As my home page states my blog is generally about people who have benefitted Glasgow in some way. This post however is about an area of Glasgow which in my view became central to Glasgow’s growth and success since the beginnng of the nineteenth century. It has contained some of Glasgow’s most important buildings and people and particularly for commerce, considered to be, arguably, the most prestigious address in the city.
According to the late Glasgow journalist Jack House, George Square is the heart of Glasgow. It’s not its geographical centre, that honour, according to the Guardian newspaper, goes to somewhere in Argyle Street, east of Central Station. Nor is it located where the original religious settlement was established by St Mungo around 560 A.D., that occurred to the east of George Square on the banks of the Molendiner burn, roughly where the present Cathedral is sited.
In the Beginning.
The derivation of the name Ramshorn is obscure. In fact, it’s possible its original name was Ramsholm, meaning a flat piece of land near a river. However, ‘Ramshorn’ provides for the better, if less factual, story. It involves a stolen, then beheaded sheep, the head turning to stone and sticking to the thief’s hand, St Mungo forgiving the thief and miraculously relieving him of his extra appendage. The lands on which this event took place were thereafter known as the lands of Ramishorne.
St Mungo is said to have died around 601. The history of the See is for some time after, obscure, although there appears to have been a series of wars involving Picts, Scots, Danes and others which destroyed all traces of the church and had ‘reduced them (the inhabitants) to that state of barbarity which we find them living in at the time that David, prince of Cumbria re-founded the See, A.D.1115.’
David was the son of King Malcolm III of Scotland and his second wife Margaret. He was made Prince of Cumbria by his brother Edgar and became king of Scotland in 1124 on the death of his brother Alexander I.
He was very keen to re-establish ecclesiastical jurisdictions and in 1115 he re-constituted the See of Glasgow, appointing John Achaius as bishop. Between 1116 and 1121 he held an inquest into the Church’s ancient temporal possessions and restored them. Ramshorn is not listed in the Notitia, possibly meaning that it was a sub division of a possession, or that it was never within the original See.
In 1241 King Alexander II issued a charter to the Bishop of Glasgow, William de Bondington granting to him and his successors, lands around Glasgow which included Rammishoren. The lands were to be ‘held forever in free forest, forbidding anyone to cut wood or hunt therein without their license’. Perhaps Alexander was clarifying a situation because of the pressure being exerted by the burghs of Rutherglen and Dumbarton on Glasgow with respect to collecting tolls and trade; or this could have been the first formal grant of Ramshorn to the church.
In a King James IV charter of 1494, the lands of Ramshorn are described as ‘terras domini epicopi Glasguensis que appellantur Rammyshorne’ (land of the Bishop of Glasgow and called Ramshorn). Thereafter Ramshorn remained part of the Glasgow See until post Reformation times.
The 16th Century.
In the 16th century the Heriot family of Midlothian became rentallers of the Archbishop of Glasgow. In 1518 Allan Heryot is recorded as rentaller of the ‘33s.4d lands of Ramys Horne and Medwflat,’ the latter being situated to the west of Ramshorn, the two areas being divided by Cow Loan, which is today’s Queen Street. By 1545 he had been succeeded by his brother Robert of Lumphoy, of the parish of Currie near Riccarton. Robert married Helen Swinton and had two daughters the eldest of whom, and his heir, was Agnes. He in turn rented out the property to Arthur Sinclair and then to M. Hendry Sinclair in 1555. After Robert’s death his widow married Edward Henryson both becoming rentallers of the property in 1558, to be followed by Agnes Heriot and her husband James Foulis of Colinton, Sheriff of Lothian, in 1566. 
In 1587 the temporal lands, offices, and regalities of Scotland’s prelacies and benefices were annexed to the crown by King James VI. Following that the King granted in feu to William Stuart, Commendator of Blantyre, all the ‘lands and Barony of Glasgow, city and burgh of regality which …..in anytime passed belonged to the Archbishops of Glasgow’, included in which was ‘Rammishorne’. During 1588 Walter feud Ramshorn and Meadowflat to James Foulis (d. 1610) and his wife Agnes (d.1595).
The background to these changes was the Scottish Reformation. There was both religious and political upheaval in Scotland during most of the 16th century which challenged the established religion and the long-standing relationship Scotland had with France. One of the consequences of these issues was the removal of lands from the church’s control, although it was not until 1688, when Episcopalian authority was finally abolished, that the church had no further say in the disposition of land.
