James Turner of Thrushgrove 1768-1858

Figure 1. Macbeth, Norman; James Turner of Thrushgrove (1768-1858), a Former Magistrate of the City. © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

Jessie Turner bequeathed a portrait of her grandfather James Turner by Norman Macbeth to Glasgow City Council in 1927. Jessie was born in 1837 in Laurieston, Glasgow to William Turner, an ironmonger and Elizabeth Paterson, whose family were from Ayr.(1) They married in 1834 in Glasgow.(2) Williams’ parents were James Turner, a tobacco spinner, and Jean Hardie (3) who married in 1797 (4) and it is James who is the subject of the portrait.

James was born on 29th April 1768 in Glasgow (5) and became a wealthy tobacconist, living at Thrushgrove House in the district of Garngad, an area which became a centre of social unrest in the early nineteenth century. 

In Recollections of James Turner Esq of Thrushgrove 1854 by J Smith, he is described as ‘rather under the middle size, of firm make and benevolent aspect. …an adorable portrait by Mr Macbeth gives an admirable idea of what he was when an octogenarian.’ (6) James Macbeth was born in Greenock and  spent some time in Glasgow and Edinburgh as a portrait painter. He became a full member of The Royal Scottish Academy in 1880. (7)

James was the son of William Turner, a shoemaker in Glasgow. (8) He appears to have been a very obstinate boy as he refused to go to school. His father resolved to punish him by making him a tobacco boy. James served with several tobacconists before entering the employment of a Mr Hamilton as an errand boy at sixteen pence a week. Mr Hamilton  regularly read to his employees and James decided that he should be able to read and write. Although some of his education would have been from home, he benefited from his employer’s benevolence. Following  a nine years apprenticeship James continued as a Journeyman. In 1798 he set up his own business as a tobacconist and tobacco spinner with a shop at 275 High Street near the University. (9)(10)

Figure 2. Site of tobacco shops at 275 and 104 High Street Glasgow, shop at Gallowgate and Duke Street prison, Street Guide to Glasgow (probably 1920’s) owned by author

On 4 June 1797 James married local girl Jean Hardie (11) and rented their first house using part of his savings of around £100, a larger than average amount for a newly wed at the time.

The business flourished and he moved to premises at The Cross Well, farther down High Street at number 104, and he remained there till 1831 when he retired.(12)(13) The couple had a total of eleven children, only three surviving at the time of James death; George, William and James. In 1813 he was able to afford his own small estate of Thrushgrove on the edge of Glasgow at Garngad, now Royston. (14) The property ran from Castle Street to Garnock Street and the area was later intersected by Turner Street (in memory of James Turner), Villiers Street, Cobden Street and Bright Street, also named after men who shared Turner’s radical views. (15) He lived there till 1838 (Jane died in 1837) when he moved to London Street followed by St Andrew Square and East George Street, and finally to Windsor Terrace. (16)

Figure 3. Approximate site of Thrushgrove Estate, Street Guide to Glasgow (probably 1920’s) showing Turner Street centre of highlighted area

It was in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars that James Turner came to public notice. There was great discord in the country, high unemployment, and dissatisfaction with living conditions and the lack of representation in local and national government. There was universal outcry for parliamentary reform, and public meetings became a common occurrence. In 1816 both the town council and the owners of land normally used for meetings refused permission for a meeting to demand political reform. It was during this emergency that James Turner came forward and offered the radicals the use of the fields of Thrushgrove, as it lay just outside the jurisdiction of the magistrates of Glasgow. 

 It is believed that upward of 40,000 attended the meeting on 29 October 1816, which lasted from twelve till four pm. It was the largest radical gathering ever seen in Scotland. The City Council was so afraid of trouble that the 42nd regiment was drawn up in arms within the barrack square in Gallowgate in readiness. However order prevailed throughout and physical intervention was not required.

James chaired the meeting and his speech included calls for an overhaul of The House of Commons and voting rights for citizens to elect members of Parliament and representatives of town councils.

A petition of nineteen resolutions was sent to His Royal Highness, The Prince Regent. James Turner was later charged with high treason and was imprisoned in the Bridewell Prison in Duke Street. However he was never brought to trial and was soon released. (17) The Bridewell was rebuilt as Duke Street prison around 1825 and survived till 1955, when it closed and was finally demolished in 1958. (18)

Figure 4. Thomas Sulmans 1864 Bird’s Eye View of Glasgow.      https://universityof glasgowlibrary.wordpress.com/2015/08/01

A contemporary east end poet, Sanny Roger penned the following verse amid the foment going on in the city at the time. He is better known for The Muckin’ o Geordie’s Byre. (19)

        Vile sooty rabble what d’ye mean

        By raisin’ a’ this dreadful din

        Do you no ken what horrid sin

        Ye are committing

        By haudin’ up your crafts sae thin

        For sig a meeting?

