Concerning Glasgow Down the Water


Glasgow DocksBy A.K.H. Boyd

Upon any day in the months of June, July, August, and September, the stranger who should walk through the handsome streets, crescents, and terraces which form the West End of Glasgow, might be led to fancy that the plague was in the town, or that some fearful commercial crash had brought ruin upon all its respectable families,–so utterly deserted is the place. The windows are all done up with brown paper: the door-plates and handles, ere-while of glittering brass, are black with rust: the flights of steps which lead to the front-doors of the houses have furnished a field for the chalked cartoons of vagabond boys with a turn for drawing. The more fashionable the terrace or crescent, the more completely is it deserted: our feet waken dreary echoes as we pace the pavement. We naturally inquire of the first policeman we meet, What is the matter with Glasgow,–has anything dreadful happened? And we receive for answer the highly intelligible explanation, that the people are all Down the Water.

We are enjoying (shall we suppose) our annual holiday from the turmoil of Westminster Hall and the throng of London streets; and we have taken Glasgow on our way to the Highlands. We have two or three letters of introduction to two or three of the merchant-princes of the city; and having heard a great deal of the splendid hospitalities of the Western metropolis of the North, we have been anticipating with considerable satisfaction stretching our limbs beneath their mahogany, and comparing their cuisine and their cellar with the descriptions of both which we have often heard from Mr.  Allan M’Collop, a Glasgow man who is getting on fairly at the bar.  But when we go to see our new acquaintances, or when they pay us a hurried visit at our hotel, each of them expresses his deep regret that he cannot ask us to his house, which he tells us is shut up, his wife and family being Down the Water. No explanation is vouchsafed of the meaning of the phrase, which is so familiar to Glasgow folk that they forget how oddly it sounds on the ear of the stranger. Our first hasty impression, perhaps, from the policeman’s sad face (no cold meat for him now, honest man), was that some sudden inundation had swept away the entire wealthier portion of the population,–at the same time curiously sparing the toiling masses.  But the pleasant and cheerful look of our mercantile friend, as he states what has become of his domestic circle, shows us that nothing very serious is amiss. At length, after much meditation, we conclude that the people are at the sea-side; and as that lies down the Clyde from Glasgow, when a Glasgow man means to tell us that his family and himself are enjoying the fresh breezes and the glorious scenery of the Frith of Clyde, he says they are Down the Water.

Everybody everywhere of course longs for the country, the sea-side, change of air and scene, at some period during the year. Almost every man of the wealthier and more cultivated class in this country has a vacation, longer or shorter. But there never was a city whence the annual migration to the sea-side is so universal or so protracted as it is from Glasgow. By the month of March in each year, every house along the coast within forty miles of Glasgow is let for the season at a rent which we should say must be highly remunerative.  Many families go to the coast early in May, and every one is down the water by the first of June. Most people now stay till the end of September. The months of June and July form what is called ‘the first season;’ August and September are ‘the second season.’ Until within the last few years, one of these ‘seasons’ was thought to furnish a Glasgow family with vigor and buoyancy sufficient to face the winter, but now almost all who can afford it stay at the sea-side during both. And from the little we have seen of Glasgow, we do not wonder that such should be the case. No doubt Glasgow is a fine city on the whole. The Trongate is a noble street; the park on the banks of the Kelvin, laid out by Sir Joseph Paxton, furnishes some pleasant walks; the Sauchyhall-road is an agreeable promenade;

Claremont, Crescent and Park Gardens consist of houses which would be of the first class even in Belgravia or Tyburnia; and from the West-end streets, there are prospects of valley and mountain which are worth going some distance to see. But the atmosphere, though comparatively free from smoke, wants the exhilarating freshness of breezes just arrived from the Atlantic.  The sun does not set in such glory beyond Gilmore-hill, as behind the glowing granite of Goatfell; and the trunks of the trees round Glasgow are (if truth must be spoken) a good deal blacker than might be desired, while their leaves are somewhat shriveled up by the chemical gales of St. Rollox. No wonder, then, that the purest of pure air, the bluest of blue waves, the most picturesque of noble hills, the most purple of heather, the greenest of ivy, the thickest of oak-leaves, the most fragrant of roses and honeysuckle, should fairly smash poor old Glasgow during the summer months, and leave her not a leg to stand on.

