Glasgow is believed to have grown up round a Christian settlement established in the late 6th century by St Mungo, whose church was probably on the site of the present cathedral.

Glasgow University was founded in 1451, making it the fourth oldest in the United Kingdom and the second oldest in Scotland (St. Andrews was founded in 1411).

Glasgow's commercial prosperity dates from the 17th century when the port on the River Clyde began importing tobacco, sugar, cotton and other goods from the Americas. A large percentage of these goods were then re-exported to France, Germany, Italy, Holland and Norway. After the inventions of James Watt and Richard Arkwright, Glasgow became involved in the textile industry when cotton mills were built in the city.

Glasgow became involved in shipbuilding and by 1835 half the tonnage of steam ships produced in Britain were built on the River Clyde. The centre of the city was not accessible to shipping until improvements were made to river navigation in the 1840s.

The economy of the city was benefited by the development of the railway system. Important lines included the Garnkirk & Glasgow (1831), the Edinburgh & Glasgow (1842) and the Caledonian Railway (1845) that linked the main industrial centres of England with Glasgow.

In the 19th century the population of Glasgow grew rapidly going from a population of 77,000 in 1801 to 420,000 in 1861. Low standard working-class housing was built quickly to meet this increase in demand. By the early 1860s the city centre was an unhealthy, overcrowded ghetto, with population density levels of 1,000 people per acre.

Primary Sources

(1) Daniel Defoe, A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724)

There are some villages and fishing towns within the mouth of the Clyde, but the first town of note is called Greenock. It is not an ancient place, but seems to be grown up in later years. The merchants of Glasgow who are concerned in the fishery, employ the Greenock vessels for the catching and curing the fish, and for several other trades.

Glasgow is, indeed, a very fine city; the four principal streets are the fairest for breadth, and the finest built that I have ever seen in one city. The houses are all of stone, and generally equal and uniform in height, as well as in front; the lower story generally stands on vast square Doric columns, not round pillars, and arches between give passage into the shops, adding to the strength as well as beauty of the building; in a word, it is the cleanest, the most beautiful, the best built city in Britain, London excepted.

(2) Neil Arnott & James Kay, Report on the Prevalence of Certain Physical Causes of Fever (1838)

In Glasgow, which I first visited, it was found that the great mass of the fever cases occurred in the low wynds and dirty narrow streets and courts, in which, because lodging was there cheapest, the poorest and most destitute naturally had their abodes. From one such locality, between Argyle Street and the river, 754 of about 5,000 cases of fever which occurred in the previous year were carried to the hospitals.

We entered a dirty low passage like a house door, which led from the street through the first house to a square court immediately behind, which court, with the exception of a narrow path around it leading to another long passage through a second house, was occupied entirely as a dung receptacle.

(3) Crystal Eastman, The Liberator (October, 1919)

The Clyde is a muddy, uninteresting river 100 miles lone which rises fifteen hundred feet up in the hills of Lanarkshire, and flows west across the narrow part of Scotland into the sea. Fourteen miles up from its mouth lies Glasgow. The history of Glasgow and the Clyde is the history of the industrial revolution. For along the valley of this river lie the largest coal fields and the richest iron-ore mines in all the British Isles. It happens that Fulton, Bell and Watt were all originally Clyde men. After the invention of machinery, Glasgow which had been a thriving little seaport of 14,000, serving an agricultural and wool-producing hinterland, became in one short century a great dark smoky city of a million people, surrounded by a dozen ugly industrial suburbs. And half a century later, when men learned to make ships of steel, the Clyde became the greatest shipbuilding river in the world. The Pittsburg worker must bring his iron-ore from some place away up in the Great Lakes region, a thousand miles away, and he must send his finished steel to far-off harbors to be made into ships. But the Clyde worker finds iron-ore, coal, and a 200-acre harbor right at hand. No wonder that more ships were built on the banks of the Clyde before the war than in England, Germany and America put together.

But the Clyde workers do not all build ships. The kindred trades flourish there. They make boilers, locomotives, bridges, machinery, tools. And thousands of them are miners. Bob Smillie, a Lanarkshire miner, is a Clyde man. Keir Hardie, too, worked in the coal-fields area of the Clyde valley.

Last updated: 25th July 2002