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Location: Home - Info+ - Famous Glaswegians: Adam to Connolly  

Famous Glaswegians (and those who became famous in Glasgow)<<

Adam, Robert[Born: Kirkcaldy, Fife 1728 - Died: 1792]

Famous Glaswegian: Robert AdamThe 18th century was a great period in British Architecture but nowhere was this more apparent than in Scotland. Politicians who became wealthy following the union of Scotland and England tended to build their own mansions north of the border. In addition the Act of Union allowed for greater prosperity which in turn led to new buildings in both the private and public sector. The most important British Architects of this age were Scots - Colen Campbell, James Gibb and Robert Adam. They interpreted the first phase of Classicism in the Palladian form.

Robert Adam was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife in 1728. His father was William Adam, an architect who was kings mason at Edinburgh and also designed the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. At the age of 11 he moved to Edinburgh. Robert was educated at Edinburgh University but never graduated due to illness and the '45 Jacobite rebellion. His father died when he was 20 and Robert joined the family architectural firm which became known as Adam Brothers

In 1754 he visited France and Italy on an extensive 'Grand Tour' where he studied classical Roman remains and learnt drawing and drafting skills. When he returned to London he developed within 5 years a personal style of decorative perfection and he became the fashionable architect of the high society.

Although there was a surge of interest in classical architecture trying to recreate the style and proportions of buildings of ancient Rome, Adams took it one stage further and evolved a style of his own which was not bound by strict classical proportions - in this sense he was a bit of a rebel - he experimented , borrowing influences from Greek , Byzantine and Italian Baroque with spectacular results .

Part of the reason for his immense success was his insistence on designing everything himself down to the smallest detail which created a sense of unity and flow in his designs, including:

  • Airthrey Castle, near Stirling
  • Archerfield House, East Lothian
  • Charlotte Square, Edinburgh
  • Culzean Castle, south of Ayr

Built to the designs of Robert Adam between 1791 and 1794, the Trades' Hall was built to house the federation of Glasgow's 14 trades, collectively known as the Trades' House and is located on Glassford Street, in Glasgow's City Centre. It is the only remaining Adam built property in the city and has undergone extensive interior renovation in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Baird, John Logie[Born: - Died: ]

Famous Glaswegian: John Logie BairdDogged by ill health for most of his life, Baird nonetheless showed early signs of the ingenuity that would later bring him fame, rigging up a telephone exchange to connect his bedroom to those of his friends across the street. His studies at Glasgow University were interrupted in their final year by the outbreak of war in 1914. Rejected as unfit for the forces, he served as superintendent engineer of the Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company, but when the war ended he set himself up in business, with mixed results. He successfully sold medicated socks, but his jam factory and soap projects in Trinidad made little headway.

Moving back to Britain in 1922, he applied himself to creating a television, a dream of many scientists for decades. His first crude apparatus sat on a washstand. The base of his motor was a tea chest, a biscuit tin housed the projection lamp, scanning discs were cut from cardboard, and he also utilised four-penny cycle lenses. Scrap-wood, darning needles, string, and sealing wax held the apparatus together.

By 1924 he managed to transmit across a few feet the flickering image of a Maltese cross and on 26th January 1926 he gave the world's first demonstration of true television in his attic workshop before some fifty scientists. In 1927 his television was demonstrated over 438 miles of telephone line between London and Glasgow, and he formed the Baird Television Development Company, Ltd. (BTDC). In 1928 the BTDC achieved the first transatlantic television transmission between London and New York and the first transmission to a ship in mid-Atlantic. He also gave the first demonstration of both colour and stereoscopic television.

In 1929 the German Post Office gave him the facilities to develop an experimental television service based on his mechanical system, the only one operable at the time. To begin with, sound and vision had to be sent alternately, and only began to be transmitted simultaneously from 1930. However, Baird's mechanical system was rapidly becoming obsolete as electronic systems were being developed, chiefly by Marconi in America. Although he had invested in the mechanical system in order to achieve early results, Baird had also been exploring electronic systems from an early stage. Nevertheless, a BBC committee of inquiry in 1935 prompted a side-by-side trial between Marconi's all-electronic television system, which worked on 405 lines to Baird's 240. Marconi won, and in 1937 Baird's system was dropped.

Although Baird is chiefly remembered for mechanical television, his developments were not limited to this alone. In 1930 he demonstrated big-screen television in the London Coliseum, as well as Berlin, Paris, and Stockholm. He televised the first live transmission, of the Epsom Derby, in 1931, and the following year he was the first to demonstrate ultra-short wave transmission.

