Recollections of Bridgeton
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William Guthrie


BRIDGETON, from the time the first feu was taken, onwards to 1st January, 1847, was a suburb of Glasgow. It is well laid out, being almost a square from east to west and north to south. The two main thoroughfares are Main Street and New Dalmarnock Road - the first, about half a mile long from north to south, beginning at Barrowfield Toll and ending at Rutherglen Bridge; the latter, one mile long, from Barrowfield Toll to Dalmarnock Bridge, and the side streets run east and west. These two thoroughfares were under the Road Trustees, who kept them up in repair. There was what they called a Feuars' Court, composed of lairds of property. They elected a Provost from amongst themselves each year. Their duties were light, as they had only to look after the keeping of the pavements in repair, which got a lot of engine ash when necessary. There were no police and no lights on the streets except from the windows of a few shops and dwelling-houses, lighted with oil lamps or candles, as the most of the ground floors were occupied with weavers' shops, which had all outside shutters. The streets were very dark during winter. The weavers in those days had very long hours. They began work, some at six and some at seven o'clock in the morning, on till ten at night, and some longer. But the weaver shops were cheery. Most of the weavers could sing and talk and work at the same time. The weavers were politicians, and mostly all in favour of the Reform Bill of 1832, but few had a vote then; it was only lairds and those who had high-rented shops and places of business.


I will try to give you a description of what the place was like from 1830 and onwards. I will make starting point at the south end of Dalmarnock Road where there was at one time a ford across the Clyde. The water was very shallow. I remember when I was a boy of wading across the river just above where the bridge now stands. The first bridge was built by the Road Trustees. I cannot give you the date, as it was before my time. It was all built of wood on a sandy bottom. The piles in course of time began to give way, and the bridge became like a switchback. There was a rail track on each side for carts, and small footways between the rails and the parapet. The agreement with the Road Trustees was that they had power to levy tolls from carts, carriages, cattle, and foot passengers on condition that when the revenue exceeded the expenditure the bridge was to be free. About the end of the thirties it was found that the Trustees had been overpaid, and the public made a demand on them to free the bridge. They refused to do this, and, as the public were lukewarm in the matter, Peter Mackenzie, of the Reformers' Gazette, took the case in hand on his own responsibility, carried the case to Court, gained the plea, and the bridge became free. In a few years it became so dangerous that a new bridge had to be built at the east side of the old one. This bridge was on the same lines as the other one, and in course of time became another switchback. By an arrangement with the county authorities - the burghs of Rutherglen and Glasgow - there is now a handsome stone structure across the Clyde.


There was a large meadow on the river bank to the east of the bridge, which was let to cowfeeders for grazing their cows. It was free to the public, but, alas! the best part of it is now enclosed for a football club, and the rest filled up with rubbish. This meadow was very much abused by roughs from the town and Calton during the summer months. Every Monday they came in thousands and had prize fights either by men or dogs, and sometimes both; but this was put a stop to by the powers that be. There was a sand bank at the bend of the river, where the boys used to dig for cockadoos, as they were called. They were large mussels, about five inches long and two inches broad, and when found were empty. They must have belonged to a past age. It was said that pearls had been found in some of them, but I was never lucky enough to find any. There is still a rough footpath round this bank, but its beauty is destroyed. To the west of the bridge there was a pleasant walk along the banks of the Clyde, which ended in a three-cornered meadow on the east bank of the Cranstonhill Waterworks. The Methodists used to hold camp meetings here on Sundays in the summer season.


Coming back to the bridge and along Dalmarnock Road, on the left was a dyke running up to where Arthur Street is now, with the porter's lodge of Dalmarnock half-way between, This dyke enclosed the house and garden of Dalmarnock House, occupied then by Patrick Playfair, Esq., a merchant in Glasgow. The garden was a great haunt for birds of all descriptions, and their songs morning and evening were delightful to hear. On the right side of the road there were fields and Springfield House (or Wardrop's House), with a lodge, opposite Dalmarnock Lodge. There was a fine clump of beech trees here, some of which are still standing. The houses built on the spot are called Beechwood. North from this is Springfield Road, or the bye-name, the Black Road. Springfield Farm was on the right hand side, and occupied by Mr. Roberton, the father of the late Professor Roberton, Glasgow University, who was born here. Beyond this was Messrs. William Miller & Sons' Print and Dyeworks. Further east was the Glasgow Waterworks, now a large papermaking work Messrs. Miller's works are all let in sections, and the fields where corn and wheat used to grow are covered with houses.


