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Vivre la Ville en Écosse

 | 
Rosie Findlay
, 
Tri Tran
, 
William Findlay

II. Life in the Scottish victorian city: historical explorations

Glasgow's oppressive nightmare: midnight scenes from the “metropolis of puritanism”

William Findlay

Texte intégral

  • 1 Glasgow’s ambition of rivalling London and Paris can be seen from the fact that it hosted two very (...)
  • 2 The tram system, municipalised in 1894, was the major attraction for visiting professors from the (...)

1Glasgow, Scotland’s other capital city has always had an image problem. On the one side, there is the official projection of a great metropolis which the city fathers have systematically and quite successfully promoted: Glasgow’s majesty and grandeur, its “uniqueness”, its place among the great urban centres of the world, its proud title of “second city of the British Empire1”. From the midnineteenth century it had become an industrial giant with a reputation for quality recognised the world over under the trademark, “Clyde built”. Along side this massive industrial infrastructure it clung to its other image of a “dear green place”, and its harmonious integration of beautiful landscapes, parks, river and vistas, the opulence and the majestic splendour of its city architecture. Long before being designated Europe’s Capital of Culture in 1990, it had already displayed its genius to the world with international exhibitions in 1888 and 1901. The secret of Glasgow’s success, it was believed, lay in a rigid adhesion to the Protestant ethic of hard work and discipline, as the city motto proclaimed, Since Scottish Protestantism was believed to be a matter of correct moral and social values not a set of beliefs and practices necessary for salvation, Glasgow, as the “World’s metropolis of Puritanism”, naturally gravitated towards a form of municipal organization which aspired to be the most sophisticated in the world. Under this system the whole of the community’s spiritual and material needs would be catered for and, thus, the moral improvement of the people guaranteed2.

  • 3 In the 1830s Glasgow was dubbed “Gospel city” because of its evangelical fervour. Cf. J. Callum Br (...)

“Let Glasgow Flourish by the preaching of the Word”3

“Let Glasgow Flourish by the preaching of the Word”3

2But no matter how much the city fathers vaunted its remarkable qualities, the other image of Glasgow, its alter ego, has always challenged and undermined their claims. If Glasgow was a place of unique grandeur its slums too were in a league of their own. For the visiting Nathaniel Hawthorne,

  • 4 Nathaniel Hawthorne, The English Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne, (edited by Randall Stewart). Ne (...)

“The poorer classes of Glasgow excel even those of Liverpool in the bad eminence of filth, uncombed and unwashed children, disorderly deportment, evil smell and all that makes city-poverty disgusting”4,

3a view confirmed by numerous medical reports and statistical analyses in the following years. Far from being a model of harmonious co-existence between the forces of nature, humanity and industry, Hawthorne was struck by the degree to which prosperity and abject poverty coincided inside the city boundaries. In the,

  • 5 Idem, p. 512.

“stateliest city I ever beheld... it is difficult to make one's way among the sallow and unclean crowd, and not at all pleasant to breathe in the noisomeness of the atmosphere. The children seem to go unwashed from birth, and perhaps they go on gathering a thicker and thicker coating of dirt till their dying days”5.

4Even those visitors who recognized its Puritan character were quick to add that it was also the,

  • 6 According to one German visitor to the city. Cf. Shadow Op. Cit., p. 99.

“Metropolis of Impurity... the most religious and most drunken city in Europe or the world”6.

  • 7 For S. G. Checkland, “People do not expect gentle things to come out of Glasgow; there is a feelin (...)

5Glasgow’s aspirations to cultural greatness have likewise fared no better, being mercilessly ridiculed by others. For one English wit, the essential climax of a Glasgow Hogmanay was being sick on the pavement7, while others have waxed lyrical on that other great contribution to world culture, the “Glasgow kiss”. Even the city’s motto has been reworded to reflect this negative side to its character,

  • 8 Glasgow Argus 29th August 1857. Before the 1850s, Glasgow boasted 129 churches but even more publi (...)

“Let Glasgow Flourish by the preaching of the Word... and the drinking of whisky”8.

  • 9 Cf. For instance, the opposition which Glasgow’s first full-time Medical Officer of Health encount (...)
  • 10 Seàn Damer, “No Mean Writer? The Curious Case of Alexander McArthur”. p. 32-33 in Kevin McCarra an (...)
  • 11 Andrew Noble, “Urbane Silence: Scottish Writing and the Nineteenth Century City”, p. 64-90, in Geo (...)

6Official reactions to criticism of the city have always been frosty, suspicious and even hostile depending on their source. Where these have originated from official enquiries, as with the Poor Law reports prepared by Edwin Chadwick, or reports into the state of the population’s health, they tended to be accepted with resignation, the blame being placed squarely on the immorality of the lower orders9. Where these originated from non-official sources, however, the reaction tended to be much more hostile. Glasgow would not be lectured to by representatives of other cities who no doubt followed their own agenda in denouncing its weaknesses. Yet their greatest hostility has always been reserved for negative comments on the city emanating from its own “children”. When Arthur McArthur wrote No Mean City in 1935, in which he fictionalised life in the city’s slums as he had lived it, the official outcry was immediate and dramatic, the book even being banned from the Corporation Libraries10. This is a factor which should perhaps be taken into consideration when attempting to explain what Andrew Noble has termed the urbane silence surrounding Scottish writing on the nineteenth century city when compared to other countries11?

  • 12 The work was initially published as a series of articles in a liberal Glasgow Argus between 15th A (...)