The ladies and children of the multitudinous families that go down the water, remain there permanently, of course: most of the men go up to business every morning and return to the sea-side every night.  This implies a journey of from sixty to eighty miles daily; but the rapidity and the cheapness of the communication, render the journey a comparatively easy one. Still, it occupies three or four hours of the day; and many persons remain in town two or three nights weekly, smuggling themselves away in some little back parlor of their dismantled dwellings. But let us accept our friend’s invitation to spend a few days at his place down the water, and gather up some particulars of the mode of life there.

There are two ways of reaching the coast from Glasgow. We may sail all the way down the Clyde, in steamers generally remarkably well-appointed and managed; or we may go by railway to Greenock, twenty-three miles off, and catch the steamer there. By going by railway we save an hour,–a great deal among people with whom emphatically time is money,–and we escape a somewhat tedious sail down the river. The steamer takes two hours to reach Greenock, while some express trains which run all the way without stopping, accomplish the distance in little more than half an hour. The sail down the Clyde to Greenock is in parts very interesting. The banks of the river are in some places richly wooded: on the north side there are picturesque hills; and the huge rock on which stands the ancient castle of Dumbarton, is a striking feature.  But we have never met any Glasgow man or woman who did not speak of the sail between Glasgow and Greenock as desperately tedious, and by all means to be avoided. Then in warm summer weather the Clyde is nearly as filthy as the Thames; and sailing over a sewer, even through fine scenery, has its disadvantages. So we resolve to go with our friend by railway to Greenock, and thus come upon the Clyde where it has almost opened into the sea. Quite opened into the sea, we might say: for at Greenock the river is three miles broad, while at Glasgow it is only some three hundred yards.

‘Meet me at Bridge-street station at five minutes to four,’ says Mr.  B–, after we have agreed to spend a few days on the Clyde.  There are a couple of hours to spare, which we give to a basin of very middling soup at McLerie’s, and to a visit to the cathedral, which is a magnificent specimen of the severest style of Gothic architecture. We are living at the Royal Hotel in George Square, which we can heartily recommend to tourists; and when our hour approaches, Boots brings us a cab. We are not aware whether there is any police regulation requiring the cabs of Glasgow to be extremely dirty, and the horses that draw them to be broken-winded, and lame of not more than four nor less than two legs. Perhaps it is merely the general wish of the inhabitants that has brought about the present state of things. However this may be, the unhappy animal that draws us reaches Bridge-street station at last. As our carriage draws up we catch a glimpse of half-a-dozen men, in that peculiar green dress which railway servants affect, hastening to conceal themselves behind the pillars which decorate the front of the building, while two or three excited ticket-porters seize our baggage, and offer to carry it up-stairs. But our friend with Scotch foresight and economy, has told us to make the servants of the Company do their work. ‘Hands off,’ we say to the ticket-porters; and walking up the steps we round a pillar, and smartly tapping on the shoulder one of the green-dressed gentlemen lurking there, we indicate to him the locality of our port-manteau. Sulkily he shoulders it, and precedes us to the booking-office. The fares are moderate; eighteen-pence to Greenock, first class: and we understand that persona who go daily, by taking season tickets, travel for much less. The steamers afford a still cheaper access to the sea-side, conveying passengers from Glasgow to Rothesay, about forty-five miles, for sixpence cabin and three-pence deck. The trains start from a light and spacious shed, which has the very great disadvantage of being at an elevation of thirty or forty feet above the ground level. Railway companies have sometimes spent thousands of pounds to accomplish ends not a tenth part so desirable as is the arranging their stations in such a manner as that people in departing, and still more in arriving, shall be spared the annoyance and peril of a break-neck staircase like that at the Glasgow railway station. It is a vast comfort when cabs can draw up alongside the train, under cover, so that people can get into them at once, as at Euston-square.

The railway carriages that run between Glasgow and Greenock have a rather peculiar appearance. The first-class carriages are of twice the usual length, having six compartments instead of three. Each compartment holds eight passengers; and as this accommodation is gained by increasing the breadth of the carriages, brass bars are placed across the windows, to prevent any one from putting out his head. Should any one do so, his head would run some risk of coming in collision with the other train; and although, from physiological reasons, tome heads might receive no injury in such a case, the carriage with which they came in contact would probably suffer.  The expense of painting is saved by the carriages being built of teak, which when varnished has a cheerful light-oak color. There is a great crowd of men on the platform, for the four o’clock train is the chief down-train of the day. The bustle of the business-day is over; there is a general air of relief and enjoyment. We meet our friend punctual to the minute; we take our seat on the comfortable blue cushions; the bell rings; the engine pants and tugs; and we are off ‘down the water.’

We pass through a level country on leaving Glasgow: there are the rich fields which tell of Scotch agricultural industry. It is a bright August afternoon: the fields are growing yellow; the trees and hedges still wear their summer green. In a quarter of an hour the sky suddenly becomes overcast. It is not a cloud: don’t be afraid of an unfavorable change of weather; we have merely plunged into the usual atmosphere of dirty and ugly Paisley. Without a pause, we sweep by, and here turn off to the right. That line of railway from which we have turned aside runs on to Dumfries and Carlisle; a branch of it keeps along the Ayrshire coast to Ardrossan and Ayr.  In a little while we are skimming the surface of a bleak, black moor; it is a dead level, and not in the least interesting: but, after a plunge into the murk darkness of a long tunnel, we emerge into daylight again; and there, sure enough, are the bright waters of the Clyde. We are on its south side; it has spread out to the breadth of perhaps a couple of miles. That rocky height on its north shore is Dumbarton Castle; that great mass beyond is Ben Lomond, at whose base lies Loch Lomond, the queen of Scottish lakes, now almost as familiar to many a cockney tourist as a hundred years since to Rob Roy Macgregor. We keep close by the water’s edge, skirting a range of hills on which grow the finest strawberries in Scotland.  Soon, to the right, we see many masts, many great rafts of timber, many funnels of steamers; and there, creeping along out in the middle of the river, is the steamer we are to join, which left Glasgow an hour before us. We have not stopped since we left Glasgow; thirty-five minutes have elapsed, and now we sweep into a remarkably tasteless and inconvenient station. This is Greenock at last; but, as at Glasgow, the station is some forty feet above the ground. A railway cart at the foot of a long stair receives the luggage of passengers, and then sets off at a gallop down a dirty little lane.  We follow at a run; and, a hundred and fifty yards off, we come on a long range of wharf, beside which lie half-a-dozen steamers, sputtering out their white steam with a roar, as though calling impatiently for their passengers to come faster. Our train has brought passengers for a score of places on the Frith; and in the course of the next hour and a half, these vessels will disperse them to their various destinations. By way of guidance to the inexperienced, a post is erected on the wharf, from which arms project, pointing to the places of the different steamers. The idea is a good one, and if carried out with the boldness with which it was conceived, much advantage might be derived by strangers. But a serious drawback about these indicators is, that they are invariably pointed in the wrong direction, which renders them considerably less useful than they might otherwise be. Fortunately we have a guide, for there is not a moment to lose. We hasten on board, over an awkward little gangway, kept by a policeman of rueful countenance, who punches the heads of several little boys who look on with awe.  Bareheaded and bare-footed girls offer baskets of gooseberries and plums of no tempting appearance. Ragged urchins bellow ‘Day’s Penny Paper! Glasgow Daily News!’ In a minute or two, the ropes are cast off, and the steamers diverge as from a centre to their various ports.

We are going to Dunoon. Leaving the ship-yards of Greenock echoing with multitudinous hammerings, and rounding a point covered with houses, we see before us Gourock, the nearest to Greenock of the places ‘down the water.’ It is a dirty little village on the left side of the Frith. A row of neat houses, quite distinct from the dirty village, stretches for two miles along the water’s edge.  The hills rise immediately behind these. The Frith is here about three miles in breadth. It is Renfrewshire on the left hand; a few miles on, and it will be Ayrshire. On the right are the hills of Argyleshire. And now, for many miles on either side, the shores of the Frith, and the shores of the long arms of the sea that run up among those Argyleshire mountains, are fringed with villas, castles, and cottages—the retreats of Glasgow men and their families. It is not, perhaps, saying much for Glasgow to state that one of its greatest advantages is the facility with which one can get away from it, and the beauty of the places to which one can get. But true it is, that there is hardly a great city in the world which is so well off in this respect. For six-pence, the artisan of Bridgeton or Calton can travel forty miles in the purest air, over as blue a sea, and amid as noble hills, as can be found in Britain.  The Clyde is a great highway: a highway traversed, indeed, by a merchant navy scarcely anywhere surpassed in extent; but a highway, too, whose gracious breezes, through the summer and autumn time, are ever ready to revive the heart of the pale weaver, with his thin wife and child, arid to fan the cheek of the poor consumptive needlewoman into the glow of something like country health and strength.

