A whirlwind history of the Glasgow Athenaeum since its establishment

By Dr. Karen Malley-Watt

WOMEN’S RIGHTS, DICKENS & DRESSMAKING

What links Charles Dickens, women’s rights activists, dressmaking and the Glasgow Chess Club? No, this isn’t a bad Christmas cracker joke but an important piece of Glasgow history. The Glasgow Athenaeum, now The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, has played an important role in helping to shape Glasgow’s cultural training and commercial output. It is noted that the Glasgow Athenaeum’s origins lie with James Provan who was handed a leaflet for the ‘Glasgow Educational Association’ after attending a chemistry lecture (James Lauder, ‘The Glasgow Athenaeum: A Sketch of Fifty Years’ Work (1847-1897)). Through this interaction the Glasgow Commercial College (later the Glasgow Athenaeum) was born, holding its first public meeting on the 3rd December 1845 where they appointed 12 (all-male) Directors with Robert Reid as President.

Figure 1: Artist’s sketch of the Inaugural Soiree, 28th December 1847, reproduced from “The Illustrated London News”. Image courtesy of The Royal Scottish Conservatoire Archives & Collections.

GROWING DEMAND

Over the next few years the Board raised funds to secure rooms at the Robert Adam designed Assembly Rooms in Ingram Street and celebrated by holding a ‘first soiree’ in December 1847 with nearly 3000 people in attendance. The halls were richly decorated with banners, floral wreaths, evergreens and painted ‘devices’ which included a suspended emblematic painting representing Time showing to Britannia science, art, fame and literature. The evening was accompanied by music, drinks and speeches. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was the main event of the night. The Fife Herald noted that the demand to hear Mr Dickens was so great that the Directors were forced to create a temporary gallery the length of the north side of the hall to accommodate 500 people! 

By the 1880s the demand for classes and an increase in space to house training facilities and classrooms had grown. The new Athenaeum building, designed by Messrs John Burnet, Son & Campbell, opened on the 25th January 1888. Located between the Faculty Hall and the Liberal Club, the building was designed in a ‘classic style of architecture’ and was described in amazingly vivid detail by The Glasgow Herald  just one day after the opening. The article on the 26th January 1888 takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the building providing floor dimensions, departments, facilities and investigations of the rooms held over the three storeys. It even highlights where the lavatories were situated (at the ‘entresol’ at each end of the building if you’re curious). Other features mentioned include electric lighting, two sets of statues by John Mossman, and heated water throughout for the radiators. The article even claims that the building was designed to be ‘practically fireproof’. What a claim!

Figure 2: Artists sketch of the centralised library, The Glasgow Athenaeum Calendar 1898-1899. Image courtesy of The Royal Scottish Conservatoire Archives & Collections.

A NEW BUILDING

The new building housed separate ladies and gentlemen’s departments, a centralised library, writing rooms, a restaurant, a newsroom, several recreation rooms (one of which was often occupied by The Glasgow Chess Club) and a college which consisted of eight classrooms which were ‘all large airy, and well ventilated’. The institution offered a variety of classes available for both men and women including languages, painting, drawing, dramatics, music and composition and dressmaking. The new building also allowed for recreational activities to take place and the space was used by a ladies’ choir, a dramatic club, a Spanish club and a gymnastics club.  

A DRAMATIC TABLEAUX

Between 1891 and 1893, there was a further addition to the Glasgow Athenaeum facilities via a new theatre building being added. The Category A listed building (now the Hard Rock Cafe) was again designed by the practice of John Burnet, Son & Campbell, and included state of the art facilities such as an Otis Passenger lift which is still there today! The theatre itself has a rich and important history and was utilised by a variety of dramatic groups, singers, actors and speakers. Several speakers in support of women’s suffrage graced the Glasgow Athenaeum’s podium to voice their support for the cause. As early as 1870, Miss Emily Faithfull (1835-1895) spoke to a crowded audience in the large hall of the institution on the subject of the ‘Movement relating to women – the vexed question, and how to solve it’. Faithfull was an English women’s rights activist who in 1860 founded a printing company for women called The Victoria Press – very radical for the time! Even the leading suffragist, Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) spoke as part of the Athenaeum’s lecture series (on the ‘Female Characters of George Elliot’ if you’re interested).

Another event connected with the women’s suffrage movement was a Dramatic Tableaux which was held in 1912 at the Athenaeum Theatre. This event involved several of the artists, now commonly referred to as ‘Glasgow Girls’, including Helen Paxton Brown (1876-1956), De Courcy Lewthwaite Dewar (1878 – 1959) and Dorothy Carleton Smyth (1880-1933). Each of these women rightly deserve a whole blog post dedicated to their own individual outputs, achievements and impact. The Dramatic Tableaux was advertised in various suffrage publications including the Common Cause, and The Vote provides detailed information regarding what took place in the Athenaeum Theatre on the 11th and 12th December of that year. The programme detailed a ‘TABLEAUX of Famous Women’ arranged by De Courcy Lewthwaite Dewar and featuring figures such as Joan of Arc, Queen Isabella of Spain, the philanthropist Elizabeth Fry, and a ‘TABLEAUX ‘Devolution of Man’, arranged by Carleton Smyth.

Figure 3: Photograph of the building which housed the Glasgow Athenaeum Theatre, The Glasgow Athenaeum Calendar 1903-1904. Image courtesy of The Royal Scottish Conservatoire Archives & Collections.

Organisations could book space to use the various rooms associated with the Athenaeum including the theatre. As such, more research is required to discover how deep the support for the suffrage cause ran in regards to the Glasgow Athenaeum. However, the building’s active connection with providing a platform for the women’s movement, via speakers and events, has been greatly overlooked. 

This has been a very short and brief tour of the spaces and associated events which took place in the spaces associated with the Glasgow Athenaeum. There is still so much more to discover regarding these important Glasgow buildings and the people associated with them!

Dr Karen Mailley-Watt is a Glaswegian historian who has a passion for rediscovering Glasgow’s radical and cultural histories in relation to the built environment. She is one half of the History Girls Frae Scotland.

Twitter: @mailley_watt

Instagram: @scottishwomenartists

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

  • See if you can spot The Athenaeum on our Gallus Glasgow map
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Online Talk: 19th Century Retail and the Rise of the Department Store

Wednesday 8th December 2021 | 7.30pm GMT | via Zoom

Focusing on architecture, window displays, and internal design, this talk will examine how Glasgow department stores, like their Parisian counterparts, became spaces not just of spectacle, but also of manipulation and disorientation.

The Map

“I feel like a bird soaring over the city when I gaze upon Sulman’s map, every nook and cranny with every detail so exact.

I can see where I came from and where I’m at.”

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

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A Strait-laced Sisterhood: Corset Makers and other Businesswomen in 19th century Glasgow

By Morag Cross

Are there women in Sulman’s aerial perspective of Glasgow?

Yes, they inhabit, own and work in the buildings he shows. The amazing image can been used to show the surroundings where female entrepreneurs and employers, shopkeepers and factory workers, lived, loved and laboured. There is no shortage of stories about women’s lives, as this article shows.

MAPPING IS A WOMAN’S BUSINESS

The first street ever photographed was in Paris, 1838, but the crowds moved too fast to be captured by the long exposure, so the pavements appear to be empty, apart from a shoe-shine stall. This sums up the many and numerous surviving records of ordinary women in history. At first sight, they seem absent, but thousands of women of every class appear in mundane, everyday records from the 18th and 19th centuries, and even earlier. Sources that are cost nothing to access, such as Valuation Rolls, poor law records, post office directories, newspapers, court and land sales documents, all burst with female names. However, those individuals are not famous – but most of our ancestors wherever they come from, aren’t well known. That’s the joy of examining and reading about what was ‘everyday’ in the 19th century – laundresses and staymakers are no longer commonplace, time has transformed the formerly mundane into the exotic and the unfamiliar.

