19th Century Urbanisation In Glasgow: Opportunities Or Challenges

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Urbanisation was a global phenomenon, triggered by the industrial revolution at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Urbanisation has a variety of economic, political, environmental and social implications. Historians have critically explored how, from a social perspective, the lived experience of urbanisation did indeed present the population of Europe more opportunities than ever before, with particular attention paid in this essay to Paris and Glasgow. However, these opportunities arguably stemmed into challenges that had severe consequences, particularly for the lower classes.

Firstly, it could be argued that more opportunities were created through the process of urbanisation. Urbanisation is process of making or becoming urban in character; the condition of being urbanized (Oxford English Dictionary Online, 2019) . As the industrial revolution continued to flourish in the 1830’s it could be stated that Parthasarathi’s argument that Europe felt under pressure to develop at a greater rate than the rest of the world was entirely relevant (Vries, 2012) . This pressure felt in Europe led to the formation of Glasgow as a multi-industrial hub. This is illustrated through Lawton’s description of the domino effect that the growth of Glasgow’s largest industry, the manufacturing of cotton, had on the city as a whole:

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“production of dyestuffs and chemicals for cloth-processing and the manufacturing of steam engines and mill machinery were closely connected with textiles, but breweries, distilleries, potteries and bottle works, brick and tile works, tanneries and foundries all increasingly provided employment possibilities. At the same time the construction of canals and railways, as well as improvement schemes for the River Clyde and its port facilities, increased the scale and rapidity of concentration and provided a huge number of construction jobs” (Richard Lawton, 2002) .

Interestingly, as Lawton explores, the cities geographical location on the River Clyde created the greatest number of opportunities as this enabled easy access of ships importing raw materials and exporting manufactured goods. This highlights why the city possessed a range of employment opportunities. This acted as a pull factor to the city and is a feature that caused population to rise by a quarter between 1801 to 1861 (Power, 2011) , due to the variety of industries meaning there were job opportunities for women as well as men (Eleanor Gordon, 2003) This was arguably an immense positive for the lower classes in the nineteenth century allowing them to earn a steady income presenting an opportunity for individuals to break out of the poverty cycle. However, this was such a strong pull factor mass migration into the city quickly led to overcrowding which created some of the greatest challenges urban areas faced during this period.

It could alternatively be postulated that, urbanisation did indeed present more challenges than opportunities, particularly for the working classes. This is arguably due to of mass migration which caused increasing levels of overcrowding in the inner-city areas of both Glasgow and Paris. Population boomed in Paris, growing by nearly a third between 1801 and 1861 (Cox, 2003). This caused extreme population density, forcing the city to expand by 70.5 kilometres squared in order to tackle the mass issue of overcrowding in the inner-city slums (Cox, 2003). The problem of overcrowding became clear during the cholera outbreaks of 1832 which effected a vast amount of European port cities (JKudlick, 1999) . As described by a contemporary newspaper article, the cholera outbreak only effected Paris “It isn’t anywhere else in France … with a single jump it arrived in the capital and established itself in this den of …impiety” (Dougherty, 1991) . As a religious journal the biased is clearly focused on the “impiety” of Paris as a city, however, it also clearly illustrates that the outbreak of disease only occurs in densely populated areas, creating challenges for urban dwellers at the time that was entirely out of the control of the suffering population. Moreover, unsurprisingly the groups moving into the city were moving from the relative poverty of agricultural work, this therefore meant that they had no choice but to live in poor-quality accommodation or slum settlements in the inner city. The Glasgow slums were described as “cheap and decaying boarding houses …’unfit even for sties’” (Slaven, 1975) clearly connoting that lower-class people endured extremely challenging conditions. Also highlighting the issue that there wasn’t opportunity for all to escape of the poverty cycle and that there were arguably greater challenges than ever before brought upon lowest income groups as a result of urbanisation.

