-the eighteenth century

The Scotland Guide
© David Williams


The English Navigation Acts of 1660 and 1663 had prohibited Scotland from trading with English colonies and for a while this curtailed the Scots` activities. Undaunted, a huge proportion of the country`s capital was invested in setting up a Scottish colony in Darien in Central America but for numerous reasons this ended in complete disaster in 1701, leading to the loss of one quarter of the country`s liquid assets. Scotland was greatly weakened by what has been called `The Darien Disaster` and the English were blamed for this severe blow to the home economy. Scotland was thus in a poor bargaining position when it discussed possible union with England, but the union took effect in 1707 and one benefit it brought was the ending of discrimination against Scottish traders.

From then on Glasgow`s merchants took full advantage of the new opportunities that opened up. The city`s location on the west coast gave it a clear advantage over its London rivals and in 1726 Daniel Defoe noted that London-based ships faced real dangers especially in time of war, when the [English] channel is throng`d with privateers, and when the ships wait to go in fleets for fear of enemies; whereas the Glasgow men are no sooner out of the Firth of Clyde … and are oftentimes at the capes of Virginia before the London ships get clear of the channel. The commercial exploits of the small but very powerful group of Tobacco Lords brought tremendous wealth to the city. Fortunately, by the time of the American War of Independence (1776-83) these merchants had already widened their commercial interests and were thus able to survive the war`s disruption. Some had invested in Scotland`s manufacturing industry as they could sell the products in their stores in the Americas; others had put their profits into emergent industries such as textiles, coal mining and ironworks. They also helped finance the local canals, notably the Forth and Clyde Canal (see picture) which was planned to link the east and west coasts of the country.

This article is based on the guidebook "The Glasgow Guide".

This is Spiers Wharf on the Forth and Clyde Canal, just a short distance from the centre of the city. These huge warehouses were built in the second half of the nineteenth century in what was then an exceptionally busy part of Glasgow. In the late 1980s they were converted into offices and houses.
Glasgow`s population grew steadily during the eighteenth century and by 1801 it reached 48,256 (83,769, including the suburbs). The city grew in a westward direction to accommodate the incomers and many new and important streets were laid out such as Miller Street (1762), Queen Street (1777) and Buchanan Street (1786). While the better-off inhabitants moved westwards into these newly-developed areas, the old centre of the city around High Street crumbled into decay, producing some of Europe`s worst slums. The grossly overcrowded East End became a centre for new industries such as cloth-making and many people were involved in producing linen and cotton goods which were exported all over the world by merchants such as David Dale. The weavers became one of the earliest groups of workers to organise themselves and the Weavers` Memorial in Calton is testament to one of the city`s most bloody labour disputes. By this time a number of other industries had also become successful, such as sugar refining and rum making, and new industries such as potteries and breweries were also being established.
Next history article:
The early nineteenth century
Previous history article:
The seventeenth century
List of history articles:
History of Glasgow

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