If we give the proper respect and dignity to the activity of female owned businesses and shops, the services of the female economy, the streets of all our cities and towns start to ‘feminise’. The grocers, dressmakers, pubs, housekeepers and informal networks of women quietly helping women, begin to take their proper focus in those early daguerrotypes!*

Landressy Street, Bridgeton, home of the iconic Glasgow Women’s Library, has two names appearing in the Post Office Directory for 1865, the year after Sulman’s map. You had to pay to be listed in the Directory, an early advertising and street guide, so it’s it certainly doesn’t contain every resident. The Valuation Rolls, compiled to assess the rateable value charged by the city council, were far more reliable – they show the council’s tax raising powers, and financial records are always more complete!

Landressy Street has 164 property occupants named, and 54, or one third, are women. We see similar results in other streets – Victoria Street, named after a woman, was in Port Eglinton. There are around 91 tenants and owners listed, of whom 17, nearly a fifth, are women in 1865. We can use easily accessible records like this to peel back a roof on Sulman’s map, and find the women inside.

An excerpt from the highly detailed illustrated birds eye view of Glasgow 1864 by Thomas Sulman, showing Sauchiehall Street and Renfrew Street and with the Wellington and Queen Arcades marked as they run perpendicular to these streets.
Thomas Sulman's Bird's Eye View of Glasgow, 1864. The Queen Arcade is out of sight but directly behind the Wellington Arcade. The roofs of the two arcades can be seen. The church spire is now the site of the GFT.

STRAIT LACED

Queen Arcade (without an apostrophe!) was the only one of the city’s glass-roofed shopping streets named after a woman, and attracted affluent female browsers to a safe and sheltered locale. Situated on the north side of Renfrew Street, it was a speculative development opened by the slaters J Donaldson & Sons in 1842, and faced the older Wellington Arcade across the street. Queen Arcade held 14 shops (it lacked a number ‘13’), and about 6 flats, largely occupied by the retailers below. Contrary to expectations, there were more women living or trading there in 1865 than in any other decade – 10 in all. Numbers fell as the century progressed, from 8 women shopkeepers and residents in 1855, to 6 in 1885, and just 4 by 1895.

Some striking tales emerge, of females empowering each other, including a dynasty of Irish corsetieres. Fitted, boned-bodices were essential symbols of feminine virtue and morality, hence ‘strait-laced’ (very tight) meant respectable, and a ‘loose women’ had her corsets untied. Sisters Ellen and Elizabeth Hunter came from County Antrim, part of the great Irish migration to Scotland after the 1845 famine. They were both already married with children, but had originally trained as staymakers. To assist family finances, Mrs Ellen Gordon opened her own business at 6 Queen Arcade around 1846, shortly after her arrival. Two years later, she and her sister relaunched under their maiden names, ‘E & E Hunter, staymakers’ at the same address, emphasising that this is their own concern, albeit that they still required male permission for certain official transactions.

A detailed historic map of the area between two parallel streets in Glasgow - Sauchiehall Street & Renfrew Street. Two arcades run between these streets, marked as Wellington Arcade and Queen Arcade.
The Queen and Wellington Arcades, facing each other across Renfrew Street, now under Marks & Spencer and the Jury’s Hotel Ballroom. This shows the 1857 OS Town Plan.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

EMPOWERED WOMEN

They enjoyed considerable success – in the 1851 census, Ellen’s husband, a boilermaker, may be head of the household, but it’s she who employs 6 women (including her niece, Elizabeth junior), and a domestic servant. A neighbouring booth made ‘busks’, the rigid two-part steel strips with fastenings for the front of the corset, which made getting dressed much simpler. However, the (male-owned) firm were officially ‘edge toolmakers’, producing blades and knives, a wince-inducing contrast that would make any woman cross her arms protectively!

Before Ellen died of a throat infection in 1856, the shop had expanded into a double unit. It was ‘neatly fitted up, with stock of first quality … such an opening for a beginner is seldom offered’. Jane Collins, yet another staymaker in this family of skilled female artisans. She was the daughter of a third Hunter sister, and took over her aunt’s shop at No 6, in 1858/9 – after her marriage and with a baby son. She balanced motherhood with enterprise, but was widowed within three years. She and her unmarried sister Matilda Martin, who lived with her above Queen Arcade, ran the shop and for continuity’s sake, kept the branding as ‘Mrs Peter Collins’. However, in the official rateable valuation rolls, Jane changed her title to ‘Mrs Jane Collins’, her own name rather than her husband’s being the conventional way to indicate widowhood. It showed the loss of her spouse as her legal ‘guardian’ and inadvertently, emphasises to 21st century women about her financial autonomy.

Newspaper advertisement notifying of a 'staymaking and furnishing business' to be disposed of at 6 & 8 Queen Arcade, 1856
Mrs Ellen Gordon’s shop is advertised as a ‘going concern’ after her death. From the Glasgow Herald, 30 Jan 1856, page 8

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.

Newspaper advertisement from 1862 notifying of the sale of the arcades. It notes that the shops attract 'a respectable class of tenants' and that they 'command a good business'
Newspaper advertisement from 1862 notifying of the sale of the arcades. It notes that the shops attract 'a respectable class of tenants' and that they 'command a good business'. Glasgow Herald, 28 April 1862, page 3.

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.

Newspaper advert from 1875, advertising the sale of 'fancy hosiery, smallwares, furnishings, jewellery etc' from a Mrs Barr in the Queen Arcade who is retiring from the trade.
Although the building was sold around them, women’s lives continued within it. Glasgow Herald 1875, Feb 1, page 7.

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.

SISTERHOOD

These sets of sisters trained each other, promoting their joint success, and passing on their labour-intensive skill-sets of intricate stitching and shaping such elaborately-constructed foundation garments. In the late 1870s, Jane moved her workshop into the ‘posher’ Wellington Arcade between Renfrew St and Sauchiehall St, selling both drapery and corsetry. She also acted as a family matriarch, with a constantly rotating cluster of Irish-born nieces lodging with her, all trying their fortunes in the Glasgow textile trade. In 1871, three relatives appear, a dressmaker and two sewing machinists; a decade later, she heads a household of 4 working females, and her elderly aunt, Elizabeth Campbell, of the original ‘E & E Hunter, staymakers’. One niece resides for over a decade, and along with another middle aged Irishwoman, is probably one of Jane’s employees. Living ‘over the shop’, and working with your landlady, may have proved rather claustrophobic at times, but as Jane hosted at least 7 female relatives, over two decades, it must have been tolerable at least.

A grey corset from the 1840s
A red corset from the 1860s

Two plain corsets, from the 1840s (left), and 1860s (right), possibly similar to those made by the Glasgow staymakers. That on the right has a steel busk, making opening easier.

Images courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery, Acc No 1972.7; Acc No 1947.1629

A NETWORK OF ENTREPRENEURIAL CRAFTSWOMEN

Returning to 1860, Elizabeth Campbell’s (of ‘E & E Hunter) daughter, now Mrs Elizabeth Dobbin, had long experience of working in their maternal trade, so she and her sister in law formed a partnership and opened in the former buskmaker’s premises at 9 Queen Arcade. You have to wonder about the initial friendships and marriages arising out of this sprawling Scottish-north Irish network of entrepreneurial female craftswomen. Elizabeth’s Dobbin in-laws, including her husband’s mother, were all staymakers from Armagh. It seems likely she met her husband through his sister, Mary Jane Dobbin, due to mutual professional contacts. There were so many links ‘horizontally’, across the Hunter-Collins-Dobbins clans, and also ‘vertically’, between the different generations, seen just from public sources, many free to access. Finding, and publishing their tales is easier, and more accessible than ever with the advent of the internet.

