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History of Glasgow

This article deals with the history of the city of Glasgow, Scotland. See also Timeline of Glasgow history.

Looking south down Buchanan Street, from between Bath Street and Dundas Street.


  • Founding of the city 1
  • Glasgow Cathedral 2
  • University of Glasgow 3
  • Trade and the Industrial Revolution 4
    • Shipbuilding 4.1
  • 20th century 5
  • Decline of industry and the post-war period 6
    • Second World War 6.1
    • Deindustrialization 6.2
    • Regeneration 6.3
    • Gloom and revival 6.4
    • Major corporations 6.5
  • Modern Glasgow 7
  • See also 8
  • Further reading 9
    • Historiography 9.1
  • Notes 10
  • External links 11

Founding of the city

The area around Glasgow has hosted communities for millennia, with the River Clyde providing a natural location for fishing. The Romans later built outposts in the area and, to keep Roman Britannia separate from the Celtic and Pictish Caledonia, constructed the Antonine Wall, remains of which can still be seen in Glasgow today.

Glasgow itself was founded by the Christian missionary Saint Mungo in the 6th century. He established a church on the Molendinar Burn, where the present Glasgow Cathedral stands, and in the following years Glasgow became a religious centre.

Glasgow Cathedral

George Square and Glasgow's City Chambers

By the 12th century Glasgow had been granted the status of what can now be called a city and the cathedral was the seat of the Bishops and (after 1472) the Archbishops of Glasgow. While there may have been wooden buildings on the site, the first stone cathedral was consecrated in about 1136 and replaced by a bigger one which was consecrated in 1197. Extensions and alterations to the cathedral buildings have continued ever since. The most recent addition was the Millennium Window unveiled on 3 June 1999.[1]

After the Reformation in 1560, the Catholic rituals ended and the Catholic statues and symbols were removed or painted over. The large Cathedral served three different Presbyterian parishes simultaneously. The choir was used by the Inner High parish. The nave was used by the Outer High parish (later named St. Paul's). The crypt was used by Laigh parish.[2]

University of Glasgow

In 1451 the University of Glasgow was founded by Papal Bull and established in religious buildings in the precincts of Glasgow Cathedral. By the start of the 16th century, Glasgow had become an important religious and academic city and by the 17th century the university had moved from the cathedral precincts to its own building in the High Street. After 1870 the university attained international stature. The University's teaching quality was assessed in 2009 to be among the top 10 in Britain, along with its reputation as a "research powerhouse."[3]

Trade and the Industrial Revolution

Glasgow's City Chambers, mosaic ceiling of the ground floor Loggia

By the 16th century, the city's trades and craftsmen had begun to wield significant influence and the city had become an important trading centre with the Clyde providing access to the city and the rest of Scotland for merchant shipping. The access to the Atlantic Ocean allowed the importation of goods such as American tobacco and cotton, and Caribbean sugar, which were then traded throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.

The de-silting of the Clyde in the 1770s allowed bigger ships to move further up the river, thus laying the foundations for industry and shipbuilding in Glasgow during the 19th century.

The abundance of coal and iron in Lanarkshire led to Glasgow becoming an industrial city. Textile mills, based on cotton and wool, became large employers in Glasgow and the local region.

Glasgow's transformation from a provincial town to an international business hub was based originally on its control of the 18th-century tobacco trade with America. The trade was interrupted by the American Revolutionary War, and never recovered to even a fourth of its old trade. The tobacco merchants grew rich as their stocks of tobacco soared in value; they had diversified their holdings and were not badly hurt. Merchants turned their attention to the West Indies and to textile manufacture. The trade made a group of Tobacco Lords very wealth; they adopted the lifestyle of landed aristocrats, and lavished vast sums on great houses and splendid churches of Glasgow.[4] The merchants constructed spectacular buildings and monuments that can still be seen today, and reinvested their money in industrial development to help Glasgow grow further.

