This letter also appears on the Victorian Web

Linlithgow Canal, Scotland 1835

This letter led me to research something I had not touched on before, which is always an interesting development. It was written by Henry Gordon of Glasgow and addressed to :

James Glassford Esq of Dougalston, 8 Ainslie Place, Edinburgh.

Dougalston was the family home bought by his father John Glassford who was a very wealthy Glasgow merchant, owner of twenty-five ships, and "it was believed that he passed money through his hands yearly to the extent of half a million sterling." The Glassfords were traders and involved in many of the industries, and shareholders in two of the banks in Glasgow. He died in 1845, 10 years after this letter was written.
Glasford letterIt has four Postal markings :

  1. Glasgow E 22 JY 1835 standard Scottish provincial datestamp, and I think the E signifies the Evening duty, which would be right, if the mail was received and carried overnight to arrive in Edinburgh, where it received the morning stamp.
  2. Edinburgh JUL 23 1835 C M (these letters signify the initial of the surname of the letter stamper, on the left and the M on the right morning
  3. a faint unboxed, Additional ½d from Glasgow H&S type IIa Fig 67 and
  4. '7' charge mark for a distance between 30 and 50 miles, In addition there are three filing notes one saying Ansred , one with a note that it was from H Gordon E. 22 July '35 and the third one ( the subject of the letter) which is 'Baldemock'

So now to the letter, which was written from

"George Square Glasgow 22d July 1835.

My dear Sir

I wrote to you from Linlithgow yesterday & I have your letter of that date this morning. I had a private opportunity to Baldemock today by which I sent your letter to Mr. McIntyre."

Note: This indicates that he did not have to post the letter, but someone would have carried it privately for him.

"I am glad to find that Mr. Butherfurd goes to Killermont upon Saturday & from there to Kilpatrick upon Sunday which I think is very agreeable. I would be glad to have a call from him upon Saturday here but I suspect I will not well can be in Glasgow that day, but Mr. Smith will readily give any aid he can to Mr B in any matter & will attend to a conveyance being had for his going to Mr Colquhoun's.

I am glad that the Trustees on Bardowie Estate are desirous that Mr. Butherfurd should have Baldemock presentation — That Estate stands second in valuation in the Parish.

I hope we will obtain a Petition in Mr. Butherfurd's favor well signed.

I notice your confidential communication which I am glad to see."

Note: all of these places are around Milngavie and Bearsden to the north west of Glasgow. Baldemock was a small village just to the east of Milingavie and north of Bardowie Loch which was on the Bardowie Estate. A part of Bearsden is called Kilpatrick but there is Old Kilpatrick a few miles south on the F & C canal beside the river Clyde where the new Erskine bridge crosses the river. It sounds to me as though this refers to the appointment of the local clergyman.

The letter continues, with the paragraph which I found particularly interesting.

"I have to mention that by accident in travelling from Linlithgow by the Canal yesterday a Writing Case of mine containing among other letters those which you sent to me at Linlithgow was left in one of the Passage Boats, & I have not yet recovered it — I notice this in case your letters to Mr Colquhoun or Dr. McLeod contained any matter as to Mr Butherfurd or regarding which you might require to write again to these Gentlemen, their duly receiving your letters being at any rate in the meantime interrupted — I wrote from Lock 16 to the person having charge of the Boats as to my Writing Case & I hope that it will not be lost.

I remain, My Dear Sir
Yours very Sincerely,
Henry Gordon"

This sent me researching and I contacted the Linlithgow Canal Centre via their website to ask about the Canal and the Passage boats. I received an extremely helpful reply from Judy Gray.

"Mr Gordon was presumably travelling from Linlithgow to Glasgow. He would very likely have changed boats at Lock 16 (Port Downie) and left his case on the Union canal boat. Different operators ran boats on the two canals although there were night boats that went the whole way through. Lock 16 is in Falkirk. It is the 16th lock on the Forth & Clyde up from it's entrance at Grangemouth. He would be, in 1835, travelling on the first trans Scotland "motorway" at the height of the canals' existence.

The Union had no locks until it was at Falkirk where there was a series of eleven locks to join it to the F&C at lock 16. No trace of these locks remain. Lock 16 is at Camelon in Falkirk and a road crosses the F&C there. The new junction, the Falkirk Wheel is at Tamfourhill a short distance west.

Alas in 1842 the Edinburgh & Glasgow railway was built which runs parallel to the canals and it was downhill for the canals thereafter."

I have included some of the information from their short history of the canal.

The Edinburgh & Glasgow Union Canal now a scheduled Historic Monument was constructed between 1818 and 1822 which was late in the 'Canal Age'. The Canal ran from Edinburgh to Falkirk where it was joined by a series of eleven locks to the Forth and Clyde Canal to continue the journey to Glasgow. It is famous for three magnificent aqueducts and the only canal tunnel in Scotland. Although the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal is not straight it is unique in being a contour canal. It runs along the lie of the land, contour 242 feet above sea level, so there are no locks between Edinburgh and Falkirk and you can walk the whole 31½ miles all on one level. The canal was designed and built by Hugh Baird with advice from Thomas Telford who, while this canal was being built, was building the great Caledonian Canal from Fort William to Inverness.

Hugh Baird's design of a contour canal meant that when he arrived at river valleys he was not always at a narrow part and the result was he had to build large aqueducts. The Avon Aqueduct to the west of Linlithgow offers spectacular views. It is the second largest aqueduct in the United Kingdom, being 810 feet long and 86 feet high above the river. It has twelve arches and was built to the design of Thomas Telford. The water is carried in a metal trough and, unlike the English and Welsh ones, it has towpaths on either side.

When the canal was opened in 1822 you could travel to Glasgow by day or night taking eight hours and the canal was divided into four stages with milestones every half-mile of which some remain By 1836 the railways had come to Scotland, and in 1842 the railway company opened the line between Edinburgh to Glasgow Railway running parallel to the canal. By 1848 all canal passenger traffic had died out. Shortly after that the canal passed into the ownership of the railways. When British Transport was split up into British Rail and British Waterways, it passed to British Waterways who own it today.

CanalPhoto of the basin courtesy L.U.C.S.

The locks joining it to the Forth & Clyde Canal were filled in in 1933 and the commercial life ceased in 1936. The canal was finally closed to through navigation in 1965. However, the Millennium Link project has restored the Edinburgh & Glasgow Union and Forth & Clyde Canals from Edinburgh to Glasgow and from the Forth to the Clyde. The locks at Falkirk have been replaced by the Falkirk Wheel, the only rotating boat lift in the world. The canals are now open and fully operational from Edinburgh to Glasgow and from the river Forth to the river Clyde and holiday cruise boats are in operation.

I knew nothing about these canals, and would not have looked at them had it not been for this old letter, which just shows there are still links with the past, and the spread of the internet is making information so much more easily available.


Curiosities of Glasgow citizenship: JOHN GLASSFORD George Stewart, 1881 Glasgow, Linlithgow Union Canal Society.

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