Ramshorn changed hands several times in the next twenty years with James Foulis disposing of it in 1597 to the Laird of Blair; he then sold it to Sir David Cunningham of Robertland in 1606, with his successor, Sir Frederick Cunningham, selling it to George Hutcheson of Lambhill in 1609.
The Hutcheson family and their in-laws, the Hills, were to retain the property for the next eighty five years.
The Hutcheson and Hill Families.
George Hutcheson was the son of Thomas Hutcheson of Lambhill and Gairbraid, and his wife Helen Herbertson. He was a public notary and along with his brother Thomas, who was clerk to the Register of Sasines of the Regality of Glasgow, established funds in 1639/1640 for the building of Hutcheson’s Hospital for destitute old men. Thomas, after his brother’s death on 31 December 1639 continued to support the hospital and on 16th March 1641 laid its foundation stone.
In the same year he provided funds for the ‘maintenance and education of twelve indigent male orphans’, the school that he set up being in existence today as Hutchesons’ Grammar. Both brothers died without issue, (Thomas on 1st September 1641), resulting in their estates going to their three sisters’ male offspring the most well known being those of their youngest sister Helen.
She married Ninian Hill of Garioch, (c.1593-1623), a merchant burgess of Glasgow, about 1609 and had several children a number of whom were legatees of George Hutcheson, including a son, also called Ninian who was his father’s heir as the only surviving son of five. He was baptised on 10th July 1621, one of his godfathers being George Hutcheson. He married twice, firstly to Margaret Craufurd, a marriage contract being signed on 31st March 1654, who died without offspring. He then married Jean Caldwell (about 1659) with whom he had 5 children including a son also called Ninian.
On Thomas Hutcheson’s death the lands of Ramshorn and Meadowflat passed to Ninian (the second), through his mother Helen Hutcheson. The area of the Ramshorn Croft at that time was given as 20 acres two roods. He died around 1683 at which time his son Ninian (the third) succeeded to Ramshorn and Meadowflat although it took until 1686 for title to be legally established.
He married Mary Crauford in 1685, a marriage contract being signed on 31st July 1685.
They had ten children, and he was the last of the Hill family to own Ramshorn and Meadowflat, selling it on 14th May 1694 to the ‘Magistrates of Glasgow behoof of Hutchesons’ Hospital for the price of 20,300 merks.’ (£13,533 6s 8d Scots or £1127 15s 6d stg.).
The purchase however was not straight forward, nor did the magistrates actually purchase the lands at this time. Provost Napier and his Baillies supported the purchase (mainly because they did not want Ninian Hill to sell to anyone else) which was to be equally funded by the Hutcheson hospital patrons, and the Merchants and Trades Houses. There were however conditions laid down by the magistrates attached to that support, a key one being that no improvement could be made to the land which would prejudice the Burgh of Glasgow. Additionally, if permission was granted any buildings should be possessed only by burgesses and freeman of Glasgow.
The Merchants and Trades Houses did not accept these conditions, withdrew from the purchase, and were reimbursed by the hospital patrons who, by order of the magistrates, became liable for all costs and duties attached to the transaction.
The Ramshorn lands had for hundreds of years been used for agricultural purposes. In the 17th century it had been let out to crofters and gardeners by Hutchesons however it appears not to have been very productive as its tenants in 1703 petitioned the owners for a reduction in their rent. Around 1740, the George Square area was described as a marsh and later on, as a large ‘howe’ or hollow filled with green water.
That was to change. On 12th May 1772 the civic leaders decided to buy Ramshorn and Meadowflat from Hutchesons. A price of £2020 was agreed and on 27th December 1772 the contract of sale concluded. The council also decided to procure an Act of Parliament to annex the lands within the burgh boundaries, which was passed in 1800. There seems no doubt that for some considerable time the leaders of Glasgow had the purchase of these lands in mind to make the burgh a more cohesive unit and to permit its expansion westwards.
The square was laid out in 1781 with little initial activity. By 1804 it had buildings on each side which were being described as ‘elegant, particularly those on the north (side). An influential figure in this development was Dugald Bannatyne, a stocking weaver, who along with Robert Smith Jr. and John Thomson formed the Glasgow Building Company, which although their operation was speculative, was able to attract through Bannatyne and his relationship with Thomson’s brother in law, an English stocking weaver called Johnston, English capital to fund their venture.
Bannatyne had his warehouse in Ingram Street, was appointed Post Master General in 1806 and became secretary to the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce from 1809 to 1830.
