The Father of Clyde Shipbuilding
Brian D. Osborne
(Printed, 1991, by Dumbarton District Libraries, Dumbarton, Scotland)Robert Napier, the man often described as ‘the father of Clyde shipbuilding”, was born on 21st June 1791, to James and Jean Napier, in their home in Walker’s Close in the High Street of Dumbarton. The boy grew up to become one of the great Victorian industrialists and to do more than any other man of his age to make the Clyde the world’s pre-eminent shipbuilding river. James Napier came from an established Dumbarton family of engineers, blacksmiths and mill-wrights; he and his brother John were in partnership locally, while a third brother, Robert, left to become blacksmith to the Duke of Argyll at Inveraray. James, John and Robert’s mother was Jean Denny, from another Dumbarton family destined to achieve fame as shipbuilders and engineers.
The firm did mill-wright work for the textile industry of the Vale of Leven and sub-contract finishing work on cannon cast at the Clyde Iron Works. The Napiers’ works boasted two steam engines, one a Newcomen type used to power a boring mill. Robert was born into a prosperous family business at a time when the effects of the Industrial Revolution were becoming increasingly evident – as demonstrated by the Newcomen engine. His childhood and apprenticeship almost exactly coincide with the period of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Wartime demand for munitions and equipment increased the prosperity of firms such as the Napiers up and down the land.
Robert was sent to the Burgh School where, in addition to the regular curriculum, he had lessons in drawing, a course of study whose long term effects were perhaps seen in his later interest in painting and the fine arts. His father had hoped Robert would enter the ministry of the Church of Scotland but the boy’s interests lay in the family business and the chance of a university education went to his younger brother Peter, who became Minister of Blackfriars Church in Glasgow. At sixteen Robert became apprenticed to his father. At first no formal indenture was signed but near capture in a raid on Dumbarton by a Navy press-gang led, two years after he started work, to a contract being drawn up – an indentured apprentice being exempt from forced conscription.
His five year apprenticeship complete Robert worked on for a time in Dumbarton as a Journeyman with his father but then moved to Edinburgh to gain wider experience. After a difficult start, when, in his own graphic phrase: … he had often to count the lamp-posts for his supper, he secured a position with Robert Stevenson, the founder of another dynasty of famous engineers, the engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board and famed as the builder of the Bell Rock lighthouse.
In 1815 he went into business on his own account. Borrowing £50 from his father, he rented premises in Greyfriar’s Wynd off the High Street of Glasgow and took on two apprentices. On 21st August he was admitted as a Burgess of Glasgow and four days later entered the body which regulated the city’s engineering trades, The Incorporation of Hammermen – as the Register records: Robert Napier, Smith in Glasgow, a Freeman’s son, made and gave in a Bored Hammer as his Essay, and showed his burgess ticket …
He was not the first Napier with a Glasgow connection as the Register shows, his father was a Freeman and his uncle John had in 1802 set up business near Jamaica Street. Robert soon became active in the affairs of the Hammermen, becoming Collector in 1818 and Deacon in 1820. In 1818 he married his cousin Isabella, John Napier’s daughter and moved to a house in Weaver Street near Glasgow Cathedral. His work in these first years was varied – in the early 1820’s he had a contract to manufacture pipes for a Glasgow waterworks scheme and produced a 12 h.p. steam engine for a Dundee mill.
This last was useful experience for his entry into the field of marine steam engines which came in 1823 – just eleven years after Henry Bell’s “Comet” had sailed down the Clyde to revolutionise maritime transport. Napier always acknowledged Henry Bell’s pioneering efforts; in 1826 he, with the other leading Clyde engineers signed a testimonial to the part Bell had played in the development of steam navigation. In 1851 he erected a statue of the pioneer in Rhu churchyard and in 1872 was a major contributor to the cost of erecting the Bell Monument in West Clyde Street, Helensburgh.
Robert’s local connections undoubtedly helped him to win, from the Dumbarton ship-builder and shipowner James Lang, the engine contract for the “Leven” steamer. This may have been Napier’s first marine engine but it was a good one – so good that it was later fitted to another ship, “Queen of Beauty” and later presented to Dumbarton by Napier’s heirs. This remarkable relic of the first days of steam still survives and has now found an appropriate resting place outside the former Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank. The ” Leven” engine was built at Robert’s new premises at Camlachie Foundry which he had leased in 1821 from his cousin (and brother-in-law) David.
In 1827 a light-hearted event proved to have profound implications for Napier’s career. The Northern Yacht Club at their August Regatta promoted a steamboat race for a twenty guinea cup. The Clyde’s crack boats competed but the two fastest vessels proved to be the Napier engined “Clarence” and “Helensburgh”, a success which greatly enhanced Napier’s reputation. In 1828 Robert established the Vulcan Foundry in Glasgow’s Washington Street and his order book continued to grow. Not the least of Napier’s contributions to Clyde shipbuilding were the many leading shipbuilders and engineers who trained under him or who were, at a formative stage in their careers, employed by him. For example James Thomson was employed as Napier’s leading smith in 1828 and later went on with his brother George (also an ex-Napier employee) to found the Clydebank shipyard of j & G Thomson, which is probably better known by its later name of John Brown & Company, and many other Clydeside yards were run by old Napier men.
By the early 1830’s Napier had become a figure of note in engineering circles and was being consulted on the possibilities of a steamship service from Liverpool to New York. An expanding workload persuaded him to lease, in 1836, David Napier’s Lancefield Works. Robert had previously specialised in building engines for coastal steamers but 1835 saw an important contract from the East India Company to engine their ocean-going paddle sloop “Berenice”. English engineers criticised this major contract going to a provincial builder. When, however, “Berenice” beat her Thames built consort “Atlanta” by 18 days on their maiden passages to India the critics were answered.
Robert’s greatest contribution to international shipping came through his work for Samuel Cunard. Cunard, a Canadian business-man and shipowner, planned a regular transatlantic liner service with an eye to the valuable Government mail contract and came to England early in 1839 to open up negotiations. Despite warnings from London and Liverpool interests, suspicious of the developing Clyde shipbuilding industry, Cunard decided to come to Scotland for his ships. Napier had given much thought to a transatlantic service and so was soon able to produce specifications for the planned 800 ton, 300 h.p. ships. He however soon convinced Cunard that larger and more powerful ships would meet his needs better, offering to cut his profit in order to get Cunard to invest in the bigger vessels.
In fact the three 375 h.p. 960 ton ships contracted for were never built. As a result of changed Government requirements and pressure from Napier, who as always detested the idea of a sub-standard job: … I cannot and will not admit of anything into these engines but what … is sound and good the contract eventually provided for four 420hp 1150 ton ships one of which, the “Caledonia”, was built in Dumbarton at Charles Wood’s premises at the Dockyard.
The extra ship and the increase in size raised Cunard’s costs and there was little evidence of support from English investors. Napier, with a group of Glasgow friends and business partners, was able to float the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Coy. (which later became the Cunard Steam Ship Coy. Ltd.) with Samuel Cunard as the main shareholder, Napier himself investing £6100 of the initial capital of £270,000. Establishing this great shipping company was no easy task – the mail contract might be lucrative but the penalty clauses for delay were severe. It was largely Napier’s reputation and his proven ability to provide reliable and powerful engines which persuaded his fellow Glaswegians to invest in Cunard’s high-risk venture.
As significant as the Cunard connection was Napier’s first Admiralty contract. This came in 1838 and was for engines for the paddle sloops “Vesuvius” and “Stromboli”. Ordering these engines from Clydeside (the ships being built at Sheerness and Portsmouth respectively) was a radical departure for a highly conservative Admiralty. In any case still somewhat suspicious of steam-ships, they preferred dealing with the Thames-side builders and engineers. Despite the success of the Napier-built engines the Admiralty reverted to their usual suppliers and did not place further orders in Glasgow. Some official embarrassment was doubtless caused by a Parliamentary Question, asking for original costs, costs of repairs and time out of commission for steam vessels ordered between 1839 and 1843. The reply proved Napier’s engines to be cheaper and more reliable than those from the English yards. Thereafter Napier was a regular Admiralty contractor!
Up to 1841 Napier had been solely an engine builder, although often acting as a contract manager for his clients; the hull contracts very often going to John Wood at Port Glasgow. Wood was however solely a builder of wooden ships and the demand for iron construction was growing fast. Napier took steps to expand his company to meet these new challenges; his brother James left a partnership with their cousin William to join Robert, who exercised his option to buy Lancefield. Later that year he bought land and established his own iron shipbuilding yard at Govan. In 1842 his company was strengthened by appointing his talented kinsman William Denny (II) as … draftsman, modeller and inspector … and to give instruction to your sons regarding drafting and building of vessels.
The new yard, whose first launch came in June 1843 with the aptly named “Vanguard” for the Dublin & Glasgow Steam Packet Coy., was soon busy with the contract for the Royal Navy’s first iron steamers, the gun-vessels “Jackal”, “Lizard” and “Bloodhound”. Napier’s connection with the Navy was not confined to building its ships. The Navy was adjusting, with difficulties, to the new age of steam but lacked facilities to train its officers in engineering. Napier was asked to allow the attachment of naval officers to his yard to learn something of the vessels they would be serving in.
Napier’s record of achievements is remarkable. In 1849 he built “Leviathan”, the world’s first train ferry, for the North British Railway’s service from Granton to Burntisland. When the beautiful Cunarder “Persia” was launched in 1854 she was the world’s largest ship. The ironclad “Black Prince” launched from Govan in 1861 was, at 9800 tons, the largest ship built on the Clyde to that time.
His fame and reputation was now international. A juror at the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition in 1851 he served in a similar capacity at the Paris Exhibition of 1855 and was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion D’Honneur by Napoleon III. In 1863 he became President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Although by the late 1860’s he had largely retired he still maintained his overseas links. In 1867 Napoleon III appointed him a Royal Commissioner at the Paris Exhibition and he was presented to the Empress Eugenie. Napier was consulted and respected by Governments all over Europe. He received high honours from France and Denmark but not from his own country. The British Government, which Napier had served so well in the modernisation of the Navy and the training of its officers, never honoured him. Quite why is unclear. Perhaps he had made himself unpopular in his earlier days by his forthright and independent attitude and the efforts of supporters to prove the superiority of his products had doubtless proved irritating to some vested interests.
