TODAY, for the first time in this series, I am having to write a second column about an ancient town, Rutherglen, because as I researched the history of this royal burgh that is now in South Lanarkshire, I discovered that it has such an interesting story to tell.

While I consider my general knowledge of Scotland to be adequate, I research and write my Back In The Day columns each week from scratch. I am very much learning as I go along and I like to think that keeps my product fresh while I find this approach stimulating for me – deadlines always did get my adrenalin going! So has it been with Rutherglen.

Many people still think it is part of Glasgow, and with the northernmost part of the town less than three miles from Glasgow city centre and its western boundary less than a mile from Hampden Park, you could be forgiven for thinking Ruglonians are actually Glaswegians. But as I shall show today, Rutherglen fought for the right to remain an independent royal burgh in the face of a determined attempt by Glasgow to swallow it up.

The National: GV of Rutherglen Town Hall on the Main Street, Rutherglen. The result of the Rutherglen and Hamilton West recall petition is expected later today, Tuesday. Rutherglen and Hamilton West voters have had six weeks to add their names to the petition after

As I always write, we need to know our history before we can move into our future as a Scotland which has regained its independence and I am glad to say this series on our ancient towns has had a positive response and people are appreciating what I am trying to do – to encourage people to learn local history. And I appear not to have made too many mistakes so far.

To be included in the list of ancient towns, they all have to have played a part in the history of Scotland and have been established as a town, usually a burgh, before the Reformation in 1560. I also suggested that anyone who wanted to promote their town for a column should email me at As I revealed last week, I received several impassioned pleas for Rutherglen – or Ruglen, in Scots – to be included and I have found its story quite fascinating.

READ MORE: The rich history of Rutherglen – one of Scotland's most ancient settlements

As a result of other emails, I am going to add two further towns in East Lothian, North Berwick and Dunbar, as well as Dunkeld in the ancient county of Perthshire, to my growing list of future subjects.

Back to Rutherglen and again I acknowledge my main sources as Rutherglen Lore: Story Of An 800-year-old Royal Burgh by William Ross Shearer (1922) and the Rev David Ure’s 1793 work History Of Rutherglen And East Kilbride. The work of the Rutherglen Heritage Society has also proved invaluable.

Last week I told how Rutherglen’s name was most likely derived from the Gaelic for “red glen”, and that the Romans had occupied the area in the second century, leaving behind the Gallowflat tumulus, a Roman burial site. I also described how Rutherglen had a strategic importance as the place where the tidal reach of the River Clyde reached its highest point – vital for Rutherglen’s industrial development, as we shall see.

I related how King David I made Rutherglen a royal burgh in 1126, and how subsequent monarchs confirmed that status, while the rivalry with Glasgow grew down the centuries.

Rutherglen Castle played a role in the Wars of Independence before Regent Moray destroyed the castle after the Battle of Langside in 1568 in retaliation for its owners, the Hamilton family, supporting Mary, Queen of Scots (below).

The National:

As with almost every other place in Scotland, Rutherglen changed utterly after the 1560 Protestant Reformation. The burgh had a parish church dedicated to the Virgin Mary which for centuries was controlled by Paisley Abbey, but after the Reformation the church was owned by prominent local Protestants. Only the medieval tower remains, close to the Old Parish Church which dates from the late 18th century.

Many visitors remark on the width of Rutherglen’s Main Street and that was due to the remarkable fairs which were held in the town, possibly even before the first royal charter of 1126.

Rutherglen, as a royal burgh, was able to hold two fairs – basically a glorified market day – per year and by the 17th century had several fairs annually, as confirmed in a charter of King James VI & I dated 1617.

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In his 1793 book, Ure stated: “Horses seem to have been the chief articles of sale ... for which the fairs of Rutherglen have become famous. The horses are mostly for the draught and are deservedly esteemed the best for that purpose in Europe. They are generally of the Lanark and Carnwath breed, which was introduced into the county more than a century ago.

“It is said that one of the predecessors of the present Duke of Hamilton brought with him to Scotland six coach horses originally from Flanders, and sent them to Strathaven, the castle of which was, at that time, habitable. The horses were all stallions, of a black colour and remarkably handsome.

“The farmers in the neighbourhood, readily embracing the favourable opportunity, crossed this foreign breed with the common Scotch kind and thereby procured a breed superior to either. From this a strong and hardy race of horses was soon spread through the country, but in many places, owing to neglect, was left to degenerate.”

This breed became known as the Clydesdale and spread far and wide from Rutherglen in the late 17th and 18th centuries.

As the biggest settlement in that part of Lanarkshire, Rutherglen grew as a market town, but the bridging of the Clyde at Glasgow stopped it from becoming a major port, though there was a Rutherglen Quay to service the small boats which came to the town. And as Glasgow grew, Rutherglen’s importance declined.

