Special Collections: Glasgow & Scotland

Thomas Annan (1871 Memorials of the Old College of Glasgow (GSA Library, Special Collections)

Whilst global in outlook, Glasgow School of Art has always been firmly rooted in its home city and in Scotland. The Glasgow & Scotland Collection includes many volumes on the history, society, economy and cultures of the city and its nation, most dating to the 19th or early 20th centuries when Glasgow was at the height of its fortunes as the ‘Second City of the Empire’. These years saw the city taking a prominent role in civic and commercial life, due to its strong trade links and industrial expertise. Glasgow School of Art is, in many ways, a product of this era: one of its main roles was the eduction of the industrial worker, consumer, or craftsperson in ‘good’ taste and design.

The Growth of the City

The Victorian era in particular saw significant growth and development in Glasgow’s urban fabric. Grand civic buildings such as Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the City Chambers were constructed to affirm Glasgow’s arrival as a major trading city on the world stage. The collection includes significant volumes that chart the history of Glasgow’s development, from its medieval origins to its Victorian splendour.

The World Comes to Glasgow

Of particular importance in the history of Glasgow’s culture were the large-scale public exhibitions that were staged in the city throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of these saw the construction of temporary pavilions and the focusing of the world’s attentions upon the city. The profits from the exhibitions were used to build some of the grandest of Glasgow’s civic and municipal buildings, including the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Of these exhibitions, the International Exhibition of Industry, Science & Art of 1888, the Glasgow International of 1901, the Scottish Exhibition of National History, Art & Industry of 1911, the British Empire Exhibition of 1938, and the Glasgow Garden Festival of 1888 were key. The collection includes many catalogues and souvenir brochures from these exhibitions.

Reshaping the City

The post-War period brought many initiatives and plans relating to the urban fabric of the city. Robert Bruce, the City Engineer, was the driving force behind proposals intended to transform Glasgow over fifty years into a “healthy and beautiful City”. His two reports published 1945-1947 covered five key issues: transport, industrial growth, open spaces, redevelopment of blighted areas and provision for housing and commercial development. Bruce proposed to demolish almost everything in the city centre and rebuild from new, removing, for example, the School of Art, the City Chambers, Central Station and all the other period buildings. Slum tenements were to be replaced by commercial developments and the inhabitants removed to high-density housing schemes on the outskirts of the city. Bruce’s plans were ultimately rejected in favour of less radical solutions.

In 1949 the Scottish Home Department published the Clyde Valley Regional Plan. This was authored by a team led by renowned planner Sir Patrick Abercrombie, and recommended the rehousing of much of the population in new towns outside the city.

Many publications and reports relating to these plans, and others, can be found in the collection.

Word & Verse

The giants of eighteenth and nineteenth century Scottish literature and letters feature prominently in the collection, including the works of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns and later critical appreciations of their lives and haunts.

Digital Volumes

We have digitised a selection of volumes from this collection, which you can view online or download.