Travelling Back Through Historical Glasgow Summers
Sometimes in life you find yourself standing in a spot and wondering who else has stood there throughout the ages. This morning for me it was overheating on a train from Partick and watching the Clyde sparkle in the sun, for once. All this lovely nostalgia posed the question: what would we be doing on a sunny Glasgow day 100 years ago? 500 years ago? 1000 years ago? We did our best to find out…
The Glasgow Fair first began in the mid 12 century as an 8 day event, and people would come from far and wide to trade, barter and meet people. Basically the first festival – and don’t kid yourself that it was any more civilised than what you expect at TITP nowadays. In Ben Jonson’s text Bartholomew Fair, about a Medieval English fair in the 1600’s, a majority of the characters are drunk, a raunchy puppet show causes problems and disguised lawkeepers can do little to calm the mayhem. One character says:
‘If you have that fearful Quality to remember when you are sober what you promise drunk, I shall take heed of you’
In other words, medieval people were very familiar with the concept of drunk-texting a crush and proclaiming your undying love, then claiming your phone was stolen when the embarrassment comes the next morning, they just didn’t have quite the same technology to execute it.
Most likely an exciting, but filthy and often violent place to live. In 1646 the plague struck, and in 1685 the Provost report included a bid to encourage Glaswegians to stop leaving ‘middings and fulzie’, which is a polite term for poo, out in the streets. That must have been delightful when the sun came out. However, a sunny day by the Clyde might also have been spent watching the cargo ships heading on great adventures. The first quay was built at Broomielaw in 1601 and throughout the next several hundred years, ships would head out to trade in Glasgow’s wares, including coal, meal, oats, butter, herring, salt and paper.
Glasgow’s wealth continues to grow with the tobacco trade and the production of coal, as well as a well-known excellence in textiles. Fabrics made in Paisley would find their way down to the most fashionable of London wardrobes and Daniel Defoe described Glasgow as ‘the cleanest and most beautiful, and best city in Britain, London excepted’. A sunny afternoon might have been spent indoors at a trendy coffee house. However, there was also a lot of civil unrest due to taxes and working conditions in the newly industrialised city. Perhaps you would be involved in demonstrations, or perhaps you’d prefer to sit back with a Tennents (founded 1740) and watch the chaos unfold. More info about this period can be found here.
A broadsheet of ‘Glasgow Broadside Ballads’ (currently held in the University of Glasgow Special Collections) makes reference to the excitement of seeing a zebra at the fair, ‘from the Isle of Bengal in the East’. Unfortunately upon closer inspection it is revealed to be ‘nought but an ass painted’, so things aren’t quite what they seem in the Glasgow summers of the 1800’s. The beginning of the century saw the start of the first ever ‘preventative’ police force – so you’d need to be on your best behaviour if you were out and about spending some time in one of the new parks. The Botanics in the West End were laid out in 1817, Kelvingrove Park in 1852, Queen’s Park in 1862 and Alexandra Park followed in 1870. The Necropolis was designed, having been inspired by Père Lachaise in Paris. Glasgow was in desperate need of burial space – health was very poor and cholera swept the city – there weren’t enough places to safely bury the disease and it continued to spread in cramped conditions. The parks would be a welcome addition, especially in the summer!
Conditions were improving, and 1938 was a particularly eventful summer due to the Empire Exhibition in Bellahouston Park. Improbably sized pavilions were built and thousands came to Glasgow to enjoy the spectacle, but it was all only temporary and taken down after a few months. During the first world war, Glasgow was a huge producer of munitions, and many women found themselves at the centre of the production efforts as so many men were away. During the second world war, the bombing of Glasgow, which mainly affected Clydebank, would have been a terrifying reason to avoid the outdoors, even when the sun was out. During the 80’s, that staple of a sunny day – the ice-cream – became too dangerous to be worth seeking out. The so called ‘ice-cream’ wars in Glasgow’s East End were characterised by violence, death, and drugs, with investigations and prosecutions continuing for years after the dust had settled.
Of course, we are sure that many readers have very fond memories of Glasgow summers in the 20th century – and we’d love to hear about them! And don’t forget to make the most of the 21st century summers… who knows who might be writing about them in 1000 years.
For more information – check out these sites: