During its Victorian heyday, Glasgow didn’t just build slums for the workers, it also built fine buildings for the city’s powerful elite, and there’s none finer than the Glasgow City Chambers.
As the city grew in size and importance, the original civic offices at the Tolbooth struggled to keep pace, and so a site was found at the east end of George Square to build a new City Hall. Designed by Paisley born architect William Young, this grand building was constructed in the Beaux Art style (a form of French neo-classicism), with an ornate pediment and sculptures being added by James Alexander Ewing.
Ewing’s intention was to symbolise Glasgow’s rise to prominence through its connection with the River Clyde, but in the end the design was amended to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee instead. Whoever was behind the change of heart I’m not sure, but it had the desired effect because on 22nd August 1888, it was Queen Victoria herself who cut the ribbon to open the new building.
St. Mungo and Glasgow Cathedral
Glasgow didn’t have any history before the Industrial Revolution – or at least I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what many people thought. It’s true of course that it developed into a major city during the Victorian era, but it might surprise some people to learn that it was founded way back in the 6th
century when a missionary called St. Mungo built a church at a place called Glas Gu (meaning ‘Green Place’).
If you haven’t heard of St. Mungo then perhaps you’ve heard of St. Kentigern, who just happens to be the same man. The difference in name is down to which branch of the Celtic language you believe the name originates from, but as we’re in Scotland I think we should call him Mungo. It seems that he was born in Culross, Fife, but the date of his birth isn’t quite so clear.
Talking about dates from this period is notoriously unreliable, but most accounts suggest that Mungo was around 25 years of age when he established his mission at the spot where Glasgow Cathedral now stands.
The Song of the Clyde
The Clyde - A River that Gives with One Hand and Takes Away with the Other
, made famous by Paisley born Kenneth McKellar, waxes lyrical about the “Wonderful Clyde”, but to an outsider like me, ‘wonderful’ wasn’t the first adjective that sprang to mind in describing the ribbon of water that flows through the centre of Glasgow: All I knew was that it was full of shipyards and lined with heavy industry. It certainly held a fascination for me, but I couldn’t believe that it was wonderful, or at least not in the way I understood the meaning of the word – but that was before I’d even set eyes on the river, but what do I think now that I have?
No Mean City is a novel written by Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long and is about the razor gangs of the Gorbals, a notorious working-class district on the south side of the River Clyde. It was set in the inter-war years and did nothing to change people’s perception of Glasgow’s tough reputation, one in which the stereotype is likely to be a heavy drinking sectarian football fanatic who might well have worked as a welder in a Govan shipyard and spent his Saturday nights trying to drink Sauchiehall Street dry.
Glasgow’s tough reputation stems from the days when it was the ‘Second City of the Empire’. The industrialization of Glasgow produced shipyards, factories and slums, and although there are plenty of examples of some fine Victorian classical architecture, I don’t think that even the staunchest Glaswegian would say that they live in a beautiful city – but beauty is only skin deep. Scratch below the surface and you’ll find that there’s a lot more to Glasgow than you might have realised.