History of Cambuslang

Cambuslang is an ancient part of Scotland where Iron Age remains loom over 21st century housing developments. The "History of Cambuslang" mirrors and gives life to the general History of Scotland. The Geography of Cambuslang explains a great deal of its history. It has been very prosperous over time, depending first upon its agricultural land, (supplying food, then wool, then linen) then the mineral resources under its soil (limestone and coal, and, to some extent, iron).


The name of Cambuslang is very old. With very few exceptions, we can only guess at the origins of old place-names, though it helps if the guess is supported by some more or less well-founded speculation. The Rev Dr John Robertson, assistant to, then Minister of Cambuslang from 1797 until 1843, suggests in the Second Statistical Account of Scotland (1845), a reasonable derivation for the name of his parish:

:"Cam, in the British and Celtic, transformed by the Scoto-Saxons (sic) into cambus, signifies bending or bowed- usg or uisg means water- and glan, which in composition becomes LAN – denotes a bank or bank of water. Thus Cambuslang appears to signify the water with the bending bank. But whether the camb or cambus is to be sought for in the bending banks of the rivulet which passes the church or in the magnificent sweep of the Clyde, as it winds round the northern end of the parish, it is impossible to say."

Robertson gently contradicts his predecessor, and father-in-law, the Reverend Doctor James Meek, (Minister in Cambuslang from 1772 until 1810 and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1795 )who had written the account in the First Statistical Account of Scotland in 1791-99. Dr Meek had said:

:"Cameos, now changed into Camus or Cambus in the Gaelic language, signifies a crooked torrent or rivulet; and LAN or Launse, now changed into Lang, was the name of a saint famous as the founder of many monasteries".


The Parish of Cambuslang in the Barony of Drumsargard – whose castle ruins can be discerned to the south-east of Hallside - can be traced back to the time of King Alexander II of Scotland (1214-49) when it belonged to Walter Olifard, Justiciar of Lothian. The Barony of Drumsargard passed to Archibald Douglas, 3rd Earl of Douglas in 1370, as part of the settlement in his marriage to Johanna, daughter of Thomas Moray of Bothwell. In 1452 the Douglases were displaced in favour of James Lord Hamilton, who became tenant-in-chief in 1455. This feudal superiority remained with the Dukes of Hamilton – who were also the largest landowners – up until 1922, though the abolition of feudalism in Scotland did not come until the end of the 20th Century.


The church


John Cameron of Lochiel was Rector of Cambuslang before he became Bishop of Glasgow. In 1429, as Bishop, he made Cambuslang a prebend of Glasgow Cathedral – meaning that the Rector (or Prebendary) could siphon off its teinds (that is tithes) to pay for one of his officials. The prebendary and his successor were to be perpetual Chancellors of the Cathedral. A later Archbishop of Glasgow James Beaton (or Bethune) was uncle to David Beaton, the Cardinal murdered at the Reformation. James made David Rector (and so prebendary) of Cambuslang in about 1520.

The prebendaries had a very fine view of the Cathedral from Cambuslang, but the distance meant they had to reside at Glasgow. Instead, they appointed vicars to care for the souls of the Parish. The vicars were allocated a house and 6 acres (24,000 m²), in an area near the Kirk, which is still called Vicarland. This indicates that the area was (relatively) prosperous. A post-reformation church was erected in 1626 and a village (Kirkhill) grew up around it. A new kirk was built in the middle of the 18th century and this was replaced by the current building during the 19th century.

Our Lady of Cambuslang

Another source of prosperity might have been derived from pilgrims to Our Lady of Cambuslang. Pilgrims had long come to Cambuslang to venerate the "ashes of St Cadoc" so it was not surprising that a chapel was founded in 1379 by William Monypenny, Rector of Cambuslang, and this had been ratified by a Charter of King Robert II (dated the 8 August 1379). The chapel was on the edge of the ravine near Sauchiebog and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. No trace of the chapel remains. Even its location is in doubt, but local Catholics like to think their current church of Saint Bride’s is built on the spot. Nineteenth Century maps suggest it was situated where the Kirkburn gorge crossed the Caledonian Railway. Moreover, there are vestiges of an ancient hospital at Spittal (still called so to this day) some convert|2.5|mi|km southeast of the Kirk. This again is suggestive of pilgrimages, in search of cures, which is confirmed by the fact that the Chapel was recorded as a valuable commodity at the time of the Reformation.


The soil in Cambuslang was a light loam, suitable for cultivation, but its mineral reserves are what brought modern prosperity. There was a limestone so fine as to be called "Cambuslang marble". This is capable of a very high polish. A good example can be seen in an 18th Century fireplace in the Duke of Hamilton’s old hunting lodge at Chatelherault Country Park near Hamilton. (The Hamiltons were Jacobites who got French titles during their exile). However, coal was mined from the 16th century and ironstone from the 18th, and it was these that brought industrial wealth.