Bell, Henry[Born: April 7, 1767, Torphichen - Died: November 14, 1830, Helensburgh]

Famous Glaswegians: Henry Bell's CometHenry Bell achieved fame by having the paddle steamer PS Comet built and in 1812 beginning a passenger steamboat service on the River Clyde between Glasgow and Greenock, the first commercially successful service in Europe.

Born in Torphichen, Linlithgowshire, Scotland, after school he spent 3 years learning to be a stone-mason, then was apprenticed to his uncle, a mill-wright. After this he went to Borrowstounness (Bo'ness) to learn ship modelling, then was employed in engineering mechanics in Glasgow, then went to London, where he worked and studied under the Scottish engineer John Rennie. In 1790 he returned to Glasgow to work as a carpenter, his mind "a chaos of extraordinary projects" nearly all of which were never completed.

He became interested in steam propelled boats, and corresponded with Robert Fulton. In 1800 and 1803 Bell tried to get the British Admiralty to support experiments, but they declined his proposals. He was apparently often on board William Symington's boats, intruded himself among the patternmakers and constructors of Symington's steamboat machinery in the Carron Ironworks, and repeatedly examinined the Charlotte Dundas after it was laid up in a backwater of the canal. In 1808 Bell and his wife moved to Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde where they bought the public baths and hotel. She became superintendent of the public baths while he continued with his favourite project. He would have learned of Fulton's successful introduction of a steamboat service at New York in 1807.

In 1811 Bell got John Wood, shipbuilder in Port Glasgow, to agree to build a paddle steamer, and in 1812 the Comet began a passenger steamboat service on the River Clyde between Glasgow, Greenock and Helensburgh. This inspired a host of competitors. Bell briefly took the Comet on the Firth of Forth, then had the Comet lengthened and re-engined and from September 1819 ran a service to Oban and Fort William, but in 1820 the Comet was shipwrecked near Oban. Although he built a second "Comet" this was not a success. Bell, not good at managing his finances, became poor and in 1830 he died in Helensburgh at the age of 63.

Black, Joseph[Born: April 16, 1728, Bordeaux -  Died: November 10, 1799, Edinburgh]

Famous Glaswegian: Professor Joseph BlackJoseph Black, the son of a wine merchant, was born in Bordeaux, France, and studied languages and natural philosophy, and later, medicine and chemistry at Glasgow University (1746-50). He moved to Edinburgh in 1751, where he presented his thesis in 1754. Black published very little and the thesis, expanded and published as Experiments upon Magnesia Alba, Quicklime, and some other Alcaline Substances (1756), contained his most influential work. The paper in fact marked the beginning of modern chemistry. Black investigated quantitatively the cycle of reactions: limestone >>quicklime >>slaked lime >>limestone, and showed that the gas evolved ('fixed air' or carbon dioxide) is distinct from and a constituent of atmospheric air, and is the cause of the effervescence of limestone with acids. He proved that mild alkalis will become more alkaline when they lose carbon dioxide and they are converted back to mild alkalis through reabsorption of the gas.

Black's other great discovery was that of latent heat (the heat required to produce a change of state). The concept of latent heat came to him in 1757 and the experimental determination of the latent heat of fusion of ice was made in 1761. The next year he determined the latent heat of formation of steam. Black also distinguished the difference between heat and temperature and conceived the idea of specific heat.

Black was professor of medicine and lecturer in chemistry at Glasgow (1756-66) and then professor of chemistry at Edinburgh for the rest of his life. Black's lectures, which he gave for over 30 years, were immensely popular and were published in 1803.

Bone, Sir Muirhead[Born: March 23, 1876, Glasgow - Died: October 21, 1953, Oxford]

Famous Glaswegian: Sir Muirhead BoneSir Muirhead Bone was an official British war artist during World War One.

Although having trained as an architect Bone instead sought employment as an etcher and artist in watercolours. Born in Glasgow, Bone took up residence in London in 1901.

An accomplished Scottish engraver and artist Bone joined the British propaganda war effort in May 1916 (immediately prior to the Somme Offensive), following recruitment by the head of the War Propaganda Bureau Charles Masterman. For the purpose he was given an honorary commission as Second Lieutenant.

