The present site of Glasgow marks a prehistoric ford across the River Clyde. Its position, as one of the two principal religious seats north of Hadrian’s Wall, brought wealth and status that was further strengthened in the late 12th century with royal trading monopolies. Glasgow Cathedral of today dates from 1136 and Glasgow University, founded in the precincts of the Cathedral in 1451, is the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world after Oxford, Cambridge and Durham.
Glasgow grew to an international centre on the back of the tobacco trade with New World and later with the growth of the textile and shipping industries. By the end of the 1700s, Glasgow was the largest trade centre in the British Isles. The city expanded rapidly over the period from the 1730s to 1920s, a growth that can be traced through its architecture. During the first half of the 20th century, shipbuilding on the Clyde accounted for a staggering 35% of all of the shipping tonnage plying the world’s oceans. Some of Glasgow’s shipping and trading history will be found in the Hadid Transport Museum on the Clyde and in the Paisley Museum (in Paisley, of course, near Glasgow Airport), which includes some beautiful examples of the Paisley silk and cotton designs that were high fashion through the 18th and early 19th centuries.
The city is home to the Glasgow School of Art, now attached to Glasgow University, where Charles Rennie MacKintosh trained and greatly influenced the Art Noveau and modernist movements in Europe and the New World around the beginning of the 20th century. North Americans will be familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright, a contemporary who followed many of MacKintosh’s ideas. MacKintosh’s work is still to be seen around Glasgow, including the 1909 Glasgow School of Art building, the Lighthouse and the Willow Tearooms in Glasgow’s city centre, the House of an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park, and the Mackie family home, Hill House, outside Glasgow in Helensburgh. The MacKintosh home itself is rebuilt as part of the Hunterian Art Gallery at Glasgow University and is well worth a visit. The Hunterian also holds the bequest collection of James McNeil Whistler’s paintings, many of which are on permanent display.
Glasgow of today is the largest city in Scotland and the third largest in the UK. It boasts a vibrant nightlife and shopping precincts, outstanding theatre, opera and music of all kinds. The city retains a supportive social attitude and most museums are free entry. The Kelvingrove museum, close by the University of Glasgow, includes eclectic collections that range from natural history and anthropology to modern art. The Burrell collection, located in Pollok Park, is a ‘must see’ and incorporates the personal collection of shipping magnate Sir William Burrell.
Glasgow is also the gateway to the Highlands and Scotland’s breathtaking west coast and Hebridian islands. Take a train from Glasgow’s Queens Street Station to Oban for ferries to the islands. Trains also run to the Highlands of Glencoe, Fort William, Ben Nevis and the Isle of Skye. You can fly direct from Glasgow Airport to the Isle of Barra, the southernmost of the Outer Hebrides, on the worlds’ only scheduled airline that lands on a beach, but be aware that flight times vary (clue: times change with the tides). Or simply rent a car and drive to the Trossachs National Forest and Loch Lomond, some 20 miles from Glasgow.