7Yet if the general rule among Scottish writers was to shy away from the urban reality of their time exceptions do exist. One of the earliest of these was a little book written in 1857 and 1858 by a mysterious author using the pen-name of Shadow12. Under the intriguing title of Midnight Scenes and Social Photographs he takes his readers on a week-long journey of exploration of the living city, its rhythm of life, its multiple faces and, above all its dark side. This “other” Glasgow is described in graphic detail but without the excesses of style or moralising that others found necessary to include at the time by way of justifying the enumeration of the horrors they found. Shadow’s manuscript is therefore not a work of fiction but of proto-sociology, less a political tract than a series of penned “photographs”.

  • 13 This information is not given in the published work but in the first of the newspaper articles whi (...)
  • 14 George Combe, the Edinburgh exponent of phrenology, was inspirational to Darwin and his The Consti (...)
  • 15 George Cruickshank had an established reputation as a political caricaturist as well as an illustr (...)

8Unlike other militant authors, little is known about the Shadow. His real name was Alexander Brown a letterpress printer who had recently settled in Argyle Street in the centre of the city. From indications dotted around the manuscript it would appear that he was of Scottish descent but not necessarily from Glasgow itself. Before setting up in the city he had lived in a small town in England, probably Gloucester, which he fondly admired for its beauty and charm13. Little is known about his background or upbringing but from the quality of the manuscript itself and the numerous quotations liberally interwoven into the text, Brown was undoubtedly a man of considerable culture and great reading. His reputation, perhaps through journalism and the printing trade, seems to have allowed him to establish a working relationship with important figures of his day such as George Combe14 and George Cruickshank15 who accepted to draw the frontispiece for the original work. Although he carefully avoids exposing his political sympathies in his work, it is clear that he would today be placed on the left of centre, a reformer with strong religious convictions. It is no doubt this political orientation which drew Brown to the Glasgow Argus, a weekly paper renowned for its interest in local affairs, its outspoken radicalism and its sympathy for the cause of the people.

  • 16 There were numerous letters of protest from outraged citizens at this time about the “effluvia fro (...)
  • 17 Glasgow Herald, 8th April 1857.

9Although we do not know precisely what triggered his decision to explore the shadowy world of the city, it seems likely that a combination of factors contributed to it. Firstly there was the contrast between his new surroundings in central Glasgow and his previous existence in the “sweetest town in England”. Secondly, there was the oppressive reality of that other Glasgow every time he stepped out of his door for he lived in the centre of the city16. Thirdly there were his apparently well-established contacts with the city’s police force and journalists, who no doubt discussed these questions with him. Lastly, and to my mind most significantly, Brown was probably outraged by the ridiculous claims made in the Glasgow Herald over the state of the city’s poor districts. On 11th April 1857 the Glasgow Argus reproduced, without comment, an indignant editorial from its rival, the Glasgow Herald, entitled “The Wynds of Glasgow”17 · in which it rejected criticisms made in the Times of London about the poor living conditions in the city. Indeed, it claimed that “these dark places of our city (have been) much improved over the last two or three years”, so improved, in fact, that it challenged anyone to visit them and not to recognise these improvements!

“Take the notorious wynds which run from the Trongate to the Bridgegate... their pavements are usually as clean as the great thoroughfares of the city; the houses, judging from entries, staircases and windows, are not remarkable for their filth”.

10The article went on to assert that on the east side of the High Street, the closes were so altered as to be unrecognisable with those of three years previous, that other failed improvements were due to greedy landlords and that, in any case, Edinburgh’s Wynds were worse than those of Glasgow. It would appear hat the magnitude of this lie was too great for Brown and, on 15th August 1857, he published the first of a series of Midnight Scenes and City Strolls, which set out to put the record straight and inform the good citizens of the town of the true reality of life in their midst.

  • 18 Shadow... Op. Cit., p. 42.

11The idea behind his approach was relatively straight forward, perhaps even a bit naive. Brown believed that once the good people of Glasgow knew the full horror of urban misery in their midst, action would be taken and the problem solved. In order to do this, he had therefore to expose the “invisible” reality at the heart of the city, for in such a compact town as Glasgow people were simply unaware that there had grown up, beneath the visible mass of the city’s poor, an alien race, denizens of a half world who reversed the order of civilized society and came alive when the respectable portion of mankind were asleep18. It is this idea which shapes the structure of the book and unusual literary style which it adopts.

  • 19 One of the most significant identifying characteristics of the working-class in this period was be (...)

12In order to expose the full horrors of Glasgow’s social destitution, Brown decided to explore this subterranean world over the space of a complete week of the year. Depending on its importance inside the hierarchy of the week, each Night would constitute the subject of a chapter or chapters in his work. The life of the poor would thus be set in its human time-frame19.

13To obtain the desired result the project had to be undertaken on foot, but Brown was determined to cover the city in the broadest possible sense and the descriptions of his “strolls” includes the outlying industrial districts to the east, the well-to-do western suburbs, but above all, the warren of slums at the very heart of the city’s High Street.

14Finally, since his idea was to “tell it as it is” he opted for a neutral style of writing, where the author himself would be relatively invisible-hence the pen-name of the Shadow-and where the people he encountered would be given their own voice. Statistics, theories and moral judgements would all be given a relatively secondary role. His one péché mignon, not unusual for the period, was his repeated recourse to quotations for a wide variety of literary sources to illustrate and highlight his thoughts. This failing apart, Brown’s work remains true to his project and constitutes a series of vivid Social Photographs of mid-century Glasgow.

  • 20 Shadow... Op. Cit, p. 16.
  • 21 Idem, p. 11-12.
  • 22 Idem, p. 15.
  • 23 Idem, p. 22, 34-35. Shadow notes that the although the Bum Bailies no longer existed, their influe (...)
  • 24 Idem, p. 86. He notes (p. 59) that Wednesday night is the “sober night of the week”.
  • 25 Idem, p. 96-97.

