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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Industry and Technology

By Norman F Shead

Around the Castle Glasgow's 12th century charters recognised and encouraged the development of trade and commerce in the town. From the 1130s masons, stonecutters and other workers involved in the use of stone, wood and lime were in demand. Some of them were probably itinerant, but the need is shown by the construction of three successive cathedrals and subsequent repair and new building; houses for the clergy; ecclesiastical and university buildings; the Bishop's Castle; the bridge and the tolbooth. After a fire caused by lightning, a stone spire was built in place of the cathedral's wooden spire in the early 15th century. Ashlar, finely shaped stone, was used for new building at the Black Friars' house, and hewn and polished stone for St Machan's altar in Glasgow Cathedral. Stone houses seem to have been unusual, though some may have had ground floors of stone, which was available from the sites of what are now Queen Street Station and the Necropolis.


Provand's Lordship The services of carpenters were required for the construction of houses: burnt daub discovered in the Saltmarket/Briggait area indicates wattle and daub construction there, and the upper parts of some houses were wooden. Carpenters were also needed for the internal fittings of houses and churches, such as the stalls ordered for the cathedral in 1507. Oak was used in the drawbridge of the Bishop's Castle and in the piles for the bridge and for the castle's gatehouse. Provision of foodstuffs was of course a major occupation: baking, brewing and fishing. These activities were not simply for private consumption, hence the reference to "a house... where she could comfortably brew and bake bread for her own family and strangers", a reminder that brewing was often done by women. The delivery of herrings to Glasgow assumes facilities for curing and barrelling; the known cooper presumably also made casks for ale. Curing is also suggested by the 13th-century surname Hangpudding. Fishergate must originally have housed fishermen. The three mills on the Molendinar Burn were essential to the grinding of grain for flour. Millers had to keep the mill in good working order and to supervise the grinding.

Coins from Glasgow Mint The production of leather and cloth were important industries. Tanning took place in the backlands of Walkergate and High Street, and in the late 16th century tanneries were alleged to be polluting the Molendinar. Customers for leather included saddle-makers, cordiners (shoe-makers) and cobblers (shoe repairers). Cloth-making had been established by the 13th century. Walkergate must originally have housed the fullers (who made cloth more compact during its manufacture through shrinking and pressing); their workshops may have been provided with water from the Molendinar and Camlachie Burns. Several tailors are recorded in the 16th century.


Provand's Lordship The most frequently mentioned industrial structure was the kiln, but whether for pottery, bricks or tiles is never stated; Glasgow had deposits of clay from which all three could be made. Discarded pottery wasters and fragments of kiln parts, possibly dating from the 14th century, have been found by archaeologists on the site of the old Saracen's Head Inn. The location of the city's coal diggings, one beside Gallowgate, are known only from the late 16th century, but are unlikely to be new then: Edward I ordered coal and iron from Glasgow in 1301. The presence in the city of "hammermen" indicates workers in metal: smiths, tinsmiths, goldsmiths, bitmakers and bridle-makers and there was probably iron-forging. For a time during Alexander III's reign (1249-1286) coins were struck at Glasgow by an itinerant moneyer.

Although tallow and candles do not appear on record until the 1570s, the raw material was available from the cattle which provided hides, and there must have been a considerable demand for candles. Painters, like the goldsmiths, may have found the Church a major customer: the cathedral of 1197 had important painted decoration. Churches needed chalices, patens (plates, commonly of silver or gold) and ornaments, and the goldsmiths may also have made matrices for seals. Reference to a tiler might mean a worker in ceramic tiles (perhaps for church floors) or a maker of tiles or one who worked with stone or slate roofing tiles: in 1491 a new house was to be roofed with tiles, as was the extension to the Black Friars' house in 1487.


Between 1516 and 1559 several bodies of craftsmen were given official recognition and protection in incorporations. These included: skinners and furriers, websters (weavers, specifically including women), hammermen, tailors, masons, and cordiners and barkers (those who used tree bark for tanning). Their documents contain the earliest references to furriers, buckle-makers, armourers, barkers, slaters, sawyers and quarriers, but there is no reason to suppose that these trades were new.

The only industrial technology known specifically from Glasgow is the references to limeholes (pits in which liquid prepared from lime was used to remove the hair from animal skins) and the excavated mill of c 1300 on the Poldrait Burn: it was a two-storey wooden building, probably with an undershot wheel; the banks of the stream were lined with oak posts and wattles of hazel and cherry wood.

The rest has to be deduced from the existence of the industries themselves. It is not even certain if the various tools used, such as hammers, axes, saws, tongs and moulds, were made in Glasgow, but presumably they had to be mended there. Stone had to be shaped, sometimes roughly, before being transported to the site of a new building. Timber had to be felled and shaped for scaffolding, house-building and internal features such as floors. We do not know what fuel was used for the numerous kilns, but wood, peat and coal were all available. Bakers needed ovens, and weavers, looms; cordiners, cobblers and goldsmiths needed benches; brewing, tanning, dyeing and fulling all required water and pits, vats or tubs. It is not known if coal was mined by sinking shafts or by open cast workings. Fishermen may have used nets or fish-weirs to catch salmon in the shallow Clyde.

Kilns, ovens, forges and tubs for dyeing all depended on fire, and it is likely that they were confined with their smoke, noise and smells to the backlands of town properties.

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