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Beginnings: Early times to 1560


The Gorbals

By Ronald P A Smith

For many centuries the open ground on the south bank of the River Clyde, opposite the City of Glasgow, was called the lands of the Gorbals. The first development of this ground, a single-street village of timber-framed huts called Brigend, stretched southwards from the original Glasgow Bridge. A wooden bridge at this point is known to have existed as far back as 1285, but the first stone bridge was erected by Bishop Rae of Glasgow in 1345. This eight-arched bridge, albeit altered, lasted until 1854 when it was replaced by the present Victoria Bridge.

Prior to the Reformation, the lands of the Gorbals, which extended as far southwards as present-day Govanhill, were owned by the Church. A leper hospital for city plague victims, dedicated to St Ninian, is thought to have been established at Brigend by Lady Lochow in 1350. It is recorded that King James IV donated alms to the "lepers" in 1491, and that the hospital was still operating in 1610. A related chapel was set up in 1494 and stood in the vicinity of the present Citizens' Theatre until the redevelopment of the old village in the 19th century.

The derivation of the name "The Gorbals" is uncertain - Gaelic, Strathclyde Briton and Latin roots have all been suggested. The use of the definite article in the name is the best-known application of the prefix "The" to village and locality names, a practice which was once quite common throughout Central Scotland.

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