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Glasgow’s modern history dates back to the 6th century when St Kentigern (also known as St Mungo, Glasgow’s patron saint) established an ecclesiastical centre on the banks of the Molendinar Burn. At this point the foundations of Glasgow (or, to give its original Cumbric moniker, Glascau, ‘the place of the green hollow’) were born.
The town began to grow around streets such as Gallowgate, High Street and Stockwell Street with construction of Glasgow Cathedral beginning in 1238 on the site of St Kentigern’s original church.
Over the course of the next few hundred years a number of trades (under the auspices of the Trades House) worked within the city, and a burgeoning export market (including tobacco, sugar and rum) to the USA and West Indies, saw Glasgow establish itself as a major port.
At its centre was the River Clyde, which, during the 18th century, was dredged, allowing larger vessels to navigate to the Broomielaw – this expansion led to Glasgow’s golden age of heavy industry, one that would put it on the world map.
The industry boom saw Glasgow’s population explode. Immigration from the Highlands, Ireland and Eastern Europe provided much needed cheap and unskilled labour with Govan the beating heart of the industry – at its peak, before World War 1, shipbuilding directly employed a staggering 70,000 workers in 19 yards.
Engineering and the locomotive industry also thrived, helping Glasgow to become one of Europe’s richest city’s and this wealth was reflected in the construction of a number of elaborate and ornate buildings including museums, art galleries and libraries.
Yet despite these riches parts of Glasgow, particularly the East End, were considered slums, where overcrowding and deprivation led to sections of the city garnering a violent reputation. With the massive decline of heavy industry during the 1930’s, high unemployment and a huge population caused much social disparity and after World War II Glasgow had a major housing crisis.
This led to many of its famous tenements being demolished, replaced by high-rise tower blocks. In the late 1960’s a number of neighbourhoods disappeared altogether under the construction of the M8 but rather than helping with Glasgow’s issues it only exacerbated them, with many new communities feeling socially excluded.
However the 1980’s brought a sea change (particularly a cultural renaissance), one that began Glasgow’s regeneration. The 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival started the rebirth, which in turn led to Glasgow being designated European City of Culture in 1990 and the 1999 UK City of Architecture and Design. The city’s recent transformation culminated in it hosting the massively successful 2014 Commonwealth Games and today Glasgow is hailed as one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
Having said that, Glasgow, like any major city, will never be problem free – it still has the lowest life expectancy of any UK city for both males and females (72.6 years and 78.5 respectively) while problems such as social deprivation, alcohol and drug abuse, and sectarianism are still prevalent.
The ‘No Mean City’ tag has been hard to shake off and is Glasgow’s well-worn cliché but its veneer is slowly being scratched away.
Glasgow has made enormous leaps forward in recent years and while its residents are rightly proud of their history and heritage, they are now very much looking forward. It is a fascinating, beautiful and convivial city to explore and there is much to be discovered when walking its pavements and paths.