As the city's wealth increased, its centre expanded westwards as the lush Mitchell Library in Charing Cross epitomised the wealth and riches of Glasgow in the late 19th century with their lavishly decorated interiors and intricately carved stonework. As this new development took place, the focus of Glasgow's central area moved away from its medieval origins at High Street, Trongate, Saltmarket and Rottenrow, and these areas fell into partial dereliction, something which is in places still evident to the present day.


"Shipping on the Clyde", by John Atkinson Grimshaw, 1881.

In 1893 the burgh was constituted as the County of the City of Glasgow. Glasgow became one of the richest cities in the world, and a municipal public transport system, parks, museums and libraries were all opened during this period.

Glasgow became one of the largest cities in the world, and known as "the Second City of the Empire" after London [although Liverpool, Dublin and several other British cities claim the same].[5] Shipbuilding on Clydeside (the river Clyde through Glasgow and other points) began when the first small yards were opened in 1712 at the Scott family's shipyard at Greenock. After 1860 the Clydeside shipyards specialised in steamships made of iron (after 1870, made of steel), which rapidly replaced the wooden sailing vessels of both the merchant fleets and the battle fleets of the world. It became the world's pre-eminent shipbuilding centre. Clydebuilt became an industry benchmark of quality, and the river's shipyards were given contracts for warships.[6]

20th century

First World War brought large war contracts to the shipbuilders, even as many of the most skilled workers went into the services.

The city council was unique in the United Kingdom in appointing an official war artist, Frederick Farrell.[7]

The war saw the emergence of a radical movement called "Red Clydeside" led by militant trades unionists. Formerly a Liberal stronghold, the industrial districts switched to Labour by 1922, with a base among the Irish Catholic working class districts. Women were especially active solidarity on housing issues. However, the "Reds" operated within the Labour Party and had little influence in Parliament and the mood changed to passive despair by the late 1920s.[8]

Decline of industry and the post-war period

Shortly before the end of tram services in Glasgow in September 1962 this line up of trams waiting to be scrapped could be seen at the depot.

Glasgow did not escape the effects of the Great Depression.

Second World War

The outbreak of the world war in 1939 temporarily arrested the ongoing decline, with the city's shipyards and heavy industries working at capacity to fuel the war effort, but this too came at a price - the intensive Luftwaffe bombing of Clydeside. The worst was the Clydebank Blitz in March 1941 that left tens of thousands of Glaswegians homeless and destruction of housing caused by the war would leave a lasting legacy for the city decades later.


Although ships and trains were still being built on Clydeside, cheap labour abroad reduced the competitiveness of Glasgow's industries. By the 1960s, Glasgow had gone into economic decline. New shipbuilding superpowers such as Japan began to emerge as the competitiveness of the Glasgow shipyards began to decline. The major shipbuilders on the Clyde began to close down, but not before Clydebank had built one of its last great ships, Cunard's 'Queen Elizabeth 2'. As of today, three major shipyards remain on the River Clyde, two of which are owned by BAE Systems Naval Ships; Govan and Scotstoun, which focus principally upon the design and construction of technologically advanced warships for the Royal Navy and other navies. Glasgow's function as a port also diminished - the introduction of containerized freight spelled the end for the riverside's docks and wharves which had crumbled into dereliction by the late '60s.


As WW2 came to a close, the chief engineer of Glasgow Corporation - Robert Bruce - published the first of two highly influential studies into how the city could be regenerated in the future without the dominant heavy industries which had brought it much wealth in the past. The Bruce Report, as it would become known, would ultimately become the blueprint of the Glasgow of today. Its basic aim was to depopulate the overcrowded centre, dispersing the population to outer areas and new towns, in order to allow a new service based economy to flourish with the help of an overhauled transport system. Although many of its more radical proposals to rebuild the city centre were rejected - Bruce advocated the destruction of many now-cherished Victorian and Edwardian buildings, the report’s housing and transport proposals were virtually followed to the letter. The infamous tenement slums (many of which had been destroyed or badly damaged by wartime bombs) were replaced by a new generation of high rise housing and large suburban housing estates (known locally as "schemes"). Whilst the hundreds of new tower blocks changed the city's skyline forever, the high rise edifices broke up long established community relationships and social structures. Coupled to poor design and low quality construction, some of the blocks created as many problems as they solved and became magnets for crime and deprivation. Thousands more Glaswegians were rehoused in the new towns of Cumbernauld and East Kilbride. Bruce also proposed a ring road scheme around the central area, the which would become part of the M8 motorway, which decimated the Charing Cross and Anderston areas beyond recognition, with many historic Victorian buildings being destroyed to make way for its construction.