However, it must also be considered that there were attempts made to make changes to reduce these challenges. This is displayed through the introduction of the ‘Glasgow City Improvement Trust’ in 1866. Nevertheless, progress was slow due to the huge lengths the committee went to, “the Trustees hoped to eradicate the slums by first purchasing, then demolishing all the property … of targeted areas” (Withey, 2003). It could be argued that, as progress was so slow within this project it caused greater challenges for the lower classes in the short term as they were displaced into areas where the same issues quickly began to arise. This suggests that even though changes were being made in an attempt to improve the conditions for all urban dwellers, the effectiveness of the project was too slow paced and not far reaching enough as many low-income groups were still left vulnerable to the impacts associated with overcrowding. Despite the slow success, this legislation paved the way for improvements to be made in other cities, including Paris. This was under the Public Health Act of 1848, that finally started to recognise that the industrial revolution was at fault for causing the most major challenges in cities. This highlights that the cities experienced a state of turmoil due to rapid changes that caused large problems that were difficult to rectify without the governments help.

Notwithstanding, it must be considered that there was opportunity for prosperity during the nineteenth century. Glasgow began to develop a middle class as entrepreneurs’ and factory owners experiencing rapid businesses growth throughout the early nineteenth century. Therefore, in the 1820’s, those who could afford it moved out of the inner city to the what is now known as the West End (Atherton, 2010). Intriguingly, this created a suburban dwelling separate from the challenges of the inner city where the middle classes prospered away from disease and crime (Atherton, 2010). Atherton also argues that this created opportunity for the lower classes. In terms of job creation for builders, as they would be able to work outside of the city, to construct entirely new infrastructure for a concentrated group. This would have been a well-received opportunity as it removed the workers from the dangerous and unsanitary working conditions of the docks and factories, at least for a short period of time. Unfortunately, this class segregation ultimately created greater issues as crime rates continued to grow due to the lack of social regulation after the departure of the higher income groups until the social reforms of 1866 including the before mentioned City Improvement trust. This coveys that the inequalities of opportunity led there to be greater challenges for particular groups creating a divide in the extent of opportunities urbanisation presented for different socio-economic groups.

On the other hand, it could be argued that the push factors from the agricultural sector meant many unskilled workers were attracted to urban areas arguably leading to increased crime rates. French agriculture struggled as a result of disease between 1863 and 1890, as phylloxera destroyed about 40% of French vineyards (Vincent Bignon, 2017). The depletion of such a major industry, as not just a primary but also a secondary product, as wine was produced from the grapes, were lost, many workers were left with no choice but to move to urbanised areas, such as Paris (Vincent Bignon, 2017). It was suggested that as a result of this epidemic urban crime rates did in fact increase during this period as many unskilled workers migrated to urbanised areas. Many industrial jobs required a certain level of skill or training, therefore, many of the poorest migrants were left unemployed and had no choice but reverting to crime. This left urbanised areas in Europe, such as Paris and Glasgow, in a state of lawless turmoil in the inner city. This had negative impacts on Paris in particular as it is noted that “the prevalence of crime in an area discourages business” (Vincent Bignon, 2017), which created further social unrest as unemployment continued to rise between 1826 and 1836. This highlights the idea that where there was a lack of opportunity in urban areas to meet the whole populations needs. Challenges quickly arose as desperation led the lowest income groups to resort to other means of income, including crime. This suggests that there was an overwhelming sense of challenge for the working classes in urbanised areas as the middle classes didn’t have to endure the struggle of a lack of opportunity.

In conclusion, throughout this tumultuous period of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, European cities such as Paris and Glasgow encountered a variety of new challenges as they fought to develop as quickly as possible to maintain their competitive advantage. The rapidity of their development led to immense challenges arising such as; outbreak of disease, due to overcrowding in poor quality housing and increased crime rates. Whilst These challenges did impact both cities on the whole, it was the working classes that suffered the full extent of each challenge. Despite attempts being made in the second half of the nineteenth century to ease the challenges faced by the working classes such as the introduction of the City Improvement Trust of 1866, challenges continually arrived creating problems faster than they could be truly resolved. This in turn created an overall negative impact on the way urbanisation effected lower class individuals.


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