Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 11: Transformation

A prime reason for English mistrust and dislike of the Scots was envy (unlike their mistrust of the Welsh that was based on total bewilderment at hearing and seeing their strange language). By the middle of the 18th century, Scotland had begun its transformation into a great industrial power. Glasgow began a period of phenomenal growth, fueled enormously by the flourishing tobacco trade with the American colonies.

When the successful American Revolution ended the tobacco trade, linen took its place dominating the Scottish economy for a century. Many Scottish tobacco merchants had made huge fortunes, but equal wealth now came from the rapid expansion of the new linen industry. Aided by grants of Parliament bounties and grants of assistance from the British Linen Company, established in 1746, linen became Scotland's chief export.

A newer and more promising source of profit was cotton, and by 1786, the New Lanark Mills were the largest in the world and cotton had become Scotland's largest industry. Another war in America, the Civil War of the 1860's that ended slavery, put an end to the import of cotton from the southern states and brought still further change. Money made in cotton was transferred to heavy industries. At the end of the century, Scotland led the world in engineering and shipbuilding and had invested enormously in iron, steel and coal.

The rapid growth in Scottish industry had been set in motion as early as 1757. For this was the year that James Watt of Greenock, at age 22, was accepted as mathematical instrument maker to the University of Glasgow where he was given a workshop to try out his experiments. His discovery of the separate condenser for the steam engine in 1765 changed the world forever. To the illustrious name of James Watt, we can add that of bridge and road building genius, Thomas Telford to attest to the enormous influence that Scotland's finest had on the Industrial Revolution that was to so quickly transform the world.

On rainy days, how many of us have not blessed the name of Charles Macintosh for helping keep us dry? Born in Glasgow in 1766, chemist Charles invented a method for waterproofing garments. He was one of many to whom the world owes a debt of gratitude. In an age where rapid progress in industry could be so easily obstructed by poor communications between workplace and store, between factory and port, it was the work of another Scotsman John Loudon McAdam that made the crucial difference. McAdam's name is known throughout the world as the father of modern road building; he invented the Macadam road surface that facilitated travel and communications and opened up so many areas to so many influences.

After making a fortune in New York City, John had returned to Scotland, where his attention was arrested by the poor conditions of the roads in Ayrshire. It was there he began his experiments that would transform the ancient, inefficient methods of road building worldwide. In 1815, he put his theories to the test as surveyor general of the roads at Bristol. His methods seem simple enough in retrospect: roads were to be raised above the adjacent ground for good drainage. They were first covered with large rocks, then layers of smaller stones, the whole to be covered with gravel or slag. The success of his road building program in Scotland led to his methods being adopted in many other countries, most notably, the USA.

It was another Scot, James Neilson, in 1828 who invented the process of heating the air before it was blown into a blast furnace, an idea that was adopted by Welshman David Thomas and taken to the United States in 1839 to completely revolutionize that country's anthracite iron industry. In Scotland, it led to a 30-fold increase in the production of pig iron in the same number of years. One of the most famous iron works was the Carron Works whose light cannon or "carronades" became a standard weapon of armies worldwide. The Carron Works also produced everything from pots and pans, ploughs and spades, grates and stoves, railings and gates, thus freeing countless thousands of consumers from reliance on their local blacksmith or forge master for basic household needs.

Chapter 11: Transformation Continued