At the north end of Dalmarnock House dyke (now Strathclyde Street) Messrs. Muir & Brown built a large print and dyework. William Rae Arthur (late Lord Provost) was senior partner - alas! all away now. The only landmark is the Old Tollhouse which the Road Trustees built. Those same Trustees must have made a pile of money off this toll. All the coals from Cambuslang, Eastfield, Rutherglen, and Farm pits passed through, and fivepence was the charge for every waggon. At the back of the tollhouse was Dalmarnock Farm, occupied by Mr. Guthrie, who had a large family, none of whom took to farming except the eldest son. Some of the others are merchants in Glasgow and Manchester. Further south was Wilson's Coalpit. The farmhouse is still standing.


Mr. Wilson, the coalmaster, had a train railway from the pit to the river bank, where he had erected a landing stage, with a crane for shipping coals on barges, which were drawn with a rope by men down the river to Commerce Street, Hutchesontown, where there was a coal depot. There was also a set of cart rails from the pit to Dalmarnock Road, along the road which is now Swanston Street. This ground between Arthur Street and Swanston Street is now covered with the Caledonian Railway and Dalmarnock Station, and many other works.


The next road had no name, but is now called Bartholomew Street. It led down along the side of a burn, which was the march between Dalmarnock and Barrowfield estates, and ended at the gate to Bartholomew's Works. There was a large block of brick houses here, which was called Glengarry, occupied by the workers at these works. At the head of this road is the junction of Old and New Dalmarnock Roads. Morgan's Farm stood here. The farm and grounds to the south and west are now covered with the Dalmarnock Gasworks, which were erected in 1838 by the Glasgow and Suburban Company; but previous to that Wilson, the coalmaster, erected a block of three-storey houses for his workmen on the site of the farmhouse. This old road, now Bartholomew Street, lay between the grass parks of Dalmarnock and Barrowfield Works. These parks were covered with white cloth every afternoon, and the cloth remained upon the grass all night, as it was then considered that night bleaching was the best. Many young women were employed at this work, and braw healthy kimmers they were, very cheery and fond of fun, many of them good singers. It was a fine sight to see these white fields.


There used to be a great many springs or pump wells in Bridgeton, but the excavating of the ground for the gasometers drained all the water away and left them dry.


There were very few houses on the Old Dalmarnock Road. Hussey's Spinning Mill stood at Dale Street, at the corner of which there was a burn, which ran down through Barrowfield, but was covered in. There Hussey made his own gas, and allowed all the refuse and tar to run into the burn, and it was called the Tarry Ditch.


There was at this time only one church in the village, but in 1836 the Church Building Society of Scotland erected a church opposite Hussey's Mill in Dale Street which is now Bridgeton Parish Church. Of this church, the Rev. Patrick Fairbairn was the first minister, he subsequently became professor in the Free Church College - I had the honour of putting the first bawbee in the plate on the opening day. Two years afterwards they built a school and beadle's house. Mr. Bell was the first teacher.


On the New Dalmarnock Road, opposite Bartholomew Street, there is a house called Gardenside, which belonged to a Mr. Muir. He built a small block printing work at the back, which is now converted into small dwelling-houses. From this point north there were few houses. The only one of note was a four-storey building which stood back from the road. This house was converted into a Cholera Hospital in 1832, and always went under the name of the Cholera Land as long as it stood. This was a sad time. The van went round the streets every morning to lift the dead, and I have seen 10 coffins in it at a time.