There is no evidence that Napier was upset by this lack of official recognition. He had many other compensations; a long and happy marriage, the success of his business, the respect of his peers. He was also a keen art collector and his home, West Shandon, housed a remarkable collection of paintings, furniture, porcelain etc. In 1833 he had bought land by the Gareloch to build a cottage but later decided to build an imposing mansion capable of housing this art collection and designed to his tastes by the Glasgow architect John Thomas Rochead. After his death the house sold for £37,500. The art collection, which included old masters of the Dutch, French and Italian schools as well as work by nineteenth century artists like Raeburn and Horatio McCulloch realised £49,000, a figure which needs to be multiplied some 25 to 30 times to translate to present day values. West Shandon was completed by 1852 and many visitors to the area were welcomed there by the tall, distinguished figure of Robert Napier. It was his custom, unusual to the point of eccentricity in the formal Victorian era, to greet all his female visitors with a “Shandon salute” – a kiss on the cheek. This courtesy he even made so bold as to extend to Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, who visited him in 1871 after her marriage to the Marquess of Lorne (later the 9th Duke of Argyll). The Princess was, it is reported, amused rather than offended by the old man’s gallantry.
His wife Isabella died in 1875 after a marriage of 57 years. Napier’s grief was profound and he lost interest in his usual pursuits. Shortly afterwards he suffered a serious illness from which he made only a partial recovery and on 23rd June 1876 died at West Shandon aged 85.
He was buried in the family vault in the Parish Churchyard of Dumbarton. The body came by road from Shandon by the Gareloch, where ships at anchor flew their flags at half mast, through Helensburgh, where the streets were lined and the bells of the three town churches tolled for an hour. Fourteen hundred of his firm’s workmen came from Glasgow and Govan by special train to Dalreoch and accompanied the coffin for the last mile to its burying place.
An obituary in the ‘Glasgow Herald” summed up Napier’s character well: The value of a life like that of Robert Napier is its great earnestness and singleness of purpose. He might have become a rich man much sooner than he did if he had scamped his work and had only pecuniary results in view. These he utterly disregarded. He was a poor financier, but he was a noble workman, with a soul above money and meanness in all its forms.
One might dispute whether he was in fact so poor a financier as the writer suggests. His estate which included the shipyard and large property interests in Glasgow and shareholdings in a various other industrial concerns realised well over £400,000 – or perhaps £10 to 12 million in today’s values. That he was a noble workman cannot be denied. Sir James Melvill of the East India Company wrote to Napier in 1856 and told him that he was: … the man who, above all other living men, was given practical effect to the inventions of Watt, and has passed to the world the great blessing of steam navigation. I in my conscience believe that the best vessels afloat are those with which you have had to do.
By his pioneering efforts, his noted insistence on quality and good workmanship, his technical innovation, and his encouragement of many of the leading shipbuilders and engineers of his day and of the next generation, Robert Napier did more than any other to establish the Clyde’s world-wide reputation and may indeed with justice be called “the father of Clyde shipbuilding.”
Copyright ©1991 Brian D. Osborne
[With thanks to Mr Brian D. Osborne for his permission to reproduce this article]
In those days the majority of the houses were congregated about the bishop’s palace and the upper portion of the High Street; and the common people are described as living in a state of ignorance, poverty, and semi-barbarism. In troublous times men went about the streets constantly armed; and it was not by any means uncommon for clergymen to appear in the pulpit fully equipped with deadly weapons, in the shape of swords, daggers, and pistols. Intestine feuds were every-day occurrences; and wrongs were righted on the “good old rule,” by blood-letting and knocking each other on the head, in defiance of law or justice, except the law of self-preservation and the wild justice of revenge. The reformation of religion unquestionably led to a reformation of public morals, to a certain extent; but, owing to the civil commotions which followed that important era in our history, the progress of well-doing and well-being was necessarily slow.
The circulating medium was scant in the pockets of the people, and the funds of the Corporation were also at a very low ebb. At a meeting of Council held during the early part of 1609, Provost John Inglis took the opportunity of informing his brethren at the Board that the city was sorely pressed for a debt of a hundred pounds Scots, or £8 6s. 8d.; that the magistrates were in danger of “horning” for the same; and as the Corporation had not the means he had borrowed the amount required from a well-to-do burgess named William Burn.
During the year 1652, and again in 1667, the city was devastated by great fires, which reduced hundreds of houses to ashes in a few hours, and almost ruined the half of the population. Towards the close of the seventeenth century, and under the provostship of William Napier, merchant, we find the magistrates granting an allowance to the jailer “for keeping warlocks and witches imprisoned in the Tolbootlh, by order of the Lords of Justiciary”- a pretty clear proof that learned judges and local Dogberrys in those days were still subject to old-fashioned prejudices or superstitions.
At the time of the Union a census was taken by order of Robert Rodger, the Provost, and the population was found to be 12,766; while the style of living, as described by Mr. Dugald Bannatyne, was “of a very moderate and frugal cast.” The dwelling-houses of the highest class, as a general rule, contained only one public room, and even that was seldom used except for the entertainment of company. At other times the family took their meals in a bed-room, without ceremony, or servants dancing about them in attendance. After dinner – and perhaps a tumbler of rum-punch – the head of the house went back regularly to his place of business, and generally finished up the evening by a sederunt in some favourite tavern. The gradual increase of wealth, however, by the opening up of the American trade, led to a change in the habits of the better classes. Larger houses were built, fine furniture was introduced, tea, card, and dancing parties became fashionable; but, nevertheless, the ladies of those days did not think it beneath them to ply the needle, to nurse their own children, to make their own markets, or to superintend the cooking of their husbands’ dinners.
In 1715 the city was much disturbed by the outbreak of the Rebellion; but the soreness on account of the Union was almost worn off, and the citizens did not fail to show their loyalty as well as their liberality. They raised a regiment of volunteers about 6oo strong, which they drilled and maintained at their own cost; and the city was fortified by a deep and broad trench, as a measure of precaution against the inroads of rebels.
Ten years after this, the splendid mansion of Mr. Campbell, MP for the Glasgow District of Burghs, was attacked and sacked by a mob, in consequence of that gentleman voting for the extension of the malt tax to Scotland. This fine house was situated on the present site of Glassford Street; and while the mob were busy tearing it to pieces, the Provost, John Stark, and his brother magistrates, were enjoying themselves very comfortably in a public-house. A detachment of soldiers arrived from Dumbarton Castle at night; and next day, as the rioting still continued, they fired twice upon the crowd, and the result was that nine persons were killed and seventeen wounded. Intelligence of these troubles was sent to Edinburgh post-haste; when General Wade immediately started for Glasgow, and took possession of the city with a strong force of cavalry, infantry, and artillery. He was accompanied by Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Lord Advocate of the time; and, after a searching investigation, nineteen persons were apprehended, bound with ropes, and sent off to Edinburgh to await their trial. But even this was not considered enough to assert or uphold the majesty of the law. The whole batch of Glasgow magistrates, from Provost Stark to the Deacon-Convenor, were arrested, thrown into their own Tolbooth, and afterwards sent to Edinburgh as prisoners of state. After a day’s detention in the capital, they were liberated on bail, and ultimately absolved from the charges of negligence or incapacity; but the city had to pay the piper, in name of damages, to the extent of £9,000. Shortly after this, Mr. Campbell sold his city mansion; and with the price obtained, and the compensation money, he purchased the entire island of Islay, which his descendants have since permitted to slip through their fingers.
We now come to the year 1736, when old “John M’Ure, alias Campbell, Clerk to the Registration of Seisins, and other Evidents for the District of Glasgow,” published his quaint history of the city. At this date the population would not exceed 15,000 persons, living in ten streets and seventeen lanes, and on an area of ground scarcely three quarters of a square mile in extent. It was well provided with bridges, however, there being twenty altogether, and of stone – twelve being within the liberties, and eight without. Of these twelve, one was over the Clyde at the foot of Stockwell Street, three over St. Enoch’s Burn, and eight over the classic Molendinar. M’Ure informs his readers, in glowing terms, that the city was surrounded by corn-fields, kitchen and flower gardens, and beautiful orchards, abounding in fruits of all kinds, “which, by reason of the open and large streets, send furth a pleasant and odoriferous smell.” In a final burst of enthusiasm, the old historian says: “It is the most beautiful city in the world for its bigness, and is acknowledged to be so by all foreigners that come thither.”
Among the principal buildings, after the Cathedral and the College, mentioned by M’Ure, the most notable was the town’s “great and magnificent hospital,” situated on the banks of the river a little to the west of Stockwell Street, where the Fish Market is now situated. It is described as superior to Christ’s Church or the London Charter House; and nothing “of that kind at Rome or Venice comes up to the magnificence of this building.” It was, in short, the admiration of all strangers, and without a parallel in Europe. The Town-house or Tolbooth is also described as “a noble and magnificent structure-sixty-six foot in length, and from the south to the north twenty-four foot eight inches.”
The reader may be a little surprised to hear that the Tolbooth was also a public-house in the good old times, and that the jailer was in the daily habit of leaning over his half-door, on the outlook for drouthy customers! We have then a description of the “Bremmylaw harbour and cran,” regarding which the worthy Clerk says.-” There is not such a fresh-water harbour to be seen in any place in Britain: it is strangely fenced with beams of oak, fastened with iron batts within the wall thereof, that the great boards of ice in time of thaw may not offend it; and it is so large that a regiment of horse may be exercised thereupon.”
Several sugar-houses, tan-works, lands, and lodgings are also described, including “the great and stately tenement of land built by the deceased Walter Gibson, merchant, and late Provost of Glasgow.” This tenement occupied the north corner between Prince’s Street and the Saltmarket, and stood “upon eighteen stately pillars or arches, adorned with the several orders of architecture.” Walter Gibson was the son of John Gibson of Overnewtown, and rather a remarkable man in his day. He commenced business as a maltster – made some money – took to herring-fishing and merchandising; and at length freighted a Dutch ship with 3,600 barrels of herring, which he sent to France, “and got for each barrel of herring a barrel of brandy and a crown.” He was also the first merchant that brought foreign iron to Glasgow, and stood first on the list of the great company carrying on trade “with Virginia and the Carriby-islands.”