However, the 1679 Declaration of Rutherglen once again put the town at the centre of national events. It was the time of the Covenanters’ rebellion against King Charles II’s anti-Presbyterian dictates – support for the Covenanting cause was banned, as were their meetings (or “conventicles”) – and a contingent of about 70 Covenanters chose Rutherglen as the place to make their stand. Glasgow was already occupied by troops under John Graham of Claverhouse, or Bluidy Clavers as he became known.

On May 29 that year, the Covenanters nailed their declaration to the Market Cross in Rutherglen. Here’s a couple of excerpts: “As the Lord hath been pleased to keep and preserve his interest in this land, by the testimony of faithful witnesses from the beginning, so some in our days have not been wanting, who, upon great hazards, have added their testimony to the testimony of those who have gone before them, and who have suffered imprisonments, finings, forfeitures, banishment, torture, and death from an evil and perfidious adversary to the church and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ in the land …

“Now we being pursued by the same adversary for our lives, while owning the interest of Christ, according to his word, and in the national and solemn league and covenants, judge it our duty (though unworthy, yet hoping we are true members of the church of Scotland) to add our testimony to those of the worthies who have gone before us.”

READ MORE: Scotland's royal burghs: An injustice done to towns and districts

The declaration went on to condemn bishoprics and the expulsion of ministers who rejected bishops – and by association, the religious supremacy of the monarch. Having burned copies of the various anti-Presbyterian acts, the Covenanters took to the moors at Drumclog where Claverhouse tracked them down within two days.

On June 1, the Battle of Drumclog saw the Covenanters victorious, with 36 dragoons of Claverhouse’s force left dead on the battlefield. Three weeks later, and with massive reinforcements led by the Duke of Monmouth, Claverhouse got his revenge by winning the Battle of Bothwell Brig.

By the late 17th century, coal mining had become established in Lanarkshire around Rutherglen, coal being discovered perhaps as early as the 1500s. Mining would remain an important local industry into the 20th century with miners from the town working at pits such as Farme Colliery and the Govan mine.

In the 18th century, Rutherglen flourished as a centre for horse trading, and Ure was of no doubt that the strict quality control practised by local breeders was the reason why Rutherglen became so important in the equine trade.

He wrote: “No inducement whatever can lead them to encourage the breed of a horse that is not possessed of the best qualities. Their laudable attempts have proved successful and Britain is now reaping the merited fruits of their well-directed care.

“Every farm almost, through the extent of several parishes, supports six or at least four mares, the half of which are allowed annually to foal. The colts or ‘twelve-month-olds,’ are mostly sold at the fairs of Lanark and Carnwath, and bring from £5 to £20 each. They are generally purchased by farmers from the Counties of Renfrew and Ayr, where they are trained for the draught till they are about five years old; they are then sold at the fairs of Rutherglen and Glasgow from £25 to £35 each; from thence they are taken to the Lothians, England, etc, where they excel in the plough, the cart, and the wagon.”

By the late 18th century Glasgow’s growth as a port and centre for industry far outshadowed Rutherglen, whose population never kept pace with the boom in Glasgow.

A major construction which made travel to and from Rutherglen less difficult was the building of Rutherglen Bridge in 1775 to the design of no less an important figure than James Watt, then in the civil engineering phase of his career, before his work with steam kickstarted the Industrial Revolution. That Revolution did not pass Rutherglen by, and coal, steel and chemicals were all produced in and around the town, which at one time was also a centre of the textile industry.

One remarkable individual made his mark on the town and Clydeside in general. Sea captain Thomas Seath came from East Lothian to Glasgow where he started his own shipyard at Meadowside before starting a ferry service between the city and Rutherglen in the 1850s.

William Ross Shearer tells us about the state of river trade at that time: “The boats which came to Rutherglen were lighters, fishing gabberts, or long flat-bottomed boats. There were also masted vessels, carrying from twenty to forty tons burden; the masts were so constructed as to admit lowering them when passing through the old Bridge of Glasgow. The boats usually went down the river with the ebb tide, propelled by poles to keep them off the banks.”

Seath decided that the Clyde’s shallowness at Rutherglen was no obstacle to the building of numerous types of ship, and he set up his yard just to the east of Rutherglen Quay. An innovator at heart, Seath began to build specialist ships such as ferries, paddle steamers and many other types of vessel with a shallow draught. He built some 275 ships between 1856 and his death in 1902.

The National: UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 11:  British Railways Class 5 4-6-0 steam locomotive No 45498 at Rutherglen Station with a passenger train bound for Balloch. The Class 5 locomotive was designed by William Stanier for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway

The coming of the railways in the 1850s also helped Rutherglen’s trade and industries, and such was the prosperity of the area that the magnificent Town Hall was constructed in 1862 – it’s well worth a visit in itself.

Usually I stop each column at the year 1900, but Rutherglen has one important story to tell from the early 20th century. In 1912, Glasgow annexed the independent burghs of Partick and Govan. The city also tried to get Rutherglen, but local people who knew their town’s history fought the annexation – and they won!