IT IS hard to imagine Glasgow surrounded by rural fields and small villages or hamlets now, but this was the case in the 1700s.
Several families owned estates neighbouring Glasgow which would eventually in time be swallowed up by the city. Anderson, dominated today by concrete flyovers, walkways and the M8 motorway, was once one such village.
The lands of Stobcross were owned by the wealthy Anderson family. Around the 1720s one family member, James Anderson decided to make one portion of the estate more productive by setting up a community of handloom weavers.
Modestly he named the village Anderson Town after himself and his family, and over time the village became known as Anderston.
The village was originally centred around what is now the site of Kingston Bridge and many of the handloom weavers lived on Main Street (now part of Argyle Street) with bleachfields at the nearby River Clyde.
The community was moderately successful enough to establish The Weavers’ Society of Anderston in 1738 to help regulate and expand their trade. The fortunes of James Anderson, however, were less prosperous and he sold Anderston to wealthy local merchant John Orr of Barrowfield in the 1740s.
By 1758 Anderston Weaver’s Society laid out a new street called Bishop Street, as their population increased. Their neighbours at Finnieston, a weaving village created by Matthew Orr (son of John Orr) and named after Orr’s tutor Rev. John Finnie, were allowed to join the society. Anderston soon grew into a significant centre of textile trade.
Other industries followed, notably Delftfield Pottery in 1751, the Verreville Glassworks in 1776, and the Anderston Brewery (or ‘great brewery’ as it was also known) in 1752. The area’s community was thriving, and this attracted new settlers from the Scottish Highlands and Ireland.
The village gained a church in 1770 when the Anderston Relief Church opened at its centre. Presbyterian but separate from the Church of Scotland, its members included many local traders. Later it became Anderston United Presbyterian Church with a new building in 1840 at Heddle Place.
A large steam powered mill was built on Cheapside Street by William Gillespie in the early 19th century and was managed by Englishman Henry Houldsworth (the namesake of Houldsworth Street), although handloom weaving still ruled the area’s trade for many more years.
As a now important suburb, Anderston’s inhabitants pushed for greater status and in 1824 a Crown Charter constituted the area as a ‘burgh of barony’.
A town council was formed, with a provost, three bailies, a treasurer and 11 councillors elected by the wealthiest residents of the burgh.
Here at the City Archives we hold the minutes from these commissioners, who oversaw the running of the burgh, the recruitment of ‘watchmen’, building permissions, street repairs, lighting and the setting of taxes.
By the 1830s, the handloom weaving industry was declining with the rise of machine powered mills. Workers were agitated and violence erupted one day in 1837 when a local factory worker was shot dead.
Members of a local cotton spinner co-operative were accused of the murder but found ‘not proven’ at their trial to much widespread public interest.
The earlier Radical War of 1820, involving many weavers campaigning for improved pay, still worried authorities and there was a feeling that a larger governing body with more resources might deal better with any future trouble.
By this time Argyle Street as it ran towards Anderston was no longer mostly open fields but built up with houses, shops, and factories. It was becoming harder to tell the division between Anderston and the city. So, it isn’t really surprising that, despite some protest, in 1846, only 22 years after establishing itself as its own burgh, Anderston was absorbed into Glasgow.