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New book delves into the 'real mean' crimes of Victorian Glasgow

Glasgow: The Real Mean City by Malcolm Archibald takes a look at the crimes committed in Glasgow's past.

Glasgow: The Real Mean City Malcolm Archibald
© Black and White Publishing

From jewel thieves striking at the Argyll Arcade to poaching in Pollokshaws, and even the theft of a ship from the River Clyde, Victorian Glasgow was consumed with crime.

Immigrants came to the city from Ireland and the Highlands and shipyards were booming. But behind the thriving industrial city were tales of drunken brawls, murders and thefts.

Writer Malcolm Archibald, 55, has chronicled Glasgow’s sinister past in his new book Glasgow: The Real Mean City.

The book details the century-long struggle of the forces of law and order to bring peace to the city.

"I knew about the shipbuilding industry but I did not know about all of the political aspects of the city and how the first police force was set up," said Malcolm.

"What really surprised me was there were jewel thieves coming into Glasgow and targeting the Argyll Arcade.

"That must show the importance of Glasgow as a city at that time. It’s fascinating stuff."

Malcolm ArchibaldMalcolm Archibald

Malcolm, who is originally from Edinburgh but now lives in Elgin, has written a previous book about the criminal past of Dundee, named A Sink of Atrocity.

But he said that when it came to writing about Glasgow, it was a completely different ball game.

"Glasgow is bigger and 19th century Glasgow was probably one of the most important places in the world with the shipbuilding industry and people coming into Glasgow.

"It was a very active place."

Glasgow: The Real Mean City

The book, which is released on Wednesday, April 24, tells the story of the first jewel robbery when thieves stole from John Duncan’s shop in the Argyll Arcade on Thursday, May 18, 1848.

The pages read: "That robbery created quite a stir in Glasgow. John Duncan was a hardware merchant as well as a jeweller, and was regarded as a kind and honest man.

"His business was about as secure as any jewellery shop in Glasgow could be. If he had been robbed, then nobody was safe."

Britain’s first professional police force was established in 1800 and the book also tells the story of men such as Superintendent James Smart who fought to stem the tide of crime that at times threatened to overwhelm the city.

It took Malcolm, who teaches communications at Inverness College, around nine months to research all of the material that he needed for the book.

With chapters such as Deadlier than the Male, The Poisoners, The Fraudsters, Orange and Green and Crimes of the Heart, the book looks at all aspects of Glasgow’s criminal underworld.

"The best way to start is to look at newspapers, it shows what is important to people of the time. And after that you can start looking into court records.

"The 19th century is my period. There was so much happening and so much change between old Scotland and new industrial Scotland, emigration and immigration, architecture and the movement from rural areas to towns and cities.”

And for Malcolm there were a few stand-out facts that he found out about the Dear Green Place.

"People actually stole a ship from Glasgow and took it to Australia. It would only happen in Glasgow," he said.

"There was also poaching in Pollokshaws which shows the extent that the city has expanded in such a short time. It’s outstanding."

But what Malcolm learned was not all bad and it has even sparked a new love for the city.

"I enjoyed writing the book. It awakened a new interest in the history of Glasgow not just as a Scottish city but as a world city.

"I know Glasgow a lot better now than when I did when I started.

"With any city it is about the people. I always found in Glasgow people talk to people which you don’t always find in the east."

He added: "I think the story on Edinburgh has been done and I think Edinburgh is fairly well known.

"Glasgow is not, which is very unfair. The knowledge of Glasgow is very negative, when I was going through I found a lot of positive, too.

"People helped victims of crime. The majority of people were not criminals and were willing to help which was very positive."

And for Malcolm there could be another book on Glasgow in the future.

"I would love to do another book on Glasgow and would like to delve further," he said.

"The main crimes like Madeleine Smith are well known but the lesser ones are not. For example on New Year’s Day there was a naked man who attacked a policeman on the banks of the Clyde. The story of the ship could be a book in its own.

"I’m looking forward to the book launch and I hope people like it, and I hope Glasgow people like it."

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