15Despite the considerable transformations that Glasgow had undergone by the late 1850s, Shadow depicts a city with a strong collective identity, not unlike a living organism. The week has a rhythm of its own. Sunday is the day of silence, broken only by the sound of the church bells20, religious worship and, according to Shadow, “in no town or city in Scotland is the Sabbath more rigidly observed”21. Participation at Church services however follows a clear social pattern from the top down and involves a ritual of dressing in one’s Sunday best. “Want of decent apparel” is identified as the most common reason for the non-participation of the poorer classes, which affects all religious groups indiscriminately22. The Shadow’s inquiring eye remarks the curious paradox that on this day of rest the working class are practically “invisible” and seem to be confined to the homes until the sun goes down, a fact which he attributes to the discrete but firm action of the city’s police force23. “Saint” Monday, by contrast, is the day of “apathy and languor” for the people only seem to come alive in the evening. Tuesday, on the other hand, marks the start of a period of “almost unhealthy activity”, when the Merchants have returned to the city from their coastal retreats and the mechanics have shrugged off their “Mondayish” lethargy. From now, the combined pressures of hard work and lack of ready money seems to send the town into a state of frenzy only broken by the Policeman’s warning to Shadow, that “When Saturday comes, you’ll see a difference”24. Saturday, and more specifically Saturday afternoon, does indeed work a remarkable transformation on the city dwellers. In place of the dour hard-working countenances of previous days, there is now “a thousand happy faces that we meet” and “warm greetings are everywhere exchanged”. The life-book of the city now becomes one of animated social intercourse, “everybody seems to have turned out to look at everybody, and to do business with everybody” and one can sense the foundations on which the communal feeling of belonging to the city are based. The railway station, coach office, and steam-boat companies are inundated with half-day excursionists and families heading for sea-side resorts while the main thoroughfares of the city are taken by storm by workmen’s wives “with manifest discomfort at having money in their pockets”25.

  • 26 Idem, p. 80.
  • 27 Idem, p. 61. This comparison with Paris is a recurring theme and formed the thinking behind the Gl (...)
  • 28 Idem, p. 81-92.
  • 29 Idem, p. 39. Shadow noted that more than 3.000 people turned out for a civic welcome given to Loui (...)
  • 30 Idem, p. 89.
  • 31 Idem, p. 81.
  • 32 Idem, p. 98-99.
  • 33 Idem, p. 55.

16Just as the city seems to live at its own rhythm so too the Shadow is conscious of the multiple faces that it presents to the world. Glasgow is a place of living beauty and ceaseless energy. The great thoroughfares of the town are its throbbing arteries along which the rushing multitudes go about their business. All reflect the power and dignity of the city. The Glasgow Green26 with its “stately trees” and noble prospect is one of the city’s most prized inheritances. The Clyde, a noble winding river, with its fine bridges, and dazzling lights, is enchantingly beautiful, comparable with London or Paris27. where ships of all nations forming “a dense forest of lofty masts are to be seen for almost a mile”28. The city has a cosmopolitan feel to it as if conscious of its contribution to the shaping of the destiny of the world. Its citizens, through their intimate contact with the “humanising influence of foreign traders”, are renowned for their liberal attitudes29. In his strolls to the east and south Shadow exposes its industrial might with pride. The manufacturing outskirts of Bridgeton30 surprises Shadow for the inordinate number of pubs he finds there but also by the generally quiet, sober and respectable demeanour of the working population. To the south the perpetual blaze and cloud of smoke from Govan’s Iron Works-popularly known as Dixon’s Blazes-lights up the city skyline like a giant halo31. But it is in the central area, where he himself lives, that lies the kernel of all Glasgow’s contradictions. Here within a confined space of around 100 acres we find the great shops, stores, railway and coach stations, commercial houses and grand hotels, the beautiful churches and magnificent institutions of the Municipal council. Here too the other monuments of the city, the great Highland Policemen - “Six feet eight and a half” tall-and above all the ubiquitous public houses, “Next to the house of God by far the most important institution in the city (for) in almost every street, almost every shop seems a public house”32. Slightly to the West are the comfortable mansions, architectural beauty, stately streets and gorgeous squares of the city. St. Vincent Street and Blythswood Square arrest his attention with the still and peaceful solemnity of their settings33. But, incredibly, just off these great thoroughfares lies the homes of the poor and behind, above and below these, the “other” Glasgow, the Glasgow of his midnight strolls.

17It is when Shadow, takes his reader into the other world that he is at his most incisive and graphic. Not only is he amazed at what he discovers, but he discovers, he too is looked upon with the same sense of bewilderment,

  • 34 Idem, p. 18.

“No nautical explorer ever fell among savages, who looked with greater wonder at his approach”34.

  • 35 Idem, p. 64 and 102.
  • 36 Idem, p. 44, 103.
  • 37 Idem, p. 108ff. Shadow tries to help him get into a ragged school but without success.
  • 38 Idem, p. 15, 18, 19.

