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The History of Glasgow

Chapter I - Prehistoric Condition of Glasgow Area—Sites of


Early Dwellings

BY a gradation of ancient sea beaches which can be traced along the


Clyde valley in the vicinity of Glasgow, the occurrence of successive
upheavals of the land is fully established, and it is obvious that during
some part of the remote period immediately preceding the last of these
elevations the estuary of the Clyde at Glasgow was several miles wide,
covering not only the lower districts of the city but extending to the
base of the Cathcart and Cathkin Hills, and probably receiving the
waters of the river not far from Bothwell. That this district was then
inhabited by man seems to be placed beyond reasonable doubt by the
discovery of canoes in the Trongate and other localities far above the
present level of the river, but all of them covered by strata of
transported sand and gravel.

One canoe was unearthed in 1780, when excavations were being


made for the foundation of St. Enoch's Church; another was found at
the Cross, when similar preparations were in progress for the erection
of the Tontine buildings; one was got in Stockwell Street, near the
present railway crossing ; and another was dug up on the slope of the
Drygate. All these canoes were formed of single oak trees roughly
scooped out, fire having been employed to burn out the interior, and
were altogether of the most primitive kind of construction, 1 a
description which likewise applies to a number of other canoes that
were found on the lands of Springfield and Clydehaugh on the south
side of the Clyde. These latter canoes, discovered during operations
for the widening of the harbour between 1847 and 1849, seem to have
been deposited at a much later period than those found in higher
ground. No change in the relative positions of land and sea had
apparently taken place between the time when they were swamped or
settled down in the channel of the river till they were again exposed to
the light of day. The St. Enoch's Square canoe was 24 feet below the
surface, and there was found within it a polished stone hatchet or celt,
one of the instruments which may have been used in its construction,
though it seems as much adapted for war as for any peaceful art.2

During long ages which succeeded the final settlement of sea and land
level, the Clyde, running through a tract of

1 A fifth canoe, discovered in 1825 when opening a sewer in London


Street, was built of several pieces of oak, and exhibited unusual
evidences of labour and ingenuity (Daniel Wilson's Prehistoric Annals,
p. 35)

2 Ibid. A sketch of the celt, given by Mr. Wilson, is here reproduced. All
the canoes discovered in the higher grounds on the north side of the
river were destroyed, and no sketch of their appearance or record of
their dimensions has been preserved. Representations of two of the
canoes found at Clydehaugh, as shown in Scottish History and Life,
are here reproduced : No. 1 measured 14 feet in length, 4 feet 1 inch in
breadth, and 1 foot 11 inches deep; No. 2 was so feet long, 3 feet 2
inches broad, and 1 foot deep.

For fuller information and interesting speculation on the prehistoric


subjects alluded to in the text reference may be made to Ancient Sea
Margins, by Dr. R. Chambers, pp. 203-9; Daniel Wilson's Prehistoric
Annals, pp. 3I-37; Macgeorge's Old Glasgow (i88o), pp. 248-62; John
Buchanan's narrative in Glasgow : Past and Present (1856), iii. pp.
555-79; Transactions of Glasgow Archceological Society, 1st Series, I.
pp. 188-90; II. pp. 525-30. In the last of these Archaeological Society's
papers Mr. J. Dalrymple Duncan gives an account of the discovery at
Point Isle in 1880 of a canoe which crumbled to pieces in the hands of
those who attempted its removal.

country with no proper river channel, must have been continually


changing its course, and in the tidal area, specially, not only the bed of
each changing channel, but likewise the land on either side would by
silting process be gradually raised. But the bulk of the sediment would
collect wherever the water had its course for the time, and so soon as
the accumulation became higher than the adjoining ground, the former
channel would be deserted and a new one chosen. Many of these river
variations can still be identified, and it is believed that such a change is
sufficient to account for the Springfield canoes being found seven feet
below the natural bed level of the river and one hundred yards to the
southward of its bank, as these existed before the artificial deepening
which was commenced in 1758 and the widening carried through by
the Clyde Trustees in 1847. Such flooding effects and silting process
are also regarded as sufficient to account for the covering by stratified
sand of the beautiful Roman bowl of Samian ware which, in 1876, was
discovered in the Green, about 4½ feet below the surface.

It was not till comparatively modern times that the river, in its passage
through that part of the valley which is now city territory, permanently
settled into its present course, and even after embankment, deepening
and other artificial operations and appliances were adopted, the lower
lying grounds, such as Glasgow Green and the Broomielaw area, were
subject to ever recurring floods, which kept them to a large extent in a
more or less swampy condition. The havoc caused to grain crops by
such floods would not often be turned to so providential a purpose as
on the occasion when the scornful king's barns with their stores of
wheat were carried away by the river and deposited on the banks of
the Molendinar to feed the brethren of St. Kentigern's monastery. [St.
Kentigern (Scottish Historians), pp. 69, 70.] Nor would many floods be
so disastrous as that of 1454, altogether of the most primitive kind of
construction, [A fifth canoe, discovered in 1825 when opening a sewer
in London Street, was built of several pieces of oak, and exhibited
unusual evidences of labour and ingenuity (Daniel Wilson's Prehistoric
Annals, p. 35)] a description which likewise applies to a number of
other canoes that were found on the lands of Springfield and
Clydehaugh on the south side of the Clyde. These latter canoes,
discovered during operations for the widening of the harbour between
1847 and 1849, seem to have been deposited at a much later period
than those found in higher ground. No change in the relative positions
of land and sea had apparently taken place between the time when
they were swamped or settled down in the channel of the river till they
were again exposed to the light of day. The St. Enoch's Square canoe
was 24 feet below the surface, and there was found within it a polished
stone hatchet or celt, one of the instruments which may have been
used in its construction, though it seems as much adapted for war as
for any peaceful art.

