The Merchant City is one of the oldest quarters of Glasgow with its history stretching back many hundreds of years. Following the city’s regeneration of the 1980’s, Merchant City is now one of Glasgow’s cultural hotspots with a number of excellent pubs, clubs, restaurants, shops and a great place to wander.
The areas around Royal Exchange Square, High Street and George Square bound Merchant City on four sides. During medieval times the locale was home to orange groves and rose gardens but prospered both economically and architecturally when the River Clyde found itself ideally positioned to trade tobacco between Europe and the Americas. These trade routes had opened up in the early 1700’s and the journey between Glasgow and Virginia took almost three weeks less than the trip from London to Virginia. Consequently almost half of the tobacco entering Europe arrived in Glasgow with commodities like pottery and cloth being traded for tobacco. By the mid 1700’s Jamaica, Antigua, St. Kitts, Boston, Gibraltar, Holland and London, as well as Virginia were all destinations for ships sailing from Glasgow (the naming of, amongst others, Virginia Street and Jamaica Street stems from these trade routes).
This trading saw Glasgow’s population explode to over 200,000 by 1830 with the prosperity of the Merchant Quarter reflected in the construction of some exceptional buildings, including the magnificent Merchant’s House and the City Chambers. The original Merchant’s House was built around 1600 (the present John Burnett designed building was opened in 1877) as a meeting place for merchants and an almshouse for Merchants and their families who had fallen on hard times, whilst the stunning City Chambers was constructed between 1882-88.
Another exceptional building is the Trades House, which stands on Glassford Street. It was established in 1605 to oversee the fourteen separate crafts that existed within the city (such as barbers, wrights, and weavers) ensuring they were run properly and the workers treated fairly. Before this there was no official body and subsequently many disputes arose between the Craftsmen, the City Merchants, the Church and City Council over how best to run Glasgow. However the formation of The Trades House and Merchant’s House allowed for a more harmonious working relationship. This was an important step in the development of Glasgow as each craft recognised by The City received a deed of cause certifying their existence, which gave them authorisation to work within the city confines.
The Trades House foundation stone was laid on the 9th of September 1791 and opened in 1794 although it wasn’t completed until 1802 at a cost of nearly £8000. The Trade House is one of only two buildings in Glasgow (the other being Glasgow Cathedral) still used for its original purpose.