18The incredible gulf separating the classes even in the close proximity of the city centre suddenly hits him with full force: the street is the common frontier. True to his methodical approach, his visits are divided up between daytime and nighttime. During the day he notes the intense struggle for survival of the poor against impossible odds. Paddy's Market, for instance, typifies this sea of stranded humanity with innumerable lines of Irishmen and women selling everything from apples to handkerchiefs. Even the youngest children are part of this struggle - “dirty little girls, bare-headed and bare-footed, and dressed in all manner of ragged and musty looking garments”35. Far from being a sign of individual weakness or fault, this abject poverty is felt as a shared infliction where a natural sense of solidarity and communal support goes hand in hand with a recognition that everyone has to develop his or her own strategy for survival. On seeing how one poor person is touched by the suffering of a young destitute mother giving her perhaps her last coin Shadow concludes that behind the rough exterior, “these poor people have warm sympathising hearts”36. Time after time he comes back to this theme of a noble humanity beneath a skin of dirt and stresses the love and devotion which they share for each other. The story of one poor little match boy in particular demonstrates this to him. The poor little creature of about seven or eight years of age, is destitute and walks the streets day and night bare-headed and bare-footed, his “clothes are in tatters, and his waistcoat, kept together with difficulty by three unequally-yoked buttons, hides his dirty little shirt”. He is from an Irish Catholic family whose father has recently died of smallpox leaving four children. When Shadow meets him late one Saturday night he discovers that he won't go home until he has made three pence for his family adding that the following day is Sunday and if he is found selling his matches on the street he will be arrested by the Police37. Institutional religion has failed these people, Shadow concludes, yet in their own way they still maintain a feeling for God. Very few attend church services for “want of decent apparel” and while they read the bible and pray in their own way they refuse to be preached to. On being mistaken for a missionary by one man, Shadow is asked, “why is it, man, you canna tell us something we dinna ken?” before being warned, “dinna bring your tracts here, for we dinna want them”38. Realism dominates their way of thinking. The ubiquitous pawn shop, for instance, plays a central role in this struggle for survival. Shadow notes the sense of shame and humiliation felt by the people being seen entering these premises, yet he cautions,

  • 39 Idem, p. 88-89.

“Let no one despise the pawnbroker... His calling, however abused, and how mercenary soever his motives, practically is, many times, to relieve some poor traveller despised and neglected on the wayside of life, from whom, because of poverty, a Christian world shrinks as from the touch of a leper, or, as a sort of ‘original sin’ from which there is to be no after redemption”39.

  • 40 Idem, p. 25 and 79.
  • 41 Idem, p. 13.
  • 42 Idem, p. 88.

19Likewise he notes the recruiting sergeant waiting in prey for his victims in the city’s pubs. Behind the glossy rhetoric of adventure and glory Shadow detects the true reasons for enrolment in the military and concludes that, “the life of a soldier [never has been] the principal attraction”40. Yet, even if their day-to-day existence seems from another world of low narrow closes and “dark ravine (s) into which the kindly rays of the sun never penetrate41, they still cling to hopes of better times and fleeting dreams as Shadow discovers when observing a “grand wedding” in a poor part of the city. Rightly he deduces “the prevailing ambition, even among the lower orders, of being grand for one night in their lives!”42.

  • 43 Idem, p. 111. A policeman is apparently permanently stationed at the entrance to this close.

20But it is at night that the world of the poor takes on a new dimension. In the heart of the city, near one of its most prestigious hotels, Shadow visits the notorious Tontine Close and is shocked to find that, “nearly every stone of the narrow pavement is stained with blood”43. His descriptions of the Bush and Tontine are precise and detailed. These closes or lanes, are scarcely more than four or five feet wide. Overhead are lofty old houses approached by dirty dilapidated stairs.

  • 44 Idem, p. 13-14.
  • 45 Idem, p. 29.

21The houses are unimaginable for their filth and squalor. One “hole in the wall” turns out to be a miniature home of a smart looking woman in respectable attire. The house is clean and there is a small bed in a recess, two stools, a table and a few articles of crockery. Shadow takes the trouble to measure the place: “six shoe-length determine the breadth, and between eight and nine the length from the bed to the fire-place”44. Another apartment is 8 feet by 9 or 10 with a handful of straw in different corners is home to three women and a newly born baby45. One old man who agrees to show him his home in the Saltmarket, warns his wife of his arrival with the words,

“He’s jist a gentleman, Nelly, that wants to see the hooses, an’ I thocht I wud gi’e him a fricht by bringing him oor way”.

  • 46 Idem, p. 18.

22And when Shadow has the temerity to ask them how they can live this way, he receives the frosty reply that they are no worse than their neighbours and “we dinna think onything aboot it”. Another single apartment occupied by an Irish family of three or four is “low, dark and damp and within three yards of his door, is a receptacle for every description of filth collected about the close”46. When asked how anyone could live in such a place he gets the reply,

“Custom... custom; if I were to take my poor ould mother to the Coast, she would die instantly - faith she would; we tried it onst, and right glad we were to get back to our dear ould home”.

  • 47 Idem, p. 21.

23Yet another is occupied by a poor blind widow with her children. It is in a cellar “within a yard or two of a dung-heap”, the children are starving and at midday this home is “as dark as the grave” forcing from Shadow the exclamation, “God pity us... can such things be in a Christian land!”47.

  • 48 “Ticketing” of houses was only introduced in 1862 by the Glasgow Police Act. 300 cubic feet of spa (...)
  • 49 Idem, p. 19. He later (p. 50-51) relates a similar story of a little boy of three or four dying in (...)
  • 50 Idem, p. 19.
  • 51 Idem, p. 15.
  • 52 Idem, p. 111.

24Overcrowding is endemic to this way of life. Of the six or eight families he visits in the Bridgegate each occupies one apartment, in size about 8 feet by 12, containing four or five inmates, without any regard for age or sex”48. One old woman he visits is dying of consumption, “She lies in agony, panting for breath.... At her back, in a deep sleep, is a fat rosy-cheeked child”49. Bedding consists of a little straw, the bed-clothes a few old rags and there is generally only very rudimentary furniture if any at all50. In some of the other houses he finds six or eight poor wretches, in straight lines lying on the floor. In others “there [are] as many as three or four beds in one room, meant to accommodate male and female, old and young, the sick and the healthy, the living and the dead”51. In many cases the men are in a state of perfect nudity, lying upon straw52 and in an “obscure part of the abode is a large filthy pail, apparently the urinal common to the entire household”.