Clyde Iron Works started as an offshoot of the Carron iron works in 1786 and by the early 20th Century was the largest ironworks in Scotland. It was here, in 1828, that the hot blast was invented by James Beaumont Neilson. Clydebridge steelworks started in 1887. It was linked with Clyde Iron Works just prior to WWII when it became the largest integrated steelworks in the country, producing steel plates for most of the famous ships on the Clyde. Clyde Iron Works finally closed in 1978. Steelmaking at Clydebridge stopped in 1978, the plate mill closed in 1982, but the heat treatment section of the works is still in operation in 2006.

The extensive ironworks also attracted engineering and manufacturing during the 19th and 20th Centuries - the most prominent being Mitchell Engineering and Hoover (in the process of being shut down). There is also reference to a trade in violet quartz and turkey-red dyeing, associated with the textile industries of nearby Dalmarnock. The standard limestone of the area was used in building – most of the elegant 19th century villas which cover most of today’s Cambuslang were built of limestone, quarried on the spot, or from several quarries, including two at Wellshot and Eastfield. Nowadays, Cambuslang takes advantage of its proximity to the motorway system and has developed several industrial estates and distribution centres.

The Reverend Doctor James Meek wrote the entry for the First Statistical Account of Scotland (published 1791 to 1799). He writes clearly, elegantly, and enthusiastically. He was a true Enlightenment cleric. On the one hand he records personally-gathered and extensive data on weather, population, farming, industry, history, transport and local personalities. He gets quite carried away with enthusiasm in describing the great improvements brought to Cambuslang in the late 18th Century as a result of applying reason and science to practical problems. The opening of the turnpike road to Glasgow was a particular joy. This allowed locals access to a burgeoning market (and allowed them to bring in cartloads of city manure in return). But he lays out a parallel table showing the vast improvements between 1750 and 1790.

The Cambuslang Wark

On the other hand, Meek is rather distrustful of any suggestion of ‘enthusiasm’ in religion. He realises he is on contentious territory so he affects to tell the whole story of the "Cambuslang Wark" (Cambuslang Work) of 1742 with due dispassion. At the top of the gorge, near the kirk, is a ‘natural amphitheatre on the green side of the ravine’ where the Methodist preacher George Whitefield came to preach in the open. This was part of the Great Awakening, or Revival, affecting the whole of the UK and stretching to the colonies in North America.

As Dr Meek's successor (and son-in-law) Dr Robertson describes it in the Second Statistical Account. It occurred from the 15th of February until the 15th of August 1742 under the ministry of the Rev Mr Mcculloch ‘"when in an encampment of tents on the hillside, Whitefield, at the head of a band of clergy, held day after day a festival, which might be called awful, but scarcely solemn, among a multitude calculated by contemporary writers, to amount to 30,000 people."’ Dr Robertson had inherited his father-in-law’s suspicion of ‘enthusiasm’. A centenary event was held on the 14th of August 1842 attracting from 10,000 to 20,000 participants.


Dr Robertson also carried on Dr Meek’s other "enlightened" enthusiasms – for collecting detail of the progress of science and industry in Cambuslang, as indicated by a growing population which he tabulates thus:

Census data (given in the "Gazetteer of Scotland in 1901") shows that the population had grown in 1881 to 5538. By 1891 it was 8323.

Dr Robertson says that most of the population lived in ‘villages’ (really very small hamlets) while the rest lived in ‘rural areas’. None of the villages bore the name of Cambuslang (this was the parish). Their names are retained in district names to this day but Dr Robertson recorded the thirteen villages as Dalton, Lightburn, Deans, Howieshill, Vicarland, Kirkhill, Sauchiebog, Chapelton, Bushyhill, Culluchburn, Silverbank, East Coats, and West Coats.


Robertson also gave details of the ‘heritors’ (the landowners who appointed the minister and schoolteacher and set the rates to pay for them and the poor rate). The most important heritor was still (in 1845) the Duke of Hamilton but all the estates, big and small, were listed, with their area.

Not all these heritors lived in the Parish (for example the Parish Records indicate that the Duke was always represented by a minion), but Dr Robertson opines, "The number of families of independent fortune residing occasionally or permanently in the parish is about 5. There are about 7 fatuous persons and 2 blind." (Not among the heritors, one presumes.)

A railway suburb

By the end of the 19th century, many wealthy Glasgow businessmen had built houses in Cambuslang due to its easy accessibility by rail from the city. Many of the heritors had sold off their estates for building. In the late 1860s, Thomas Gray Buchanan sold off the ‘lands of Wellshot’ on which elegant limestone and slate roofed villas were built. His own mansion house still exists – a very modest early 19th century country house, situated in Milton Avenue off ‘Buchanan Drive’ – though it is divided into flats. The original wall to its orchard and garden can be seen on Brownside Road – the limestone blocks are roughly hewn as opposed to more ‘modern’ villas whose machine cut stones are very regular.


* "See" Cambuslang main article

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