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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914

Everyday Life


By Rudolph Kenna

Old Nightingale Tavern In 1831, Glasgow was reckoned to have 2,850 taverns - one for every fourteen inhabitants. As the old town, abandoned by wealthier citizens, sank into poverty, the taverns of Gallowgate, Saltmarket and High Street became haunts of prostitutes, thieves and vagabonds.

Flare-up in the Briggate Gin palaces with a profusion of gas lights in frosted globes and brightly gilded spirit vats first appeared in London in the 1830s and Glasgow's first gin palace was opened in Trongate in 1855. It was such a novelty that police were summoned to control the crowds jostling to obtain entry.

Holyrood Vaults c 1890 The Forbes Mackenzie Act (1853), which closed Scotland's pubs at 11pm on weekdays and all day on Sundays, gave rise to a wave of bootlegging and within a decade the slums of Glasgow were honeycombed with shebeens (illegal drinking dens).

The remarkable flowering of decorative arts in Glasgow during the last decades of the 19th century was reflected in palace pubs with ornately carved gantries over the bar, richly embossed mirrors and stained glass windows. The B-listed Old Toll Bar (1892), 1 Paisley Road West, is the city's finest surviving Victorian palace pub.

By the 1880s Glasgow publicans were selling their own blends of Scotch whisky. As late as 1914, the city had fourteen breweries, producing porter, stout, India Pale Ale and lager beer. Cheap adulterated whisky, known as "kill-the-carter", possessed stupefying and inflammatory properties. Dead drunk individuals were picked up by the police and transported to the cells on a handbarrow.

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