The arrival of photography in Glasgow coincided with the boom years when Glasgow became the ‘Second City of Empire’, second only to London in its scale and energies. Fuelled by the vast local coal fields, quarries and ironworks, assisted by the extensive growth of the railways and the ship building industry, the City’s production grew at an extraordinary rate. Trade flowed from the harbours on the river Clyde to the whole outside world. By 1851, more than half the population of the City were immigrants, born outside. It was a century of extraordinary excitement and wealth, fuelled by phenomenal speculation and energy, but darkly-coloured by the periodic industrial slumps, and constant fatal disease at the old heart of the city.

Photography was part of the technological excitement of the city and appropriately connects to both the success and the social problems. The leading Glasgow photographer, Thomas Annan, photographed two of the great social improvements of the 1850s and 60s - the long-distance engineering project which brought in a good water supply from Loch Katrine and the major slum clearance project in the crowded and narrow old closes.
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