When the demand for political reform was renewed in 1830, Turner became a leading member of the Glasgow Political Union, which aimed to unite working class supporters of reform of Parliament. When the Reform Act of 1832 gave the vote only to the middle class, Turner continued to campaign for further reform and for a further extension of the franchise to include all householders. In 1833 a democratic electorate was introduced in politics and Turner was elected to the new town council as a representative of the First Ward. He remained an active member of the council until his defeat in 1847, when he became a Baillie. He continued his interest in reform and was regularly asked to chair political reform meetings, although he did not go as far as The Chartists did, in supporting universal suffrage. He remained convinced of the importance of re-establishing the links between middle class and working class reformers. (20)

James acquired many properties, mainly around High Street, Gallowgate and adjacent to the Thrushgrove Estate. Flats, shops and land were passed on to his three surviving sons on his death. In his Will, probated on 13 July 1858, he describes two shops ‘just under Blackfriars Church and on the east side of High Street’ (Blackfriars Church stood next to Glasgow University which was later demolished to make way for The City of Glasgow Union Railways College Station). 

Just to the north of Thrushgrove was land bordered by the site of Charles Tennant and the Company of St Rollox. (21) Charles Tennant discovered bleaching powder and founded a mighty industrial dynasty and the St Rollox Works soon grew to be the largest chemical plant in the world. (22) Charles Street was named in his memory and had just been formed when Turner made his Will. Some 1433 square yards of land between St Rollox and Thrushgrove is part of Turner’s bequest to his sons. (23)

On 20 May 1858 James died at the ripe old age of 90 at his son’s house in Windsor Terrace, Glasgow (24) and was laid to rest in the Necropolis, adjacent to Glasgow Cathedral. The Glasgow Herald reported in his obituary that ‘in private life he was highly esteemed by all…in personal matters he was uniformly kind and conciliatory.’ (25)

DS

References

  1. Births 1837 (644/002 0050 0006 Gorbals ), https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  2. Marriages 1834 (644/001 0410 0514 Glasgow) https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  3. Births 1805 (644/0010200 0249 Glasgow) https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  4. Marriages 1797 (644/001 0270 0233 Glasgow) https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  5. Births 1768 (644/001 0150 0057 Glasgow) https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  6. Smith J, Recollections of James Turner Esq of Thrushgrove 1854, printed at The Examiner office, Glasgow 1854. Collection University of Guelph, Toronto.
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Macbeth
  8. Deaths 1858 (644/07 0340) https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  9. Smith J, Recollections of James Turner Esq of Thrushgrove 1854, printed at The Examiner office, Glasgow 1854. Collection University of Guelph, Toronto.
  10. (10) No 275 High Street, Post office Directories 1819
  11. (11) Marriages 1797 (644/001 0270 0233 Glasgow) https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  12. (12) Smith J, Recollections of James Turner Esq of Thrushgrove 1854, printed at The Examiner office, Glasgow 1854. Collection University of Guelph, Toronto.
  13. (13) 104 High Street, Post Office Directories 1825
  14. (14) Smith J, Recollections of James Turner Esq of Thrushgrove 1854, printed at The Examiner office, Glasgow 1854. Collection University of Guelph, Toronto.
  15. (15)http://roystonroadproject.org/archive/history/garngad_royston.htm
  16. (16) Smith J, Recollections of James Turner Esq of Thrushgrove 1854, printed at The Examiner office, Glasgow 1854. Collection University of Guelph, Toronto.
  17. (17) Smith J, Recollections of James Turner Esq of Thrushgrove 1854, printed at The Examiner office, Glasgow 1854. Collection University of Guelph, Toronto.
  18. (18)https://universityofglasgowlibrary.wordpress.com/town-plan-of-glasgow-duke-street-prison/
  19. (19)http://roystonroadproject.org/archive/history/garngad_royston.htm 
  20. (20) Smith J, Recollections of James Turner Esq of Thrushgrove 1854, printed at The Examiner office, Glasgow 1854. Collection University of Guelph, Toronto.
  21. (21) Wills and Testaments 1858, Turner, James (SC36/51/38, Glasgow Sheriff Court Wills)
  22. (22)https://gracesguide.co.uk/Charles_Tennant_(1768-1838) 
  23. (23)Wills and Testaments 1858, Turner, James (SC36/51/38, Glasgow Sheriff Court Wills)
  24. (24) Deaths 1858 Turner James (644/7 340 https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
  25. (25) Glasgow Herald, obituaries twenty second of May 1858