The sum raised was £120,000, including £20,000 from John Thomson’s father. Between January and November 1787 Robert Smith Jr. agreed feu contracts with the Burgh which included all of the north, east, and west sides of the square, total area being c.16147 square yards costing £1063 plus annual feus totalling c.£45. Building costs between 1786 and 1796 took up the rest of the capital, the development being referred to as the New Town. The south side of the square, approximately 2300 square yards, was purchased by William Shortridge for £347 11s and an annual feu of £7 7s 6d.
By 1824 the Square was surrounded by buildings that were a mixture of residences and business premises, as can be seen from the following small sample taken from ‘George Square, Glasgow’ by Thomas Somerville.
- 62: William Dunn’s Counting House.
- North East corner: The Misses Alexander of Ballochmyle
- South East Corner: The George Hotel
- 36: James Ewing and Co., sugar traders.
- 34: William Forlong, wine merchant.
The most well known of the above is James Ewing. He was born in 1775, went to Glasgow University with the expectation that he would become a lawyer. However, he become an agent for sugar plantations in Jamaica establishing James Ewing and Co. which grew rapidly and was extremely successful. Along with others he founded the Glasgow Bank in 1809 and in 1815 established the first Savings bank in Glasgow, its purpose being to encourage saving amongst the working class. He became Dean of Guild of the Merchants House in 1816 and again in 1831, was Chairman in 1818/19 of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and in 1832 became the city’s Lord Provost. He also became one of Glasgow’s two MPs in the same year remaining so until 1835.
In 1820 James Wilson, a weaver from Strathaven was charged with high treason following several riots in the city (the so called Radical War of 1820). Young was on the jury and was appointed Chancellor (foreman). Wilson was found guilty which verdict Ewing had to deliver to the court. He also recommended the prisoner to the mercy of the Crown; to no avail as he was hung and beheaded.
Ewing died in 1853, bequeathing £31,000 to the Merchants House, in today’s terms equating to over £3m based on RPI changes. When considering relative income values that figure increases to just under £33m.
In 1842 the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company opened a rail link between Queen Street and Haymarket in Edinburgh, which was the catalyst for hotels being established and the Square becoming known as the hotel centre of Glasgow.
In 1804 there was one inn, the George, located at 18 George Square. By 1852 the number of hotels in the Square had increased to 10 reflecting Glasgow’s growing commercial and business activity, and improving transport links. At number 39 was Cranston’s Hotel, owned by George Cranston, father of Kate and Stewart Cranston, pioneers of Glasgow tearooms.
By 1900 that number had reduced to two, the North British Station Hotel at no.40, which was an amalgam of the old Queens, Wellington and Globe hotels, and the Royal at no. 50/51.
The hotels in the square in 1852 were as follows:
- 25 George Square: The Crow Hotel, proprietor James Dickson
- 33 George Square: The Waverly Hotel, proprietor Mrs. Crawford.
- 39 George Square: The Edinburgh and Glasgow Hotel, proprietor George Cranston.
- 45 George Square: The Globe Hotel, proprietor William Stimpson.
- 76 George Square: The Star Hotel, proprietor, Peter McDonald.
- 70 George Square: The Queens Hotel, proprietor, James McGregor.
- 66 George Square: The Royal Hotel, proprietor William Carrick.
- 26 George Square: The George Hotel, proprietor Robert McNaughton.
- 1 North Queen Street: The New Royal Hotel, proprietor George Comrie.
- 7 North Queens Street: The North British Hotel, proprietor Francis Josez.
By 1881/82 William Burrell and Sons had their offices at 54 George Square and Young’s Paraffin Oil Company was located at 30 George Square.
Burrell’s activity needs no explanation here but the latter company, perhaps lesser well known, was responsible for establishing the world’s first oil refinery in 1865 which was located near Bathgate.
The company was set up by chemist James Young, one time assistant to Thomas Graham at Anderson’s Institute in Glasgow. Around 1848 at a Derbyshire coal mine he realized that oil could be extracted from coal by heating it. In due course he developed distillation processes which produced paraffin oil, naptha, lamp oil and lubricating oil.
This was the beginning of oil refinery earning him the nickname of ‘Paraffin’ Young and being described as the father of the oil industry. It’s interesting to note that some years before oil was being extracted from wells in Texas, Young’s process was producing ‘refined’ oil from coal or shale to a world-wide customer base.
He was a friend of the missionary David Livingstone whom he met whilst studying at Anderson’s and supported financially many of Livingstone’s African expeditions. He also supported the anti-slavery movement financially and was responsible for the erection of the statues of his great friends David Livingstone and Thomas Graham, in George Square. He died age 72 in 1883.