  • 53 Idem, p. 28-29.
  • 54 Idem, p. 93.
  • 55 Idem, p. 19.
  • 56 Idem, p. 54.
  • 57 Idem, p. 62, 78 and 90. One instance he relates concerns a respectably dressed middle-aged woman w (...)
  • 58 Idem, p. 59, 87, 91.

25Low lodgings houses are even worse. In one he finds the “stench is almost insufferable” for the room is “a perfect pig stye”. With pride the owner informs him he could have a “nice clean bed for tippence; but it depends upon whether you would ha’e onybody to sleep wi’you or no”53. The three beds in the room sleep nine. “Both sexes?” he enquires, “Oh, aye, we’re no very partiklar” is the reply. In another “den” in the Saltmarket in the early hours of the morning he finds as many as fifteen or twenty will sleep on the floor with not even rags or dirty straw to rest upon54. Life in such circumstances is precarious in the extreme and the despair which is everywhere present is highlighted as a major cause of the numerous vices of the poor which he presents without prejudice and with a considerable degree of compassion. Alcohol is ever present even if the people recognise its destructive force. Teetotalism, seen by respectable society as a “solution” to poverty, is recognised as useful but of limited value, “... we’re a’teetotal enough, an’obliged to be’, one smart little old lady tells him55. Another explains that she drinks whisky when she can, for “folks like me are glad to get that, when they canna get onything else”. She confesses to Shadow that she has been drinking whisky after passing the day in Glasgow Green “tryin’to sleep awa’hunger”, for since losing her husband two year earlier she is homeless and sleeps where she can, on the stairs, on the street or in the police office56. The hopelessness of the poverty that ensnares them turns these poor people to drink even although they recognise that “if we didna drink we wadna need to be here”. It is a drug which temporarily relieves the impossible suffering they find themselves in no matter the cost they will ultimately have to pay. Shadow notes with disgust the hordes of children hanging about the pub doors waiting for their mothers or fathers to emerge, usually drunk, so as to take them back home safely. Yet he is equally quick to recognise the immense temptation which the brightness, warmth and comfort of the public house represent for them57. The link between poverty and drunkenness likewise does not elude him for, as the week progresses, he notes that cases of drunkenness decline: Wednesday night is the sober night of the week, while Friday night is the “Policeman’s Sabbath, his night of rest”, when “scarcely a drunkard reels across our path”. It is dull, he tells his readers, “for want of money”58.

  • 59 Idem, p. 53 and 99.
  • 60 Idem, p. 105.
  • 61 Gaelic word, originally meaning illicit whisky, or a place where it is served.
  • 62 Idem, p. 48.
  • 63 Idem, p. 25.

26The municipal system of alcohol control comes in for harsh criticism from Shadow for its inherent hypocrisy. Pubs are everywhere, at every street corner, behind every shop window, all licensed by the authorities at a price. In order to uphold the good name of the city, however, they are closed on Sunday and at eleven in the evening. The ensuring rush to beat the clock, however, gives rise to a ridiculous ballet in the main thoroughfare of Argyle Street where on average around 500 or 600 drunk people are found staggering home at closing time, Saturday night being the climax of the week59 Nor does drunkenness mean the same to all classes of citizens. Working class culprits, he notes, are literally wheeled off to the police station on a long narrow wheel-barrow. Middle-class drunks on the other hand are poured into cabs by the same officers and returned safely to their homes60. For Shadow this system is responsible for an underworld trade in alcohol and the spread of the notorious “Shebeens”61. These places of ill-repute stand outside the rule of law and since they generate no finances for the municipal council are mercilessly tracked by the police. Yet they are everywhere inside the wynds of the city and after visiting them, he realises how attractive they can be for the poor. They are generally to be found in relatively inaccessible parts of the wynds where they can remain anonymous and protected from the police. One such establishment near the Central station is hard to get to as it lies in a “dark close, resembling a subterranean passage to some untraversed cavern”62. On entering, however, he finds it warm, with a big fire not unlike an old-fashioned country inn, with a table and a comfortable seat, serving very good quality alcohols at a good price63. These places are open all hours to cater for the wishes of their assorted clientele. The contrast with the homes of the poor in the very same buildings is thus all the more startling and lies at the heart of their popularity. Violence and theft which are a permanent threat make sense to him from this perspective, for poverty and want are their natural breeding grounds, he argues. Prostitution, likewise, has to be seen in terms other than those of immorality and weakness of character. The downward spiral from casual prostitution to the professional kind is repeatedly shown to the reader. Shadow’s disgust at the outrages language and dresses of the girls is however tinged with sadness for these “sorry unfortunates who hang about close mouths. With malice he notes the impossible dialogue between respectable society and these poor outcasts:

  • 64 Idem, p. 43 and 56. Shadow talks with compassion about the “Poor unfortunate women, more “sinned a (...)

“Just a bawbee, sir”... “I’ve tasted naething the day” shouts the girl. “To the devil with you exclaims the good Samaritan... and so the poor creature, like a dog, is driven away into a side street, muttering as she goes words of just reproach against a world in which she has been alike neglected, wronged, and punished”64.

  • 65 Idem, p. 49.

27The low brothels where these women congregate are often no better than many of the slums surrounding them. Visiting one of them he notes that “the smell is suffocating, made still more so by tow scavengers carting away the filth from a receptacle with a couple of yards from the door”. The room, 8 feet by 10 has 2 recess beds, “In each of these are three unfortunate women, and on the floor are two others, with a man, apparently a protector-making nine persons in all sleeping in the apartment”65. In another, he confronts one of the girls with the question,

  • 66 Idem, p. 70.

“Well how do you like to live here”. “Like... I like it fine but likin’ has naething to dae wi’t - we’re obleeged to like it”66.

  • 67 Idem, p. 50-51.

