At the time of William Roy’s survey in 1750, Glasgow had a single bridge crossing the Clyde. A bridge was first mentioned in 1285. According to Blind Harry’s 15th century poem, in the 13th century this bridge was wooden (“a bryygt made of tre”).
A completely stone bridge replaced this wooden structure in 1345 and this had survived, largely intact, for 500 years. It was built by William Rae who was Bishop of Glasgow from 1339 to 1367.
The bridge linked the Barony of Gorbals with the city. Gorbals belonged to the see of Glasgow from the 13th century, apart from the small section of Bridgegate which was owned by the Campbells of Lochnow. The widow Lady Lochnow assisted in the building, contributing the cost one arch along with the Bridgegate land on the south bank. It is not known from where the stone was quarried.
Throughout the centuries it was called The Great Bridge or Old Stockwell Bridge . Fishergate along with Bridgegate were at its north end. Fisherman drew their water supplies from a wooden (stock) well which gave its name to Stockwell St. It was not until 1771 that Glasgow acquired a second bridge, at Jamaica St.
The old bridge had eight arches and was gently humped. The decking was 12 feet wide and it was a little over 400 feet long. It appeared to have segmental arches. These were of unequal size, particularly as the centuries passed and as repairs were done. The bridge would have been a defining landmark of the city until the eighteenth century.
In 1671, on the day of the Glasgow Fair, one arch fell. This was rapidly repaired by public subscription. Clearly there had been concerns before this, as in 1658 carts were required to have the wheels removed while crossing, in order to prevent damage to the decking. In 1776, instability and risk of flooding required that the two most northerly arches be filled-in and the bank narrowed to incorporate them. The bridge was also widened to 22ft. In 1821 Thomas Telford was contracted to further widen the bridge to 34 ft with iron footpaths on either side. It was now now 500 years old and was becoming unsafe. Scouring had eroded the piers which had to be underpinned by piles. An odd artificial platform supported the arches which was always at risk of being swept away. Jamaica Street’s Glasgow Bridge was now the main crossing for traffic.
In 1850 the bridge trustees and the Town Council petitioned for an Act of Parliament to dismantle and remove the entire structure. Curiously, during the demolition a smooth decking was uncovered right down on to the arches. It seems that at some lengthy period in its history there had been no infill or spandrels on the eight arches, implying a bumpy crossing.
Victoria Bridge was built as a replacement in 1851. It too was impressive for its time. At fifty-four feet wide , it was briefly the widest bridge in Britain. Beautifully built in Dublin granite ashlar with bullustaded parapets, its five stilted segmental arches lie on enormous piers which themselves are undepinned by steam driven wooden piles penetrating 20ft below the river bed.