The Dobbins, and other characters in the life of the Queen Arcade will be followed further in a second blog, tracing more of the lives of working women within the streets of Sulman’s amazing map. The women inhabit his Glasgow streets, just as they always have, if we only choose to look!

* Daguerrotypes are early photographs on metal plates.

Morag Cross is an independent researcher and archaeologist, specialising in histories of buildings and land ownership. Her archival research explores the unexpected links between previously unknown figures, especially women, and their social networks. She has worked on over 80 projects including business histories for the Mackintosh Architecture website, Glasgow Council’s official WW1 website, M74 industrial archaeology research, and Edinburgh’s India Buildings, Victoria St.

WANT TO KNOW MORE? 

  • Book a ticket for our evening talk on 19th century retail with Sophie Maddison on Wednesday 8th December at 7.30pm.
  • Check out our Gallus Glasgow map and explore more stories of the Victorian city. Once there, why not add a few stories of your own?
  • Prints of the map are available to buy in our online shop

You might also be interested in…

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

Online Talk: 19th Century Retail and the Rise of the Department Store

Wednesday 8th December 2021 | 7.30pm GMT | via Zoom

Focusing on architecture, window displays, and internal design, this talk will examine how Glasgow department stores, like their Parisian counterparts, became spaces not just of spectacle, but also of manipulation and disorientation.

The Map

“I feel like a bird soaring over the city when I gaze upon Sulman’s map, every nook and cranny with every detail so exact.

I can see where I came from and where I’m at.”

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Tenements: A home for the middle classes too

By Rachel Campbell

A POPULATION EXPLOSION

During the 19th Century, Glasgow was in a process of rapid expansion. Industrialisation created new jobs in factories and trades, and a professional class of clerks, merchants, bankers and lawyers emerged. At the beginning of the Victorian era, Glasgow’s population was around 250,000. By 1901, the population stood at 762,000.

As the population skyrocketed, housing became a key concern for the government. The quickest and easiest way to house a rapidly growing population was through the building of tenements. The word ‘tenement’ usually evokes images of Dickensian London, with families crammed into slums. But in Glasgow, tenement spanned the social classes. It was very much the truth that Glasgow’s working class families lived in one-room tenements called ‘singl-ends’, or in two rooms, called a ‘room and kitchen.’ The middle and upper class tenements, on the other hand, could have five rooms or even more.

The bathroom at the Tenement House. Image credit National Trust for Scotland

ALL MOD CONS

A great example of a Victorian middle class tenement can be found at 145 Buccleuch Street. Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, the Tenement House was occupied by Miss Agnes Toward and her mother between 1911 and 1965. Mrs Toward worked as a dressmaker and ran her own business, whilst Agnes Toward worked as a secretary for a shipping firm. The Tenement House was built in 1892 and is made up of four rooms: a parlour, bedroom, kitchen, and it even boasts its own indoor bathroom.

Middle-class tenements were built with all the mod cons in mind. The indoor bathroom at 145 Bucchleuch Street is probably the most noticeable example of this. It is likely that this was the first private bathroom the Toward’s had. Like many other Glaswegians they would have been used to sharing a toilet with their neighbours.

In 1855 Parliament passed legislation to have clean water piped to the city of Glasgow from Loch Katrine following an outbreak of cholera in the city in the 1840s. The introduction of a clean water source led to the enforcement of sanitation in tenement houses. In 1892 the Police Burgh Act tightened legislation requiring landlords to provide indoor sanitation. But this did not necessarily mean that every tenement house was given its own private bathroom. A shared privy was the reality for Glasgow’s working class, even into the 1970s.

Indoor sanitation looked very different for the middle class. The Tenement House boasts its own private flushing toilet, complete with a bath. For the working classes, tin baths were the norm, filled up with water heated over the range, and then used by each family member. The invention of the hot water tank in 1868 meant that water could be heated in the range and piped into the bathroom. But to have hot running water into your indoor bathroom would have been an incredible modern convenience for those who could afford it.

The parlour fireplace in the Tenement House. Image credit Rachel Campbell

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES

An important aspect of Victorian life was keeping up appearances. Middle-class tenements were kitted out to accommodate this part of Victorian social life.

Middle class tenements were built with servants bells installed. Domestic service was the biggest employer of women during the Victorian era. In 1891 the census recorded over 1.3 million women and girls working as servants across Britain. As domestic service became cheaper, many lower middle class families took the opportunity to employ day servants. Although the Toward’s did not employ a domestic servant, it certainly did no harm to their reputation to suggest that they did.

Middle class tenements were also built with large hallway spaces. The large entryway feels almost like a waste of a good space, but it was built with a purpose in mind. The idea was that it would give guests the impression that the rest of their tenement house was as large and lavishly decorated.

Rachel Campbell works with the National Trust for Scotland at the Tenement House. She has an interest in women’s history and social history, and runs a blog, RachelsFactFiles, dedicated to history, heritage and culture.

WANT TO KNOW MORE? 

  • Find out more about the Tenement House in the ‘Tenement life’ episode of GCHT’s podcast, ‘If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk’, which features an interview with Ana Sanchez de la Vega, Visitor Services Manager at the property.
  • Check out our Gallus Glasgow map and explore more stories of the Victorian city. Once there, why not add a few stories of your own?
  • Prints of the map are available to buy in our online shop

You might also be interested in…

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

Online Talk: 19th Century Retail and the Rise of the Department Store

Wednesday 8th December 2021 | 7.30pm GMT | via Zoom

Focusing on architecture, window displays, and internal design, this talk will examine how Glasgow department stores, like their Parisian counterparts, became spaces not just of spectacle, but also of manipulation and disorientation.

The Map

“I feel like a bird soaring over the city when I gaze upon Sulman’s map, every nook and cranny with every detail so exact.

I can see where I came from and where I’m at.”

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Acid Rain and the Boar’s Head: What did the ‘father’ of acid rain make of Victorian Glasgow?

By Dr. Emily Munro

ACID RAIN

We hardly speak of it anymore but in the 1980s, acid rain was a household discussion topic. Acid rain – caused mostly by emissions of sulphur dioxide from coal-fired power plants and factories – has now largely been controlled in Europe by transitioning away from coal. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, however, it was blamed for acidifying lakes, stripping tress of their leaves and eating away at historic buildings and metals. It felt like a modern problem but 100 years earlier, acid rain had already been described by a Scottish chemist named Robert Angus Smith.

Smith was born in Pollokshaws and went to Glasgow High School. He studied Divinity at Glasgow University (at a very young age) for a short time but left before graduating. Smith eventually became a personal tutor. When the family he was working for left Scotland for Germany, he followed the opportunity and it was there he began studying chemistry under the guidance of Professor Justus von Liebig.

CHLOROFORM, FERTILIZERS AND THE ALKALI ACT

Liebig is known as an inventor of chloroform, the news of which travelled to Scotland via another of his Scottish students, Lyon Playfair (leading to the pioneering anaesthesia work of Dr James Simpson who treated Queen Victoria with chloroform when she birthed her son Leopold). But Liebig made another significant discovery that continues to shape our world and how we produce food. He found that plants take in nitrogen and carbon dioxide from the air, as well as minerals found in soil. This understanding led to the development of chemical nitrogen-based fertilizers. Liebig also understood that plants improved the air by producing oxygen.