At the same period, the number of shopkeepers in the city did not exceed 155, including ” Robert M’Nair and Jean Holmes in Company” – the worthy partners of said firm being “sleeping partners” in another sense, or, in other words, man and wife! From being small hucksters originally, Robin and Jean became extensive merchants and sugar-boilers, and ultimately owned the largest amount of house property in the city.
In 1745, when the rising in the Highlands took place under Prince Charles Edward, the city of Glasgow raised two battalions of volunteers, each 6oo strong, for the service of the Government. When the Pretender reached Edinburgh in triumph, he made a demand upon the Glasgow magistrates for all the arms in the city, and £15,000 in hard cash; but, through the exertions of Provost Cochrane, this sum was modified to £5,000, with about £500 worth of goods. After the romantic march into England, and the disastrous retreat from Derby, Prince Charles, with the main body of his army, made his appearance in the west of Scotland, and entered Glasgow on Christmas-day. He took up his quarters in the house of Mr. Glassford – the gutted mansion of Mr. Campbell-and remained in the city for ten days. His Highland followers are described as bare-headed and barefooted fellows, with matted hair, grizzly beards, tanned skins, famished aspect, and peculiarly savage and ferocious looking in their rags. After exacting heavy contributions in shirts, hose, short coats, shoes, blue bonnets, and provender, the Prince took his departure; and it is said that the city would have been sacked and burned to ashes by the Highlanders, had it not been for the manly resistance of Lochiel.
Up till 1760, the severity of the ancient manners prevailed in full vigour: no lamps were lighted on the Sunday evenings, innocent amusements were denounced, and people were actually prevented from walking on the day of rest. In order to enforce this regulation, the magistrates employed certain persons named “compurgators,” whose duty was to perambulate the streets and public walks during divine service every Sunday, and to take offenders into custody if they refused to go home when ordered. A party of these men, on duty at the Green, thought proper to apprehend Mr Peter Blackburn – a prominent citizen, and ancestor of Mr. Blackburn of Killearn; and the result was that Mr. Blackburn prosecuted the magistrates before the Court of Session, and put an end to the “compurgatory” system of Sabbath-keeping. This Mr. Blackburn was a member of the famous “Hodge-Podge” Club, along with the father of Sir John Moore, and other celebrities, and figured in the rhyme-register of the club (written by Dr. Moore) in the following fashion:-
Rough Peter’s the next who is about to appear,
With his weather-beat phiz, and his heathery hair.
His humour is blunt, and his sayings are snell-
An excellent heart in a villanous shell!”
The Dissenters of those days were equally bigoted in opinion and intolerant in their behaviour, when they had the power. A mason named Hunter, who was a member of the Antiburgher congregation of North Albion Street, was so far left to himself, or to the wiles of Satan, as to build the Episcopalian Chapel at the Green in the ordinary course of his business; and as the poor man refused to express sincere contrition for his great sin, he was formally excommunicated.
It may easily be supposed, therefore, that “play-acting” in those days would be regarded by the “unco guid” as an utter abomination; and so in truth it really was. No theatre existed in the city; but strolling companies of players occasionally exhibited their histrionic powers to the lieges in Burrel’s Hall, situated in the upper portion of the High Street. In the course of 1752, however, a wooden booth was erected within the precincts of the Castle yard, and attached to the ruined walls of the Episcopal Palace; but this unpretending temple of Thespis was afterwards attacked by an excited mob, and almost battered to pieces with stones. In fact, people going to the play-house at this period had to be guarded home, to protect them from popular violence, if we may trust the evidence of tradition.
In spite of this feeling, five gentlemen – viz., W. M’Dowall of Garthland, W. Bogle of Hamilton Farm, John Baird of Craigton, Robert Bogle of Shettleston, and James Dunlop of Garnkirk – agreed to erect a theatre at their own expense; but not a single feu-owner within the city boundaries would grant a site for such a purpose! The spirited projectors had therefore to cross St. Enoch’s Burn, and after considerable difficulty they obtained a piece of ground in Alston Street; but the proprietor charged them a double price for it, because it was intended for “the devil’s temple!” In due time the theatre was built, and was ready to be opened in the spring Of 1764, and the celebrated Mrs. Bellamy was announced for the occasion; but, previous to the opening night, the theatre was wilfully set on fire, and the whole scenery, with Mrs. Bellamy’s wardrobe and jewels (valued at £800) were destroyed.
About this time, and for a number of years afterwards, the “tobacco aristocracy” were in the zenith of their fame. Not a few of these magnates had made immense fortunes by the American trade, more particularly in tobacco, which was imported in large quantities into Glasgow, and then dispensed over the kingdom. They owned a considerable fleet of ships and brigantines, about 200 tons burthen each, and something like the annexed figure when in full sail. In the times preceding the American war of independence, the “tobacco lords” were in the habit of “pacing the plainstones” on the north side of the Trongate, clad in scarlet cloaks, cocked hats, bushy wigs, knee breeches, and silk stockings, They were the “cream of the causeway;” and no tradesman or shopkeeper dared to address them off-hand, or encroach upon the promenade ground, without leave, under pain of the highest displeasure. Red cloaks with hoods were also quite common with the ladies of those days; while pattens and sedan chairs were used for purposes of locomotion. Every now and then the public hangman might be seen whipping criminals through the streets at the cart’s tail; while the pillory and the scaffold were very frequently in use.
When Nathaniel Jones published his first Directory, in 1787, the city was still within very narrow limits, and the population could not have exceeded 5o,ooo, being little more than a tithe of its present number. The sites of Laurieston, Hutchesontown, Tradeston, and Bridgeton, were cornfields or kitchen gardens; hares and partridges were occasionally shot on Blythswood Holm and Garnet Hill; the site of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Station supported a thriving plantation and a rookery; and children waded safely across the Clyde where the harbour now is, and where great iron ships and steamers of more than 2,000 tons burthen are now riding safely at anchor. In the business parts of the city, shops were lavishly decorated with all sorts of sign-boards, and gilded articles representing the wares to be had within. Golden fleeces, and fish, and boots, and breeches dangled in middle air; and sometimes the lettering of the signs was a treat to the curious. In the Gallowgate, for example, there was stuck up the following intimation: “Messages run down this close at 2d a mile!” A little further on might be seen: “New laid eggs every morning, by me, Janet Stobie !” Over an eating-house in a sunk flat, hungry passengers were invited to:
“Stop and read, to prevent mistakes,
Joseph Howel’s beefstakes.
Good meat and drink makes men to grow,
And you will find them here below.”
Among the inns or hotels of the period were the ” Saracen’s Head,” Gallowgate; the ” King’s Arms,” Trongate; the “Bull Inn,” Argyle Street; the ” Crown Inn,” Gallowgate; and the “Leaping Horse,” on the south side of the Trongate. The “Saracen’s Head,” in particular, was a favourite place of resort for travellers and citizens of distinction. It was patronized by the Lords of Justiciary on circuit, and by the nobility of several counties, including the sporting Duke of Hamilton. It was in this famous hostelry that Dr. Samuel Johnson took up his quarters after his tour through the Hebrides; and on his arrival, after seating himself in front of the fire, he put a leg on each side of the grate, and with a mock solemnity said: “Here am I, an Englishman, sitting by a coal fire!” Coaches, flies, diligences, stages, and caravans started from the different hotels for London, Edinburgh, Stirling, Paisley, Greenock, and other towns, at various hours, and made the passages with commendable regularity, considering the state of the roads. The Greenock “Fly” (a woodcut of which is here given) took five hours in going – I can scarcely call it running – from Glasgow to Greenock; while the Dumbarton coach made its passage in about four hours.
Among the favourite “houffs” of the fuddling fraternity may be mentioned “Lucky Black’s” tavern, the “Three Tuns,” the “Black Boy,” and the “Boot,” which is simply a corruption of “Bute,” as the tavern was originally called. Mrs. Black’s tavern was situated down a long narrow close at the head of the Gallowgate, and was a thatched house of two stories. She drove a “roaring trade,” especially in the winter evenings, and was famous over the city for sheep’s heads, black puddings, and “a skirl in the pan.” The “Black Boy” was also kept by a buxom widow, who ultimately doffed her weeds, and became the landlady of the “Buck’s Head,” where an “ordinary” was kept daily, at the moderate charge of eightpence per head. The landlord of the “Three Tuns” was ” honest John Greig,” a character in his way; and the same may be said of John Neilson, the Boniface of the Boot.”
In looking over the tiny Directory of Mr Jones, many names will be found just as familiar in the mouths of the citizens now as they were eighty years ago. It will be seen, at the same time, that immense changes have taken place during that period. The “merchant princes” have deserted their domiciles in the business parts of the city, and have moved towards the west, or into the country altogether. The population has increased nearly tenfold; the city itself has invaded the country in all directions, and by thousands of acres at a stretch.
But notwithstanding the increase of population, the multiplication of public works, and the pollution of the river, the rate of mortality has continued to decline. In 1787, the number of deaths within the city boundaries amounted. to I,759, or one in every 28 of the population; whereas, in 1866, the proportion was exactly one in every 34. In those days small-pox was one of the most deadly scourges that afflicted humanity; and accordingly we find that out of 1,759 deaths, during the year above named, 383 resulted from small-pox alone, or nearly a fourth part of the aggregate mortality. In 1866, out of 12,826 deaths, not more than 101 were the effect of small-pox, or one in every 127. The general result shows, that in 1787 one person out of every 130 died from this terrible disease; while in 1866 the proportion of deaths had declined to one in every 4,336.
Eighty years ago the General Post-Office was in a small shop in Gibson’s Wynd, or Prince’s Street, and the business was conducted by one master, two clerks, and two letter-carriers; while the number of the latter at the present time is at least forty times more. The Custom House was managed by two men, and the Tolbooth by the same number; and, to crown all, the street Directory has swelled from 84 Pages to 85o, and has increased in weight from a little over one ounce to nearly two pounds and a quarter!
It would be quite superfluous to go more particularly into the contents of “Jones’s Directory,” as it is now before the reader, and he may prefer to make his own comparisons. It may not be out of place, at the same time, to add a few notes regarding some of the names to be found in the pages of Jones, and to mention the simple fact that my information has been chiefly drawn from the works on Glasgow written by’ M’Ure, Cleland, Reid (Senex), Pagan, and Dr. Strang.
