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Glasgow Museum’s Dr Anthony Lewis considers the importance and history of the magnificent Shawfield Mansion and the profound impressions it made on Glaswegian, Scottish and British society.
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Today when people come and go in and out of Glasgow’s city centre, they often have to enter George Square. Few actually consider the historic significance of this space. As a square it was first planned and built up in the eighteenth-century as part of Glasgow’s investment and town planning which also included St. Enoch’s Square, Blythswood Square, and the grid of streets in and around the city centre.
New Glasgow, as with so many other Scottish new towns at this time, tended to be named after the business elites, places in the Empire and the royal family where the elites had developed significant and special interests. Buchanan Street, Ingram Street, Miller Street, Dunlop Street, Cochrane Street, Jamaica Street and Virginia Street are all examples of this in Glasgow. The style of some of the houses was also changing, and the new polished stone residencies, that were much larger and more elaborate than the average rubber walled tenements, started to dot the landscape.
Built for just one family, these new houses were designed to display the wealth, status and imperial dominance of their owners. Many belonged to those merchants who had become enormously wealthy on account of their tobacco, sugar and luxury trading they did with Europe and the colonies in America, the West Indies and India. This built environment became known as the Merchant City and Glasgow New Town. It represented an elite residential area of Glasgow’s wealthiest people.
The first of these mansions was one called the Shawfield Mansion, built for the city’s member of parliament Daniel Campbell. It was so named after Daniel Campbell’s estate of Shawfield. It was built to the West of Glasgow facing South to Stockwell and the Clyde and on what is today’s Glassford Street. It was particularly influential because of the imperial worth and status it represented. In 1727 Daniel Defoe described Glasgow as the most beautiful and best built city in the country, excepting London. It is likely that on his walking tour of Glasgow he saw both the city’s seventeenth- and eighteenth-century buildings, including Shawfield.
Daniel Campbell was a successful businessman trading in sugar, tobacco and slavery. As well as looking after himself he also represented the Duke of Argyll’s interest, Inverarie, and then Glasgow in parliament. He was typical of Glasgow’s later businessmen who possessed enough wealth to present themselves as the equals or betters of those with hereditary titles living in the older tower-houses of Scotland.
William Cunninghame of Lainshaw, for example, even registered his own coat of arms with the Lord Lyon in 1779, and the Cunningham Mansion, which currently houses Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art cost roughly £40,000 to build – that’s the equivalent of over a two million pound mansion in today’s money. When it was completed it dominated vistas from the High Street through Ingram Street and could have been seen from George Square, to the North, St. Enoch’s Square to the South and from Meadowflatt and Blythswood estates to the West.
Daniel Campbell commissioned Shawfield to be built in 1712. The building survived until 1792, when it was demolished, and there is little surviving evidence about it. Luckily, however, we know what it looked like as the drawing of it was included in volume two of Vitruvius Britannicus, a book published by its architect Colen Campbell. If you’re interested you can read it today in the rare books collection of Glasgow Life’s Mitchell Library. Daniel Campbell had been influenced by the ambitions of seventeenth-century Lord Provosts of Glasgow, such as Sir John Bell of Hamilton Farm who, from the 1660s, had wanted to expand Glasgow with a Tolbooth, college, Hutcheson’s Hospital and a merchant house.
Interestingly the Shawfield Mansion straddles the late seventeenth-century, when Glasgow’s centre was the High Street and Trongate, to the early-mid eighteenth century when the town started to expand with developments such as the new town hall, St. Andrew’s in the Square and Argyll Street to the West. The property was soon absorbed into Glasgow New Town’s Westward growth, and was planned and built according to the very latest British palladium style of architecture and was the first urban villa of this kind in Scotland. Inspiration from the design came from Colen Campbell’s tour of Italy, between 1695 and 1702, and when he returned to Scotland he worked under the Edinburgh architect James Smith. By 1725 he had outgrown Smith and Edinburgh, and set his sights on London where he worked to become a fashionable and ambitious architect promoting his credential through his books, such as Vitruvius Britannicus.
The house was the only of his Glasgow projects to be included in these books and it felt like it was a work that best displayed this vision of grandeur and elitism that his patrons would crave. In sharp contrast to the austere front, the gardens and gateways were decorated with sculptures. This style, the palladium style, was named after the sixteenth century Venetian architect Andrea Palladio and it was every more popular in London, through sets of architects and artists working there, such as the Third Earl of Burlington at Chiswick House later on in the eighteenth-century.
Then possibly unknown to Daniel Campbell, he had commissioned the Shawfield Mansion to be the first example of British palladiunism to be seen. After the Glasgow residence was completed, Daniel also got Colen to design a country seat in nearby Lanarkshire called Woodhall House. Sadly Woodhall House was demolished in 1928, but the only known painting of it is a part of Glasgow Museum’s collection which you can see.
Two other objects held in Glasgow Museum’s collection are the two stone sphinxes that once stood on the gates of the mansion. Sphinxes were fairly common in these properties, both as external features and internal decorations. For example, Robert Adam used sphinxes in the public room of his masterpiece Killane Castle in Ayrshire. They could also be seen in other mansions of the period. Luckily the Shawfield’s sphinxes have survived and have long been a part of Glasgow Museum’s collection.