28At 2:30 in the morning he encounters three young girls, one as young as eleven, crouching on a door step in the city centre. To his innocent question, “Why don’t you go to bed?” he gets the immediate reply, “We haven’ae a bed to gang to” as they refuse to go home for fear of violence. Their life choice is between working as herring sellers, earning three shillings a week or as prostitutes where they might earn three or four if they are lucky67. As usual his observations are pertinent and he points out that while the pubs empty as the week progresses and money becomes scarce the number of prostitutes on these streets follows the opposite progression. And with a flourish destined no doubt to send a shiver of fear down the spines of his middle-class readers the Shadow concludes his description of this urban horror with the chilling words:

  • 68 Idem, p. 94.

“Yet this is nothing, not a thousandth part of the strange life being led on this quiet night, and in this Christian city, at this present hour. The New Vennel, at the top of the High Street, is yet to be explored, with its hundred dens of infamy, whose occupants are plying their thievish and wicked vocations. Among the Wynds of the Trongate, Argyle Street, the Gallowgate, the Calton, the Gorbals, even extending to the suburbs of the city - hundreds of these same dens, with their thousands of inmates-if now looked in upon, would present scenes not to be imagined far less described”68.

  • 69 Throughout the century the city underwent a remarkable transformation. In the first half, its popu (...)

29Shadow’s book was an instant success and ran to two editions in the same year but ultimately proved as ephemeral as his descriptions were graphic. Almost nothing more was heard either of him or his work. So, we might ask, what importance should historians attribute to it? As a study of Glasgow around mid - century at a time of rapid expansion and development69, Shadow’s work is undoubtedly an exceptional piece of investigative journalism. His courage in tackling difficult social questions without prejudice and with a great deal of humanity brings the city to life and gives a voice to its people-especially those whose voice was seldom heard and never heeded. He depicts a city of great complexity capable of heights of grandeur yet tottering uneasily on the edge of catastrophe with its people dangerously poised between resignation and revolt. Shadow brings sharply into contrast the strange social conscience of the city: noble aspirations for justice particularly abroad yet indifference to the daily sufferings of the poor in their midst. In this sense Shadow’s little study is a piece of living archive and deserves to stand along side the works of George Sims, Andrew Mearns and Octavia Hill.

  • 70 Edna Robertson, Glasgows Doctor. James Burn Russell, 1837-1904. East Linton, Tuckwell Press, 1998 (...)
  • 71 Cf. Frank Worsdall, The Tenament. A Way of Life. The Social Historical and Architectural Study of (...)
  • 72 When John Bright at his installation as Rector of the University drew attentionto the fact that 41 (...)
  • 73 James Patrick, A Glasgow Gang Observed., London, Eyre Metlhuen, 1973,256 p.

30But did it actually produce any concrete results? Here the answer is less clear. It is certainly true that in the year following the publication of his work, a radical reform project was proposed by the ‘Nuisances Removal Committee’, to deal with the sanitary condition of the city. It is this process which resulted in the passing of the Glasgow Police Act of 1862 and the appointment of the first Medical Officer of Health in 186370. Less than ten years after its publication a City Improvement Scheme had been setup to tackle the slum problem in the city centre71. Within the space of a few decades, Glasgow Corporation became a leading authority in the field of city management attracting admiring students and civic dignitaries from throughout the world. It is not unreasonable therefore to suggest that Shadow’s sketches helped make these changes possible even if they ultimately reflected little of Shadows’ plea for a more humane approach to the problems of the poor. In Glasgow as in other cities, ultimately it proved easier and more convenient to displace such problems-from the centre to the outskirts-than to tackle their causes72. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that a little over 100 years after this fascinating little book was published, another “Shadow”, this time under the pen-name of James Patrick, was inviting his readers to explore the shadowy world of Glasgow’s gang culture and the daily hardships facing the ordinary citizens of this no mean city73.

Bibliographie

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Glasgow 1858: Shadow’s Midnight Scenes and Social Photographs. Being Sketches of Life in the Streets, Wynds and Dens of the City. With a frontispiece by George Cruickshanks. Introduction by John F. McCaffrey. Glasgow, Glasgow University Press, 1976, 145 p.

Midnight scenes and social photographs being sketches of life in the streets, wynds and dens of the city of Glasgow by Shadow. Introduction by Colin Harvey. Glasgow, Heatherbank Press, 1976, 142 p.

ALLAN C. M. “The Genesis of British Urban Redevelopment with Special Reference to Glasgow”. Economic History Review, 1965, n ° 18, p. 598-613.

ASPINWALL Bernard, “Glasgow Trams and American Politics, 1894-1914”. Scottish Historical Review, 1977, Vol. 56 n ° 161-162, p. 64-84.

BEST G. F. Α., “Another Part of the Island. Some Scottish Perspectives”. p. 389-411. In DYOS H. J. and WOLFF Michael (eds.), The Victorian City. Images and Reality. Vol 1. London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973, 428 p.

CAGE R. Α., Health in Glasgow, p. 56-76 in CAGE R. A. (ed.), The Working Class in Glasgow, 1750-1914. London, Croom Helm, 1987,203 p.

CHECKLAND Olive, Philanthropy in Victorian Scotland. Social Welfare and the Voluntary Principle. Edinburgh, John Donald Publishers, 1980, 416 p.

DAMER Sean, Glasgow: Going for a Song. London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1990,231 p.

FRASER W. Hamish and MAVER Irene (eds.), Glasgow. Volume II: 1830-1912. Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1996, 532 p.

GORDON George (ed.), Perspectives of the Scottish City. Aberdeen, The University Press, 1985, 314 p.

GRANT Douglas, The Thin Blue Line. The Story of the City of Glasgow Police. London, John Long, 1973, 192 p.

HARVEY Colin, Ha’penny Help. A Record of Social Improvement in Victorian Scotland. Milngavie, Heatherbank Press, 1976, 198 p.