When Smith returned to Britain it was to assist Playfair, now Honorary Professor at the chemical laboratory at the Royal Manchester Institution. Manchester was one of the most highly industrialised parts of England and heavily polluted. Playfair served on the Health of Towns Commission and brought Smith along with him. As they gathered evidence for their report on public health, they witnessed scenes of abysmal poverty and squalor. At the time, fears of cholera epidemics abounded and there was an urgency to understand the causes of disease and educate the public on these. For several decades there had been concern over the gasses emitted by chemical manufacturing plants and finally in 1863 (perhaps mainly thanks to landowners whose woodlands were being damaged) the Alkali Act was created to combat, initially, hydrogen chloride pollution from Leblanc alkali works. To do this, an inspectorate was formed with Smith at the helm. He had a small team to monitor the country which meant that many operators could slip through the net. To counteract this, Albert Fletcher (one of Smith’s inspectors), developed an aspirator that could take air samples from chimney flues. It was sealed against tampering.

THE BRIGGAIT AND BOAR’S HEAD CLOSE

The work can’t have been easy. Manufacturers were unhappy about interference in their operations and relations with the Inspectorate inevitably strained. Smith reported to parliament annually and managed to win over industry by explaining that complying with the law was better than facing a legal challenge. Self-regulation therefore become built into pollution controls and remains crucial today.

Smith became fascinated with the composition of chemicals in the air. He undertook some short-lived experiments on carbon dioxide concentrations, shutting volunteers in a lead chamber with burning candles and measuring their breathing rate and pulse (these went up the higher the concentrations of CO2) (see Gibson & Farrar). His book Air and Rain: the beginnings of chemical climatology (1872) attempts to draw some conclusions about impurities in the air using the measurements gathered by the Alkali Inspectorate. In it he describes how he discovered sulphuric acid in rain (in 1852) as he was unable to measure the air itself. He advises “rainwater in town districts… is not a pure water for drinking” (p227) and over time will lead to the deterioration of mortar (p444).

One of the most polluted locations Smith collected data from was the Briggait: “one of the worst is from a height of 82 feet, being collected on a church-tower in Bridgegate. This does not point to any small local accumulation of mere dust, but a complete filling of the atmosphere. The place was above all the houses around”(p262). The Glasgow locations Smith monitored included Western, Gorbals and Calton Police Stations, New City Road and St Rollux. Only one place was more polluted by acids than the church steeple at Bridgegate, a place called Boar’s Head Close not far from where the Glasgow City Heritage Trust offices are based today. Both it and the Briggait were surrounded by cotton factories, dyeworks, tanneries but also public houses, churches, schools – places where many people lived and worked, in tight proximity to one another.

It was reported that Smith felt Glasgow industry was acting too slowly to combat noxious fumes: “if they have avoided law they certainly have not avoided deserving blame,” he said (The Herald July 17, 1872). The same newspaper noted that Glasgow’s high death rate had attracted speculation over the role of manufacturer’s vapours in contributing to mortality. The journalist reporting ventured: ‘When the causes of pollution either of the earth or the air are clearly and distinctly known, we are half way to a cure of the evil.” And yet, at the time, coal was not a focus of enquiries.

Bell Street from High Street, near to Boar's Head Close, by Thomas Annan (Credit National Galleries Scotland, CC BY NC)

AIR AND RAIN

Air and Rain is hard to draw conclusions from but Smith does make an appeal at the end to reduce overcrowding. Glasgow, he says, has ‘inferior air’: “Let those courts, alleys, and streets which show the greatest mortality and the worst air be destroyed or improved without foolish mercy” (p548).

Smith has been described as “a half-trained amateur” (Gibson & Farrar), not a great scientist whose work should be cited far least admired. This seems a little unfair. If nothing else, the man who is known for the term ‘acid rain’ was a principled, socially-minded person who wanted to hold polluters to account. Today he can be remembered as such.

Row Rain, Gareloch Clyde, from 'Air and Rain'

Dr. Emily Munro is a writer and curator of moving image at the National Library of Scotland. Emily’s feature-length documentary ‘Living Proof – A Climate Story’ explores Scotland’s relationship to the climate crisis and the environment using archive footage.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

  • Check out our Gallus Glasgow map and explore more stories of the Victorian city. Once there, why not add a few stories of your own?
  • Prints of the map are available to buy in our online shop

You might also be interested in…

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

Online Talk: 19th Century Retail and the Rise of the Department Store

Wednesday 8th December 2021 | 7.30pm GMT | via Zoom

Focusing on architecture, window displays, and internal design, this talk will examine how Glasgow department stores, like their Parisian counterparts, became spaces not just of spectacle, but also of manipulation and disorientation.

The Map

“I feel like a bird soaring over the city when I gaze upon Sulman’s map, every nook and cranny with every detail so exact.

I can see where I came from and where I’m at.”

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Glasgow’s Square Mile of Murder

By Rachel Kacir, Heritage Outreach Manager

A DARK HISTORY…

The phrase ‘Square Mile of Murder’ was first coined by journalist and author Jack House, whose 1961 book of the same name was based on the fact that four of Scotland’s most notorious murders took place within an area of one square mile between 1857 and 1908. The area stretches northwards from Blythswood Hill, in the western part of the city centre, to Sauchiehall Street and west towards Charing Cross. Turns out, the impressive architecture of the area hides a dark past…

Approximate location of murders, shown on Sulman's map of 1864

MADELEINE SMITH: DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE?

The earliest of the cases concerns the murder of Pierre Emile L’Angelier in 1857. The defendent in the sensational case was 22 year old Madeleine Smith, who stood accused of poisoning her lover L’Angelier with arsenic when he threatened to show her father their love letters after she became engaged to a more eligible man. The trial became a huge scandal, in part because Madeleine was from an upper middle class background, with her family residing at 7 Blythswood Square, a very prestigious address. The content of the letters also made clear she had a sexual relationship with L’Angelier, which was shocking at the time given her social standing. 

Although circumstantial evidence pointed towards her guilt- she had a motive and had made purchases of arsenic in the week’s running up to L’Angelier’s death, several factors led to uncertainty: the chronology of her letters to him was unclear, both druggist’s testified that they coloured their arsenic to avoid accident (which was not found in the autopsy), L’Angelier’s Valet’s testified that he had previously considered suicide, and there was no proof that the two had met in the weeks running up to his death. The jury eventually reached a ‘Not Proven’ verdict. 

Madeleine later moved to London and married an artist called George Wardell, who was William Morris’s Business Manager. She later moved to New York and married William A Sheehy. She died aged 93 in 1928 and was buried under the name Lena Sheehy. 

6-7 Blythswood Square, home of Madeliene Smith (Credit Daniel Naczk, CC BY-SA 4.0)

THE SANDYFORD MURDER CASE

The next murder of the quartet, in 1862, saw servant Jessie McPherson meet a grim end, by way of being struck 40 times with a meat cleaver at 17 Sandyford Place. Her best friend Jessie McLachlan was found guilty of the crime, after some silverware stolen after the murder was received by a pawnbroker from a woman called Mary McDonald, a name sometimes used by McLachlan. Bloodied clothing was also recovered from her home. She always maintained her innocence, accusing McPherson’s employer’s father instead. The man in question, James Fleming, had previous history of getting a servant pregnant and it was suggested he killed McPherson in a fit of rage when she refused his amorous advances.

Before sentencing, a final statement by McLachlan gave a detailed account of what had happened on the night of the murder, but this was dismissed by the Judge, who called it a “tissue of wicked falsehoods” and sentenced her to death. However, due to a public outcry, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. After serving 15 years in prison, McLachlan was released and emigrated to the United States where she died in 1899. 

