Glasgow from Coplawhill 1824. Grahamston lies
on the left of the picture
Before the Union of Parliaments in 1707, Glasgow possessed no industrial life or energy. Trade was insignificant, the industries rudimentary and unskilled. Glasgow was at a disadvantage in competing with the east coast, which enjoyed easy access to continental Europe. Any advantage held by the west coast in trading with the Americas and the West Indies was negated by English law banning direct Scottish trade with those parts of the world. The population of Glasgow was in decline, from 14600 in 1660 to 12500 in 1700.
The Act of Union opened up opportunities for the west of Scotland to trade with America, and Glasgow was the main beneficiary because of its direct access to the open seas.
By the middle of the 18th century, Glasgow was beginning to feel the effects of the industrial revolution. Scottish genius seemed not so much to flower as to erupt. The Scottish Enlightenment was truly under way, and the influence of Adam Smith, David Hume, Robert Burns, Walter Scott, Robert Owen and David Dale was to be found throughout the country and the world.
The ensuing growth in shipping at the Broomielaw was a major factor in the growth of Grahamston. The tobacco trade was particularly influential, and at one time almost the entire disposable capital of the city was embarked upon it. But it was not the ‘only game in town’. Glasgow merchants were trading in a wide range of commodities, including rum, sugar, cotton, coffee, timber, tobacco, animal hides, grain and rice. A number of these commodities, notably grain, sugar and timber, found storage and processing facilities in Grahamston and the surrounding area.
Looking toward Grahamston from Anderston, mid 1700s
The most important factor in Grahamston’s growth, however, was to be found about one mile to the north. The opening of the Forth and Clyde canal in 1790 dictated the development of the community over the next few decades, as merchants and industrialists sought facilities for storage and processing adjacent to the city, with good access to the south and west and to the ocean going ships at the Broomielaw. Families having a picnic on Harley’s Hill (Blythswood Hill) in the early 1800s were amazed by the fact that there were more ships’ masts to be seen on the canal at Port Dundas than were to be seen on the Clyde.
Grahamston had a comparatively short life as a village in the accepted meaning of the term, becoming instead an important commercial centre. It stood literally at the crossroads of the main north-south and east-west axes of the city, and metaphorically at the crossroads of Glasgow’s graduation from a quiet backwater to a serious player in world trade.
The story of Grahamston is undoubtedly a microcosm of Glasgow’s growth into a diverse, multi-cultural and internationally renowned city of the 21st century.