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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Industry and Technology

By Matthew Hume

Molendinar Burn In 1560 the only industries in Glasgow were handcrafts, with the exception of grain-milling; there were already water-powered mills on the Molendinar Burn, on the River Kelvin at Partick and on the White Cart Water at Cathcart and Langside. The manufacture of woollen and linen textiles was carried out entirely by hand as was the working of iron and leather and the making of wooden products such as furniture, panelling, doors and windows, casks and barrels and even tableware. The malting of barley was practised fairly widely, mostly south of the Clyde in the Barony of Gorbals. Most brewing seems to have been done at home. There was probably some pottery manufacture, but this is undocumented.

New Industries

Old Sugar House Between 1560 and the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 there was little change in the structures of Glasgow's industries, the major exception being a pottery established at Blackfauld (modern Calton) in 1595, implying the existence of local clay and coal extraction, and the first printer, who arrived from Edinburgh in 1636. The Post-Restoration Scottish Parliament encouraged the development of industry with a view to reducing the volume of imports. For Glasgow this meant the establishment of a "soaperie" or soap works in 1667, with associated whale-hunting vessels (whale oil could be used in the manufacture of soap). Attempts to establish a whaling fleet proved unsuccessful but the soap works prospered. According to McUre, writing in 1736, "it is a great work, consisting of four lodgings, cellars, houses of store and other conveniences for trade." In the same year, a joint stock company formed by four merchants established the first of Glasgow's sugar refineries. It proved very successful and it was followed by three more, two of which also distilled rum from the residue of the refining process. The 1680s saw the beginning of paper manufacture by a Frenchman, Nicolas de Champ, at Cathcart.

After the Union

Glasgow in 1768 During the 1690s the effects of war, political upheaval, harvest failure and the unhappy Darien adventure badly affected Scotland's trade and, no doubt, that of Glasgow. However, there seems to have been a revival after the Act of Union of 1707. In 1730 a glassworks was built at the Broomielaw primarily to make bottles for the export of beer. By 1736, when John McUre wrote the first history of the city, A View of the City of Glasgow, there were (apart from the "soaperie" and four sugar houses) a large ropeworks on the west side of Stockwell Street, three substantial tanneries, and a "stately Brewarie" next to one of the tanneries. Of the other works the most notable were "a great Building of Ashler-work for accommodating a great Manufactory of all Sorts of Iron-work, from a Lock and Key to an Anchor of the greatest Size". A factory for fine linen had been established at Graham's Hall, modelled on the Dutch practice and sending linen for bleaching at Dalquhurn in the Vale of Leven. Two tobacco spinning factories had already been established to make plug pipe tobacco, although the tobacco trade was then in its infancy. One of them was Mr Boyd's factory in King Street "where a great Number of poor Boys are set at Work, and well alimented [fed] by him, to his just Praise", according to McUre.

Tait's Directory p47 By the mid-18th century the Inkle Factory Co had extended its business in weaving ribbons. There were several printers, including James Duncan who printed McUre's history of the city in 1736, and Robert Urie & Co, who printed several works for Robert Foulis. The first newspaper in Glasgow was the Glasgow Courant, which was published in 1715.


Paper Mill Between 1736 and 1770 the main emphasis on industrial development was in the textile and related industries, though coalmining and brick making became locally important in the East End. The Govan Colliery in Gorbals was also in operation by this time. A dye works was set up in 1740 by the so-called "Harlem Dye Company", confirming the importance of Dutch technology to Scotland in the 18th century. At the very end of the period Charles and George Macintosh introduced to Glasgow the manufacture of cudbear, a purple-red dyestuff extracted from lichen, which had been discovered by George and Cuthbert Gordon and made in Leith since 1758. On the western outskirts of the city, at Hurlet, the manufacture of copperas (ferrous sulphate) was introduced by a Liverpool company. This material was used as a mordant (an agent for fixing dyes) in calico printing.

Tait's Directory p28 By 1772 Glasgow had also become a centre for the manufacture of fine linen. Handloom weavers manufactured the product in their homes using imported flax spun into yarn by women working on a part-time basis. The industry in Glasgow appears to have been concentrated in the East End and in Anderston. In about 1765, the manufacture of lawns and cambrics in the French Manner was introduced, at first using imported French and Flemish yarns. Two years later skilled craftsmen from France were brought to Anderston to spin fine yarns. In 1773 the making of fine linens was said to be the main business of the city. In about 1769 some of the master weavers in Anderston introduced cotton weft, possibly hand-spun, the first use of cotton in the city.

Port Dundas By the end of the period tobacco spinning had become a major industry in Glasgow, with much of the plug pipe tobacco destined for the Continent. The main purchaser of tobacco imported from the American colonies by Glasgow tobacco merchants were the Farmers-General of the French Customs. Three more paper mills had been founded by the end of the period, one on the White Cart at Millholm in 1716 and two on the Kelvin at Balgray and Maryhill in 1746 and 1747.

Iron and Flour

Of the other older industries, iron-working and grain-milling had increased markedly in scale; the ironworks noted by McUre in 1736 was owned by the Smithfield Co by 1770 and had an extensive trade in iron implements with the West Indian and North American colonies, using imported Swedish and Russian bar iron. The Incorporation of Bakers developed their established flour mills on the Kelvin at Clayslaps and Bunhouse in Yorkhill to cope with demand from the city's expanding population. They probably also provided the flour used to size (stiffen) the warps for the weavers.

This account concentrates on the more important developments in Glasgow's industrial structure as far as can be determined. It is important to note that industries which became integral to Glasgow's development in the later 18th and 19th centuries were not, so far as we are aware, represented at all in the period before 1770. Mechanised cotton spinning, engineering, shipbuilding and whisky distilling all developed after the close of our period. However, the foundations had been laid: skilled hand working of textiles, basic iron-working, brewing and malting were all well established. The paper and chemical industries and flour-milling, all to become large-scale industries in the 19th century, had also progressed beyond the proto-industrial stage. The entrepreneurial and financial skills of Glasgow merchants had also been honed in international markets and trading connections with the New World, Continental Europe and India had been established which would prove vital in years to come.

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