HAWTHORNE Nathaniel, The English Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne, (edited by Randall Stewart). New York, Russell and Russell, 1962, 667 p.

KINCHIN Perilla, Glasgow’s great exhibitions 1888, 1901, 1911, 1938, 1988. With a Contribution by Neil Baxter. Wendlebury, White Cockade, 1988,200 p.

MCCARRA Kevin and WHYTE Hamish (eds.), A Glasgow Collection. Essays in Honour of Joe Fisher. Glasgow, Glasgow City Libraries, 1990, 156 p.

REED Peter (ed.), Glasgow. The Forming of the City. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1999, 254 p.

ROBERTSON Edna, Glasgow’s Doctor. James Burn Russell, 1837-1904. East Linton, Tuckwell Press, 1998, 248 p.

SMYTH J. J., Life and Death in the Coffin Close: Anatomy of a Slum Circa 1855-1914. University of Stirling Economic and Social History Research Project published on the Internet at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk. 2002, 14 p.

SMYTH J. J., Lodging houses, public health and moral hygiene: Glasgow 1850-1911. Paper given to the Annual Conference of the European Network on Housing Research, Cambridge, July 2004, and published on the ENHR website: http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/. 2004, 21 p.

WORSDALL Frank, The Tenament. A Way of Life. The Social Historical and Architectural Study of Housing in Glasgow. Edinburgh, W. and R. Chambers, 1979, 165 p.

Notes

1 Glasgow’s ambition of rivalling London and Paris can be seen from the fact that it hosted two very successful international exhibitions in 1888 and 1901. The former attracted around 5.7 million visitors and the latter 11.5. A further Scottish exhibition of Art, Industry was organised in 1911 and attracted 9.4 million visitors. Cf. Perilla Kinchin, Glasgow’s great exhibitions 1888, 1901, 1911, 1938, 1988. With a Contribution by Neil Baxter. Wendlebury, White Cockade, 1988, 200 p.

2 The tram system, municipalised in 1894, was the major attraction for visiting professors from the United States but other schemes which caught their interest included the provision of gas, water, electricity, housing and the telephone. Public regulation by the Corporation extended to key areas such as building, health and education but also to less obvious practical details like public laundries, markets, slaughterhouses, concert halls, and even an inebriate’s home. Cf. Bernard Aspinwall, “Glasgow Trams and American Politics, 1894-1914”. Scottish Historical Review. 1977, Vol. 56, n ° 161-162, p. 64ff.

3 In the 1830s Glasgow was dubbed “Gospel city” because of its evangelical fervour. Cf. J. Callum Brown, Religion and Society in Scotland since 1707. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1997, p. 102.

4 Nathaniel Hawthorne, The English Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne, (edited by Randall Stewart). New York, Russell & Russell, 1962, p. 329.

5 Idem, p. 512.

6 According to one German visitor to the city. Cf. Shadow Op. Cit., p. 99.

7 For S. G. Checkland, “People do not expect gentle things to come out of Glasgow; there is a feeling that so far north, amid the clang and clamour of heavy industry, the veneer of civilisation is perilously thin, scarcely able to contain the elemental urges beneath”. Sydney G. Checkland, The Upas Tree, Glasgow 1875-1975. A Study in Growth and Contraction. Glasgow, Glasgow University Press, 1977, p. 86-87.

8 Glasgow Argus 29th August 1857. Before the 1850s, Glasgow boasted 129 churches but even more public houses, which prompted Shadow to suggest that “Had every public house a spire no one can have any idea how far it would go to give ornament to the city”.

9 Cf. For instance, the opposition which Glasgow’s first full-time Medical Officer of Health encountered from his own colleagues. Edna Robertson, Glasgows Doctor. James Burn Russell, 1837-1904. East Linton, Tuckwell Press, 1998, p. 48ff.

10 Seàn Damer, “No Mean Writer? The Curious Case of Alexander McArthur”. p. 32-33 in Kevin McCarra and Hamish Whyte (eds) A Glasgow Collection. Essays in Honour of Joe Fisher. Glasgow, Glasgow City Libraries, 1990, 156 p.

11 Andrew Noble, “Urbane Silence: Scottish Writing and the Nineteenth Century City”, p. 64-90, in George Gordon (ed). Perspectives of the Scottish City. Aberdeen, The University Press, 1985,314 p.

12 The work was initially published as a series of articles in a liberal Glasgow Argus between 15th August and 27th November 1857, before being published in book format in 1858. It was apparently well known in Scotland before disappearing into oblivious. It was resurrected in 1976 when two versions were published, one with an Introduction by Colin Harvey, Midnight scenes and social photographs being sketches of life in the streets, wynds and dens of the city of Glasgow by Shadow. Glasgow, Heatherbank Press, and the other by John F. McCaffrey, Glasgow 1858: Shadows Midnight Scenes and Social Photographs. Being Sketches of Life in the Streets, Wynds and Dens of the City. With a frontispiece by George Cruickshanks. Glasgow, Glasgow University Press, 1976,145 p.

13 This information is not given in the published work but in the first of the newspaper articles which inspired it in The Glasgow Argus, 15th August 1857. There are several differences between the two versions the most important of which was Shadow’s initial tendency to add fictional dialogues.

14 George Combe, the Edinburgh exponent of phrenology, was inspirational to Darwin and his The Constitution of Man in relation to external objects”, immensely popular during the second half of the nineteenth century, argued that the development of mankind was subject to the laws of nature like everything else.

15 George Cruickshank had an established reputation as a political caricaturist as well as an illustrator of books and periodicals. He was also leading figure in the teetotal movement and stressed the link between drink and vice.