Was a native of Stewarton, and commenced business on his own account as a hawker or pedlar. Then he opened a shop in the High Street of Glasgow, at the yearly rent of five pounds; the half of which he sublet to a watchmaker for fifty shillings! In these small premises he contrived to carry on a profitable and yearly increasing business in French yarns particularly, until he was appointed agent for the Royal Bank of Scotland, when the watchmaker’s half of the High Street shop was converted into a bank office. Some time after this, Mr. Dale erected the cotton mills at Lanark, went into turkey-red dyeing, weaving, and other enterprises; in all of which he was remarkably successful. From less to more he realized a handsome fortune-became a preacher of the gospel in the “Candle Kirk,” father-in-law of Robert Owen, and a Glasgow magistrate. He lived respected by all who knew him, and died universally lamented as an able merchant, a just magistrate, and one of the most benevolent of men.
Was the son of a Perthshire minister, and became pastor of the Wynd Church in 1776. He was blamed for taking a share in the anti-popish agitation of those days, which resulted in the destruction of a Catholic chapel and a considerable amount of property. He was a tall, dark-complexioned man, with a commanding appearance and an enormous wig, and he made himself somewhat unpopular among the poorer classes, by looking strictly after parties claiming relief at the Town’s Hospital. At length the worthy doctor got the cognomen of Buff the Beggars,” and the common cry in the streets was “Porteous and the deil, Buff the beggars weel!” During the excitement of the French Revolution, Dr Porteous preached a sermon before the Glasgow Volunteers, in which he compared the orgies of the revolutionists to scenes in the bottomless pit, “when Satan gave the signal and all hell rose in a mass!” He was the first minister of St George’s Church, and got for a second wife, the aunt of General Sir John Moore.
Was Town Clerk of Glasgow from 1781 till 1803, and for several years Captain-Commandant of the Light Horse Troop of Volunteers. When a very young man, Mr Orr fell in love with a beautiful young lady, the intimate acquaintance of his sister, and a very ardent correspondence was the immediate result – the lover concluding, one of his epistles by signing himself “Your affectionate husband, John Orr.” Years passed on, and Mr. Orr ceased to talk of marriage. An action in the Court of Session was raised against him; and, after a protracted litigation, the lady was declared his lawful wife. He steadily refused to live with her, however, or to acknowledge her as his wife. She entered the Court of Session once more, obtained a divorce, and got married a second time; while Mr Orr remained single throught life, and died in 1803, in the fifty-ninth year of his age.
A gallant old soldier who had seen a good deal of service in foreign parts, and who was much given to fighting his battles over again. It was his daily habit to “promenade the plainstones” opposite his own house in the Trongate, clad in a suit of snuff-coloured brown, his long, spare limbs incased in blue striped stockings, knee breeches, shoes and buckles. He sported a long queue, a kold-headed cane, cambric ruffles, powdered hair, and a cocked hat, which he always took off with French politeness when saluting a friend. He was commonly called “the Beau,” and was esteemed by all who knew him as “a prince of worthy fellows, and a pretty man also.” He lived with two maiden sisters, was a regular member of the Coffee-room, and dearly loved a bowl of good punch, seasoned with limes from his own estate in Trinidad. At last he sickened and died; and John Wilson in the Noctes sang of him thus:-
“Oh! we ne’er shall see the like of Captain Paton no mo!”
(Or “Bob Dreghorn,” as he was called all over the city) occupied a large house fronting West Clyde Street, and was in the daily practice of walking up Stockwell Street to the Cross. He was a tall, gaunt figure, dreadfully marked by small-pox; with a large crooked nose, and a pair of eyes that looked in opposite directions. He had a great antipathy to mischievous boys whom he belaboured with his walking-stick whenever any of them came within reach of the “Dragon’s” arm; and had as great a partiality for servant girls with bare feet! He was, in short, the embodied ideal of ill-nature and ugliness: mothers used to frighten their children by the mention of his name; and yet he was known to be a kindly-disposed man. One morning in 1806, he was missed from his usual walking-ground; and on inquiries being made, it was discovered that poor Bob had died by his own hand. The story ran that his house was haunted; and so strongly did this feeling prevail, that it remained empty and forsaken for many years afterwards.
Was generally regarded as one of the most accomplished scholars that ever occupied the Greek Chair in the Glasgow University. He expounded the ancient classics with an enthusiasm that has never been surpassed; and, moreover, he was an ardent admirer of the drama and of Edmund Kean. The learned professor was the son of a cooper, and the students on that account dubbed him “Cocky Bung.” While in the theatre one night, he became so absorbed by witnessing Kean’s “Shylock,” that he also commenced to act the part in dumb-show, to the amusement of the audience; and a witty ex-Provost made note of the circumstance in rhyme, as follows:
The very Jew I’ve surely seen
That Shakespeare painted, played by Kean,
While Plaudits loudy rung;
But what was all his acting fine,
To the diverting pantomime
Displayed by Cocky Bung?”
This notability kept a rum-cellar in Wallace’s Closs, Bell’s Wynd, and was known in the city by the sobriquet of “The General,” on account of his tall, erect figure, and “lordly bearing” on the streets. He was one of the founders of the Camperdown Club, and was never known to change an opinion which he had once fairly adopted. He detested changes and innovations of all kinds, even in dress, and stuck to knee breeches and white worsted stockings long after the oldest man in the city had discarded them. In 1803, the “General” was appointed Master of the Glasgow Police, an office which he held for two years. He was much respected by his fellow citizens, and died in the eighty-seventh year of his age.
A “merchant councillor” in 1787, and Lord Provost of the city in 1793. During the reign of Mr. Hamilton, a monetary panic overspread, the country: banks failed by the score, firms broke down by the hundred, and the greatest distress prevailed everywhere. In this emergency Provost Hamilton went to London, and applied for Government aid, to save the manufacturers of Glasgow from ruin, and the application was successful. He was a thin, spare, skeleton of a man, a real scarecrow provost; and when arrayed in his dark velvet suit, it was said of him that he “looked like Death running away with the mortcloth!” While in London on his benevolent mission, he was held to be a palpable evidence of a famishing city; and having accomplished the object of his journey, the worthy chief magistrate returned and adopted measures for relieving his distressed fellow-citizens. During Mr Hamilton’s tenure of office, the Tron Church was rebuilt, and the ancient Cathedral was repaired and re-seated.
A successful West India merchant, a leading partner in the great firm of Stirling, Gordon, and Company, a high Tory, and first president of the celebrated “Pig Club.” – Mr. Gordon was a jolly-looking well-made man, of a lordly bearing; and, like the “General,” he long stuck to knee breeches and worsted stockings. He occupied a large mansion and fine garden on the site of the Prince of Wales buildings in Buchanan Street, where he surrounded himself with a cricle of the leading Tory gentlemen or the period, and dispensed a princely hospitality. Mr. Gordon was emphatically a citizen of credit and renown; and, after a long life of mercantile activity, political consistency, and wide-spread benevolence, he died on the 2nd December, 1828, universally lamented in spite of his political opinions.
Was the son of Robert Carrick, minister of Houston, and entered the counting-house of the “Ship Bank” at the age of fifteen, under the auspices of Provost Buchanan of Drumpellier. Step by step, slowly but surely, Robin Carrick rose to be managing partner of the concern, and one of the most important personages in the city of Glasgow at the time. He was a short, dumpy man, in his latter days with thin grey hair, tied into a pigtail behind and with a keen scrutinizing expression of countenance. His every-day attire consisted of a long blue coat hanging down to his heels, a striped woollen waistcoat, knee breaches, white ribbed stockings and a pair of capacious shoes. He sat behind his desk on a three-legged stool, in the “sweating room,” or manager’s sanctum where he received his customers with a bland smile, even when refusing to discount their paper. On these occasions the invariable saying was, “it’s not convenient;” and once uttered, it was never known to be recalled. Mr. Carrick was elected Dean of Guild in 1803, and died in 1821.
Was minister of the Chapel of Ease in the latter part of the last century, and was rather a notable sort of character. He is said to have had a specific grace for every sort of dinner; and when the spread happened to be sumptuous, he usually began with “Bountiful Jehovah!” Mr M’Leod had an arch way of telling a story; and when Dr. Chalmers came to Glasgow, and was in the heyday of his popularity, he remarked: “Weel, I mind mysel’ when I cam first to the Chapel o’ Ease, folk were paying tippence a piece for a seat on the poopit stairs – every dog has its day.”
A leading Glasgow merchant, father of, Kirkman, and grandfather of Mr A. Finlay of Castle Toward, late M.P. for Argyleshire. During the progress of the American war, Mr. James Findlay, in conjunction with ex-Provost Ingram and Mr. Gray of Carntyne resolved to raise a regiment of volunteers in Glasgow for the service of the Government. With this object in view, the trio met somewhere in the Gallowgate, and proceeded as a recruiting party towards the Cross. Mr. Gray walked in front, as the sergeant, wielding a formidable sword; Provost Ingram brought up the rear; while Mr. Findlay marched in the centre, playing the bagpipes! On reaching Peter M’Kinlay’s tavern, the party marched up stairs, and were soon joined by a number of their friends from the Coffee-room, anxious to learn their success in the recruiting line, when Mr. Ingram remarked, “there’s a sergeant and a piper, but I am the regiment!” The recruiting was continued, however; and before many days elapsed, the “regiment” turned out 1000 strong, and afterwards became the 83rd of the line.
A merchant councillor, a popular member of the “Hodge-Podge Club,” a poet of no mean order; younger brother of James Dunlop of Garnkirk, and son of Colin Dunlop of Carmyle. In 1794, Mr. Dunlop was elected Lord Provost of Glasgow, and afterwards became Collector of Customs at Port-Glasgow, where he died in 1820. He was the author of the two beautiful songs, ” Here’s to the year that’s awa,” and “Dinna ask me gin I lo’e ye,” besides other pieces of considerable merit. In 1778, while still a Glasgow town councillor, he took an active part in the promotion of a New Police Bill, and was lampooned by a local satirist in the following style:-
The plan was in the Council moved
By an effected fop,
Who came from off the Turkish Dun,
And so nicknamed Dunlop;
Who struts still in the foremost rank,
Dull councillors among;
Because he apes the turkey’s dance,
And eke the peacock’s song.”
