The Merchant City’s origins go back at least as far as the 16th century. It occupied an area north of the Trongate or Tron, which was the main route into the centre from the east. The ‘tron’ was a weighing beam used in medieval Scotland to standardise weights and measures, and usually it stood in the market place.
During the 18th century, Glasgow’s merchants became very wealthy, mainly by trading with the American colonies, especially in tobacco. These ‘Tobacco Lords’ built their mansions in the Merchant City, and their names live on in the street names in this area, such as Hutcheson, Glassford and Ingram Streets. However, their prosperity was soon ended by the American War of Independence (1775-83).
Glasgow thrived during the 19th century, becoming the second city of the entire British Empire. As it expanded, new suburbs were built and the wealthy moved away from the centre. The Merchant City became increasingly run down, given over to warehouses and cheese, vegetable and fruit markets.
By the 1960s the area had acquired a dilapidated feeling, with abandoned buildings, gap sites and urban decay. In the 1980s, a commitment was made to revive the Merchant City on a grand scale. Today it combines stunning residential properties, many in restored 19th century buildings and a wide range of top-class shops, many of them in the Italian Centre. There are lots of bars and restaurants and several art galleries. Live music events and exhibitions take place regularly. The annual Merchant City Festival, featuring a multi-arts programme, happens during the month of September.