History of Glassmaking in Scotland

Robin Murdoch

The use of glass in Scotland is noted as far back as the Roman period in the form of a few vessels, some window shards, bangles and beads.  Limited use can also be detected through the early historic period until, in the 12th century, there is a rapid increase with the start of the great cathedral building era. 
There is as yet no proof either physical or documentary that glass was made from raw materials in Scotland  before the first decade of the 17th century.  We must therefore presume that anything found in Scotland before that date must have been imported.  There was no Scottish industry equivalent to or contemporary with that in the Sussex Weald.
It is likely that the Scottish industry was a direct spin-off from the ‘rebirth’ of the English industry in the 1560s.  A new breed of entrepreneur emerged in the early 17th century in Scotland and started what could easily be described as the industrial era.  People like Sir George Bruce at Culross with his coal mines and salt pans (50 of the latter) and Sir George Hay of Nethercliff who may have been the first to make glass on the shores of Loch Maree.  This unexpected site saw him also experiment with iron works.
Glass was certainly being made at Wemyss, Fife, and Morison’s Haven, East Lothian, early in 17th century.  Major works at Leith and Glasgow would follow and several more were set up in the 18th century.  A highly successful but remarkably short-lived window glass works at Dumbarton on the Clyde prospered in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Robin’s paper will fill in a lot of the detail of the Scottish journey in glass.

Born in Edinburgh and still resident in its outskirts, Robin regards himself as a ’poacher turned gamekeeper’.  An engineer by profession until taking voluntary redundancy in 1991, seeking a lifestyle change he joined up with Scotia Archaeology, a small independent archaeological contracting company.  However, he had been involved in amateur archaeology since 1972 and was chair of the Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society (EAFS) for eighteen years. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1976.
His interest was triggered by the discovery of a cache of 17th/18th century glass during EAFS excavations at Cramond Tower, near Edinburgh, in 1978.  Colleagues soon approached him to look at glass from their excavations and the whole thing took off.  Over a thirty-year period he has reported on assemblages from many Scottish sites and these have been published in a variety of ways including the proceedings of The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
His hands-on archaeological experience ranges through virtually all periods from Mesolithic to Industrial and needless to say, coming from an engineering background, Industrial  Archaeology is a particular favourite!  In recent years he has carried out considerable research on behalf of Historic Scotland into the iron industry in Scotland and is a trustee of The Scottish Ironwork Foundation.  Back on the subject of glass he contributed the chapter on window glass for one of Historic Scotland’s most recent publications, ‘Building Scotland’, which came out in March this yea