After Greenock is passed, and the river has grown into the Frith, the general features of the scene remain very much the same for upwards of twenty miles. The water varies from three to seven or eight miles in breadth; and then suddenly opens out to a breadth of twenty or thirty miles. Hills, fringed with wood along their base, and gradually passing into moorland as they ascend, form, the shores on either side. The rocky islands of the Great and Little Cumbrae occupy the middle of the Frith, about fourteen or fifteen miles below Greenock: to the right lies the larger island of Bute; and further on the still larger island of Arran. The hills on the Argyleshire side of the Frith are generally bold and precipitous: those on the Ayrshire side are of much less elevation. The character of all the places down the water’ is almost identical: they consist of a row of houses, generally detached villas or cottages, reaching along the shore, at only a few yards’ distance from the water, with the hills arising immediately behind. The beach is not very convenient for bathing, being generally rocky; though here and there we find a strip of yellow sand. Trees and shrubs grow in the richest way down to the water’s edge. The trees are numerous, and luxuriant rather than large; oaks predominate; we should say few of them are a hundred years old. Ivy and honeysuckle grow in profusion; for several miles along the coast, near Largs, there is a perpendicular wall of rock from fifty to one hundred feet in height, which follows the windings of the shore at a distance of one hundred and fifty yards from the water, enclosing between itself and the sea a long ribbon of fine soil, on which shrubs, flowers, and fruit grow luxuriantly; and this natural rampart, which advances and retreats as we pursue the road at its base, like the bastions and curtains of some magnificent feudal castle, is in many places clad with ivy, so fresh and green that we can hardly believe that for months in the year it is wet with the salt spray of the Atlantic. Here and there, along the coast, are places where the land is capable of cultivation for a mile or two inland; but, as the rule, the hill ascends almost from the water’s edge, into granite and heather.

Let us try to remember the names of the places which reach along the Frith upon either hand: we believe that a list of them will show that not without reason it is said that Glasgow is unrivalled in the number of her sea-side retreats. On the right hand, as we go down the Frith, there are Helensburgh, Row, Roseneath, Shandon, Gareloch-head, Cove, Kilcreggan, Lochgoil-head, Arrochar, Ardentinny, Strone, Kilmun, Kirn, Dunoon, Inellan, Toward, Port Bonnatyne, Rothesay, Askog, Colintrave, Tynabruach. Sometimes these places form for miles one long range of villas. Indeed, from Strone to Toward, ten or twelve miles, the coast is one continuous street.  On the left hand of the Frith are Gourock, Ashton, Inverkip, Wemyss Bay, Skelmorlie, Largs, Fairlie: then comes a bleak range of sandy coast, along which stand Ardrossan, Troon, and Ayr. In the island of Cumbrae is Millport, conspicuously by the tall spire which marks the site of an Episcopal chapel and college of great architectural beauty, built within the last few years. And in Arran are the villages of Lamlash and Brodick. The two Cumbrae islands constitute a parish. A simple-minded clergyman, not long deceased, who held the cure for many years, was wont, Sunday by Sunday, to pray (in the church service) for ‘the islands of the Great and Little Cumbrae, and also for the adjacent islands of Great Britain and Ireland.’

But all this while the steam has been fiercely chafing through the funnel as we have been stopping at Gourock quay. We are away at last, and are now crossing the Frith towards the Argyleshire side.  A mile or two down, along the Ayrshire side, backed by the rich woods of Ardgowan, tall and spectral-white, stands the Cloch lighthouse.  We never have looked at it without thinking how many a heart-broken emigrant must be remembering that severely simple white tower as almost the last thing he saw in Scotland when he was leaving it for ever. The Frith opens before us as we advance: we are running at the rate (quite usual among Clyde steamers) of sixteen or seventeen miles an hour. There, before us, is Cumbrae: over Bute and over Cumbrae look the majestic mountains of Arran; that great granite peak is Goat-fell. And on a clear day, far out, guarding the entrance to the Frith, rising sheer up from the deep sea, at ten miles’ distance from the nearest land, looms Ailsa, white with sea-birds, towering to the height of twelve or thirteen hundred feet. It is a rocky islet of about a mile in circumference, and must have been thrown up by volcanic agency; for the water around it is hundreds of feet in depth.