Gloom and revival

The 1970s and early 1980s were dark periods in the history of the city, as steelworks, coal mines, engine factories and other heavy industries went out of business. This led to mass unemployment and high levels of urban decay. In the late 1960s a moral panic swept Glasgow with media and police attention focused on new youth gangs that were younger, more violent and more dangerous than the Glasgow razor gangs of the 1920s and 1930s.[9]

Since the mid-80s however, the city has enjoyed an economic and cultural renaissance — a financial district consisting of a number of new, purpose built office buildings has rapidly developed in the western end of the city centre, and this has become home to many well-known banks, consultancy and IT firms, legal practices, and insurance companies. Between 1998 to 2001, the city’s burgeoning financial service sector grew at a rate of 30%.

In the suburbs, numerous leisure and retail developments have been built on the former sites of factories and heavy industries. Glasgow is the premier site for call-centres in Britain. Critics argue that such new developments are relatively fragile and do not offer as many highly skilled long-term employment opportunities, owing to their dependence on the service sector rather than manufacturing.

Major corporations

While manufacturing has dwindled in its relative importance to the city's economy, there is still a strong manufacturing sector (the fourth largest in the UK, accounting for well over 60% of Scotland’s manufactured exports) particularly in the areas of engineering and shipbuilding, chemicals, food and drink, printing, publishing and textiles, as well as new growth sectors such as software and biotechnology. Glasgow also forms the western part of Barclays and Lloyds TSB. Glasgow-based Scottish Power is one of three Scottish companies to be included on the Fortune Global 500 rankings. These names rub shoulders with the more well established firms, which represent traditional sectors of Glasgow's economy, including; Diageo, Allied Domecq, William Grant & Sons, Tennent Caledonian Breweries, Whyte and Mackay, MacFarlane Group, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce Aero Engines, Imperial Chemical Industries, Weir Group, and Aggreko.

Modern Glasgow

Cineworld on Renfrew Street — The World's Tallest Cinema

Since the 1980s, Glasgow has been rebuilding both its image and its architecture. The City Council began a programme of sandblasting the decades of soot and grime from the city's many tenements and municipal buildings, revealing their magnificent Victorian stonework. Rather than demolish the tenement flats that had survived, they were instead extensively cleaned and refurbished to become desirable private housing. The western end of the central area was redeveloped into a new central business district which continues to attract financial firms from around the globe. In 1983, the 'Glasgow's Miles Better' campaign was followed by the considerable coup of the National Garden Festival being held in Glasgow in 1988 at the Prince’s Dock in Govan. Glasgow was then named European City of Culture in 1990, followed by City of Architecture and Design in 1999 and European Capital of Sport in 2003. Glasgow boasts the largest contemporary arts scene in the UK outside of London, which is centred on the annual 'Glasgow International' arts festival. Glasgow was the host city for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and football events for the 2012 Olympic Games were staged in the city.

The city's riverbank has been particularly transformed – from industrial dereliction caused by the decline of shipbuilding into to an entertainment and residential centrepiece. The banks of the Clyde have become a playground for property developers, with office blocks and high-rise luxury flats taking the place of the old shipyards, granaries, wharves and docks.

Glasgow is the capital of contemporary music in Scotland, and has many venues and clubs such as the Barrowlands, Barfly and King Tut's Wah Wah Hut that promote new bands and DJs. Additionally, it is home to some artists well known in the UK such as Franz Ferdinand and Belle & Sebastian.