For all that Bone was a prolific artist, producing several hundred drawings and noted for the detail of his drawings (much reproduced in magazines given that they tended to look equally as well when published in black and white), he only visited the Western Front twice.

Bone was knighted in 1937 and again served as a war artist during the Second World War.

Burns, Sir George,[Born: December 10, 1795, Glasgow - Died: June 2, 1890, Renfrewshire]

Famous Glaswegians: Sir George Buens - White Star LineShipping magnate. Born in Glasgow, the son of a minister and younger brother of James Burns (1789 - 1871), with whom he formed a partnership. Together, they started sailing ships between Glasgow and Liverpool and across the Atlantic to Canada and the USA. J. & G. Burns set up the regular steamer service to the Inner and Outer Hebrides. This was sold to David Hutcheson & Co in 1851 and by the mid-1870s formed the basis of David MacBrayne's company, the name still associated with the service today.

Burns was party to the consolidation of a number of companies, including the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, into the Cunard Line, which had been begun by Sir Samuel Cunard. The Cunard Line, which merged with the White Star Line in 1936, gave life to liners such as the Queen Mary (1936). It remains today, as a US-owned cruise company, which operates the famous Queen Elizabeth II (QE2).

Burrell, Sir William[Born: July 9, 1861, Glasgow - Died: 1958, Berwick-upon-Tweed]

Famous Glaswegian: Sir William BurrellThird of nine children, William Burrell was born on 9 July 1861. His father and grandfather were involved in shipping. Burrell entered the family firm in 1875 and, on his father's death, William and his brother took over the running of the firm. They developed the technique of ordering modern, advanced ships at rock bottom prices when the shipping market was in a slump, thus trading with brand new ships when the market recovered and then selling, at a large profit, when the market was at a peak. William also had an eye for detail and an astute eye for opportunities. Having learned that a squadron of Royal Navy ships were on a flag waving exercise in distant ports, he realised they were likely to run out of coal and sent some of his ships to one of the ports of call, selling the cargo at a handsome profit.

The brothers amassed a large fortune and Burrell entered into local politics. He was active in the setting up of the Glasgow International Art Exhibition in 1901. At the age of 40 he married Constance Mitchell, daughter of another ship-owner and the following year, with the birth of a daughter, the family moved to a "Greek" Thomson designed house in Great Western Road.

Having again built up a large fleet of modern vessels, the brothers sold most of them during the First World War - at more than three times the building cost. It was at this stage that Burrell effectively retired and devoted the rest of his life to being an art collector. He had a wide range of tastes but built up an important collection of Chinese ceramics, tapestries, stained glass, silver, bronzes, Persian and Indian rugs and furniture, travelling widely in the process. In 1916 he bought Hutton Castle in the Borders, although he did not move in to the castle until 1927. The same year he was knighted for his public work and services to art. He always had a good eye for a bargain - a 14th century Chines porcelain ewer was bought for 85 pounds and is now worth over 250,000 pounds.

In 1944, he gave almost his entire collection to the city of Glasgow along with 250,000 to construct a building to house it. However, the terms of the bequest (he thought it should be in a rural setting) posed problems and it was not until the 1970s that a building for the Burrell Collection, in Pollok Country Park, was eventually completed.

Clerk, Sir Dugald[Born: March 31, 1854, Glasgow - Died: November 12, 1932, Surrey]

Famous Glaswegians: Sir Dugald ClerkSir Dugald Clerk, FRS was probably identified with the internal combustion engine more than any other engineer of his generation. Born in Glasgow in 1854, Clerk's education was planned around his intention to become a chemical engineer.

He studied under Sir Thomas Edward Thorpe FRS, conducting research into petroleum fractions. Thorpe would later lament Clerk's loss to chemistry, but the work was useful to the future petrol engine man. It was the sight of a Lenoir-type gas engine at work in Glasgow that led him towards mechanical engineering. He subsequently developed his own two stroke engine type, patented in 1881. The researches that led to this invention, begun in 1877, were genuinely pioneering and had a lasting impact on the science of thermodynamics.

One of the earliest Clerk engines was pressed into service at the University of Glasgow, coupled to a Siemens dynamo. Lord Kelvin used the resulting electricity to light his house, claiming this as a world first. By 1886, Clerk was established in Birmingham, conducting gas-engine research, before partnering G C Marks in a successful consulting and patent agent business. One client was Frederick Lanchester, for whom Clerk patented an engine starter in 1890.