16 There were numerous letters of protest from outraged citizens at this time about the “effluvia from dungsteads lying in the High Street until late in the morning and how the smell is so offensive that it produces a “sickening sensation” within a twenty yard radius”. Cf. For example, A. Citizen, “Nuisance in High Street”, The Glasgow Herald? 2 August 1858, p. 5.

17 Glasgow Herald, 8th April 1857.

18 Shadow... Op. Cit., p. 42.

19 One of the most significant identifying characteristics of the working-class in this period was believed to be absence of memory and anticipation, an all-absorbing present One social observer and ardent campaigner for the C. O. S. suggested that the “mental horizon” of the poor might be as little as seven days and that there was “(an) intense devotion to the present moment and the blind forgetfulness of past and future”. R. I McKibbin, “Social Class and Social Observation in Edwardian England”. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. Vol. 28,1978, p. 182.

20 Shadow... Op. Cit, p. 16.

21 Idem, p. 11-12.

22 Idem, p. 15.

23 Idem, p. 22, 34-35. Shadow notes that the although the Bum Bailies no longer existed, their influence still lay heavy on the city and the “poor sinners, like cockroaches, venture out only in the evening”.

24 Idem, p. 86. He notes (p. 59) that Wednesday night is the “sober night of the week”.

25 Idem, p. 96-97.

26 Idem, p. 80.

27 Idem, p. 61. This comparison with Paris is a recurring theme and formed the thinking behind the Glasgow Improvement Scheme of 1866. Cf. Brian Edwards, “Chapter 6. Glasgow Improvements, 1866-1901”, p. 88 in Peter Reed (ed). Glasgow. The Forming of the City. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1999,254 p

28 Idem, p. 81-92.

29 Idem, p. 39. Shadow noted that more than 3.000 people turned out for a civic welcome given to Louis Kossuth and his sons.

30 Idem, p. 89.

31 Idem, p. 81.

32 Idem, p. 98-99.

33 Idem, p. 55.

34 Idem, p. 18.

35 Idem, p. 64 and 102.

36 Idem, p. 44, 103.

37 Idem, p. 108ff. Shadow tries to help him get into a ragged school but without success.

38 Idem, p. 15, 18, 19.

39 Idem, p. 88-89.

40 Idem, p. 25 and 79.

41 Idem, p. 13.

42 Idem, p. 88.

43 Idem, p. 111. A policeman is apparently permanently stationed at the entrance to this close.

44 Idem, p. 13-14.

45 Idem, p. 29.

46 Idem, p. 18.

47 Idem, p. 21.

48 “Ticketing” of houses was only introduced in 1862 by the Glasgow Police Act. 300 cubic feet of space was then the required minimum living space per person. This however merely served to highlight the fact that poverty was the true cause of the problem. By 1864, 3,500 of these poor dwellings had been ticketed while some 6,529 houses lay unoccupied in the city and over one third of these had rents of under £ 5 per annum. Cf. Douglas Grant, The Thin Blue Line. The Story of the City of Glasgow Police. London, John Long, 1973, p. 38.

49 Idem, p. 19. He later (p. 50-51) relates a similar story of a little boy of three or four dying in an already full bed.

50 Idem, p. 19.

51 Idem, p. 15.

52 Idem, p. 111.

53 Idem, p. 28-29.

54 Idem, p. 93.

55 Idem, p. 19.

56 Idem, p. 54.

57 Idem, p. 62, 78 and 90. One instance he relates concerns a respectably dressed middle-aged woman who copiously insults the police and is only saved from arrest by the pleas of her child. The police then proceed to carry her home while she continues to insult them.

58 Idem, p. 59, 87, 91.

59 Idem, p. 53 and 99.

60 Idem, p. 105.

61 Gaelic word, originally meaning illicit whisky, or a place where it is served.

62 Idem, p. 48.

63 Idem, p. 25.

64 Idem, p. 43 and 56. Shadow talks with compassion about the “Poor unfortunate women, more “sinned against than sinning”.

65 Idem, p. 49.

66 Idem, p. 70.

67 Idem, p. 50-51.

68 Idem, p. 94.

69 Throughout the century the city underwent a remarkable transformation. In the first half, its population increased almost fivefold (77,385 in 1801, 395,503 in 1861). Yet the strain of sustained growth in the second placed almost impossible demands on the city’s resources for, compared to Manchester or Birmingham, this occurred within a relatively restricted space. By mid-century the city covered an area roughly only three miles square (practically unchanged since the 17th century) yet its population density stood already in 1851 at 65 persons/acre and rose to 78 by 1861 (in the Wynds this was around 583). By 1891, with 658,073 inhabitants (nearly 14% of the total population of Scotland), its overall density had reached 93 persons per acre.

70 Edna Robertson, Glasgows Doctor. James Burn Russell, 1837-1904. East Linton, Tuckwell Press, 1998, 248 p.

71 Cf. Frank Worsdall, The Tenament. A Way of Life. The Social Historical and Architectural Study of Housing in Glasgow. Edinburgh, W. and R. Chambers, 1979, 165 p. and Colin Harvey, Hapenny Help. A Record of Social Improvement in Victorian Scotland. Milngavie, Heatherbank Press, 1976, 198 p.

72 When John Bright at his installation as Rector of the University drew attentionto the fact that 41% of Glasgow families lived in houses of only one room he was greeted with howls of derision from his audience in 1883. John F. McCaffrey, Introduction... Op. Cit., p. 14.

73 James Patrick, A Glasgow Gang Observed., London, Eyre Metlhuen, 1973,256 p.

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Auteur

GRAAT-EA2113 Université François-Rabelais de Tours

Professor of British Studies at the University of Tours. His research has explored late nineteenth century social history in France and Britain and, in particular, the analysis of social unrest and the complexities of national cohesion in both of these countries.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2005

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