Out in the middle of the Frith we can see the long, low, white line of buildings on either side of it, nestling at the foot of the hills. We are drawing near Dunoon. That opening on the right is the entrance to Loch Long and Loch Goyle; and a little further on we pass the entrance to the Holy Loch, on whose shore is the ancient burying-place of the family of Argyle. How remarkably tasteful many of these villas are! They are generally built in the Elizabethan style: they stand in grounds varying from half an acre up to twenty or thirty acres, very prettily laid out with shrubbery and flowers; a number (we can see, for we are now skirting the Argyleshire coast at the distance of only a few hundred yards) have conservatories and hot-houses of more or less extent: flagstaffs appear to be much affected (for send a landsman to the coast, and he is sure to become much more marine than a sailor): and those pretty bow-windows, with the crimson fuchsias climbing up them—those fantastic gables and twisted chimneys—those shining evergreens and cheerful gravel walks—with no lack of pretty girls in round hats, and sportive children rolling about the trimly-kept grass plots—all seen in this bright August sunshine—all set off against this blue smiling expanse of sea—make a picture so gay and inviting, that we really do not wonder any more that Glasgow people should like to ‘go down the water.’

Here is Dunoon pier. Several of the coast places have, like Dunoon, a long jetty of wood running out a considerable distance into the water, for the accommodation of the steamers, which call every hour or two throughout the day. Other places have deep water close in-shore, and are provided with a wharf of stone. And several of the recently founded villages (and half of those we have enumerated have sprung up within the last ten years) have no landing-place at which steamers can touch; and their passengers have to land and embark by the aid of a ferry-boat. We touch the pier at last: a gangway is hastily thrown from the pier to the steamer, and in company with many others we go ashore. At the landward end of the jetty, detained there by a barrier of two pence each of toll, in round hats and alpaca dresses, are waiting our friend’s wife and children, from whom we receive a welcome distinguished by that frankness which is characteristic of Glasgow people. But we do not intend so far to imitate the fashion of some modern tourists and biographers, as to give our readers a description of our friend’s house and family, his appearance and manners. We shall only say of him what will never single him out—for it may be said of hundreds more—that he is a wealthy, intelligent, well-informed, kind-hearted Glasgow merchant.  And if his daughters did rather bore us by their enthusiastic descriptions of the sermons of ‘our minister,’ Mr. Macduff, the still grander orations of Mr. Caird, and the altogether unexampled eloquence of Dr. Gumming, why, they were only showing us a thoroughly Glasgow feature; for nowhere in Britain, we should fancy, is there so much talk about preaching and preachers.

In sailing down the Frith, one gets no just idea of the richness and beauty of its shores. We have said that a little strip of fine soil,–in some places only fifty or sixty yards in breadth,–runs like a ribbon, occasionally broadening out to three or four times that extent, along the sea-margin; beyond this ribbon of ground come the wild moor and mountain. In sailing down the Frith, our eye is caught by the large expanse of moorland, and we do not give due importance to the rich strip which bounds it, like an edging of gold lace (to use King James’s comparison) round a russet petticoat.  When we land we understand things better. We find next the sea, at almost any point along the Frith, the turnpike road, generally nearly level, and beautifully smooth. Here and there, in the places of older date, we find quite a street of contiguous houses; but the general rule is of detached dwellings of all grades, from the humblest cottage to the most luxurious villa. At considerable intervals, there are residences of a much higher class than even this last, whose grounds stretch for long distances along the shore.  Such places are Ardgovvan, Kelly, Skelmorlie Castle, and Kelburne, on the Ayrshire side; and on the other shore of the Frith, Roseneath Castle, Toward Castle, and Mountstuart.

And of dwellings of a less ambitious standing than these really grand abodes, yet of a mark much above that suggested by the word villa, we may name the very showy house of Mr. Napier, the eminent maker of marine steam-engines, on the Gareloch, a building in the Saracenic style, which cost we are afraid to say how many thousand pounds; the finely-placed castle of Wemyss, built from the design of Billings; and the very striking piece of baronial architecture called Knock Castle, the residence of Mr. Steel, a wealthy shipbuilder of Greenock. The houses along the Frith are, in Scotch fashion, built exclusively of stone, which is obtained with great facility. Along the Ayrshire coast, the warm-looking red sandstone of the district is to be had everywhere, almost on the surface. One sometimes sees a house rising, the stone being taken from a deep quarry close to it: the same crane often serving to lift a block from the quarry, and to place it in its permanent position upon the advancing wall. We have said how rich is vegetation all along the Frith, until we reach the sandy downs from Ardrossan to Ayr. All evergreens grow with great rapidity: ivy covers dead walls very soon. To understand in what luxuriance vegetable life may be maintained close to the sea-margin, one must walk along the road which leads from the West Bay at Dunoon towards Toward. We never saw trees so covered with honeysuckle; and fuchsias a dozen feet in height are quite common. In this sweet spot, in an Elizabethan house of exquisite design, retired within grounds where fine taste has done its utmost, resides, during the summer vacation (and the summer vacation is six months!), Mr. Buchanan, the Professor of Logic in the University of Glasgow. It must be a very fair thing to teach logic at Glasgow, if the revenue of that chair maintains the groves and flowers, and (we may add) the liberal hospitalities, of Ardflllane.