Was minister of the Ramshorn Kirk, or St. David’s, from 1785 till his death, in 1827. He was an eloquent preacher, a modest, kind-hearted man, and the author of several works, including a “History of France,” of which he was not a little proud. Being anxious to ascertain what other people thought of his favourite work, the worthy doctor stepped into Stirling’s Library one day, where he was not known, and addressing Mr. Peat, the librarian, said, “Pray, Mr. Peat, is Dr. Rankine’s History of France in?” Mr. Peat turned round on his seat and very curtly replied, “It was never out!” The Doctor took the remark in good part, and went home to his “lodgings” a sadder and a wiser man.
A physician in extensive practice at the head of Stockwell Street, in 1787, and was the grandfather of Charles Wilsone Browne, the husband of the widow Swinfen. On the 10th January, in the year above named, Dr. Wilsone was knocked down in Argyle Street at night, and robbed by two men named Veitch and M’Aulay, who were tried and sentenced to death for the crime. At two o’clock on the 30th of May, they were taken out of the Tolbooth at the Cross, and up the High Street to the place of execution in the Castle Yard; but so great was the crush of people on the street, that a halt was made, and refreshments served out to the prisoners at the “Bell of the Brae,” and a whole hour was spent in reaching the Castle Yard. Both prisoners were duly executed, along with a man named Gentles, who suffered death for robbing a bleachfield.
Was minister of the Barony for sixty-nine years; and for twenty-five years of that long period he preached to his congregation in the crypt of the Cathedral – a spectacle which Scott graphically describes in his “Rob Roy” In 1787, Dr. Burns lodged in Castle-pens Land, on the east side of the High Street, and died in 1839, at the advanced age of ninety-five.
An eminent merchant, and one of the most popular Lord Provosts that Glasgow ever had. At this time he resided in the second floor of an old tenement in Argyle Street; and yet he was rather proud of himself as a provost. On one occasion, while apologizing for some mistake on the part of an official, his lordship said, “even I myself have made a mistake!” a saying that was not soon forgotten. Mr Colquhoun was the originator of the Chamber of Commerce, in 1783; and in 1789 he settled in London, where he became Chief Police Magistrate of the metropolis.
Was appointed Professor of Divinity in the College about 1783; and his lectures were considered remarkable for their learning, liberality, and prolixity. One of his students, on being asked what he had heard during a certain session, replied, “The illustration of an attribute and a half;” while a second youth remarked that the Doctor had “hung nearly the whole session on one horn of the altar!” Dr. Findlay had a thin, attenuated figure; but his appearance was venerable and striking, especially on the streets, as he was invariably dressed in clerical attire, surmounted by a cocked hat and a full storied wig. He died in 1814, at the great age of ninety-three.
An engraver in the second flat of Craig’s Land, at the head of the Old Wynd, was the father of the late Provost Lumsden, and grandfather of our present chief Magistrate. In 1797, James Lumsden, junior, was erected a knight companion of the “Coul Club,” under the title of Sir Christopher Copperplate.
Was a merchant bailie in 1787, and Lord Provost of the city in 1790. It was chiefly through the exertions of Mr. M’Dowall that the Royal Infirmary was erected, and the industrial prison, or Bridewell, established in the city. It was also during his reign that the Trades’ Hall was built, and the Flesher’s Haugh, as well as John King’s Park, was added to the Green.
Were teachers of writing, &c., in Buchanan’s Land, Trongate, and stood in the relationship of uncle and nephew. John, the uncle, was a bit of a poet, and among other productions wrote a poem entitled “Nonsense,” which was declared by Professor Hamilton to be destitute of a single idea – a feat which gained for the author a leaden crown from the members of the “Accidental Club.” When Mr. Taylor died, and was carried to the High Kirk burying-ground for interment, it was discovered that the undertaker had forgotten to order the preparation of a grave! In this emergency, the corpse was deposited in she south aisle of the Cathedral, and the funeral party adjourned to a public-house in Kirk Lane, and enjoyed themselves until the gravedigger did his duty. It is not a little singular that Mr Taylor had strong presentiment that “something would go wrong at his funeral.”
William, the nephew (or the “Cub,” as he was called by his companions), was much given to sarcasm or acidity in his talk – a habit which he carried to great lengths, even with his pupils. On one occasion, the day before Christmas, a boy went up to Mr. Taylor in school and said, “I suppose, Mr. Taylor, we’ll hae the play the morn to eat our goose?” The dominie at once replied, Oh ay, Robin; but there’s been sic a slauchter o’ thae animals, I wonder that you hae escaped!” Mr. Taylor was in the habit of getting “jolly,” and sometimes “glorious,” on the Saturday nights, and occasioially forgot the name of the next day. One Sunday morning after a “booze,” he awoke in bed, rung the bell violently, and ordered in his shaving water at once, as time was up for school. The servant girl, rather astonished, said, “Oh! Mr. TayIor, it’s the Sabbath-day!” “The Sabbath-day!” exclaimed the ‘Cub,’ “glorious institution the Sabbath!” as he turned round for another snooze.
Teacher in Buchanan’s Court, and afterwards head master of the Grammar School – a man of immense proportions, and known by the nickname of “Gutty Wilson.” He was a member of the corps of volunteers designated the “ancients,” on account of their personal appearance; and on one occasion, while being dressed in line by an Irish drill-sergeant, the latter exclaimed, “Very well in front; but, holy Moses! what a rear!’)
Accountant in the Ship Bank, under the redoubtable Robin Carrick. Mr. Marshall is described as a cadaverous-looking personage, with a whisky-painted nose. gaunt in figure, and about six feet in height. He was in the habit of taking burnt cake to kill the smell of the meridian drams; and when he first made this important discovery, he entered the bank in triumph with a bit, of the brown cake in his hand. Coming behind a bottle companion at the desk (as he believed), Mr. Marshall gave him a hearty slap on the back, and, presenting the piece of cake, exclaimed, “here, my old cock, is one of Robin’s deceivers for you!” The “old cock” was Robin himself! The rest is left to the reader’s imagination.
Better known as “Bauldy Wright,” was an old Highlander, and kept a small shop in the Trongate, where he sold drugs and garden seeds. He was also the proprietor and sole inventor of “Wright’s Powders,” the virtues of which have been described in the following fashion.-“If they did nae harm, they could do nae guid!”
Another old Highlander and druggist in the Trongate, who also dealt in silver plate, hardware, toys, tea, and quack medicines, including the famous “Balm of Gilead.” Angus kept a shop-man or porter named Murdoch M ‘Donald, who, according to the advertisements had been cured of every disease incident to humanity by a liberal use of his master’s drugs.
Was originally a shoemaker, and ultimately keeper of the Coffee-room at the Cross, and of the “Servants’ Register Office, second stair, left hand, Presbyterian Closs, Saltmarket.” Mr. Jones was also the editor or compiler of the following Directory, and grandfather of Mr. Jones, late librarian of the College.
An ironmonger in the Trongate, and known in the “Beefsteak Club” – of which he was a long time president – as “Tinkler Wilsone.” At a meeting of the club, on a particular occasion, Mr. Wilsone observed a member tossing off a glass of whisky, and following it up immediately by a bumper of brandy. The witty president at once exclaimed, “Good God, sir! what are you about? You have disgraced yourself and the club, by putting a fiddling Frenchman above a sturdy Highlander” The copper-nosed delinquent instantly started to his feet, swallowed another jorum of Ferintosh, and laying his hand upon his heart, said, “brand me not with being, a democrat, sir; for now I’ve got the Frenchman between two fires!”
Editor and printer of the Glasgow Advertiser (published every Monday evening), Saltmarket, No. 22. This journal was transformed into the Glasgow Herald in 1803, under the direction of the celebrated Samuel Hunter. Mr. Mennons, it will be observed, was also the printer of Jones’s Directory.
Loch-head’s Closs, High Street; better known by the appellation of “Bell Geordie,” and one of the old Glasgow celebrities whose names will not be soon forgotten. Geordie was a stout, burly man, full of caustic humour and fond of whisky – a habit which ultimately cost him his gaudy red coat. After losing his situation, poor Geordie lost his sight, and was led about the streets by a little girl, begging his bread on the scene of his former glories. Such is life!
|“You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, and put all to the sword under seventy. You are to have a special care that the old fox and his sons do upon no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues that no man escape.”|
There is no valley in Scotland which nature has endowed with more majesty, more savage beauty than Glencoe. The mountains rise in stupendous masses all around forming an amphitheatre, vast in extent and preserving a stillness and an awesome solemnity.
But that stillness, that solemnity which impresses itself upon every traveller can never, with any certainty, be attributed solely to the desolate appearance of the glen. It’s not hard to imagine that it emanates, rather, from something much more intangible. Three hundred years ago, in the early hours of a cold February morning, the snow covered valley of Glencoe was stained with the blood of the unsuspecting MacDonalds, executed by order of the Sovereign.
At the end of August 1691, King William III had published a proclamation, offering an amnesty to the highlanders who had fought for James VII (&II of England), conditional upon their swearing an oath of allegiance before the 1st of January, and on penalty of military execution after that date.
The taking of such an oath must have seemed, to someone not particularly troubled by a sense of honour, a simple task to which there could be no impediment other than obstinacy but, to the Highlanders, there was more than just the distasteful matter of their submission to the Crown. The Jacobite clans had already sworn an oath of allegiance to King James, now in exile in France. A further oath to King William could clearly have no meaning unless James could be persuaded to release them from the first.
Ambassadors were sent to await the exiled King’s decision, a decision which was not forthcoming until the 12th of December, 19 days before the amnesty was due to expire. It would take nine of these for the ambassador to journey back to Edinburgh and then several days more before messengers could reach the first of the chieftains. It was no earlier than the 29th of December when Alexander MacDonald, traditionally known as MacIain, clan chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe received word that King James had considered the safety of the clans and that they were all discharged of their allegiance to him. In common with other chiefs who had supported the Jacobite cause, MacDonald, perhaps with as much relief as reluctance, resolved to accept the amnesty and swear his allegiance to King William.
Throughout his life, this Godfather-like figure had earned and been accorded the utmost respect from his people. To be forced to swear allegiance to King William was a wound to his pride and much has been made of the fact that MacDonald left the taking of the oath until the last possible minute but the facts tell a different story.
