Glasgow had grown over the centuries to become one of the greatest ports in the world. After the Acts of Union in 1707, Scotland became a major trading partner across the growing British Empire, and, given its location on the west coast, became a hub of international trade to and from the Americas, especially in sugar, tobacco, cotton, and manufactured goods. The city’s “Tobacco Lords” created a deep water port at Port Glasgow on the River Clyde and, by the late 18th century more than half of the British tobacco trade was concentrated there. Scotland’s iron, steel and shipbuilding industries exported all around the world.
The city suffered from the Post–World War I recession and the Great Depression in the 1920’s and 30’s and continued its tradition of emigration, particularly to North America. This period also saw the rise of radical socialism and the “Red Clydeside” movement. The city had recovered by the outbreak of World War II and grew through the post-war boom of the 1950s. In 1956 it was a busy ambitious city with ship-building along the River Clyde and was a major port berthing ships from all around the world. As with Montreal, the City’s population had grown to over 1 million. During the 1950’s, Glasgow was one of the most densely populated cities in Britain. It was a city of huge contrasts, with the wealthy living in 19th century suburbs and the working class in increasingly unsatisfactory tenements.
Glasgow in the 1950’s was a grey city, its buildings dark with soot from a century of chimneys belching smoke from coal fires both in industrial plants and in domestic houses. While the city was coming out of post-Second-War austerity, it was having to come to terms with a heritage of poor-quality Victorian tenement housing through the start of new housing programmes. There had been a desperate shortage of housing due to bomb damage and to increased demand after the second world war which had been alleviated in part by the use of prefabricated houses. The summer of 1955 had been a heatwave with reports of tarmac melting and of children playing in the fountains to keep cool . In 1955, the amateur camera clubs of Glasgow, perhaps sensing that future change was likely, undertook a project to create a photographic record of Glasgow, some of which is now reproduced in the book “Glasgow 1955: Through the Lens”, published in 2008 by Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums).