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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

X. Economic and social conditions

X. Economic and social conditions

Texte intégral

1At the end of the eighteenth century Scotland was still an agrarian and pre-industrial society. One century later matters were completely different. Thanks to the huge growth of its cities, to the development of steam-powered manufacture, to considerable improvements in transport and to important changes in agriculture, Scotland had become an industrial society.

  • 1 B. Lenman, An Economic History of Modern Scotland, London: Batsford, 1977, p. 156.

2Between 1840 and 1914 post-Union Scotland scaled the heights of relative economic success. It became the seat of one of the most advanced and prosperous industrial economies of the period.1

3In the course of the nineteenth century industrial production made Britain the workshop of the world and the greatest trading nation on the globe. Scotland played a major role in that development. Coal mining had existed in Scotland for many centuries but the development of the steam engine by James Watt in the eighteenth century increased demand for coal. Coal output underwent a spectacular development in the 1830s. By 1841 there were 33,000 miners in Scotland compared with only some 8,000 at the start of the century. The Scottish iron industry also expanded in the late 1830s. Between 1830 and 1849 output increased from 37,500 tons a year to 700,000, representing 25% of the British total output. The Clyde became one of the most technically advanced shipbuilding sites in Britain, its tonnage increasing sixfold between 1880 and 1914. By 1913 the area of Glasgow produced one-third of the railway locomotives, one third of the shipping tonnage and a fifth of the steel.

4This huge development in industry could not have taken place without the creation of a national railway network. The first intercity line was opened between Edinburgh and Glasgow in 1842. Edinburgh was connected with England in 1846. The opportunities offered by these new transport facilities enhanced the dynamism of the Scottish economy.

5The older textile sectors continued to be important. Cotton continued to expand till about 1860 before declining at the end of the century. The jute and the woollen industries became important sectors of the Scottish economy. By 1868 Dundee, which was nicknamed Juteopolis, imported fifty times more jute than thirty years before. The industry employed 35,000 workers in the middle of the century. The Cox Brothers’ Camperdown Works in Lochee, which employed 14,000 workers, was the biggest jute complex in the world.

6Industrialisation led to radical changes in demography. The Scottish population rose from 1.6 million in 1801 to 4.76 in 1911. An urban revolution was in progress. In 1750 there were four cities in Scotland of over 10,000 inhabitants, containing nine percent of the total Scottish population. By 1841 25% of the Scottish population lived in the eight largest towns; 16% of the population living in Glasgow and Edinburgh. In 1900 one Scot in three lived in one of the big four cities–Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee or Aberdeen. The increase of some of these cities was stunning: in 1780 Glasgow, which became the second city of the Empire, had a population of 43,000 and in 1901 of 762,000.

7It would be a mistake, however, to think that these changes were positive for all categories of the Scottish population. Phases of growth and change inevitably create strains on society. Environmental conditions were not very good: there were widespread outbreaks of fever in 1826, 1837 and 1847 and cholera epidemics in 1832 (which claimed 10,000 victims) and 1848-1849. In the years 1833-1839 there were 12,000 cases of fever in Dundee and the mortality rate in the city was 1 in 32. The vast majority of unskilled labourers were paid very low salaries and lived in crowded tenements in the great cities. Overcrowding was one of the major problems of big cities. According to the official figures on housing provided by the 1861 census 34% of all families in Scotland lived in one room and another 37% in two rooms. Cities also suffered from appalling problems of filth, poverty and crime. This is how one observer described the slum district of Glasgow in the 1840s:

  • 2 Quoted in T. M. Devine, G. Jackson (eds), Glasgow: Volume 1 Beginnings to 1830, Manchester: Manche (...)

In the very centre of the city there was an accumulated mass of squalid wretchedness which was probably unequalled in any other town in the British dominions […] there was concentrated everything wretched, dissolute, loathsome and pestilential. Dunghills lie in the vicinity of the dwellings, and from the extremely defective sewerage filth of every kind constantly accumulates… The people who dwell in those quarters of the city are sunk to the lowest possible state of personal degradation.2

Notes

1 B. Lenman, An Economic History of Modern Scotland, London: Batsford, 1977, p. 156.

2 Quoted in T. M. Devine, G. Jackson (eds), Glasgow: Volume 1 Beginnings to 1830, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995, p. 406.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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