Located a short distance from the town Castle Chambers at the Tolbooth in Trongate, the Shawfield Mansion had been a three story urban villa which served as Campbell’s headquarters. While its location made meetings with magistrates and other businesses easier, it also has Campbell’s counting room where he managed his business affairs and finances. In many ways, Daniel Campell’s desire to build this house represented the growing ambition of the merchant class to harness their wealth and extend their influence at home and abroad.
It was this ambition that really drove forward the development of eighteenth-century Glasgow which included new docks, quays, roads, bridges, warehousing and other buildings, all supporting an expanding city economy. The mansion did not, however, make it through to the early part of eighteenth century unscathed. Having survived the threat of destruction during the Jacobite campaign of 1715 the mansion was almost completely destroyed in 1725 by a fierce, rioting mob in Glasgow. During which was called the Malt Tax, or Shawfield, Riots, the rioters smashed down its walls and roof with hammers and ripped up the floorboards and burnt the house. The sculptures in the gardens were knocked down, and the nearby brew-house dismantled, and the family’s valuables were stolen. Daniel and his wife fled to Woodhall for safety, and they were never to return. The rioters’ intention was to remove every trace of the house and the economic power it symbolised.
In its pre-1725 form, Campbell’s town house represented the rival of this merchant class being successful, and the success of the parliamentary Union between Scotland and England after 1707, which Campbell himself had commented on. Given the paucity of information relating to what Shawfield Mansion looked like, the trial of the riots as reported are very useful because of the overview they provide. Descriptions of the damage reveal that the original house had its counting room and public rooms on the second floor, and its bedrooms on the third floor. The first floor was effectively a basement where servants stayed, and where the stores and kitchens were located. After the riot, Daniel Campbell stayed in [Woodhall] and lived on Islay, which he purchased from the compensation money he had received from parliament for the rioter’s destruction of his house.
It was too damaged for him to retain it anyway, and he sold it to Colonel William McDowall of St. Kitts and Castle Semple, who rebuilt the façade to recapture its sense of its original prestige. Little is know of what was done to the house afterwards though. Although a military man, McDowell was to gain power and influence in Renfrewshire’s politics and he was well known in Glasgow for being wealthy through the money he accumulated from Caribbean sugar plantations and by association slavery. Like Campbell he invested heavily in Glasgow sugar houses, and had his own country mansion at Castle Semphill at Loch Winnoch in Renfrewshire.
When MacDowell sold the refurbished Shawfield Mansion in the early 1760s it was to the fabulously wealthy businessman John Glassford who had in 1767 also purchased the Estate of Dougalston in today’s Milngavie from John Grahame, chamberlain to the Duke of Montrose. One of the most famous of Glasgow’s tobacco lords, Glassford commissioned a family portrait in 1767 by the local portrait painter Archibald McLaughlin, a graduate of Glasgow College’s Fowlis Academy, which Glassford supported.
Today this painting resides in Glasgow Museum’s collections. It shows him sitting opposite his third wife, Lady Margaret MacKenzie of Cromarty, whose image was painted over that of his previous wife Anne Nesbit of Dean. Surrounding them are his children from previous two marriages. Also included are a carriage, musical instrument and fine clothes, which denoted the wealth, education and social status of the family. The portrait itself may have hung in one or two or three of Glassford’s houses: again like Daniel Campbell and Col. McDowell, John Glassford owned more than one house.
As the third owner of Shawfield, Glassford spent some time, but also he had Dougalston to the North of the City and Whitehouse to the East of the City. He lived in these for work and to keep himself and his family in comfort and luxury. In books published long after Glassford’s 1783 death, today’s readers can get a better understanding of what the house looked like. In Glasgow Past and Present, for example, which was written by James Pagan and Robert Reid in the 1850s, there is a description of the house. There is more information about the sphinxes – it describes the front of the house facing Stockwell and notes that the entry of the house was guarded by them as they sat on a high stone wall on two columns, between two formidable iron studded oak gates. To the south-eastern and south-western corners were more columns decorated with sculptures, on top of them there were human busts. These kinds of impressions and descriptions allow us to see the grandeur of the later Shawfield Mansion. There are numerous examples of other Georgian mansions in another book, Old Glasgow Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry, which was published in the 1890s. These can also be used as a valuable resource for understanding Georgian Glasgow and merchant houses and the book can be read in the Mitchell Library.
The photographer of the book was a man called William Graham. Graham also captured images of artefacts from these houses, such as the two sphinxes which were saved from the demolition of the Shawfield Mansion and found their way to other houses in Renfrewshire before coming to Glasgow Museums. In June 2015, History Scotland published a note about the exhibition How Glasgow Flourished, 1714-1837 which was held at Kelvingrove Museum that year. Today many of the items and books highlighted here are spread across a number of locations, such as Pollok House, Kelvingrove Museum, the People’s Palace, Glasgow Museum’s Resource Centre and the Mitchell Library.