At the beginning of the 19th century the Industrial Revolution had a strong foothold in the Scottish city of Glasgow with the manufacture of cotton and textiles, chemicals, glass, paper and soap. People from the Highlands in the north moved to the area in the 1820s and, later in the 1840s, immigrants arrived from Ireland to join the workforce.
The population of Glasgow grew from 250,000 at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign to 760,000 at the end of her reign. The cotton industry employed almost a third of the workforce at its height before the city diversified into the heavy industries, such as, shipbuilding, locomotive construction and others that were able to thrive on local supplies of coal and iron ore.
Between 1870 and 1914, Glasgow ranked as one of the richest and finest cities in Europe. You can see this evidenced in the beautiful old sandstone buildings. On the other hand, as with all big cities where people congregate to find work, Glasgow suffered from the horrible social problems of poverty, which lead to crime and disease.
There were serious typhus epidemics in 1837 and 1847 and the first cholera outbreak in Scotland in 1832 killed 10,000 people. Between the 1830s and the late 1850s, death rates in the cities rose to peaks not seen since the 17th century.
I’m still researching my maternal line in the Glasgow area where my ancestor James Spittal (a vintner), his wife and several children succumbed to an epidemic. My brother passed on the story, to aid in my research, of how our great grandfather and his remaining siblings, as very young children,walked unaccompanied from Glasgow to their grandparents home in the village of Thornhill, near Stirling, when their parents and the rest of the family perished. This caused quite a stir and illustrates the survival instinct at its best.
The rampant disease in Glasgow stemmed from the fact that the water source was polluted and unsanitary due to lack of proper sewage management systems. The Loch Katrine Scheme, which was opened by Queen Victoria in 1859, whereby Glasgow drew its water from the Trossachs (Rob Roy country) went a long way to address the problem. It also paved the way for other positive activities like slum clearance, gas supply, public lighting followed by tramways, museums, libraries, art galleries and parks. By the 1890s Glasgow had more municipal services than any other city of its size.
In addition, the cost of basic foods dropped in the 1870s and 1890s and the improvement of milk supplies, free school meals and excellent health services, cut back death rates among the poor.
The two Great Exhibitions of 1881 and 1901 in Kelvingrove Park, shows Glasgow’s pride in its achievements.and was justifiably labeled the “Second City of the Empire.”