One pleasing circumstance about the Frith of Clyde, which we remark the more from its being unhappily the exception to the general rule in Scotland, is the general neatness and ecclesiastical character of the churches. The parish church of Dunoon, standing on a wooded height, rising from the water, with its grey tower looking over the trees, is a dignified and commanding object. The churches of Roseneath and Row, which have been built within a year or two, are correct and elegant specimens of ecclesiastical Gothic: indeed they are so thoroughly like churches, that John Knox would assuredly have pulled them down had they been standing in his day. And here and there along the coast the rich Glasgow merchants and the neighboring proprietors have built pretty little chapels, whose cross-crowned gables, steep-pitched roofs, dark oak wood-work, and stained windows, are pleasant indications that old prejudice has given way among cultivated Scotchmen; and that it has come to be understood that it is false religion as well as bad taste and sense to make God’s house the shabbiest, dirtiest, and most uncomfortable house in the parish. Some of these sea-side places of worship are crowded in summer by a fashionable congregation, and comparatively deserted in winter when the Glasgow folks are gone.

A very considerable number of the families that go ‘down the water’ occupy houses which are their own property. There must be, one would think, a special interest about a house which is one’s own. A man must become attached to a spot where he himself planted the hollies and yews, and his children have marked their growth year by year.  Still, many people do not like to be tied to one place, and prefer varying their quarters each season. Very high rents are paid for good houses on the Frith of Clyde. From thirty to fifty pounds a month is a common charge for a neat villa at one of the last founded and most fashionable places. A little less is charged for the months of August and September than for June and July; and if a visitor takes a house for the four months which constitute the season, he may generally have it for May and October without further cost, Decent houses or parts of houses (flats as they are called), may be had for about ten pounds a month; and at those places which approach to the character of a town, as Largs, Eothesay, and Dunoon, lodgings may be obtained where attendance is provided by the people of the house.

A decided drawback about the sea-side places within twenty miles from Greenock, is their total want of that fine sandy beach, so firm and dry and inviting when the tide is out, which forms so great an attraction at Ardrossan, Troon, and Ayr. At a few points, as for instance the West Bay at Dunoon, there is a beautiful expanse of yellow sand: but as a rule, where the shore does not consist of precipitous rocks, sinking at once into deep water, it is made of great rough stones, which form a most unpleasant footing for bathers.  In front of most villas a bathing place is formed by clearing the stones away. Bathing machines, we should mention, are quite unknown upon the Frith of Clyde.