What is now Graham Street was an avenue which led through the fields to Barrowfield Farm, or Hart's Farm, or, as it was then called, Queen Mary's Farm. The house, as far as I can remember, was two storeys, with three peaked windows on the top flat. It was a square farm yard. There was a large orchard to the north side, and the gateway had two side posts surmounted by lions. The last time I saw them they were very much defaced. This orchard extended north from the farmyard and from Queen Mary's Avenue east to Scotston, a few houses which stood on London Road. A little further east is Newlands House - still standing. Opposite this house a Mr. Nimmo sank a coalpit, and constructed a horse tram-way which ran by Newlands House and down through the fields and Queen Mary's Farm and along the avenue on the west side of the orchard, crossed London Road and along what is now Peel Street to Brook Street, where there was a depot. Mr. Nimmo also tried to sink a coal-pit at what is now Ruby Street, but running sand came in upon them and two men lost their lives. He got iron cylinders made and put them down, but it was no use; the water was too much for them, and the project was abandoned. The shaft was left open full of water - a danger to all the youths round about. However, it became of use when the Baltic Jute Company laid down their works near to it. They drew the water for their engine boilers, which saved the expense of taking water from the Water Company.


The fields and grounds belonging to the farm of Barrowfield are covered by railways and works of many descriptions, the largest of which is Sir William Arrols Ironworks; also many streets of dwelling-houses, occupied by weavers, printfield workers, and colliers, most of them very respectable and well-to-do, and many of them regular churchgoing people. The colliers used to have big weddings, and as they were styled penny weddings - that is, each paid their portion of the expenses - it was not an uncommon thing to see forty couples walking from the colliers' houses to Monteith Row to get the knot tied, the women dressed in white muslin and the men in blue or wine-coloured coats with brass buttons and tall hats; no jerry hats in those days. After the marriage was performed they marched back the same way, but a halt was made at Barrowfield Toll, and two men were selected to run the broose to Litster's public-house, and by the time the company arrived there the two men were waiting with a bottle of whisky each, and the company drank the health of the new married couple. Chalmers' public-house was the usual place for the supper and dance, which lasted sometimes till next day. There is only one other house on this road worth taking notice of, the one at the junction at the north end of New and Old Dalmarnock Roads, which is called Derry Castle. It has ever been, and is still, a public-house. It is a three-cornered house, and has no ground except pavements round about it. How it got the name of Derry Castle none can tell, except, as it is said, that it was built by a man from Derry. There was a small house a little further on, occupied by Tam Eadie and his mother. Tam was a carter, and had one horse with a stumpy tail. Tam was known by the name of Stumpy Tam. He said he would never marry, but when his mother died he picked up a very handsome wife, and they became regular church people. There was also a public-house here which went under the name of Wet or Dry. This name arose from the habits of a carter from Cambuslang, who came into town every day, wet or dry, and could not pass without his dram. Barrowfield Spinning Mill was opposite this point, and is now covered in by the Caledonian Railway and station.


We will now come back to Rutherglen Bridge, from which Bridgeton takes its name (Brig Town). The first bridge was built in 1777 or 1775. It had five arches and was very high in the centre, and so narrow that two carts had some difficulty to pass. The passengers had very nervous feelings when crossing over the bridge on the top of the Rutherglen bus, because if any accident had taken place the passengers would have been thrown into the river. This bridge was so inconvenient that it had to be taken down, and there is now a very handsome structure on the same site. To the west of the bridge there was a passage along the bank of the Clyde to Allan's Pen, a covered way built by Mr. Allan, owner of Newhall House, which stood on the bank. It was a failure, and remained in ruins for many a day. The Corporation of Glasgow have inserted in the wall at this spot a tablet marking the place of the site. Between the bridge and Newhall House there was an iron foundry owned by a Mr. McAndrew. Allan's Pen was the entrance to Glasgow Green. On the north bank was Robin's Well. This well was much used by spirit dealers for mixing their whisky with its water. There was another well beyond this, which had a stone stair at each side of the spout. The water of this well was slightly mineral. Further along the bank were the spring boards for the use of bathers. There were five of them, ranging from 6 to 16 feet of depth of water in the river. These spring boards were largely patronised by young and old, and on Sunday there could be seen some hundreds in the water, and some very fancy swimming. I remember an old man - John Angus was his name - who used to come there every morning and have his dip. In winter, when the river was covered with ice, he would break a hole in it to have his dip. Poor man, he was drowned at last. Above this was the Fleshers' Haugh. There was a printfield at this spot before it was purchased by the city authorities. My grandmother was in her young days a pencillor in these works. The works were removed across the river to Shawfield, at the side of Jenny's Burn, but not a vestige of them remains.


