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19 September 2014
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Victorian Glasgow
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Kibble PalaceThe Industrial Revolution took hold in Glasgow at the beginning of the 19th century. The manufacture of cotton and textiles, chemicals, glass, paper and soap increased rapidly. Immigrants from the Highlands in the 1820s and later from Ireland in the 1840s formed the workforce. Glasgow's population grew from a quarter of a million at the start of Victoria's reign to 760,000 at the end of her reign. The cotton industry alone employed almost a third of the workforce at its height. The city then diversified into heavy industries like shipbuilding, locomotive construction and other heavy engineering that could thrive on nearby supplies of coal and iron ore.

Between 1870 and 1914, Glasgow ranked as one of the richest and finest cities in Europe. On the other hand, however, the city suffered from appalling social problems of poverty, crime and disease. The massively unequal distribution of wealth meant that the splendid mansions in the West End were a marked contrast to the wynds and closes of the High Street, Saltmarket and Gallowgate areas in the East End. There were serious typhus epidemics in 1837 and 1847 and the first cholera outbreak in Scotland in 1832 killed 10,000 people. Between the 1830s and the late 1850s, death rates in the cities rose to peaks not seen since the 17th century.

The Loch Katrine Scheme, opened by Queen Victoria in 1859, whereby Glasgow drew its water from the Trossachs, went a long way to address the problem. It also paved the way for other enterprises like slum clearance, gas supply, public lighting, tramways, museums, libraries, art galleries and parks. By the 1890s Glasgow had more municipal services than any other city of its size.

Beside these improvements, the fall in the price of basic foods in the 1870s and 1890s, the improvement of milk supplies, free school meals, and the widening influences of nurses, midwives and health visitors were just as important in cutting back death rates amongst the poor as cleaner water and more efficient sewerage systems.

The two Great Exhibitions of 1881 and 1901, both in Kelvingrove Park, displayed Glasgow’s pride in its achievements. Glasgow was, without a doubt, the "Second City of the Empire."

Victorian Glasgow Factsheet

  • The Kibble Palace, Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Queen Margaret Drive
    Kibble Palace, a magnificent glasshouse, takes pride of place in
    Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. Originally, the University Physic Gardens, they moved to their present site in 1841 from Sauchiehall Street. The Kibble Palace is named after John Kibble of Coulport who donated the glasshouse from his estate beside Loch Long in 1871. It was carefully taken to pieces at Coulport, shipped on barges down the Clyde to Glasgow and was re-erected in the Botanic Gardens in 1873. It now contains a collection of exotic tree ferns, started in 1881.

  • Kelvingrove Park, Art Gallery & Museum
    Kelvingrove Park was bought by the city council in 1852 from Provost Patrick Colquhoun's Kelvingrove House Estate. It was laid out by Sir Joseph Paxton, designer of the Crystal Palace in London. It was used twice for International Exhibitions in 1888 and 1901, displaying Glasgow's pride in its achievements. The second International Exhibition in 1901 attracted 11.5 million people, including the Tsar of Russia. The exhibition focused on the city's economic and industrial achievements. Statues of Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), scientist, and Thomas Lister (1827-1912), pioneer of antiseptic surgery, can be found in the park.

  • The Kelvingrove Art Galley and Museum was officially opened in 1901. It had been built following a design competition and was launched with the International Exhibition in the surrounding Kelvingrove Park. The impressive building features red decorative stonework and contains twenty display galleries. It houses Natural History/Zoology, Archaeology and History collections with Fine Arts works by Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt and Van Gogh, amongst others. The Art Gallery and Museum Kelvingrove is the most popular free visitor attraction in Scotland with over a million visitors a year.

  • The Tenement House, Garnethill
    Glasgow, more than any other Scottish city, is famous for its tenements. The Tenement House is a late Victorian first-floor flat with four rooms. Many of the original features remain including bed recesses and a kitchen range. Life in Victorian Glasgow is presented through the furniture and the belongings of Miss Agnes Toward, who lived there for over 50 years.

  • Alexander 'Greek' Thomson
    Glasgow has some of the finest examples of Victorian architecture in Scotland. One of the foremost Victorian architects was Alexander 'Greek' Thomson (1817-1875). Thomson designed all types of buildings, mainly in Glasgow, including churches, shopping arcades and mansion houses. He was inspired by the classic style of Greek architecture, hence the nickname "Greek", although he was also influenced by Italian, Romanesque, Scottish Baronial and Gothic styles.

  • The St Vincent Street Church, built in 1859, is one of Glasgow's finest landmarks. The tower has a mix of Egyptian and Greco-Roman styles, with Indian motifs; whilst the church itself is Grecian in style with Egyptian-style doors. The elegant interior is not in keeping with that of a traditional Presbyterian kirk, although Thomson himself was a committed Presbyterian. The church is no longer used as a place of worship.

  • Egyptian Halls.Originally designed as a shopping centre, the Egyptian Halls are regarded as Thomson's commercial masterpiece. Built in 1872, of cast iron and stone, you can see Thomson's trademark Grecian columns near the top of the five floors - so the name 'Egyptian' is a misnomer. There were plans to restore the building when Glasgow was City of Architecture and Design in 1999 but disputes over ownership have caused delays.

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