So much for the locality which is designated by the phrase, Down the Water: and now we can imagine our readers asking what kind of life Glasgow people lead there. Of course there must be a complete breaking up of all city ways and habits, and a general return to a simpler and more natural mode of living. Our few days at Dunoon, and a few days more at two other places on the Frith, were enough to give us some insight into the usual order of things. By seven or half-past seven o’clock in the morning the steam is heard by us, as we are snug in bed, fretting through the waste-pipe of the early boat for Glasgow; and with great complacency we picture to ourselves the unfortunate business-men, with whom we had a fishing excursion last night, already up, and breakfasted, and hurrying along the shore towards the vessel which is to bear them back to the counting-house and the Exchange. Poor fellows! They sacrifice a good deal to grow rich. At each village along the shore the steamer gets an accession to the number of her passengers; for the most part of trim, close-shaved, well-dressed gentlemen, of sober aspect and not many words; though here and there comes some whiskered and mustached personage, with a shirt displaying a pattern of ballet-dancers, a shooting coat of countless pockets, and trousers of that style which, in our college days, we used to call loud. A shrewd bank-manager told us that he always made a mental memorandum of such individuals, in case they should ever come to him to borrow money. Don’t they wish they may get it! The steamer parts with her entire freight at Greenock, whence an express train rapidly conveys our friends into the heat and smoke of Glasgow. Before ten o’clock all of them are at their work. For us, who have the day at our own disposal, we have a refreshing dip in the sea at rising, then a short walk, and come in to breakfast with an appetite foreign to Paper Buildings. It is quite a strong sensation when the post appears about ten o’clock, bearing tidings from the toiling world we have left behind. Those families who have their choice dine at two o’clock—an excellent dinner hour when the day is not a working one: the families whose male members are in town, sometimes postpone the most important engagement of the day till their return at six or half-past six o’clock. As for the occupations of the day, there are boating and yachting, wandering along the beach, lying on the heather looking at Arran through the sun-mist, lounging into the reading-room, dipping into any portion of The Times except the leading articles, turning over the magazines, and generally enjoying the blessing of rest. Fishing is in high favor, especially among the ladies. Hooks baited with muscles are sunk to the ground by leaden weights (the fishers are in a boat), and abundance of whitings are caught when the weather is favorable. We confess we don’t think the employment ladylike. Sticking the muscles upon the hooks is no work for fair fingers; neither is the pulling the captured fish off the hooks. And, even in the pleasantest company, we cannot see anything very desirable in sitting in a boat, all the floor of which is covered by unhappy whitings and codlings flapping about in their last agony. Many young ladies row with great vigor and adroitness. And as we walk along the shore in the fading twilight, we often hear, from boats invisible in the gathering shadows, music mellowed by the distance into something very soft and sweet. The lords of the creation have come back by the late boats; and we meet Pater-familias enjoying his evening walk, surrounded by his children, shouting with delight at having their governor among them once more. No wonder that, after a day amid the hard matter-of-fact of business life, he should like to hasten away to the quiet fireside and the loving hearts by the sea.

Few are the hard-wrought men who cannot snatch an entire day from business sometimes: and then there is a picnic. Glasgow folk have even more, we believe, than the average share of stiff dinner parties when in town: we never saw people who seemed so completely to enjoy the freshness and absence of formality which characterize the well-assorted entertainment al fresco. We were at one or two of these; and we cannot describe the universal gaiety and light-heartedness, extending to grave Presbyterian divines and learned Glasgow professors; the blue sea and the smiling sky; the rocky promontory where our feast was spread; its abundance and variety; the champagne which flowed like water; the joviality and cleverness of many of the men; the frankness and pretty faces of all of the women. [Footnote: We do not think, from what we hare seen, that Glasgow is rich in beauties; though pretty faces are very common. Times are improved, however, since the days of the lady who said, on being asked if there were many beauties in Glasgow, ‘Oh no; very few; there are only THREE OF US.’] We had a pleasant yachting excursion one day; and the delight of a new sensation was well exemplified in the intense enjoyment of dinner in the cramped little cabin where one could hardly turn, And great was the sight when our host, with irrepressible pride, produced his preserved meats and vegetables, as for an Arctic voyage, although a messenger sent in the boat which was towing behind could have procured them fresh in ten minutes.

A Sunday at the sea-side, or as Scotch people prefer calling it, a Sabbath, is an enjoyable thing. The steamers that come down on Saturday evening are crammed to the last degree. Houses which are already fuller than they can hold, receive half-a-dozen new inmates,–how stowed away we cannot even imagine. We cannot but reject as apocryphal the explanation of a Glasgow tout, that on such occasions poles are projected from the upper windows, upon which young men of business roost until the morning. Late walks, and the spooniest of flirtations characterize the Saturday evening.  Every one, of course, goes to church on Sunday morning; no Glasgow man who values his character durst stop away. We shall not soon forget the beauty of the calm Sunday on that beautiful shore: the shadows of the distant mountains; the smooth sea; the church-bells, faintly heard from across the water; the universal turning-out of the population to the house of prayer, or rather of preaching. It was almost too much for us to find Dr. Gumming here before us, giving all his old brilliancies to enraptured multitudes. We had hoped he was four hundred and odd miles off; but we resigned ourselves, like the Turk, to what appears an inevitable destiny. This gentleman, we felt, is really one of the institutions of the country, and no more to be escaped than the income-tax.

