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The Workers Who Built the University of Glasgow, 1867–71

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2022


This article discusses the workers who built the first phase of George Gilbert Scott’s University of Glasgow between 1867 and 1871. It takes as its starting point an address presented to the contractor, John Thompson of Peterborough, which is inscribed with the names of more than 900 of his employees. Names of manual workers are seldom preserved, which makes this document an exceptional record of the individuals employed on the construction of a major Victorian building. Using online genealogy databases to search census returns and records of births, marriages and deaths, the author has identified more than 100 of the workers named. The article discusses their recruitment, their experiences before coming to Glasgow, their circumstances while working on the university and their subsequent careers. By focusing on the workers rather than on the building’s celebrated architect or the distinguished institution that commissioned it, the article offers a fresh, decentred view of a familiar monument. A major theme that emerges is the workers’ geographical mobility, which sheds new light on the nineteenth-century development of long-distance contracting.

Research Article
© The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 2022

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