How Glasgow's Industrial Heritage Shaped Business in the City

How Glasgow's Industrial Heritage Shaped Business in the City

How Glasgow's Industrial Heritage Shaped Business in the City
11th January 2022

Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland, located upon the River Clyde, with a population of around 635,000. Business in Glasgow is booming, with the city having the largest economy in Scotland and the third highest GDP per capita in the United Kingdom. Glasgow was once a major industrial location in the UK for manufacturing, although in the 1960s the city embarked on a period of deindustrialisation. The Industrial Revolution saw Glasgow become principal for the shipbuilding industry, with dockyards on the River Clyde contributing significantly to the prosperity of the local economy. The North British Locomotive Company was founded locally and was another key industry in Glasgow.

Glasgow Industrial History

Industrial heritage in Glasgow can be traced back as early as 1795, when the Monkland Canal was finalised. When completed, the canal provided a vital trade link to the Forth and Clyde Canal at Port Douglas. Significantly, the Monkland Canal facilitated access to the substantial iron and coal mines in Lanarkshire. The Industrial Revolution gripped Glasgow at the beginning of the 19th century, with the manufacture of glass, textiles and chemicals increasing rapidly as Britain developed into an industrial colossal. Immigration from the Highlands and Ireland in the early/mid-century helped to establish the workforce, with Glasgow seeing its population triple to 760,000 during the reign of Queen Victoria. The cotton industry in its entirety employed around a third of the workforce at its height, with Glasgow soon diversifying into heavy industry including shipbuilding, construction, and engineering.

The dredging and deepening of the River Clyde as far as Glasgow in the mid-19th century was a seismic engineering project which proved vital to the future success of the local economy. Despite stumbling blocks which resulted in the engineering project not being completed until 1880, the removal of millions of cubic feet of silt allowed for the deepening and widening of the channel. This was the beginning of the shipbuilding industry which became the lifeblood of business in Glasgow. Pioneered by industrialists such as Robert Napier, Sir William Pearce and John Elder, shipbuilding on the upper stretches of the River Clyde provided substantial employment for the local population. However, the 20th century brought a gradual decline to shipbuilding and industry in Glasgow. The city suffered greatly from the Post-World World War recession and then later the Great Depression of 1929, before the Second World War brought aerial devastation by the Luftwaffe. The Clydebank Blitz killed 1200 people and severely damaged shipyards and industrial buildings. Following the war, Glasgow recovered as the city experienced a post-war boom in the 1950s, but the emergence of industry in countries such as China and Japan a decade later weakened industry. Britain could not compete with low-cost labour abroad. The country was about to change drastically.


Shipbuilding in Port Glasgow
Shipbuilding in Port Glasgow

Business Today

Following the decline of manufacturing in the 1960s, the local economy entered a period of great struggle. Rapid deindustrialisation led to high unemployment, urban decay, and a rising welfare dependency. Glasgow underwent an extensive regeneration project following the publication of the controversial Bruce Report. Attempts were made to rebuild Glasgow and invest heavily in the local economy. Despite the reduction of manufacturing, Glasgow experienced a sizeable growth within the tertiary sector. The establishing of the International Financial Services District on Broomielaw saw the expansion of the financial and business services industry, creating employment for the local population. Retail, higher education, health care and communications became other key industries in modern Glasgow. Brewing and distilling is also a key industry, with Tennant Caledonian brewery located in the city.

In 2021, Glasgow staged the COP26 climate summit, bringing together delegates from around the world. Moreover, the city has developed a strong tourism industry, being the second most popular destination in Scotland for foreign arrivals, after Edinburgh, and the fifth in the United Kingdom. Following the conversion of warehouses to modern office blocks on Broomielaw, the late 20th century saw the financial services sector in Glasgow grow by 30%, making sizeable gains on Edinburgh. Glasgow has since become established one the of the largest financial centres in Europe, with several blue-chip financial sector organisations such as JP Morgan and HSBC having operations locally.

Although deindustrialisation altered the economy significantly, Glasgow’s industrial heritage remains intact. BAE Systems operates two shipyards at Govan and Scotstoun which specialise in the production of technologically advanced warships for the Royal Navy, continuing the tradition of shipbuilding in Glasgow. Likewise, engineering and construction remain strong industries in the city. It is recognisable that the industrial heritage of the region has shaped contemporary business in Glasgow. Several manufacturers continue to be headquartered in Glasgow including Aggreko, Howden, and Weir Group. Although the local economy has shifted to become serviced based, manufacturing and in particular shipbuilding is still principal and remains the beating heart of Glasgow.


Broomielaw and Squiggly Bridge in Glasgow
The International Financial Services District on Broomielaw

With business in Glasgow thriving, Scotland’s largest city has become a popular destination for business travellers. When planning your trip to Scotland, check out our guide to the top seven serviced apartments in Glasgow. With Glasgow becoming established as an admired tourism destination in Scotland, there is an abundance of things to do during downtime in the city. Discover our guides to Art & Culture in Glasgow and eight traditional Scottish foods you have to try in Glasgow.

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