This case is notable for being the first Scottish police case in which forensic photography played a role, as the murderer had left a bloody footprint at the scene. Police asked McLachan to put her foot in a bucket of cow’s blood and then step onto a piece of wood. This footprint was then matched to a photograph of the one found at the scene. 

THE HUMAN CROCODILE

Next up is the tale of serial killer Dr Edward William Pritchard. In May 1863 there was a fire at his house at 11 Berkeley Terrace, which killed a servant, Elizabeth McGrain. The fire had started in her room, but she had made no attempt to escape, suggesting she may have already been dead. The case was looked into, but no charges brought. 

The family moved to 131 Sauchiehall Street (now number 249), and on February 28th 1865 Pritchard’s mother in law, Jane Taylor, who had been living with them, died. His wife, whom he had supposedly been treating for an illness, died a month later. Not long before the onset of her illness, she had discovered her husband was having an affair with a servant. She went to her family home in Edinburgh to recuperate, and recovered, but had fallen ill again on her return to Glasgow… 

An anonymous tip off to the authorities led to both bodies being exhumed and it was found that they contained the poison antimony. Pritchard was arrested soon after his wife’s funeral. His insistence at her funeral on her coffin being opened so he could kiss her goodbye, with tears streaming down his face, led to him being given the nickname ‘the human crocodile’, as legend has it that crocodiles cry whilst devouring their prey.

Dr Pritchard was the last person to be publicly executed in Glasgow. Estimates vary, but it’s known that many thousands of people descended on Glasgow Green to watch him meet his maker. 

The trial of Dr Edward William Pritchard for murder by poisoning. Wood engraving, 1865. (Credit CC BY 4.0)

SEE YOU OSCAR SLATER!

Lastly, in 1908 the death of Marion Gilchrist was pinned on Oscar Slater. Slater had been born Oskar Josef Leschziner in Germany, but later changed his name to Oscar Anderson and then Oscar Slater. By 1901 he was living in Glasgow and is believed to have earned his living as a gambler and gangster, though he was known to variously claim to be a gymnastics instructor, a dentist and a dealer in precious stones. 

Gilchrist, aged 83, had been beaten to death in a robbery at 49 West Princes Street. Despite having jewellery worth a lot of money in her home, the robber was disturbed by a neighbour and got away with only a brooch. A few days before the murder, someone had turned up at Gilchrist’s home looking for someone called ‘Anderson’. This, together with the fact Slater left for New York five days after the murder and had previously been seen trying to sell a pawn ticket for a brooch, meant he came under suspicion. Police soon realised this was a false lead, but applied for Slater’s extradition anyway and he voluntarily returned. 

At his trial defence witnesses provided Slater with an alibi and confirmed he had announced his intention to go to America long before the murder. However, in a miscarriage of justice, he was convicted anyway and sentenced to death. This was later commuted to life imprisonment after a petition organised by his lawyers was signed by 20,000 people. 

After nineteen years of hard labour in prison, Slater was freed through the efforts of a group of journalists, lawyers and writers, including Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Slater’s conviction was quashed in July 1928 on the grounds that the Judge had failed to direct the jury about the irrelevance of allegations relating to Slater’s previous character. Slater later settled in Ayr, where he repaired and sold antiques. 

49 West Princes Street, home of Marion Gilchrist (Credit Daniel Naczk, CC BY-SA 4.0)

WANT TO KNOW MORE? 

  • Check out Blythswood Square, home of Madeliene Smith, on our Gallus Glasgow map
  • Once there, why not explore the map and add a few stories of your own to our ‘Your Stories’ layer?
  • Prints of the map are available to buy in our online shop

Explore the City Chambers with our new digital tour!

Explore the City Chambers with our new digital tour!

Gallus Glasgow Learning Resources for schools

Download our Gallus Glasgow Inter-Disciplinary Learning Resources for schools!

Kids Trail Toolkit

Explore our new Kids Trail Toolkit!

A roomful of radicals? The Glasgow Society of Lady Artists

By Dr. Karen Mailley-Watt

‘There is no assumption that feminism looks the same in each place or time.’

– Lucy Delap, Feminisms: A Global History.

A RADICAL HISTORY

5 Blythswood Square – a blonde sandstone townhouse – now home to office workers, computers and time-consuming board meetings, contains within its walls a radical history not many Glaswegians, never mind many Scots, acknowledge. Nestled amongst other picturesque buildings, 5 Blythswood Square, just a stone’s throw away from The Glasgow School of Art (GSA), proudly stands out from the rest with its custom-commissioned doorway designed by the renowned architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928). His fame reaches around the world.However, the women who commissioned the unique entrance to the townhouse in 1908 are not as celebrated, nor fully acknowledged in Glasgow’s history. But they should be. Throughout the club’s history it boasted a multitude of pioneering women including the teacher and artist Ann Macbeth (1875-1948), the architects Edith M.B Hughes (1888-1971) and Margaret Brodie (1907-1997), and the campaigner, rebel-rouser and Suffragette Janie Allan (1868-1968).

THE GLASGOW SOCIETY OF LADY ARTISTS (GSLA)

The GSLA was established in 1882 by a group of GSA students in an attempt to combat the everyday sexism and misogynistic barriers which actively prevented them from progressing and flourishing in Scotland’s art world. With the Glasgow Art Club and The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts not accepting women until the 1980s, the early members of GSLA made it their mission to create a club which would help to promote the work of female artists and designers, to provide exhibition opportunities, and a form of sisterhood not catered for by the male-controlled art clubs in  Victorian Glasgow. The formation of a women-only club was in itself an act of rebellion, more so one which physically claimed space in a city not designed, nor catering for them.

Although the club was originally designed for artists it began to cater for other women by opening up membership to ‘lay’, non-artist members in the 1890s. A lay membership allowed members access to the club house and its facilities (of which there was a fine selection) without the exhibition opportunities afforded to Artist Members. The club had two previous homes before moving permanently to 5 Blythswood Square. From the 1880s the club occupied founder member Georgina Greenlees’ (1849-1932) studio space which she shared with her father, Robert Greenlees (1820-1904), at 136 Wellington Street. He was the Headmaster of the GSA from 1863 till 1881 and is attributed by several sources as encouraging the group to form and to undertake exhibitions. Demonstrating a can-do attitude for their exhibitions, the GSLA often borrowed other rooms in the Wellington Street building from a firm of lawyers  so that they had the space to exhibit all of the work they wished to show. Moving forward the club realised that this was not an adequate state of affairs. The Wellington Street space was soon deemed to be ‘too small for purposes’ and new premises were sought for the ever-growing membership. The club moved a short distance to 22 Charing Cross Mansions where they occupied three rooms which once again quickly became too small for the membership body. The expansion of membership options (Artist, Lay, Professional and Honorary) and the occupation of 5 Blythswood Square from 1893 allowed women to continue to grow a network and socialise in a female-controlled space. A safe place.

FEMINIST FORERUNNERS

These women, who established the club, were feminist forerunners who asserted their right and claim to a place in the city. The townhouse at 5 Blythswood Square had a dining room, living room, bedrooms, studio space and a custom-designed gallery (added in 1895).  During the club’s history the spaces were often flexible with some being adapted to suit the evolving requirements of the membership body e.g. by the 1930s some of the studios had been changed to make way for the addition of another bedroom. The bedrooms throughout the club’s history allowed women to have a safe space to stay, unchaperoned, and without society questioning their reputations. In the 1920s and 1930s in particular the clubhouse also helped to facilitate a connection with other like-minded women’s clubs, nationally and internationally, and to allow women freedom of movement via travel and accommodation linked with GSLA.