[Ibid. A sketch of the celt, given by Mr. Wilson, is here reproduced. All
the canoes discovered in the higher grounds on the north side of the
river were destroyed, and no sketch of their appearance or record of
their dimensions has been preserved. Representations of two of the
canoes found at Clydehaugh, as shown in Scottish History and Life,
are here reproduced: No. 1 measured 14 feet in length, 4 feet 1 inch in
breadth, and 1 foot 11 inches deep; No. 2 was 10 feet long, 3 feet 2
inches broad, and 1 foot deep.

For fuller information and interesting speculation on the prehistoric


subjects alluded to in the text reference may be made to Ancient Sea
Margins, by Dr. R. Chambers, pp. 203-9; Daniel Wilson's Prehistoric
Annals, pp. 3I-37; Macgeorge's Old Glasgow (i88o), pp. 248-62; John
Buchanan's narrative in Glasgow: Past and Present (1856), iii. pp. 555-
79; Transactions of Glasgow Archceological Society, 1st Series, I. pp.
288-90 II. pp. 121-30. In the last of these Archaeological Society's
papers Mr. J. Dalrymple Duncan gives an account of the discovery at
Point Isle in i 880 of a canoe which crumbled to pieces in the hands of
those who attempted its removal. ]

During long ages which succeeded the final settlement of sea and land
level, the Clyde, running through a tract of

country with no proper river channel, must have been continually


changing its course, and in the tidal area, specially, not only the bed of
each changing channel, but likewise the land on either side would by
silting process be gradually raised. But the bulk of the sediment would
collect wherever the water had its course for the time, and so soon as
the accumulation became higher than the adjoining ground, the former
channel would be deserted and a new one chosen. Many of these river
variations can still be identified, and it is believed that such a change is
sufficient to account for the Springfield canoes being found seven feet
below the natural bed level of the river and one hundred yards to the
southward of its bank, as these existed before the artificial deepening
which was commenced in 1758 and the widening carried through by
the Clyde Trustees in 1847. Such flooding effects and silting process
are also regarded as sufficient to account for the covering by stratified
sand of the beautiful Roman bowl of Samian ware which, in 1876, was
discovered in the Green, about 41 feet below the surface.

It was not till comparatively modern times that the river, in its passage
through that part of the valley which is now city territory, permanently
settled into its present course, and even after embankment, deepening
and other artificial operations and appliances were adopted, the lower
lying grounds, such as Glasgow Green and the Broomielaw area, were
subject to ever recurring floods, which kept them to a large extent in a
more or less swampy condition. The havoc caused to grain crops by
such floods would not often be turned to so providential a purpose as
on the occasion when the scornful king's barns with their stores of
wheat were carried away by the river and deposited on the banks of
the Afolendinar to feed the brethren of St. Kentigern's monastery. [St.
Kentigern (Scottish Historians), pp. 69, 70.] Nor would many floods be
so disastrous as that of 1454, described by one of our chroniclers as
"ane richt greit spait in Clyde, the xxv and xxvj days of November, the
quhilk brocht doun haile houssis, berms and millis, and put all the town
of Govane in ane flote quhill thai sat on the houssis." [Ane Schort
Memoriale of the Scottis Corniklis (Auchinlek MS.), p.18.]

But apart from such extreme occurrences the floods experienced so


recently as the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as described by
personal observers, were so serious that one may conceive how little
inducement there was for the early inhabitants to plant their habitations
near the river before a way was discovered for keeping it within
reasonable bounds. If, therefore, the banks of the Molendinar were
inhabited by man in these prehistoric times, his dwellings must have
occupied the higher grounds, and it is significant that in the earliest
account we have of the comparatively modern days of St. Kentigern it
is that part of the city which is referred to. Joceline, the biographer of
St. Kentigern, writing in the twelfth century makes mention of a
cemetery which had been "long before" consecrated by St. Ninian, and
this ancient cemetery was evidently identified as having occupied the
site of the Cathedral and its adjoining burying ground.

Cathures, which Joceline gives as the former name of Glasgu, is


understood to bear the interpretation of a fort or encampment, and may
well have been applied to the site of those dwellings placed on the
higher grounds, between the Molendinar and Glasgow Burns, and
occupied by a primitive community which had probably grown up and
prospered under the protection of some powerful chief. In later times
this district, traversed by an old Roman road and including the
inhabited area bearing the archaic designation of Ratounraw, was
possessed by rentallers who were subject to a special bailliary
jurisdiction of unknown origin. Early churches were often planted in
such places, and there, as a general rule, is
to be found the nucleus of the village, the town and the city.

With the coming of St. Kentigern the real beginning of Glasgow as a


city has aways been associated, and notwithstanding irregularities in
progress and the untoward vicissitudes of the intervening centuries, it
may safely be assumed that by the time we have the benefit of the few
fragments of twelfth century writings which are still extant, inhabited
dwellings had begun to spread over the lower grounds near the margin
of the river. Keeping within the bounds of the two streamlets, the
Molendinar on the east and Glasgow Burn on the west, the banks of
the former seem to have attracted the bulk of the earlier settlers, but
rentallers of croft land lying along the foot of Glasgow Burn are also
traced, and here, according to ancient tradition, were laid the earthly
remains of St. Kentigern's mother on the spot where the chapel
bearing her name was reared. The ruins of St. Tenew's Chapel were
still in evidence till well on in the eighteenth century, and though the
circumstances connected with its foundation must remain in obscurity,
seeing that any accounts we have of St. Mungo's birth and parentage
are mainly legendary fable and that we have little or no reliable
information on his domestic affairs, there seems to be no inherent
improbability in the substantial correctness of the traditional story.
Another chapel, likewise of unknown antiquity, was planted in the more
populous district just referred to, and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

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