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The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw a series of violent disturbances in Britain, as workers strived to defend their pay and conditions in the face of industrialization, and people of all classes campaigned for a more democratic society.

Textiles were a major industry in Scotland at the time. in 1787 there were 19 cotton-mills within 25 miles from Glasgow, with cotton weaving being centred in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire. A weavers' village had been founded in Calton in the east end of Glasgow in 1705, and by the late eighteenth century the area had become famous for its weavers' workshops.

However, economic circumstances were against the weavers. New industrial processes threatened their traditional craft-based work practices, and the American War of Independence had reduced the supply of cotton from the plantations of the American South. These factors, together with the ever-present drive by their employers to reduce costs, led to a strike by Glaswegian weavers in 1787.

The strike lasted for twelve weeks, with protests centering on Glasgow Green in the east end of the city. Previous disputes had been settled in a civilised manner, by negotiation, but on September 3rd, 1787, the city fathers sent the army in to break the strike. Six weavers were killed, with 6000 people attending their funerals. The strike's leader James Granger was captured and sentenced to flogging. Allegedly after the massacre, many of the weavers enlisted in the regiment (the 39th) responsible for the killings.

The events of that day are commemorated in the first panel of Glasgow History Mural, a series of 8 paintings by Glaswegian painter Ken Currie which was commissioned to mark the 200th anniversary of the massacre and to represent the struggles of Scottish workers through the past two centuries. The mural is on display near the site of the massacre at the People's Palace, Glasgow.

In the years following the massacre, agitation by workers continued, and weavers went on strike again in 1812 for nine weeks. This strike was defeated by a network of spies, informers and agents provocateurs set up by the city leaders; however the economic circumstances and the lack of democratic government remained a source of dissent. Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the years 1819-1820 saw further protests: a group of weavers marched from Strathaven in South Lanarkshire to Glasgow, claiming they intended to capture the city. Their leader James Wilson was hanged and beheaded.


  • http://www.origins.net/ScotsLife/weaving.html
  • http://www.netcomuk.co.uk/~media/kcurrie.html

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