Similar to many feminist spaces of the 1960s and 1970s, the clubhouse was a place segregated away from men and male-dominated structures. It protected, empowered and was aesthetically reflective of the community housed within. In the townhouse, GSLA members had full control over who could enter the house and when they could occupy the space. Other women’s groups in the city such as The Kelvin Ladies Club (est.1897) met in hotels or other rooms to discuss their business and did not own a private clubhouse. Men were banned from the GSLA clubhouse unless being deemed of a professional benefit to members, e.g. as visiting exhibitors, purchasing art or providing educational lectures.  It was also a child-free space unless under very specific circumstances, and even then children were only allowed into the dining room. Through this active control of space, GSLA were promoting a very specific segregated space distinct from societal expectations of wifely duties and the domestic sphere of the home.

FEMINIST IDEOLOGIES

This fostering of exclusivity via membership and control of the space allowed for other pro-woman groups such as The Women’s Employment Bureau, a society established to help women gain employment, to utilise the clubhouse’s meeting room. This bubbling and cross-fertilisation of feminist ideologies allowed for many women, often pioneers in their own individual fields, to congregate at the clubhouse. Renowned suffrage campaigners associated with GSLA in the early twentieth century including Ann Macbeth, Dr Winifred Ross, Dr Katherine Chapman, Janie Allan, Eve Baker and Chris Stark. Furthermore, many other members of GSLA are recorded attending the infamous St. Andrews Bazaar in Glasgow in 1910 including Jessie M. King, Helen Paxton Brown, and De Courcy Lewthwaite Dewar as well as Chapman, Baker and Macbeth. The event aimed to raise funds for the suffrage cause via a variety of means such as stalls, auctions and entertainments. All of these women either were already GSLA members, or joined the same year as the Bazaar was held. Coincidence, or did the club support the women’s movement with its private meeting rooms, pro-woman ethos, large and engaging network and entry control to the clubhouse? A room full of radicals, or simply a comfortable meeting place for respectable ladies to take tea? I’ll let you decide.

Dr Karen Mailley-Watt is a Glaswegian historian who has a passion for rediscovering Glasgow’s radical and cultural histories in relation to the built environment. She is one half of the History Girls Frae Scotland.

Twitter: @mailley_watt

Instagram: @scottishwomenartists

WANT TO KNOW MORE? 

  • Check out The Glasgow Society of Lady Artists on our Gallus Glasgow map
  • Once there, why not explore the map and add a few stories of your own?
  • Prints of the map are available to buy in our online shop

Explore the City Chambers with our new digital tour!

Explore the City Chambers with our new digital tour!

Gallus Glasgow Learning Resources for schools

Download our Gallus Glasgow Inter-Disciplinary Learning Resources for schools!

Kids Trail Toolkit

Explore our new Kids Trail Toolkit!

Interactive Gallus Glasgow Guided Tours

Out and about in the city and looking for a bit of a steer? Why not check out our interactive Gallus Glasgow trails and find out more about the fate of the buildings that are depicted on Sulman’s map?

The Gallus Glasgow project by Glasgow City Heritage Trust tells to story of the city’s Victorian heritage through the eyes of Thomas Sulman, illustrator of the incredible Bird’s Eye View of Glasgow, 1864.

These tours explore the buildings shown on the map, that have survived or been lost, and what they can tell us about Victorian Glasgow. If you download the GuidiGo app to your phone or device you can follow the trail as you walk! 

LOST BUILDINGS

Itinerary: 10 stops
Duration: 2hrs

Stops include a village razed to make way for Central Station, the Lock Hospital for Unfortunate Women and Scotland’s only ‘well managed prison’…

SURVIVING BUILDINGS

Itinerary: 10 stops
Duration: 2hrs

Stops include Glasgow’s own Crystal Palace, Scotland’s first shopping mall and the world’s oldest surviving music hall, hidden above a suspended ceiling trapped in time…

You might also be interested in…

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

Online Talk: 19th Century Retail and the Rise of the Department Store

Wednesday 8th December 2021 | 7.30pm GMT | via Zoom

Focusing on architecture, window displays, and internal design, this talk will examine how Glasgow department stores, like their Parisian counterparts, became spaces not just of spectacle, but also of manipulation and disorientation.

The Map

“I feel like a bird soaring over the city when I gaze upon Sulman’s map, every nook and cranny with every detail so exact.

I can see where I came from and where I’m at.”

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

An open call for blog contributions

Interested in writing for GCHT? We’re opening up a call for blog articles for our Gallus Glasgow project. 

WHAT THIS IS ABOUT:

The Gallus Glasgow project uses Thomas Sulman’s intricate ‘Bird’s Eye View’ 1864 map of Glasgow as a catalyst for exploring the next 50 years of Glasgow’s development in the Victorian period, as it became ‘the Second City of the Empire’. A bespoke animation has been created by SUUM design studio that tells the story of the city of that time, whilst an interactive microsite featuring a zoomable version of the map will enable viewers to explore it in great detail. The project will also feature a series of events including online evening talks and short lunchtime seminars.

Throughout the project we hope to celebrate the achievements of the Victorian period in terms of Glasgow’s built heritage, but not shy away from the more difficult aspects and perhaps even turn a few established narratives on their head. From that point of view anything that might challenge the accepted view and surprise people would be of particular interest.

WHY WRITE FOR US? 

These are paid submissions! We can offer a fee of £100 per blog post.  Plus, you’ll be writing to help support the Glasgow City Heritage Trust and the Gallus Glasgow project. 

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity, and helping us expand and improve our educational resources is a great way to support us. Use the blog as a chance to share your knowledge with the community, or as an excuse to learn something new. You’ll get feedback from us, and end up with published writing to put on your CV.

Close, No. 118 High Street. Image: Annan Photographs Glasgow.

WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR:

We’re seeking articles that people will enjoy reading and that help them learn more about Glasgow’s Victorian built heritage and related topics. Here’s some of the kinds of things you could write about:

  • Stories about ordinary people’s lives – we are particularly interested in stories about women, children and the working classes. 
  • The legacy of slavery and Empire in the Victorian period. 
  • Immigration in the 19th century and its impact on the city and its communities. 
  • The impact of the industrial revolution on buildings, places and people’s lives.
  • Glasgow’s urban development in the period 1800-1900.
  • Maps and mapping.
  • Sport and leisure in Victorian Glasgow.
  • A particular building featured on Sulman’s map or built 1864-1914.
  • An architect, working in Glasgow during the period.
  • Or whatever else you’d like to write about related to Victorian Glasgow or Sulman’s Bird’s Eye View that you think our community would be interested in.

HOW THE SUBMISSION PROCESS WORKS:

  1. Write a draft of an article. Have fun with it.
  2. Submit your draft to us by email. See below! The draft should be a Word, Pages or Google Docs document (no PDFs).
  3. If we think it’s a good fit, our team will review it and suggest changes if necessary. 
  4. Approval, proofing, and publication.

We’ll try to respond to every submission, but we’re a small team, so please be patient with response times. We have a limited budget, so we might not be able to accept every submission. You will be paid only if your contribution is published.

ARTICLE GUIDELINES

  • Blogs should be 400 – 1,000 words max and in Word, Pages or Google Docs format.
  • Write in an informal tone, we find that delivers better results than an academic style
  • Content should be tailored to our target audience of women aged 25-45 years old. For us this means it might: 
    • Be thought provoking & eye-opening
    • Be well-informed but not patronising
    • Tell diverse stories
    • Be relatable to ordinary Glaswegians
    • Be uplifting & celebratory but doesn’t gloss over tough subjects – challenging at times.