Morning service over, most people take a walk. This would have been regarded in Scotland a few years since as a profanation of the day.  But there is a general air of quiet; people speak in lower tones; there are no joking and laughing. And the Frith, so covered with steamers on week-days, is to-day unruffled by a single paddle-wheel.  Still it is a mistake to fancy that a Scotch Sunday is necessarily a gloomy thing. There are no excursion trains, no pleasure trips in steamers, no tea-gardens open: but it is a day of quiet domestic enjoyment, not saddened but hallowed by the recognized sacredness of the day. The truth is, the feeling of the sanctity of the Sabbath is so ingrained into the nature of most Scotchmen by their early training, that they could not enjoy Sunday pleasuring. Their religious sense, their superstition if you choose, would make them miserable on a Sunday excursion.

The Sunday morning service is attended by a crowded congregation:

the church is not so full in the afternoon. In some places there is evening service, which is well attended. We shall not forget one pleasant walk, along a quiet road bounded by trees as rich and green as though they grew in Surrey, though the waves were lapping on the rocks twenty yards off, and the sun was going down behind the mountains of Cowal, to a pretty little chapel where we attended evening worship upon our last Sunday on the Clyde.

Every now and then, as we are taking our saunter by the shore after breakfast, we perceive, well out in the Frith, a steamer, decked with as many flags as can possibly be displayed about her rigging.  The strains of a band of music come by starts upon the breeze; a big drum is heard beating away when we can hear nothing else; and a sound of howling springs up at intervals. Do not fancy that these yells imply that anything is wrong; t/tat is merely the way in which working folk enjoy themselves in this country. That steamer has been hired for the day by some wealthy manufacturer, who is giving his ‘hands’ a day’s pleasure-sailing. They left Glasgow at seven or eight o’clock: they will be taken probably to Arran, and there feasted to a moderate extent; and at dusk they will be landed at the Broomielaw again. We lament to say that very many Scotch people of the working class seem incapable of enjoying a holiday without getting drunk and uproarious. We do not speak from hearsay, but from what we have ourselves seen. Once or twice we found ourselves on board a steamer crowded with a most disagreeable mob of intoxicated persons, among whom, we grieve to say, we saw many women. The authorities of the vessel appeared entirely to lack both the power and the will to save respectable passengers from the insolence of the ‘roughs.’ The Highland fling may be a very picturesque and national dance, but when executed on a crowded deck by a maniacal individual, with puffy face and blood-shot eyes, swearing, yelling, dashing up against peaceable people, and mortally drunk, we should think it should be matter less of aesthetical than of police consideration. Unless the owners of the Clyde steamers wish to drive all decent persons from their boats, they must take vigorous steps to repress such scandalous goings-on as we have witnessed more than once or twice. And we also take the liberty to suggest that the infusion of a little civility into the manner and conversation of some of the steam-boat officials on the quay at Greenock, would be very agreeable to passengers, and could not seriously injure those individuals themselves.

What sort of men are the Glasgow merchants? Why, courteous reader, there are great diversities among them. Almost all we have met give us an impression of shrewdness and strong sense; some, of extraordinary tact and cleverness—though these last are by no means among the richest men. In some cases we found extremely unaffected and pleasing address, great information upon general topics—in short, all the characteristics of the cultivated gentleman. In others there certainly was a good deal of boorishness; and in one or two instances, a tendency to the use of oaths which in this country have long been unknown in good society. The reputed wealth of some Glasgow men is enormous, though we think it not unlikely that there is a great deal of exaggeration as to that subject. We did, however, hear it said that one firm of iron merchants realized for some time profits to the extent of nearly four hundred thousand a year. We were told of an individual who died worth a million, all the produce of his own industry and skill; and one hears incidentally of such things as five-hundred-pound bracelets, thousand-guinea necklaces, and other appliances of extreme luxury, as not unknown among the fair dames of Glasgow.

And so, in idle occupations, and in gleaning up particulars as to Glasgow matters according to our taste wherever we go, our sojourn upon the Frith of Clyde pleasantly passed away. We left our hospitable friends, not without a promise that when the Christmas holidays come we should visit them once more, and see what kind of thing is the town life of the winter time in that warm-hearted city.  And meanwhile, as the days shorten to chill November,–as the clouds of London smoke drift by our windows,–as the Thames runs muddy through this mighty hum and bustle away to the solitudes of its last level,–we recall that cheerful time with a most agreeable recollection of the kindness of Glasgow friends,–and of all that is implied in Glasgow Down the Water.


This is taken from Recreations of a Country Parson.