbull at its original site in the High Street, making it the second oldest university in Scotland and the fourth oldest in the UK. In 1471 Provand’s Lordship (pictured), Glasgow’s oldest house, was built, directly opposite the Cathedral building.  

Elevated to an archbishopric in 1492, Glasgow, by the end of the 15th century had become a powerful academic and ecclesiastical centre rivalled only by St Andrew’s.

Following the Reformation, James Beaton, Glasgow’s last Roman Catholic archbishop, fled to Paris in 1560, taking many of the Cathedral’s (pictured) records and treasured relics. Beaton’s exile marked a significant move towards greater civic power and the emerging influence of the city’s merchants and craftsmen.  

In 1639 the National Covenant was confirmed by the General Assembly of the Kirk at Glasgow Cathedral. The Covenant had been signed in 1638 in Edinburgh, and was crucial in hastening the end of Charles I’s authority, leading to his eventual execution some ten years later. Arguably the General Assembly’s deliberations were the most significant in political terms of any meeting ever held in Glasgow.  

Glasgow’s foreign trade had also begun in earnest, traceable back to the 1530s, and it was undoubtedly booming by the time that Oliver Cromwell, hammer of the Stuarts, visited the city in 1650 just after he had invaded Scotland and defeated the Scots army at Dunbar. Cromwell stayed at Silvercraigs House in the Saltmarket, and his agent Thomas Tucker recognised Glasgow’s great potential were it not “checqed and kept under by the shallowness of the water”.  

By 1649 Glasgow had become the country’s fourth largest burgh, rising by 1670 to the position of second largest behind only Edinburgh. Glasgow’s position was ideal for access to Edinburgh, the Highlands and Ireland, and her wealth continued to grow through a ready supply of natural resources, especially coal and fish.  

The first cargo of tobacco arrived in Glasgow in 1674, and by the later 1690s the city had risen from its medieval slumber en route to its later accolade of “Emporium of the World”.

When Scotland eventually turned to the Atlantic, Glasgow, ideally placed on the west coast, came into its own. A dynamic business community seized its golden opportunity. Following the Treaty of Union in 1707, trade with the colonial New World burgeoned, and large quantities were being shipped in from the American tobacco states, especially Virginia. Glasgow’s merchants in turn had contracts to supply Europe.

By 1730 this trade with America was fully established, and Glasgow’s tobacco lords had cornered the market, becoming in the process Glasgow’s – and Scotland’s – first millionaires.

The American Revolution, however, delivered a vicious blow, and tobacco investors suffered. However, many shrewd Glaswegians had diversified into trade with the West Indies, importing sugar and making rum, and by the end of the 18th century Glasgow had become Britain’s biggest importer of sugar.  

In 1770, civil engineer John Golborne devised a way to flush the silt layers from the shallow Clyde riverbed by erecting a series of jetties along the banks, so that by 1772 large vessels were able to sail right up the river into the city for the first time, allowing for even greater industrial expansion.  

James Watt, one of...
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