Information to be submitted with your blog:

  • Title of the article, set in bold.
  • Your name directly below the title.
  • A brief writer’s profile of no more than three sentences
  • A link to your social media profile(s) (optional)
  • A high-res photograph of yourself (optional). Photos can be professional or more relaxed.
  • At least one illustrative image to accompany the blog
    • A caption for your image.
    • You’ll need to report the source (the images shouldn’t be protected by copyright). If the image is from the internet then please send a link as well.
    • Images should be at least 800px wide.
    • Images are not to be inserted into the text, but are to be sent as a separate attachment.

HOW WE’LL CREDIT YOU:

  • All authors of blog posts will be cited in the published item and a short profile can be included at the end of your piece, with links to your social media profiles, if provided.
  • All text published on GCHT’s website will be under a Creative Commons license, whereby work can be quoted or reproduced elsewhere as long as it is properly attributed and linked back to GCHT, and as long as it is not reproduced for commercial use.
  • The guest blog will be added to our website, and shared across our, and potentially our partners, social networks. We will tag you in any social posts, where possible. 

SOUND GOOD? 

If you would like to chat to us about your chosen topic, you can forward your questions or suggestions to the Outreach team by email,  outreach@glasgowheritage.org.uk. Your email should be clearly marked with the words ‘Blog entry’ in the title. Though, please note, we do not require a topic to be pre-approved and we accept submissions on a rolling basis.

Have fun, and good luck!

Meet the Man Behind the Map

A back and white victorian engraving of a middle aged man in profile. He waers a dark heavy coat, a white shirt and bowtie. He has a heavy beard, prominent eyebrows and a receding hairline.

THOMAS SULMAN (1832 – 1900)

Thomas Sulman was an English architectural draftsman. He studied at The Working Men’s College between 1854 and 1858, where he was a student of, and later an engraver for, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 

Sulman drew and engraved images for newspaper and magazine advertisements. While his work may have seemed glamorous and exciting, Sulman appears to have been a modest man, and relatively little is known about him. We’ve done some digging, to try to reveal the man behind the maps. 

EARLY LIFE

Sulman was born on 21st July 1832 in Islington, London and raised by his parents Thomas, a watchmaker, and Mary. At the age of 18 he is described as a ‘draughtsman on wood’ in the 1851 census. The family was clearly comfortable, and has one servant. 

His family were church goers and seem to have instilled in him a charitable outlook. His parents were involved in the establishment of a ‘Ragged School’ – charitable organisations dedicated to the free education of destitute children – in Waterloo, where Sulman eventually met his wife, Mary. 

DRAUGHTSMAN

Sulman trained as an engraver and illustrator at the Working Men’s College in London. Founded in 1854, and still in existence today, their ethos is the provision of adult education for those who have otherwise struggled to receive it.

22 year old Sulman entered the College on its opening. Memories of his time there are captured in an article in Good Words journal (1897, pp. 547-551), where he describes art classes taught under the instruction of one John Ruskin;

“Never without an afterglow of grateful memory will the first art class of the Working Men’s College be remembered by those few living who were privileged to belong to it’.

The college boasted Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Ruskin, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown among its early teachers. Instruction in art at the college was thus decidedly Pre-Raphaelite.

By 1871 Sulman is living with Mary and their three children at Chetwynd Villas, London. The house would have been brand new, in an area described by Charles Booth, the philanthropist who surveyed poverty in the capital, as ‘Fairly comfortable. Good ordinary earnings.’ They had Sulman’s mother living with them, as well as a servant, and an apprentice, Charles R Wilson. This is right in the midst of his time working for the Illustrated London News, so we can assume he’s doing fairly well. 

THE MAPS

A number of online sources tell us that Sulman became a specialist in using balloons to produce birds-eye views of cities including London, Oxford, Glasgow and New York City. However, we have no evidence of the process that Sulman used. He was an architectural illustrator, and our best guess is that he used a combination of hot air balloon, photography, and Ordnance Survey mapping to create his illustrations. These views, as hand coloured engravings produced with the help of London engraver Robert Loudan Sr., were featured in The Illustrated London News from the 1860s, and were sometimes produced to a fold-out six foot length. 

Our Bird’s Eye View of Glasgow, 1864, was engraved by Sulman and included in the 24th March 1864 issue of the Illustrated London News. 

Other panoramic maps produced by Sulman include: 

1861 – London
1865 – Liverpool
1868 – Edinburgh
1872 – Boston
1876 – New York
1887 – Newcastle

In 1891 he produced high-level views of major London thoroughfares for Herbert Fry’s London: Illustrated by Twenty Bird’s Eye Views of the Principal Streets engraved by George William Ruffle (1838–1901).

'From Charing Cross, through Pall Mall to Pimlico' by Thomas Sulman for Herbert Fry's 'London: Illustrated by Twenty Bird's Eye Views of the Principal Streets'.
'New York from Bergen Hill: Hoboken' London: The Illustrated London News, 1876.

POSITIVISM

Sulman was influenced by Positivist thinkers at the Working Men’s College and became part of the Church of Humanity,  inspired by Auguste Comte’s religion of humanity in France. 

Positivism captured the Victorian imagination. It held the interest of thinkers as diverse as Annie Besant, HM Hyndman, John Ruskin, Charles Booth and Beatrice Webb.  The branch of the Church of Humanity that Sulman was part of was very much a ritualistic religion. It is often seen as an eccentric passing phase – a curious ‘Catholicism minus Christianity’ – is a popular quip. 

Comte stated that the pillars of the religion are:

  • altruism, leading to generosity and selfless dedication to others.
  • order: Comte thought that after the French Revolution, society needed restoration of order.
  • progress: the consequences of industrial and technical breakthroughs for human societies.

Comte “made art an integral part of his system and attributed to it a leading role” in his new Positivist society. For Comte certain social conditions were necessary for art to flourish – namely that the relationship between artist, spectator and society had to be harmonious and stable. This interpretation of the function of art was very closely related to that of Ruskin, William Morris and the followers of the Arts and Crafts Movement. 

It was a response to rapid urbanisation, imperialistic wrongs and the Victorian crisis of faith.

GALLUS-NESS

On his sudden death in November 1900 following a seizure, a memorial sermon was preached at the Church of Humanity 16 December, 1900 by his friend Henry Crompton (CROMPTON, H. (1901). Thomas Sulman: a memorial sermon. London, Church of Humanity). 

It’s clear from Crompton’s words that if Victorian Glasgow was gallus – bold, cheeky and flashy Sulman was the opposite. 

“He lived for others. He was loved by all who knew him…If he had faults we knew them not: unless the fullness of his generosity could be deemed a fault. In him it seemed a glorious virtue. In him it was a generosity which issued in true charity – charitable judgement of other lives, generous appreciation of others’ labours.”

“He was my intimate friend for more than thirty years, and yet I cannot remember a single angry word from him, spoken or written, or any gesture of impatience or anger.”

Considering the world that Sulman lived in – enjoying global travel, professional success and association with great artists and thinkers of the day – little is known about the man himself. This is borne out in Sulman’s eulogy which states that, “outside his family, there were no great events to record of him.”

“If his life has been simple, it has been beautiful : life as it should be, without great disturbing or exciting events, of constant culture, improvement, and development.”

LEGACY

Sulman’s youngest child, Dora, follows in his footsteps and becomes an illustrator. Dora Sulman was at the famous Slade Art School with another famous illustrator Ethel Walker, during the time often referred to now, as the “golden age of illustration” before World War 1. 

Following her father’s death, Dora took over his offices near Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the Royal Courts of Justice in London, where he had shared premises with solicitors, architects & surveyors. Later, Dora had a Thames-side studio at Chelsea, and she was great friends with other artists of that period such as Clare Atwood, Beatrice Bland and Eleanor Best. She created illustrations for books and advertisements. 

