The Busconductor Hines
Greyhound for Breakfast
Lanark: A Life in Four Books
Unlikely Stories, Mostly
The Fall of Kelvin Walker: A Fable of the Sixties
McGrotty and Ludmilla or The Harbinger Report
In the first years of the present century, the Glasgow comedian Will Fyffe wrote a song that conquered the music halls immediately and has been a staple at Scottish convivial gatherings ever since. The refrain went:
I belong to Glesca, Dear auld Glesca toun.
And there’s nothing the matter wi’ Glesca,
But it’s turning roun and roun.
I’m only a common wee working chap,
As ony one here can see,
But when I have a couple o’ drinks on a Saturday,
Glesca belongs to me!
As is generally true with Scottish humor, this was heavily laced with irony. It was only in the euphoria induced by strong drink that a member of the Glasgow working class could convince himself that he was in any sense the proprietor of his native city. Ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution, Glasgow had belonged to its great merchants and industrial magnates, who achieved wealth and power by their own shrewdness and Calvinist energy and their skill in exploiting the plentiful supply of cheap labor that resulted from the Highland clearances in the early nineteenth century and the avalanche of Irish immigrants after the potato famine of the 1840s. These were the men who dominated Victorian Glasgow, and another song—
They played in the beautiful garden,
The children of high degree—
recognized that domination, not without bitterness.
Even so, Glaswegians, regardless of class, have always had deep pride in the city that had, in the words of Maurice Lindsay, molded itself “from a convenient ford over the Clyde into a medieval center of piety and learning: then to develop successively into an expanding center of international trade, a place of rapidly growing manufacturing importance, a powerhouse for international heavy engineering projects and a cradle for the construction of a major proportion of the ships that sailed the seven seas throughout most of the nineteenth century and into the earlier years of the twentieth.” By 1914, the city’s population had reached one million, and for over two decades it had been the second city, not only of Britain, but of the Empire. All of this gave its inhabitants an exuberance that sometimes bordered on the arrogance expressed in the toast, “Here’s tae us! Wha’s like us? Damn few, and they’re a’deid!”
Pride goes before a fall, and the twentieth century saw a swift decline of Glasgow’s fortunes. In the period between the two world wars, all of the industries centered in or in the vicinity of Glasgow went into decline. Textiles, which had been the mainstay of Glasgow’s first industrial revolution but had never recovered from the cotton famine caused by the American Civil War, gave up the ghost completely in the mid-Twenties as a result of foreign and Lancashire competition. Between 1914 and 1932, the work force in the Lanarkshire coal fields shrank by 50 percent, and in the same years there was a drastic falling off in the demand for Scottish …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.
Glasgow’s Glasgow September 26, 1991