Recent years have seen a regeneration of Glasgow's river banks. Salmon have now returned to the Clyde

Redevelopment of residential areas, combined with the increased cultural activities, has contributed to a better environment. With this, the City Council has been successful in attracting tourists, conferences as well as major sporting events to the city. Public housing, previously administered by the Glasgow City Council, was transferred to the not-for-profit Glasgow Housing Association in 2003. This affected some 80,000 properties and created Britain's largest social landlord in an innovative tenant-led organisation. The new GHA has already begun the process of demolishing many of the infamous concrete housing estates and high-rise tower blocks which were built during the 1960s, in preparation for a new generation of public housing.

Prior to the 2013 merger of Scottish police forces into Police Scotland, Glasgow's local police force was Strathclyde Police. Its area covered Glasgow, Renfrewshire, Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire and Argyll & Bute. Established in 1975, the force served 2.2 million people and replaced the local county constabularies and the City of Glasgow Police, the UK's first police force.

See also

Further reading

  • Cage, R. A. Working Class in Glasgow, 1750-1914 (1987)
  • Crawford, Robert (2013). On Glasgow and Edinburgh. Harvard U.P. 
  • Daiches, David. Glasgow (1982), scholarly history
  • Devine, T. M., and Gordon Jackson. Glasgow: Beginnings to 1830 (1995)
    • Fraser, W. Hamish and Irene Maver. Glasgow: Volume II: 1830-1912 (1997), standard scholarly history
  • "Glasgow" in Encyclopædia Britannica (1911 11th edition) in Wikisource
  • Gallagher, Tom. Glasgow. The Uneasy Peace. Religious Tension in Modern Scotland, 1819-1914 (1987)
  • Gorevan, John. Glasgow Pubs and Publicans (2 vol 2003, 2013)Website Facebook
  • MacGregor George. The history of Glasgow: from the earliest period to the present time (1881) 547 pages online edition
  • Massie, Allan. Glasgow: A History (1989), short scholarly history
  • Mayer, Irene. Glasgow (1999), heavily illustrated history by scholar
  • Slaven, Anthony. Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography, 1860-1960 (3 vol. 1986-1990)


  • Massie, Allan. "Glasgow--A moving portrait," History Today (1990) 40#5 pp 4–9, online


  1. ^ David Daiches, Glasgow (1977) p 10-14
  2. ^ Daiches, Glasgow (1977) p 29
  3. ^ Michael Moss, et al. University, City & State: The University of Glasgw since 1871 (2000)
  4. ^ Tom Devine, "The tobacco lords of Glasgow," History Today (1990) 40#4 pp17-21; online; T.M. Devine, The Tobacco Lords: A Study of the Tobacco Merchants of Glasgow and their Trading Activities, 1740-90 (Edinburgh University Press, 1990)
  5. ^ J. F. MacKenzie, "The second city of the Empire: Glasgow - imperial municipality", in F. Driver and D. Gilbert, eds, Imperial Cities: Landscape, Display and Identity (2003), pp. 215-23.
  6. ^ J. Shields, Clyde Built: a History of Ship-Building on the River Clyde (1949).
  7. ^ "Glasgow's forgotten war artist Fred Farrell".  
  8. ^ Iain McLean, The Legend of Red Clydeside (1983)
  9. ^ Angela Bartie, "Moral Panics and Glasgow Gangs: Exploring 'the New Wave of Glasgow Hooliganism', 1965-1970," Contemporary British History (2010) 24#3 pp 385-408.

External links

  • Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Glasgow, 1573-1690: extracts from the council records, first edited by J.D. Marwick for the Burgh Records Society. Full text of three volumes, part of British History Online.
  • Charters of Glasgow, 1175-1649: originally edited by J.D. Marwick for the Burgh Records Society. Two volumes, part of British History Online.
  • This web site has been developed to record our local landmarks and to give a brief history on when pubs were established. The site will also record all the publicans who held the licence for the establishment and to record as much information on the pub as possible to insure that it will never be lost.
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