'Bracken in June' ill. Dora Sulman, in 'Hampshire Days' by William Henry Hudson, 1903
'The Barrow on the Heath' ill. Dora Sulman, in 'Hampshire Days' by William Henry Hudson, 1903

In the directions Thomas Sulman left for his family upon his death, he wrote the words,

“Think of me always as saying to you all, Love is enough.”

You might also be interested in…

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

Online Talk: 19th Century Retail and the Rise of the Department Store

Wednesday 8th December 2021 | 7.30pm GMT | via Zoom

Focusing on architecture, window displays, and internal design, this talk will examine how Glasgow department stores, like their Parisian counterparts, became spaces not just of spectacle, but also of manipulation and disorientation.

The Map

“I feel like a bird soaring over the city when I gaze upon Sulman’s map, every nook and cranny with every detail so exact.

I can see where I came from and where I’m at.”

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

The Map

“I feel like a bird soaring over the city when I gaze upon Sulman’s map, every nook and cranny with every detail so exact.

I can see where I came from and where I’m at.”

A large highly detailed panoramic map, with margins all the way around the edge and the word Glasgow in the bottom centre.

This project brings to life an intricate, highly detailed ‘Bird’s Eye View’ of Glasgow drawn in 1864 and published on 24 March 1864 as a supplement in the Illustrated London News.

BIRD’S EYE VIEWS

Birds Eye Views of cities in Britain began with a view of Oxford by Georg Hoefnagel in 1575, but it is with Sulman’s Bird’s Eye View of Glasgow that they arguably achieved their finest expression.

Variously known as Bird’s Eye Views, picture plans, prospect views, panoramas, and cityscapes, these representations of great cities became hugely popular in the mid-19th century.

Produced almost four decades before the first aeroplane took to the skies, the tremendous scale and intricate level of detail of this bird’s-eye view of Glasgow is truly mind-blowing.

GLASGOW FROM ABOVE

The view includes the entirety of central Glasgow, looking north from the south side of the River Clyde towards the Campsie Fells, as seen from a fixed point high above the city. 

Rather fascinatingly, recognisable landmarks throughout the city such as the the City Chambers and the Glasgow School of Art have yet to be built allowing us to see in great detail what existed there before.

The frequently deepened Clyde teems with sail and steam shipping and its banks are packed with cranes and warehouses. The smokestacks of the thriving chemical industry of the era are seen to the northeast, a key driver of the westward expansion of the city. The foundations for new tenement buildings around Kelvingrove Park are further evidence of this westward movement. Every section of this panorama provides fascinating detail to study. 

MAKING THE MAP

It is thought that the advent of hot air ballooning in the 1820s played a major role in the popularisation of these panoramas. Granting a higher vantage point increased the field of view of the artist, allowing for a greater sweep and broader perspective. However, the vast majority of the draughtsmanship would still have taken place at ground level and been informed by contemporary mapping. 

Unfortunately, we have no evidence of the process that Sulman used. He was an architectural illustrator, and our best guess is that he used a combination of hot air balloon, photography, and Ordnance Survey mapping to create the bird’s eye.

This ground level mapping is evident in the remarkable level of architectural detail visible in the civic buildings, monuments and churches captured in this view. The perspective has been altered to exaggerate the affluent north of the city, and streets widened to allow these architectural features to be seen in full.

Using the 1st edition OS map of the city and the far left (Gilmour Hill House) and right (Necropolis) points of the bird’s eye, we believe you can make a fairly accurate estimation of the location the view was taken from on the southside of the city, probably around where Queens Park sits today. 

The map itself is almost 4 feet long! It would have probably been printed on newsprint paper – the same as the Illustrated London News itself. 

COLOURFUL GLASGOW 

Many of the surviving maps are black and white, but this copy is hand coloured. Each of the hand coloured maps is subtly different, as can be seen by comparison with the version held by the University of Glasgow. 

The 29 March 1864 Illustrated London News suggests that the supplement wasn’t supplied as a coloured version, although we’ve never seen an original issue of the full paper with the supplement to be certain. If there’s an original and intact newspaper and supplement out there we’d love to hear about it! 

The front page states “… with two coloured pictures and large view of Glasgow”, while an advert from an earlier issue reads “Large view of Glasgow, and two coloured engravings…” This wording suggests the bird’s eye itself was black and white.

So who coloured them? We don’t know if it was the Illustrated London News, or some other enterprising body, that added colour and offered them for sale. We think they were coloured around the same time though, and it was likely that they were hand coloured in a workshop with a team of people using a set palette of colours. This is our best guess based on how botanical illustrations were done at the time. We think that there were probably just a few hundred colour copies, but again, this is our best guess as we haven’t found any evidence as yet. It is almost certainly watercolour due to the transparency of the paint and the style of the mark making.

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE: GCHT'S copy of the map.
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE: University of Glasgow's copy of the map.

OTHER MAPS

Other panoramic maps produced by Sulman include: 

OUR ORIGINAL

Glasgow City Heritage Trust has held a copy of the map, displayed on the wall in its offices for several years. A high resolution digital scan was made, which has been digitally restored to reinstate the contrast and vibrancy of the colours. 

The original map came with a key, which we don’t have. Ours has been backed onto a stronger paper at some point which has no doubt helped to preserve it! Ours was purchased by a former member of staff – Gordon Urquhart – around 2011.

Gordon says:

I’ve always been fascinated by this image, ever since I first settled in Glasgow in the ‘80s. But I only ever came across rather poor B&W copies of it, often so reduced down from the original size so offering very little detail.
Then,  I happened upon a colour version in beautiful condition – but in the most unlikely of places. It was in a little antiquarian bookshop (“antiquarische boekhandel”) called Egidius in Haarlemmerstraat, in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam, a place I used to frequent anytime I was in the city.
I always visit rare booksellers when overseas – you never know what you might find, and if it pertains to your home town and you’re hundreds or thousands of miles away then chances are you’ll get a much better price than you would in a local shop or book fair in your own patch. That’s how I bought my first set of Macfarlane’s Castings catalogues thirty years ago – in an architectural bookshop in downtown San Francisco!
So that day I when I was passing along Haarlemmerstraat I popped in for a wee browse and nearly fell over when I saw the framed colour print of Sulman’s Glasgow along with the usual old maps of the Low Countries and Rembrandtesque etchings. I told Torsten [GCHT Director] about it when I returned, knowing that I’d be passing through Schiphol airport later that year on a trip back from the New York.  So we took a chance that it would still be for sale – and of course it was! So, returning from NY, rather than killing time in airport I popped into town, snapped up the print and brought it home safely in a cardboard tube.  Then we set about getting it framed for the office – once we made a high-res scan.
I often wondered how this Glasgow view managed to end up in the Netherlands.  Unfortunately, the owner, Jan Fictoor, didn’t recall at the time.  Though he did seem very glad to finally sell it!

The shop in Amsterdam where our map was bought in 2011.
The framed original map on the wall at our Bell Street offices.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

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Online Talk: 19th Century Retail and the Rise of the Department Store

Wednesday 8th December 2021 | 7.30pm GMT | via Zoom

Focusing on architecture, window displays, and internal design, this talk will examine how Glasgow department stores, like their Parisian counterparts, became spaces not just of spectacle, but also of manipulation and disorientation.

Edward’s story

A DIFFERENT DIRECTION Another day at the warehouse done. He’s a clerk, so there’s always lots of paperwork to get through and it requires great attention to detail. He’s a conscientious and well-organised individual though, so he enjoys it and the satisfaction he gets when a job is done well. 

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