On the morning of the 30th of December he set off for the newly built Fort William at Inverlochy, arriving in the small hours of the 31st, the last day allowed by the proclamation. He presented himself to Colonel John Hill, the Governor of Fort William, and asked him to administer the oath of allegiance. The ruling, however, was quite clear… only the civil magistrate of the district could administer the oath. In spite of MacDonald’s protest that no magistrate could have been reached before the day was out, Hill had no choice but to advise MacDonald to undertake, instantly, the 74 mile journey to Inverary. He gave him a letter to present to Sir Colin Campbell, the sheriff of Argyllshire requesting Sir Colin to administer the oath and suggesting that “a lost sheep” might be welcome at any time.
The chieftain left Fort William immediately. His journey took him through mountains almost impassable at that time of year, the country being covered with a deep snow yet, in his anxiety to reach Inverary, he made as much speed as possible, not even stopping to tell his family what was happening, though he passed within half a mile of his own house.
About half-way to his destination, passing through Barcaldine Estate, he was seized by a group of Grenadiers under the command of Captain Thomas Drummond of Argyll’s regiment. He had, of course, in his possession, the letter from Colonel Hill proving the urgency of his business. This was enough to persuade Drummond to lock him up for 24 hours, thereby ensuring that he could not possibly complete the journey in time.
He eventually arrived at Inverary on the 2nd, only to be told that Sir Colin Campbell had not yet returned from the New Year’s festivities. He had to wait a further 3 days to meet the sheriff and then, as the time allowed under the proclamation had clearly expired, Sir Colin, at first, refused to administer the oath. In the end, however, persuaded of the gravity of MacDonald’s situation, the sheriff relented and, on the 6th of January 1692, the oath of allegiance was administered to MacIain – Alexander MacDonald, Clan Chief, of the MacDonalds of Glencoe. MacDonald then returned home, confident that, having done his utmost to comply with the injunction, he and his people were free from danger.
For all the bad blood which existed between the Campbell and the MacDonald clans, Sir Colin Campbell appears to have been anxious to see that no action be taken against Glencoe for the transgression which seemed, after all, to amount to no more than a technicality.
In his reply to Colonel Hill’s letter, he writes,
“I endeavoured to receive the great lost sheep, Glencoe, and he has undertaken to bring in all his friends and followers as the Privy Council shall order. I am sending to Edinburgh that Glencoe, though he was mistaken in coming to you to take the oath of allegiance, might yet be welcome. Take care that he and his followers do not suffer till the King and Council’s pleasure be known.”
He then sent, to his sheriff-clerk in Edinburgh, another Colin Campbell, the letter which he had received from Colonel Hill, together with a certificate testifying that MacDonald, amongst others, had taken the oath. He asked the sheriff-clerk to lay the documents before the Privy Council and to report back with the Council’s decision regarding MacDonald’s oath. Sheriff-clerk Campbell, however, like many of his profession, had an abhorrence of all things irregular, and like many of his name, an equal abhorrence of all things MacDonald.
Some furtive discussions now took place, involving other lawyers, clerks to the Council and certain Privy Councillors, in an unofficial capacity. As a result of these discussions, it fell upon Campbell to eliminate a possibility which had occurred to them all… that the Privy Council might just let MacDonald off the hook. If the question of Glencoe’s tardy oath, with all its legal implications and political ramifications had taken up much of their time, the solution, once decided, was quick… The sheriff-clerk simply scored MacDonald’s name off the certificate.
The rich and colourful yet frequently violent history of the Highlands of Scotland owes much to both the Campbells and the MacDonalds, and the number of enemies that the Glencoe Clan had made was, to them, a matter of pride rather than regret but that this official should take so much upon himself is hardly explained by his traditional enmity towards the MacDonalds. He defaced the certificate in the sure and certain knowledge that he was pleasing his superiors and in particular, the subtle and ruthless personage of the Scottish Secretary, Sir John Dalrymple, Master of Stair.
Dalrymple’s contempt for the highlanders, and the MacDonalds in particular, is a matter of record. The hatred which all but consumed this powerful player in Scottish politics can be glimpsed in his letter of the 7th January to Sir Thomas Livingston, the Commander-in-Chief of the King’s forces in Scotland,
“you know, in general, that these troops posted at Inverness and Inverlochie will be ordered to take in the house of Invergarry, and to destroy entirely the country of Lochaber, Lochiel’s lands, Keppoch’s, Glengarie’s, Appin and Glencoe. I assure you your power shall be full enough, and I hope the soldiers will not trouble the Government with prisoners.”
There followed a brief period of confusion as to who had and had not taken the oath but on the 11th of January, Dalrymple despatched a set of instructions empowering Livingston to enforce the penalties of the proclamation upon all the so-called rebel clans, the document being signed both at the beginning and the end by the King.
“You are hereby ordered and authorised to march our troops which are now posted at Inverlochy and Inverness and to act against these Highland rebels who have not taken the benefit of our indemnity, by fire and sword and all manner of hostility; to burn their houses, seize or destroy their goods or cattle, plenishings or clothes, and to cut off the men.”
The King’s orders also allowed Livingston to show mercy and to take the chieftains as prisoners of war, provided they then take the oath but, as before, these orders were accompanied by Dalrymple’s letter which reads,
“Only just now, my Lord Argyle tells me that MacDonald of Glencoe has not taken the oath, at which I rejoice. It is a great work of charity to be exact in rooting out that damnable sept, the worst of the Highlands.”
Now, with the official confirmation that MacDonald had not sworn, the extensive military exercise, previously planned, was no longer necessary. A quick, brutal, punitive strike against Glencoe would suffice to bring the other rebel clans to heel and the bulk of King William’s forces could be released for more important duties on the Continent.
Further orders bearing the date of the 16th of January, again signed and countersigned by the King were despatched by Dalrymple. The fourth clause sealed the fate of Glencoe and his people.
“If MacIain of Glencoe, and that tribe, can be well separated from the rest, it will be a proper vindication of the public justice to extirpate that set of thieves.”
Immediately on receipt of his instructions, Livingston wrote not to Colonel Hill but to his deputy, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton, who, unlike his superior, could be relied upon “not to reason why.” In this letter, he points out that this would be a good occasion for Hamilton to show that his garrison served for some use. The instructions were clear: he should begin with MacIain of Glencoe, spare nothing of what belongs to him… and then, a familiar phrase, “not to trouble the Government with prisoners.”
In preparation to carrying out the massacre, two companies of Argyle’s regiment, a total of about 120 men, under the command of Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, were ordered to proceed to Glencoe by the beginning of February, and under pretext, to remain there and await further orders.
Glenlyon had a well-justified personal grudge against the MacDonalds of Glencoe who, less than two years since, returning from battle, had left a wake of destruction as they passed through his estate. It may be mere coincidence that Campbell of Glenlyon was chosen for this task but the fact that this enemy of the MacDonalds also had a niece who was married to MacDonald’s younger son was certainly no disadvantage to Dalrymple’s strategy.
It’s also interesting that Campbell was in charge not only of his own company of infantrymen but also the battalion’s finest and most trusted troops, the grenadiers. Their own captain would be absent until the eve of the massacre and with very good reason: he was the same Captain Thomas Drummond whom Glencoe had encountered on his way to take the oath of allegiance.
In order to persuade the MacDonalds that this military force presented no threat to them, an explanation was contrived to the effect that their sole purpose in being in Glencoe was to collect arrears of taxes in the surrounding area and that they sought convenient quarters to enable them to perform that duty. They had, in their possession, proof of this bogus assignment: papers, signed by a now deeply troubled Colonel Hill, the Governor of Fort William. They also gave their word that they came as friends and that no harm would be done to the person or properties of the chief and his tenants. They and their men were made welcome by the MacDonald families and given free lodgings in the villages throughout the glen. For twelve days, they were entertained by Glencoe, his family and his people. Indeed, almost every day, Glenlyon visited his niece, Sarah, and young Sandy MacDonald, enjoying, in the traditions of Highland hospitality, a regular drink in their company.
It is remarkable that this Government who sought to bind the Highland clans by their honour in an oath of allegiance, should choose to resolve their own difficulties by unprecedented dishonour and treachery but Dalrymple’s plot amounted to no more, and no less.
The true circumstances of MacDonald’s transgression had soon been swept under the carpet and a general enthusiasm to make an example of the MacDonalds had gathered an unseemly momentum. Dalrymple maintained his pressure on the military, inciting them to the carnage. On the 30th of January, in a letter to Sir Thomas Livingston, he wrote,
“I am glad Glencoe did not come within the time prescribed. I hope what’s done there may be done in earnest, since the rest of them are in no condition to draw together to help. I think to plunder their cattle and burn their houses would only make them desperate men, who would live outside the law and rob their neighbours but I know you will agree that it will be a great advantage to the nation, when that thieving tribe is rooted out and cut off.”
On the same day, in a letter to Colonel Hill, he says,
“when it comes the time to deal with Glencoe, let it be secret and sudden. It is better not to meddle with them at all, if it cannot be done to purpose, and better to cut off that nest of robbers who have fallen foul of the law, now, when we have both the power and the opportunity. When the full force of the King’s Justice is seen to come down upon them, that example will be as conspicuous and useful as is his clemency to others.
“I understand the weather is so bad that you will be unable to move for some time but I know you will be in action as soon as possible, for these false people will not hesitate to attack you if they come to suspect you might be a threat to them.”
Finally, on the 12th of February, at Dalrymple’s absolute insistence, Colonel Hill, gave the order to Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton, to execute the instructions already in his possession.
A simultaneous assault on key locations in Glencoe was determined for 7 a.m. the following morning. To one location, Hamilton was to take a party of Hill’s regiment. Several posts were assigned to a detachment of Argyll’s regiment under the command of Major Robert Duncanson, now encamped in readiness only a few miles from Glencoe on the other side of Loch Leven, and at his quarters in the very midst of the MacDonalds, Captain Campbell of Glenlyon was finally instructed as to the true object of his mission. The orders came from Duncanson and, in the first three sentences, the full horror of Glenlyon’s task was made brutally clear.
“You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, and put all to the sword under seventy. You are to have a special care that the old fox and his sons do upon no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues that no man escape.”
[And then, in the next line, …. a deliberate error…]
“This you are to put in execution at five of the clock precisely; and by that time, or very shortly after it, I’ll strive to be at you with a stronger party. If I do not come to you at five, you are not to tarry for me but to fall on.