Coming back to the bridge, we enter the Main Street of Bridgeton from the north side. This is a straight street about half a mile long, and at that time was built on both sides with two and three storey houses, occupied by weavers, printers, and other tradesmen. The first street on the east side is Trafalgar, and was built by a Frenchman named Papoloney, who introduced turkey red dyeing at Barrowfield Works. Mr. Henry Menteith joined him, and the works latterly came into his hands. Papaloney died very poor. It is not many years since I saw the name of this firm painted above an entrance to offices near the foot of Brunswick Street. On the west side was the Swan Tavern and Gardens, where curds and cream and other refreshments could be got for lads and lassies. We now come to Dublin Land. There were always a good many Irish people here, and I suppose that was how it got its name. There was a building at the back of this, the top flat of which was for some time a school. It was called Niven's Hall, and was the only place for public meetings or lectures. Next to this were the Tea Gardens, which was a great resort. The Gardens were very fine, and fruits of all kinds were to be had, with various other refreshments. There was a small menagerie, consisting of birds, beasts, and reptiles, and, as the showmen say, "All alive! All alive !"


There was a grocer's shop opposite Rumford Street, owned by a Mr. McGregor. When he gave it up it was occupied by a company of three printers - viz., Macdonald, McGibbon, and Muirhead. The first named was Mr. Hugh Macdonald, the Rambler, who was appointed shopkeeper. These were all intimate friends of the writer. This venture was unsuccessful, and the partners came to grief: I believe if McGibbon had been appointed manager it would have been a success, as he afterwards became manager of the Bridgeton Old Victualling and Baking Society, and made it a prosperous concern. When he died Mr. Muirhead followed in the same management, and this concern is still flourishing under the direction of working men and Mr. Dawson, an expert salesman, with assistants.


It was while Mr. Macdonald was shopkeeping that he had the controversy anent Burns with the Rev. George Gilfillan, of Dundee; and so convincing were the Rambler's arguments that he turned Gilfillan's opinion of Burns to the right side. Gilfillan called on Macdonald at his shop one day to satisfy himself that the champion of Burns was none other than a working man, and a friendship was begun between them which lasted.


Hugh Macdonald was a very quiet man. He had not much to say in business. You had to get into his inner circle before you could see his merits. He had a brother who was a better poet than himself but he was very shy, and would not come out of his shell.


At the corner of Ann Street and Main Street was a range of two-storey buildings, which was called Wee Belfast, occupied by weavers from the north of Ireland. They were swept away to make room for Bridgeton Public Hall, or Laird's Hall. We next come to Bridgeton Public School, which was built by the Bridgeton Association for Religious and Educational Improvement, now absorbed in the School Board. John Street, leading to the Green, was the outlet to the west till William Street in the Calton was reached. Green Street led to the grave-yard, and on the north side Green Street Lane led to the Bridgeton Public Washing Green, which was gifted to the feuars by the superior. This green was bought by the City Improvement Trust, and the money was lodged in bank in the name of Alexander McLaren, Esq., for the feuars. At his death it was transferred to the name of his son, the late Bailie McLaren. When the People's Palace was erected this money, which amounted to over two thousand pounds, along with the surplus of the first East-End Exhibition, was handed over to the Parks Committee. East from the Green was a small brewery entry to which was from Main Street, at Barrowfield Toll. On the north side of the Main Street, near the Toll, was Murdoch's Hall, where the Lodge "Shamrock and Thistle" met, and where the Thistle Instrumental Band met for practice. The Lodge first, and for many years afterwards, met in Weir's public-house at Factory Open, where Walker's Powerloom Factory was. Main Street and Dalmarnock Road were the two leading thoroughfares to Rutherglen, East Kilbride, Cambuslang, and Hamilton.


There was a considerable amount of business done in Bridgeton in those days. There were six spinning and six weaving mills, one silk mill, three large printing and dyeworks, blacksmiths, joiners, and masons; but the weavers were most numerous. In 1838 there were 2200 weavers in the village, but now they are a thing of the past. The weavers were a very intelligent class of men, but of course there were black sheep amongst them. They were great politicians, and advocates of the Reform Bill of 1832 and 1833.


