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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Trade and Communications

Retail Trade

By Michael Moss

Glasgow obtained a charter in 1190 authorising a week long fair to be held ever year. It was not until 1242 that the burgesses (freemen, often merchants and artisans) and men (the servants) of the bishop were entitled to trade with the rest of Scotland as freely as the citizens of Dumbarton who already enjoyed such privileges. The granting of these privileges meant that Glasgow, as well as serving as the religious capital of the west of Scotland, became an important trading centre.

Until the 19th century the fair was held along the length of the High Street. Much of the city's food and other provisions would have come from the immediate neighbourhood, being sold by the producers themselves in one of the markets at the foot of the High Street. Even in the medieval period some goods did come from further afield, for example wine from France, leather from Ireland, wool from the Highlands and salt from the west coast. Such imports would have been handled by merchants who either sold them direct or passed them on to craftsmen to weave cloth or make shoes. Aquavitae (later to be known as whisky) and beer would have been made in the city and sold directly.

Although markets and fairs would not be very different from those of the 21st century, there would have been no shops and people would have been as likely to acquire whatever goods they need by barter as for money. Nevertheless despite its distance from the great cities and trade routes of Europe, Glasgow was part of the cosmopolitan world of commerce and Christianity.

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