[By a simple matter of bringing the time of the assault forward by two hours, Duncanson effectively puts half a mile of Loch Leven water between himself and the massacre. He concludes with all the authority and threat that might be expected of him.]
“This is by the King’s special command, for the good and safety of the country that these miscreants be cut off root and branch. See that this be put in execution without feud or favour, else you may expect to be dealt with as one not true to King nor Government, nor a man fit to carry Commission in the King’s service. Expecting you will not fail in the fulfilling hereof, as you love yourself. I subscribe these with my hand at Ballachulish, February 12th, 1692.
As Campbell of Glenlyon considered his orders, two officers under Hamilton’s command to the north were being held under close arrest for putting conscience before duty and refusing to march on Glencoe.
It is to the eternal shame of Glenlyon and, to an extent, every man who bears the name Campbell, that, after almost a fortnight of living under the same roof as the MacDonalds, and of sharing their table, while the drink, the wit and the conversation flowed ever more freely, he did not follow the same course as these two officers who broke their swords and “damn the consequences.”
That evening, Campbell of Glenlyon carried out the final spurious gesture of friendship by playing cards with John and Alexander MacDonald, the sons of the chieftain. He had also accepted an invitation from MacIain himself to dine with him the following day.
In the early hours of Saturday the 13th of February, while the rest of the valley slept, Campbell’s men were making ready for the assault. Stealth was central to the success of whole operation yet it was soldiers calling to him from outside his window which woke John MacDonald, the elder son of the chief.
Before he could make any sense of the incident, they were gone, the shouts now muffled and fading in the heavy snow. It was impossible to tell…. had it been a prank or had the soldiers been trying to warn him of something? Whatever their intent, there was military activity afoot and, at such an hour, it at least warranted investigation. He got dressed and made his way to Glenlyon’s quarters at the village of Inveriggan but he was unprepared for the scene which confronted him on his arrival. The whole detachment was present and preparations for an imminent action were well under way.
If MacDonald’s alarm caused him to hold back for a moment, the appearance of the senior officer, the now familiar figure of Campbell of Glenlyon, who, only hours ago, had been his adversary over the card table, must have restored his confidence. He asked, outright, for an explanation.
Glenlyon confided that the troops had orders to march against some of Glengarry’s men and assured him that there was no hostile intention towards the MacDonalds. Indeed, it was foolish to think otherwise for if, God forbid, he was contemplating any action against Glencoe, would he not have told Sandy and his own niece?
The explanation could not have been more simple, nor the argument more plausible. It may have left MacDonald perplexed, his instinct telling him one thing, his reason insisting upon another, but he returned to his home and his bed.
He was prevented from sleeping by his old servant who was finding the story hard to accept. Something, he felt, just didn’t ring true. …and where was MacDonald of Inveriggan? Why was he not up and about? Was it not strange that with all this going on over there that not one of the MacDonalds had stirred? It was indeed strange but John MacDonald was satisfied that Glenlyon had spoken the truth… then again, if the old man insisted upon keeping vigil, he saw no reason to stop him.
Within minutes, the servant was back in the room. There were troops approaching the house. Even before the man had finished speaking, MacDonald was out of bed and at the door, shouting back instructions to waken his brother, Sandy. The troops weren’t far off. He made their number to be about twenty. They carried muskets with fixed bayonets.
Moments later, the soldiers had the house surrounded. The door was thrown open and they burst in. They searched every room, though it had been obvious from the start – the family had gone and, their tracks being covered by the blizzard, pursuit would be futile. This, however, was possibly the last time that the bitter wind and driving snow would be a friend to the MacDonalds of Glencoe.
The massacre commenced at five o’ clock in three villages at once. At his quarters at Inveriggan, Campbell of Glenlyon ordered that nine men who had been bound and gagged for the past few hours be dealt with. They were taken outside and shot, one by one. MacDonald of Inveriggan, Glenlyon’s own host for the past fortnight, was one of these. This man had in his possession a letter of protection signed by Colonel Hill.
High in the hill above the village of Auchnaion, the shots were heard by John and Sandy MacDonald, their families and their servants, but the real extent of the butchery at Inveriggan could not be imagined. Captain Thomas Drummond was there and making his presence felt. Glenlyon had been reluctant to take the life of a young man of about twenty years of age, but he was challenged by Drummond who was not a man to allow compassion, to interfere with his duty. Why, in view of the orders, was this man still alive? Before Glenlyon could venture an answer, the young man was shot dead. Drummond also ran his dagger through the body of a 12 year old boy who had grasped Campbell by the legs, offering to go anywhere with him if he would spare his life.
The cruelty at Inveriggan included the slaughter of a woman and her five year old son, but instances of an equal barbarity were to be found elsewhere that morning. At Carnoch, the pretence of friendship was carried as far as the chieftain’s door when Glenlyon’s junior officer, Lieutenant Lindsay, arrived with a party of soldiers. After making their apologies to the servant for calling so early, MacIain’s murderers were actually invited into the house.
Glencoe was shot twice as he was getting out of bed and fell lifeless in front of his wife. One ball entered the back of his head, the other penetrated his body. His wife was stripped naked and thrown out of the house. One of the soldiers is said to have pulled the rings from her fingers with his teeth and then she was left to lie in the snow. She died the following day.
At the laird’s house in the village of Auchnaion, a group of nine men were gathered round the fire. They had been wakened in the early hours when the soldiers who were staying with them were first drawn out of the houses. A detail under the command of Sergeant Barber who had been quartered in that very house put an end to their discussion. Five of the men were killed instantly and another three were wounded. MacDonald of Auchintriaten, who died there in his brother’s house, had, in his pocket, a letter of protection signed by Colonel Hill. Three men escaped by the back of the house but Auchintriaten’s brother remained, motionless, on the floor. Barber was about to finish him off when the MacDonald asked if he was to be killed under the roof that they had shared for the past fortnight. The sergeant conceded the point. Since he’d been eating MacDonald’s meat, he would do him the favour of killing him outside. Two soldiers escorted him out but, once through the door, MacDonald threw his plaid over their faces and he, too, escaped and lived to recount the story.
Some told of soldiers who deliberately allowed men to slip away or who fired over the heads of the men they had been ordered to pursue but the few pathetic accounts of an escape from the slaughter are eclipsed by the catalogue of utter misery and agony inflicted in the name of righteousness and justice.
Throughout the glen, men were dragged from their beds and murdered. The soldiers torched the houses as they went, and a scene of the most heart rending description ensued. Ejected from their burning homes, women of all ages, some almost in a state of nudity, the old and the frail, mothers carrying infants and some with helpless children clinging to them, were to be seen all wending their way into the mountains in a piercing snow storm. One by one, they were overcome by fatigue and exposure and, before any shelter could be reached, many of them perished miserably in the snow.
Three weeks later, on the 5th of March, the architect of this so-called “great work of charity”, the Scottish Secretary, Sir John Dalrymple, confessed that all he regretted was that any of the MacDonalds got away.
Fortunately for society, most of Dalrymple’s peers were not his equal. In every quarter, even at court, the account of the massacre was received with horror and indignation. It is said that the anger of the nation rose to such a pitch that had the exiled monarch appeared at the head of a few thousand men, he would probably have succeeded in regaining his crown.
The ministry and even King William grew alarmed and, to pacify the people, he dismissed Dalrymple from his councils and appointed a commission of enquiry to investigate the affair. In his defence, the King explained that he had signed the execution order among a mass of other papers, without knowing its contents. The commissioners, however, seem to have taken the view that, since the orders were both signed and countersigned by His Majesty, the public would not readily accept that as credible. The explanation which they put forward was even less credible, but deliberately so. In barefaced defiance of the intellect of every reasonable person, they claimed that there was nothing in the King’s instructions to warrant the slaughter. The effect was that public outrage was replaced by utter bewilderment. At some point, the fiction was then ventured that the massacre was merely the result of a long standing feud between the Campbell and the MacDonald clans. This finally deflected the attention away from the dishonour and the barbarity of the military exercise as a subject of public concern and all was well, once again. The whole affair would soon be forgotten by all but the Jacobites. Although the commission blamed Dalrymple for the atrocity, neither he nor any of the other participants were ever brought to trial, for the obvious reason that they would have cited, in their defence, the King’s orders to extirpate the clan.
The myth of the “Campbells & MacDonalds” falls far short of the truth but, like all mythology, it is not without foundation. During the previous year, the Government’s hopes to secure a peace in the Highlands had centred on the diplomatic efforts of Sir John Campbell, the Earl of Breadalbane. As early as June 1691, the MacDonalds might have agreed to end hostilities but Breadalbane undermined his own skills as a negotiator by introducing a personal grievance which really boiled down to a matter of some stolen cows, and the opportunity was lost. Having failed to get satisfaction from Glencoe over the business of the cattle, his mind may have turned to revenge and there is evidence to support the belief that it was he who first suggested to Dalrymple that the MacDonalds of Glencoe be singled out as an example of the King’s justice. Three months after the massacre, Breadalbane, ever the negotiator, had no qualms about contacting Glencoe’s sons and offering to use his influence to have reparations awarded to them if they would declare, publicly, that he had no part in it.
We tend to think on government propaganda as being a modern device but here is a story, more than three hundred years old, and, even now, the fiction of the Campbells and the MacDonalds is remembered; Glencoe, if the government’s apologists were to be believed, was some sort of clan feud which descended into a dishonourable butchery. And they are widely believed! It’s now become a sort of romantic curiosity for the tourist trade. I might as well declare an interest at this point. Being a Campbell, by name, and a Jacobite by nature, descended from a long line of recusants (interesting how many people don’t even know what that means) and Jacobites, this story strikes a chord. Decent, ordinary people in 1692 would have found it a lot easier to believe the story of the Campbells and the MacDonalds than to come to terms with the fact that their King sanctioned and the Scottish Secretary planned one of the most dishonourable massacres in history. Nothing changes.
It is probable that the massacre of Glencoe was conceived in a Campbell mind, made possible through Campbell complicity, and achieved by a Campbell’s dishonour, but behind it was a driving force and a guiding hand which belonged to the Scottish Secretary, Sir John Dalrymple, Master of Stair. Ten years later, that same hand would be helping, in no small measure, to guide Scotland towards the Union of the Parliaments, but that’s another story.