Through his friendship with Lanchester, Clerk took an interest in the fledgling automobile industry. He would later become the second president of the Institute of Automobile Engineers and his expertise was used in early automobile trials, including those run by the RAC.

His knighthood came for wartime service in 1914-18 rather than for his engine research. Clerk worked for the Trench Warfare Committee, capitalising on his Birmingham experiences, when he designed ammunition-making machinery. The Admiralty Research Department also recruited him - his knowledge of diesel engines was particularly appropriate in a new age of submarine warfare.

Connolly, Billy (William)[Born: 1942, Glasgow]

Famous Glaswegian: Billy ConnollyBilly Connolly was born in Glasgow, Scotland to Mary and William Connolly, the son of an Irish immigrant. He was brought up in the Anderston, and later Partick, districts of Glasgow and attended St. Gerard's Secondary School.

He started his working life at the age of 15, becoming a welder in a Glasgow shipyard, but left that trade to become a folk singer. Together with Tam Harvey he started a group called the Humblebums, which later included Gerry Rafferty. Connolly sang, played banjo and guitar and entertained the audience with his humorous introductions to the songs. Eventually the duo broke up and Billy went solo. His first solo album in 1972, Billy Connolly Live! on Transatlantic Records, features Billy as a singer, songwriter and musician.

His early albums were a mixture of comedy performances with comedic and serious musical interludes. Among his best known musical performances were "The Welly Boot Song", a comical ode to the working class which became his theme song for several years; "In the Brownies", a parody of the Village People classics "Y.M.C.A." and "In the Navy" (for which Connolly filmed a music video); "Two Little Boys in Blue", a tongue-in-cheek indictment of police brutality done to the tune of Rolf Harris' "Two Little Boys"; and the ballad "I Wish I Was in Glasgow" which Connolly would later perform on a guest appearance on the 1990s American sitcom, Pearl. In 1985 he sang the theme song to Supergran, which was released as a single. By the late 1980s, Connolly had all but dropped the music from his act, though he still records the occasional musical performance. Most recently, he sang a song during the film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

It is as a stand-up comedian that Connolly is best known. His observational humour is idiosyncratic. He talks about himself, who he is, where he's been, what he thinks and how he reacts to the world around him. He has outraged audiences, critics and, of course the media, with his free use of the word fuck. He has used masturbation, blasphemy, defecation, flatulence, sex, his father's illness and his aunts' cruelty to entertain. By exploring these subjects with humour, Connolly has done much to strip away the taboos surrounding them. Yet he does not tell jokes in the conventional way. At the end of a concert the audience can be convulsed with laughter but few can remember a specific "funny" line.

One of Connolly's most famous comedy skits is "The Crucifixion", an early 1970s recording in which he likens Christ's Last Supper to a drunken night out in Glasgow. The recording was banned by many radio stations at the time. Around this same time, a joke told during a television talk show appearance (about a murderer, his dead wife, and him needing a place to park his bike) became a sensation that, reportedly, people still remember three decades after the appearance.

Connolly launched a second career as a film actor in the 1970s, and after a string of obscure and unsuccessful films, he was officially introduced to mainstream American audiences when he took over the lead role (from Howard Hesseman) in the sitcom Head of the Class in 1990, which was followed by a brief stint as the star of a Head of the Class spin-off entitled Billy. Since then, he has gone on to become a character actor of some repute, appearing in a number of major films such as Indecent Proposal, The Boondock Saints, The Last Samurai and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events . He received his best notices, including BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild award nominations for his co-starring role in 1997's Mrs. Brown opposite Dame Judi Dench.

In recent years Connolly has appeared in various Billy Connolly's World Tour of... series, in which he combines touring with travelogues, giving his views about the history and culture of the places he visits between excerpts from stage shows performed in those regions. He also visited the frozen north in A Scot in the Arctic.

Billy's second wife Pamela Stephenson and mother of 3 of his children, has written a biography Billy which outlines his career and life including the sexual abuse by his father that lasted from his tenth to his fourteenth year. Much of the book is about Billy Connolly the celebrity but the account of his early years provides a context for his humour and point of view. A follow-up, Bravemouth, was published in 2003.

Connolly himself is credited as writing several books, including Billy Connolly (late 1970s) and Gullible's Travels (early 1980s), both based upon his stage act, as well as books based upon some of his "World Tour" television series.

Info+: William Wallace<<Info+: Glaswegians Cronin to Graham


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