This morning I escorted a small group from the tobacco industry on a short walking tour around the centre of Glasgow to identify sites, places, buildings and streets connected with the tobacco which flourished here around 240 years ago.

Glasgow grew to prominence as a mercantile centre through trading in tobacco which reached a peak aroundthe period 1740-1775. In essence, Glasgow supplied the American colonies with essential manufactured goods with the ships returning mainly with tobacco from Maryland and Virginia, but also sugar and other products from the Caribbean. The tobacco, which was exchanged for manufactured goods was on-sold, mainly to the French market.

By 1770s Glasgow controlled over half of all British trade in tobacco which was immensely profitable and created huge wealth for the businessmen who controlled the industry. Names like Glassford, Buchanan and Dunlop remain enshrined today in the form of Glasgow street names.

The tobacco industry, which was so central to Glasgow’s prosperity, came to a halt at time of the American Revolution around 1775 when the trade collapsed as the former colonies were no longer obligated to transport tobacco in British ships and traded direct with Europe.

However, whilst many of the ‘Tobacco Lord’ fortunes dissipated almost overnight , some of the wealth had been invested in manufacturing industries which continued to prosper and resulted in a solid foundation for furture growth with Glasgow featuring at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and growing in prosperity to become the ‘second city of the (British) Empire’.

Here are images from our ‘Tobacco Trail’ this morning:

Glassford Street is named after a very wealthy family which, at its peak imported, 10pct of all tobacco received in Britain.

Glassford St, Glasgow

Glassford St, Glasgow, Scotland

Site of Virginia Galleries, originally the Tobacco Exchange.

Virginia Galleries, Glasgow

Virginia Galleries, Glasgow, Scotland

Site of  Candleriggs Warehouses

Candleriggs, Glasgow

Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland

The Corinthian is located on site of the Virginia Mansion, 1752, built by tobacco merchant George Buchanan. The mansion was demolished in 1842 to make way for the Ship Bank building which has evolved into the present structure. The Ship Bank (est 1749) and was heavily involved in financing the tobacco trade.

Corinthian, Glasgow

Corinthian, Glasgow, Scotland

The Gallery of Modern Art is built on site of, and incorporates certain features from, a grand mansion house built by William Cunninghame, one of Glasgow’s richest tobacco Lords. The elipse area and rooflight below is a feature from the original Cunninghame mansion.

Elipse Area with rooflight

ElipseArea with rooflight, Gallery of Modern Art

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, Scotland

This is Buchanan St., named after the wealthy, tobacco trading family. George Buchanan owned the Virginia Mansion on which site the Corinthian is now located.

Buchanan St, Glasgow

Buchanan St, Glasgow, Scotland

Finally, there is the Tobacco Merchant’s House in Miller Street. This is the last of the Virginia tobacco merchants’ houses to survive in Glasgow’s Merchant City. The building dates from 1775 and is now Grade A listed. Here is a video clip of the exterior.

Overall, an interesting and intruiging dip into Glasgow’s mercantile past and on which the city’s subsequent growth and prosperity was founded.

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