The City Chambers et al.
Between 1865 and 1888 three sides of the square were to be transformed with the building of the City Chambers (east), the Bank of Scotland and the Merchant’s House (west) and the General Post Office (south).
Arguably the most important of these was the City Chambers. In 1877 Glasgow decided to build new municipal buildings, the site required being compulsory purchased for £173,000. A competition was held in 1882, the winning design chosen from over 150 applicants was that of William Young of London who had been born in Paisley in 1843. Young had early in his career worked with the architect W.N. Tait of 22 Hope Street, Glasgow before moving to Manchester then to London in 1865.
The cost of build was not to exceed £250,000, in the event £552,028 was spent. The foundation stone was laid on 6th October 1883 by Provost John Ure and in August 1888, Queen Victoria performed the formal opening.
The Bank of Scotland building was designed by John Thomas Rochead in the Italian Renaissance palazzo style in 1867. The building was completed in 1870, not by Rochead who had become ill, but by David Bryce, who had designed the bank’s head office in Edinburgh. Rochead retired from business at this time, his practise being taken on by John Honeyman.
The adjacent Merchants House was designed by John Burnet in 1874 and completed in 1877. By prior agreement both the bank and the new Merchants building conformed to a similar style despite being built at different times and designed by different architects. It originally consisted of three stories, however that was changed in 1907/08 when a further two stories were added, the architect this time being Sir John James Burnet the son of the original architect.
Postal Services in Glasgow had been problematic for some mainly due to capacity issues. This led to the first GPO being built in the Square in 1856. It had been planned in 1852 but took four years to be built and opened. In the meantime, the Merchants House in 1853 bought property adjacent to the proposed site, anticipating that at some future time the GPO would be expanded as commerce and demand grew.
That is exactly what happened. In 1871 the postal authorities were ready to extend the existing building which resulted in them buying the Merchants House property for £27,000.
The extension was begun in 1876 and completed by 1879. This involved some demolition of the existing structure it would appear, which had been designed by architect William Burn, the new build activity architect being Robert Matheson of H.M. Office of Works architectural practice.
All these buildings, which are ‘A’ listed, exist today, two have changed purpose, the GPO building being converted to flats and the Bank of Scotland now a J.D Weatherspoon establishment called The Counting House.
Any self-respecting civic Square has statues and George Square has an abundance. By 1900 there were twelve, commemorating an eclectic range of individuals which included the hero of a war, two poets, an engineer and equestrian royalty. The first was erected in 1819 and is of Sir John Moore, the last was of David Livingstone and was erected in 1879. The statues were as follows:
- Sir John Moore, soldier. Hero of Corunna died in battle 1808. Statue by John Flaxman (1755-1826), erected in Square on 16th August 1819.
- James Watt, Statue by Sir Francis Leggat Chantrey (1781-1841) and erected in 1832.
- Sir Walter Scott, Statue designed by John Greenshield and made by Handyside and Ritchie. Erected 1837.
- Sir Robert Peel, politician. Statue by John Mossman (1817-1890), erected 28th June 1859.
- Queen Victoria. Her statue was sculpted by Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867) and was originally erected in St Vincent Place in 1854. It was removed to George Square 2nd March 1865.
- Prince Albert. His statue was also by Marochetti and was erected in the Square on 18th October 1866.
- Lord Clyde, soldier. Statue by John Henry Foley (1818-1874), erected on 5th August 1868.
- Thomas Graham, chemist. Statue by William Brodie (1815-1881), erected on 6th June 1872.
- James Oswald, politician. Statue by Marochetti which was originally erected in Sandyford Place. Erected in George Square on 26th July 1875.
- Robert Burns, Statue by George Edwin Ewing (1828-1884). Erected on 25th 1877.
- Thomas Campbell, Statue by John Mossman erected on 29th December 1877.
- David Livingstone, missionary. Statue by John Mossman erected on 29th December 1877. In 1960 the statue was moved to Cathedral Square, then again in 1990 to an adjacent site within Cathedral Square.
From a swamp to the centre of the second city of an empire, such was the transformation of George Square. The change from Church and feudal landowner governance to Presbyterianism which resulted in a different, more democratic form of church and civic government; the American colonies opening to Scotland after the Act of Union in 1707, and the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, all presented opportunities which Glasgow exploited to the full. George Square became a manifestation of Glasgow’s successful leadership and participation in these changes.
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