Video Recording: 19th Century Retail and the Rise of the Department Store

Support us

Like many other charities, the coronavirus outbreak is having a major impact on our activities, threatening our crucial work to protect, repair and celebrate Glasgow’s rich built heritage. As a result, we expect to lose an important part of our income this year.

We are therefore asking that if you are able to support our conservation and outreach work,
please consider donating to the Trust.

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

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and your support is crucial to ensure that our charitable work promoting the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic buildings for the benefit of the city’s communities and its visitors continues now, and in the future.

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

Video Recording: The TREE, the BIRD, the FISH, the BELL …and the PHOTOGRAPHER: Thomas Annan’s Glasgow

Support us

Like many other charities, the coronavirus outbreak is having a major impact on our activities, threatening our crucial work to protect, repair and celebrate Glasgow’s rich built heritage. As a result, we expect to lose an important part of our income this year.

We are therefore asking that if you are able to support our conservation and outreach work,
please consider donating to the Trust.

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

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and your support is crucial to ensure that our charitable work promoting the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic buildings for the benefit of the city’s communities and its visitors continues now, and in the future.

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

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.

Online Talk: Glasgow: The Home of Modern World Football

Wednesday 16th March 2022 | 7.30pm BST | via Zoom

Most football fans suffer under the delusion that England invented football. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ged O’Brien will use the Sulman Map to look at a small pocket of Glasgow: around the Green, the Old College and the Barracks. As the City grew beyond this popular district, football advanced across the globe. The Combination Game was spread by players christened ‘Scotch Professors’, in recognition of their extraordinary skills. Their gifts arose from a Scottish communitarian and scientific culture. Football was brought to perfection in the brilliance of the Glasgow of the late nineteenth century.

Ged O’Brien is the founder of the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park. He is the discoverer of Andrew Watson: the world’s most influential player of colour. He is the author of ‘Played in Glasgow’ and is currently writing ‘The Scottish Game: How Scotland invented Modern World Football’.

Free, booking required, donations welcome. 

[ESPRESSO_TICKET_SELECTOR event_id=19162]

Please note: Payment is taken via PayPal but you do not need to have a PayPal account to pay online. 

We are using Zoom to broadcast our live talks. You can join these events as a participant without creating a Zoom account. You do not need to have a webcam or a microphone to join the event as a participant.

All events are subtitled. We aim to make our events as accessible as possible but if you feel that you might need some additional help, please let us know when you book your ticket or get in touch in advance. We’re open to feedback and would welcome your ideas on how we can improve in this area.

You will receive instructions on joining the event by email. If you haven’t received anything by midday on the day of the event, please check your spam folder and then contact us.

All events are recorded and everyone who has booked will be sent a link to the recording to watch again after the event. We are a small team and this can take a couple of weeks so please bear with us!

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.

***SOLD OUT*** Workshop: Basket Weaving with Max Johnson

Rescheduled date: Thursday 10th March 2022 | 6-8pm GMT | Mesa, 567 Duke Street, Glasgow, G31 1PY

The story goes that Thomas Sulman took to the skies in a hot air balloon to draw his intricate Bird’s Eye View of Glasgow in 1864. It’s thought the advent of hot air ballooning in the 1820’s had played a major role in the popularisation of panoramas like Sulman’s, as the higher vantage point increased the field of view of the artist, allowing for greater sweep and broader perspective. 

Taking hot air balloon baskets as our inspiration, this Gallus Glasgow workshop will be led by Max Johnson, a Glasgow based forager who runs the The Wash House Garden, which includes an organic urban market garden, basketry and workshops. 

Join us to see how Max creates his beautiful handwoven baskets, using locally foraged dogwood sticks. Max will then talk about what foraged woods we can use for basic basketry work and will teach participants how to make a mini-wreath out of dogwood. Next, we’ll use the skills learned in making the wreath, plus some new techniques, to make a tension tray, or Catalan platter.

You’ll be provided with all the materials you need to try your hand at this fascinating traditional craft, including dogwood sticks and secateurs, and can even take them home with you to keep so that you can continue to work on your projects!

Refreshments will also be served.  

Please note this is an in-person event and current Covid guidance will be complied with. 

£40 per person, booking required

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You might also be interested in…

Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

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.

Online Talk: Off the Map with Norry Wilson

Wednesday 26th January 2022 | 7.30pm – 9pm GMT | via Zoom

Join Lost Glasgow’s Norry Wilson as he uses Sulman’s map, and Shadow’s ‘Midnight Scenes and Social Photographs’ (1858), to explore the square mile of the city lost to the building of St Enoch Station. It’s a dark tale of Glasgow as ‘Gotham’; one of vanished wynds, dirty dens, music halls, brothels, sugar houses, and shebeens.

Free, booking required, donations welcome. 

[ESPRESSO_TICKET_SELECTOR event_id=19093]

Please note: Payment is taken via PayPal but you do not need to have a PayPal account to pay online. 

We are using Zoom to broadcast our live talks. You can join these events as a participant without creating a Zoom account. You do not need to have a webcam or a microphone to join the event as a participant.

All events are subtitled. We aim to make our events as accessible as possible but if you feel that you might need some additional help, please let us know when you book your ticket or get in touch in advance. We’re open to feedback and would welcome your ideas on how we can improve in this area.

You will receive instructions on joining the event by email. If you haven’t received anything by midday on the day of the event, please check your spam folder and then contact us.

All events are recorded and everyone who has booked will be sent a link to the recording to watch again after the event. We are a small team and this can take a couple of weeks so please bear with us!

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.

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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.”

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Online Talk: The Glasgow Lock Hospital for Unfortunate Females

Wednesday 9th March 2022 | 7.30pm BST | via Zoom

At 41 Rottenrow, hidden in plain sight, the Glasgow Lock Hospital for Unfortunate Females once stood. Opening its doors in 1845, this new purpose built hospital was Glasgow’s only provision for women with venereal disease, and it was quickly overwhelmed. 

The Annual Report covering the Lock’s first 10 years indicates thousands of women and girls applying for treatment. They are listed as mill girls, servants, widows, actresses, ballet girls and even schoolgirls. They were cited in their diseased state by codewords and terms such as ‘newly fallen’ or ‘hardened’. They were kept in reformatory conditions and medical treatments were more experimental than effective, for example mercury vapour baths were used as a potential cure It was common knowledge that few survived their stay at the Lock.  

Join us for this evening talk by Anna Forrest to find out more about this infamous place: who were these women and how did they end up there, and what happened to them once there? 

Anna Forrest has carried out extensive research on the Glasgow Lock Hospital. Her interest began whilst she was working as a Librarian at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, which features a ‘Lock Room’ containing records relating to the hospital. Over many years Anna pieced together the history of the hospital, which she had originally been told didn’t exist, with the aim of making sure the public knew the stories of  the women and girls treated there. 

Free, booking required, donations welcome. 

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Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

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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.

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
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