There was a large demonstration held on the Green at this time, and the various local trades formed a procession, with banners of beautiful designs and miniature specimens of their crafts, many of them working models. Each craft was headed by a band of music, the carters leading the van. Johnny Robertson was at their head, dressed with plush vest decorated with various ribbons, and a large blue bonnet with red tourie. The horses were beautifully decorated with ribbons and flowers, their harness shining, and with the Bridgeton band in front. The dress of the band was black coats and trousers, with white vests and tall hats, and were called the Gentlemen's Band. The procession came out of the Green by John Street, and at the toll check bar turned into Main Street towards Barrowfield Toll, where there was a beautiful floral arch, thence along Canning Street and on to London Street, where there was another floral arch. This was considered the grandest pro cession ever seen in Glasgow or elsewhere.


We come back again to the village as it was then. The Main Street was the business street of the place, and there were a good many grocer, provision, flesher, and tailor shops; and, as Bridgeton was always great in Co-operation, there were at one time six Co-operative Society shops Of course there were also many public-houses, for at that time any person could get a license for a respectable house. There was a saying amongst school boys about certain shopkeepers which ran into rhyme -


Kind Davie, Tick Tant,

General Junts, and Old Swan.


Kind Davie always gave children some sweets when they came a message; Tick Tam was great for giving credit; General Junts was an old soldier and a publican; and Old Swan kept the Swan Tavern and Gardens. The as streets running east and west between Main Street and Dalmarnock Road had very plain houses, two and three storeys in height, and occupied mostly by weavers and other tradesmen. Altogether it was a very clean place, and most of the houses had a garden and bleaching green at the back. There were no police, and the place was ruled by a Feuars' Court, who elected a Provost; but their duty was to see roads were kept in order; and each house was assessed two shillings per year.


As there were no police, a few of the feuars were sworn in as constables in case of any disturbance, but they were seldom needed. The only annoyance the village had was caused by the rough class that came over the burn at Barrowfield Toll, and had a fight in the Main Street, the police looking on on the Calton side, but could not interfere, as they were over the boundary. The boys and girls had a high time of it in those days, as they could play any amount of games on the streets. Old Dalmarnock Road, where there was no complete thoroughfare, was a grand place for shinty, prison base, smugglers, King Henry, spangy, muggie, rounder; table the duck, etc. In winter there were generally heavy falls of snow, and many a snow battle took place, but as the road began to be built up the games fell away.


There were not in those days any standard schools. Any man or woman who thought they could give lessons in reading or writing could set up a school at twopence per week. But latterly there were three ordinary good schools - one kept by a Mr. Tennent, who was called Bluebeard; one by the Brothers Gardner; and one by old Billy Struthers. Tennent's was considered the high school, for the better class of boys and girls, and when they got up to McCulloch's collection were drafted to St. James's (McNab's school). Some of the boys who were in Tennent's school went abroad; others became lawyers; some went into the Church; others became merchants and one rose to be a Bailie of Glasgow.


Bridgeton can boast of several poets. Sandy Rodger, the author of "Robin Tamson's Smiddy," "Behave Yourself before Folk," "Colin Dunlap," "The Drygate Brig," "The Nailer's Wife," "The Mucking o' Geordie's Byre," "Oh, Mither," "Onybody," etc. Rodger assisted in the production of "The Lard o' Logan" and "Whistle Binkie." In his later years he was employed on the Reformers' Gazette with Mr. Peter Mackenzie. Sam Whitelock was another weaver poet. He wrote a tragedy entitled "Red Cliff," and it was produced in Millar's Adelphi Theatre. Sandy Rodger gave two songs that night between the acts. The writer was there. William Freeland was a printer poet who was a pupil of Hugh Macdonald, and was latterly editor of the Glasgow Evening Times, and President of the Ballad Club. He also has passed away.


