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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Industry and Technology


By Stephen T Driscoll

Prior to the 12th century lime-mortared buildings were almost unknown in Scotland and for centuries afterwards only the most substantial buildings were built of stone. Even the bishop's castle was made of earth and timber until the 13th century or later. The use of stone was therefore the most basic indicator of status in medieval construction. While the bulk of the population lived in timber dwellings, the members of the cathedral chapter inhabited substantial stone manses set in their own yards. Provand's Lordship is typical of these unpretentious, but spacious dwellings.

Although these large scale masonry buildings led to the opening up of a quarry at Cowcaddens, timber architecture was the norm. Few traces have been excavated in Glasgow, but most of these dwellings probably were simple post-built structures consisting of a single room, covered with wattle-and-daub or planking (higher status) and roofed with thatch. Hard woods, such as oak, were preferred for the structural members, but over time as the large trees were consumed good timber became increasingly scarce. The largest component in these simple timber houses was the wattle, that is saplings or withies which could be coarsely woven into panels and then covered with mud and straw (daub). The preferred wood was hazel from coppiced trees. To meet the demands of even a smallish burgh like medieval Glasgow, a high degree of woodland management in the area is implied.

By the later Middle Ages – and as the population increased, the market prospered and the woodland resources dwindled - stone building became more common in domestic and commercial architecture. Stone buildings could be built higher and thus subdivided to accommodate tenants and to allow commercial premises to be separated from the domestic. Timber still formed an important building material and remained an indicator of lower status because timber balconies were the cheapest way to increase the accommodation within the tight confines of the narrow building plots.

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