©Scotland Talking 1992
A copy of a Scottish Records Office publication, providing references to some of the sources of documentary evidence used in preparation of the foregoing account, has been uploaded in image form (i.e. I haven’t yet had time to transcribe it). The images have been compressed as much as possible (50kb & 120kb).
- An audio cassette of this story was produced in 1992 by “Scotland Talking” and the preceding account of the massacre is essentially a copy of the script for that production.
- Narrated by actor James Bryce, one of Scotland’s top story-tellers, the Massacre of Glencoe was researched and written by Jimmy Powdrell Campbell.
“May 11th (1968) is the 200th anniversary of the birth of David Hamilton, the architect who gave style and dignity to Glasgow at a time when the city was just becoming conscious of its modern greatness.
FRANCIS WORSDALL traces his career and influence.”
“When in 1857 a new concert-hall was erected in Glasgow, the decoration included medallion heads of the great figures in various artistic fields. These included Handel for music, Reynolds for painting, and inevitably, as it seemed at the time, David Hamilton for architecture. This gives some idea of how much he was revered by the succeeding generation of architects in the city, many of whom had, in fact, been trained in his office during the half century in which he practised.
David Hamilton was born in Glasgow on May 11, 1768. He was trained and spent some years working as a stone-mason before deciding to become an architect. In those early formative years the city was rapidly expanding, with new streets of handsome villas and squares, erected by the new wealthy merchant class. This “New Town of Glasgow” in the style popularised by Robert and James Adam had a profound influence on Hamilton’s mature style. About 1790, he set up in business in his native city, and began the long series of works throughout Scotland which was to make him famous.
In 1802, he was commissioned by the governors of Hutchesons’ Hospital to design their new building in Ingram Street. Here we can see a number of the characteristics which we associate with the contemporary work of Sir John Soane in London. Internally, there was originally a large central hall, expressed externally by a high main storey with Corinthian columns. The statues of the two Hutcheson brothers were rescued from the 17th century building in the Trongate where the school was originally housed. A fluted spire is the crowning feature. About 10 years later, two comparable structures were erected – the Town Steeple at Falkirk (probably intended to be attached to a town-house which was never erected) and Port Glasgow Town Hall, where the spire surmounts a Doric portico of individual type.
Hamilton designed the Nelson Monument on Glasgow Green in 1806. It was the first to be erected to the hero of Trafalgar, and consists of a massive Roman obelisk 144 feet high, with the names of the great admiral’s victories inscribed on the sides. In 1810 it was struck by lightning during a violent storm and split almost from top to bottom.
The first two decades of the 19th century saw the rebuilding of many Scottish parish churches, and Hamilton designed a number of them. In those days an architect had to be able to turn his hand to any style his client might choose, and was not always able to make his own choice. Clearly Hamilton favoured variations on Italian themes, but it must be admitted that his contribution to the Gothic Revival was among the most successful when one considers that his work pre-dated the discoveries of Pugin and Rickman.
St. John’s Church, in Glasgow’s east end, has been demolished, but good Gothic examples remain at Larbert and Lennoxtown in Stirlingshire, and Bothwell in Lanarkshire. The towers in each case are well proportioned and form prominent local landmarks. The Bothwell church was originally erected against the medieval chancel, but in recent times the dividing wall has been taken down to form a single composition. Unfortunately, the removal of Hamilton’s galleries has resulted in the exposure of a large expanse or ugly rubble walling. Campsie High Church at Lennoxtown stands on a hill and its tower emphasises the strong vertical lines of the rest of the design. Allied to the Gothic churches is the tower of Kilwinning Abbey in Ayrshire, which he designed in 1814 to replace the original structure which had collapsed.
The three churches in Renaissance style were all in Glasgow. Unfortunately two, have been demolished, and the third remain, in a mutilated condition. This is the earliest: Gorbals Parish Church, in Carlton Place erected 1810-11. The spire was demolished earlier this century after being damaged by lightning. St. Enoch’s Parish Church, formerly in the square of that name, was a design of 1827, incorporating the steeple of an earlier building. Traditionally the site of St Thenaw’s burial place (St. Thenaw was St. Mungo’s mother) and certainly that of a medieval chapel in her honour, it is a pity that this historic site is no longer marked by any monument.
St. Paul’s Church in John Street had a portico similar to that of St. Enoch’s, but was surmounted by a cupola. It was removed to make way for an extension that is now Strathclyde University. All these buildings had a quality of elegance which we associate with the pre-Victorian period of architecture.
Hamilton’s last church is at Ascog on the Isle of Bute and is quite different from the others in inspiration. It was probably largely designed by David’s youngest son, James who certainly did much of the firm’s later work. It is Romanesque in style with a simple square tower at the east end and the appearance of a simple Italian country church. It is a pity that tiles were not used for roofing instead of the rather dismal, slates as that would have completed illusion.
Probably the best-known part of Hamilton’s practice consisted of private housing – from the small suburban villa to the huge country mansions of wealthy landowner. They are in many and varied styles. In some, the influence of Robert Adam is apparent, with that architect’s love of circular and elliptical rooms, often expressed externally in symmetrical curved bays, Hamilton’s approach, however, was more robust than Adam’s, and his ornamentation shows a boldness of detail which is absent from the earlier master’s style. Many of these houses have been mistakenly attributed to Adam, owing to the similarity between both architects’ external treatment. These Italian villas are to be found among Hamilton’s earliest and latest work. Two interesting examples of the latter are to be found at. Largs in Ayrshire. Brooksby is a restrained design. St. Fillan’s. now converted into a hotel, is on a very original plan, being shaped like a letter ‘A’ to allow views up and down the Firth of Clyde, and the main doorway placed in the angle facing inland.
These are examples of the marine villa which became more and more popular as the 19th century progressed. The first of them was Curling Hall, also in Largs, built by Hamilton in 1805, and the series continued with such good specimens as Castle House, Dunoon, and Ellenbank, Inverkip. The culmination was reached in the magnificent pile of Castle Toward erected in 1820-21. A massive and romantic group in castellated Gothic style, it was erected at the height of the fashion for such structures. On the other side of the country, a large addition was made to the medieval buildings of Airth Castle in Stirlingshire in 1807. It consists of a wide embattlmented front flanked by octagonal towers. As in much of his work, the interior is Italian in inspiration, the centre-piece being an elliptical saloon which forms an ingenious link between the old and new parts of the house. Kincaid House, in the same county, is a less successful combination of styles and somewhat resembles a “Gothick Folly.”
In Ayrshire, Dunlop House is an essay in the Jacobean manner and was one of its author’s favourites. The design began as an addition to an older house, but eventually the latter was almost completely demolished. Dating from 1833-34, the house is set in the midst of attractive landscaped parkland.
Hamilton was commissioned to design, in a similar manner to Dunlop, a large mansion in Stirlingshire attached to a small 16th century house. The site was obviously unsuitable and the addition impossible to manage, so in 1837 the idea was abandoned in favour of a new house on a different site. On this occasion the style chosen was that of a Norman castle and the new structure given the name of Lennox Castle. A rnember of the family was at that time prosecuting a long and difficult court case hoping to revive the ancient title of Earl of Lennox, which had been first awarded to a Norman ancestor. The romantic grouping of three towers of different sizes within a massive framework is one of Hamilton’s most successful designs. The only concession to Victorian taste was the provision of a large porte-cochere at the principal entrance.
In sheer size, Lennox Castle was eclipsed only by the additions made to Hamilton Palace in the years 1822-30 for Alexander, the 10th Duke. These consisted of an irnposing new frontage 264 feet in length with, as its centrepiece, a noble Roman Corinthian portico. The columns were each formed of a single stone 25 feet in height. The interior was on a similarly magnificent scale – vast rooms with richly decorated plasterwork, a great marble staircase, the whole to be crammed with priceless works of art. Owing to subsidence from the many pits in the area, the palace, like so many humbler dwellings, was demolished in the years following the First World War.
It is not generally known that Duke Alexander also commissioned the design for the Mausoleum in the Palace grounds. Hamilton submitted three designs and work began on the project in 1840. Unfortunately, he died when only the crypt was finished and the completion of the building was entrusted to David Bryce of Edinburgh, who is quite wrongly often credited with the whole design.
Hamilton was responsible for a large number of public buildings. Among them in Glasgow may be mentioned the old Theatre Royal in Queen Street, built in 1803-5 and burned down in 1829; and the Normal School in New City Road with its conspicuous clock tower.Most important is the Royal Exchange . Handicapped by the necessity of retaining the old mansion on the site, he cleverly added a fine Corinthian portico in front and a large richly ornamented hall behind. The vaulted and coffered ceiling of this hall is typical of Hamilton’s care over every detail of his design.
In the last years of his life, when Hamilton was joined in partnership by his son James, there was a surge of activity and many designs with a new and experimental approach came from the office. Most of these buildings were banks, and sadly, most have been demolished. The only one remaining – the British Linen Bank in Queen Street, Glasgow – is one of the finest, with a well designed circular corner.
The Western Club in Buchanan Street also belonged to this phase. Apart from two walls, it has been completely demolished. Internally, it had a splendid double staircase and fine spacious rooms. Externally, there is some bold carved ornament, and an attic storey in which the windows are separated by elongated consoles – a device later borrowed by “Greek” Thomson.
Such a busy office left little time for such luxuries as competition entries. On one important occasion, however, time was snatched up to send an entry for the Houses Of Parliament at Westminster in 1835. As a result he was awarded the third prize of £500, the only Scottish architect to win a placing.
The painting of Hamilton by Saxon shows a rather dandified young man, but the later one by Macnee is of a friendly old man with a mischievous grin. It is this kindly, humorous, fatherly figure that his apprentices remembered, treated, as they were, as part of the family in the old-fashioned, office-house. This was the training ground for many of Glasgow’s Victorian architects – Charles Wilson and J. T. Rochead are names that spring immediately to mind; and it was Hamilton’s example that enabled them and their colleagues to maintain such a high standard. He died on December 5th 1843, the most loved and revered of all Glasgow’s architects. From his stature and influence, David Hamilton can fairly be called the father of Glasgow architecture.“
Copyright © Scottish Field 1968
[With thanks to the Scottish Field for their permission to reproduce this article].
Watch the video below! which shows the trial of Madeleine Smith.