Before the river was deepened in the lower reaches there used to be great floods. I recollect one about 1832 or 1833, when the river rose to within a few yards of Main Street at Rutherglen Bridge, and as there were no sewers to carry off the heavy rains, the streets became flooded. There being no outlet for the burns they were dammed back to overflowing, and at Barrowfield Toll I have seen carts up to the axle in water. There was only one sewer in Bridgeton, which started from the middle of the Main Street and ran down to Rutherglen Bridge.


Greenhead ran along the Green dyke from the public washing-house to the gate that entered to Newhall estate, and the Camlachie Burn crossed it at the north or Calton side, and went round by the back of the washing-house. The course was altered some years ago. There was an old house which was called the House of Refuge, the tenants being of a very low class. It was entered by a wooden bridge across the burn, and was considered a dangerous place to pass at night. McPhail's works were opposite this, and the place was called Silvergrove, but the local name was the Hielands. One of the Brothers McPhail built a mansion at the entrance to the works, which is now the Buchanan Institute. There were several mansions along here. Mr Sword had one at the corner of James Street, and a fruit and flower garden extended back to John Street. South from that there were the warm water ponds connected with the silk mills in John Street. These ponds were filled with gold fish. Next were two houses belonging to Mr. William Simpson, and then Greenhead Lodge at the entrance to Newhall. As this was in the Bridgeton district there were no police, but the proprietors along this road had an arrangement with the Calton folks for one night man, and old John McAlpin was on this ground till 1847, when the police came on to Bridgeton.


There is a song called "The Gallant Hussar" that used to be sung in the Gallowgate on Saturday nights, which must have been made about a young lady who dwelt in one of these houses about the time the 15th Hussars were in Glasgow, who drilled in the King's Park, Glasgow, opposite these mansions. This regiment was banished to India from Glasgow for bad behaviour. Sir Walter Scott's son was their Colonel. It was the officers who were the most frolicsome. One of them for a wager rode through the Argyle Arcade on horseback, and another rode into Duncan's, in Buchanan Street, and ordered a glass of wine at the counter. They had a large stage coach which they turned out every Sunday, and had a drive to Edinburgh and back between nine and ten pm. They had one of the band playing a cornet all along the streets, which shocked the good folks of Glasgow.


The Glasgow Green is not now the bonnie place it was in my young days. It would be out of my power to give you such a graphic description as is to be found in Macdonald's "Rambles." However, allow me to mention a few of the features about the thirties of last century. It is supposed that the Green was part of a gift from James II. of Scotland to William Turnbull, Lord of Provan and Bishop of Glasgow. From time to time the authorities, as the city extended, secured adjacent portions of territory, until in 1792 they purchased the Fleshers' Haugh from Patrick Bell, Esq., Cowcaddens. The Old Thorn, Prince Charlie's tree, stood on the top of the brae above the Fleshers' Haugh. I have had the honour of sitting upon it. There was a fine serpentine walk through trees of elm, beech, saugh, and ash. The walk began at Binnie Place and ended at Allan's Pen. It was the eastern border of the Green. There were also a row of trees of the same sort across the Green between the Buchanan Institution and the Gymnasium, and another between Greenhead Lodge and the brae above the Fleshers' Haugh. The square between these two rows of trees (King's Park) was the drill ground of the military in those days, and many a grand spectacle was witnessed there when they had what was called a field day, or a review of the troops, the General inspecting them after the first gun was fired. John Street was crowded with men, women, and youths, the weavers with their white aprons bound round their waists, all hurrying to see the show. The square would be lined round about with people five and six deep.


The Green at that time was very pretty, being covered with buttercups, red and white daisies, dandelions, dishologies, yarrow, and many other herbs. Macdonald, in his "Rambles," mentions that fifty-three specimens of herbs were to be found in the Green at that time (1854). Alas! where are they now? Trodden under foot, and the fine old trees are all gone. The smoke from the South Side killed them, and they dropped away year by year. Now the Fleshers' Haugh is filled up, an electric tram-way runs from James' Street to Govan Street, South Side, and three bridges cross the Clyde from the Humane Society's House to Jenny's Burn. One old writer says the Green is a spacious park, about 140 imperial acres in extent, that the citizens are pretty proud of their Green, and that few towns in Great Britain can boast of such a park.



NOTES: Updated for 1st July, 2010.

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