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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Trade and Communications

Export Trade

By Gordon Jackson

In the 16th century Glasgow's primary trading contacts were overland to England, oversea to Ireland and coastwise to Argyll and the south. These "local" trades relied on Glasgow manufactures such as metal goods, linen, malt, spirits and locally-mined coal, but chiefly on re-exports. As a regional trading centre Glasgow distributed Argyll foodstuffs and plaids, Irish hides and tallow, and Clyde salmon and herring. These also dominated Glasgow's limited foreign exports, exchanged in France for wine and luxuries, and in Scandinavia and the Baltic for essential wood, iron and flax.

Tucker's 1656 Survey revealed little advance in direct European traffic, though easily handled goods were increasingly sent via Bo'ness, West Lothian. More significantly, Glasgow merchants were experimenting with transatlantic trade. Their exports could not rival London's, but by the 1670s at least seven ships a year were exchanging coal, cloth and manufactures for English colonial goods. By 1700 Glasgow factors in Scandinavia and the Baltic were organising direct exports of cloth and herring from the new deep-water facilities at Port Glasgow; their juniors learned the "mystery" of trade in Holland.

By the 1740s export trades were growing strongly, but European raw materials and manufactures were still bought chiefly with re-exported tobacco and sugar. The emergence of metal, cloth, calico printing, leather, glass, and other manufactories, as well as the coal mines, certainly provided exports, but chiefly to support the settler and plantation economies that provided the trade goods for Europe. In these circumstances, until the 1770s Glasgow is best described as a port of importation and re-exportation rather than of exportation.

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