Peter McDougall once wrote that ‘Glasgow is not a geographical site, it’s a state of mind’ and for a while I didn’t quite get what that meant. Glasgow is at once gritty and glamorous, beautiful and broken. It is also a place which looks out to the world and has benefited a great deal from it, for good or ill. Virginia Street is a back street in the Merchant City and it was a place where Tobacco Lords lived and worked in centuries past, its name from a place far across the Atlantic from where sugar and tobacco came here to Scotland, to Virginia Street, to be traded and sold to the people of Glasgow. A plaque for the Merchant City trail, declaring that Tobacco Lords worked there from 1817 sat below a sign for Jacobean Corsetry, a whole different sort of trade. That sugar and tobacco came off the hard work of slaves, a legacy our city has increasingly addressed in recent years. Indeed only a few weeks ago, the University of Glasgow, once based a few streets away, published a report detailing its historic links to slavery. History is most useful when it is undiluted and true to events.
I came onto Virginia Street from Virginia Place, at the back of the Corinthian Club. It is a narrow back street with some handsome buildings nearer the top, one a bar with the rainbow flag flying proudly at the door. The street was fairly busy with people bustling from Argyle Street into the Merchant City. It felt quite like nearby Miller Street, featured in this series a few months ago, and I liked the blend of older buildings, even if many looked empty and forlorn. Still they were better than the back entrance to Marks and Spencer, the way in to collect by car.
As I walked I thought about Tobacco Lords and architecture, the sunshine glinting off the buildings just edging it as I headed onto Argyle Street, another instalment of Streets of Glasgow done.
Thank you for reading. This is the fiftieth post in the Streets of Glasgow series here on Walking Talking. Other nearby streets featured in this series include Ingram Street, Miller Street, Queen Street and Trongate.
Since this post was written, it has been reported that there are moves to set up a slavery museum in Glasgow, possibly in the Gallery of Modern Art. I think that would be an excellent idea and GoMA, given its location and own history, may be right. The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool is an account of one of the worst crimes against humanity and its lasting effects. Something similar in Glasgow would be a good move. More efforts to recognise Scotland’s part in slavery are happening, though I can’t remember too many museum exhibitions about it, except a couple in Edinburgh. The journalist Jenny Constable made some interesting points about this on Twitter the other day.
Slavery played a part in building Glasgow as we know it today and it will be interesting as time goes on to see how this legacy is dealt with, whether it be a museum or in some other way.
This streets is one of many in Glasgow with a name related to slavery.