The town of Rutherglen can be found some three miles south-east of the centre of Glasgow and for practical, if not administrative, purposes can be regarded as a suburb of the city. It did actually form part of the City of Glasgow between local authority reorganisations in 1975 and 1996, but since then has stood at the far north-western tip of South Lanarkshire.
Rutherglen is built on a ridge of raised ground a little to the south of the River Clyde. This was traditionally the head of navigation of the river, and the point at which the Clyde became tidal. Rutherglen has very early origins and was for a while more important than Glasgow. It was chartered as a royal burgh in 1126 by King David I. This event is recorded in the painted inscription on the base of the mercat cross which stands in Main Street outside the magnificent Post Office and Public Library (and not far from the even more magnificent Town Hall). The mercat cross (or "mercat croce", according to the inscription) is a replica of the original, taken down in 1777, which was erected here in 1926 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the granting of the royal charter.
For anyone travelling across the southern side of Glasgow, Rutherglen can seem little more than a name on roadsigns and a glimpse of the tower of the Town Hall. This is especially true since the completion in 2011 of the M74 Northern Extension, which joined what until then had been the end of the M74 on the eastern side of Glasgow with the M8 near the southern end of the Kingston Bridge. The motorway, largely raised on supports, now cuts through the landscape a little to the north of the centre of Rutherglen, passing over part of Rutherglen Railway Station as it does so. (Continues below image...)
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. By the end of the 1200s, Rutherglen was home to a castle and a stone church. On the other hand, by this time the River Clyde had been bridged in Glasgow, which had been made a burgh late in the 1100s. This prevented vessels with masts sailing further upstream, and the result was that Glasgow increasingly supplanted Rutherglen as a focal point for the surrounding area and especially as a port.
Rutherglen Castle stood in what is now the heart of Rutherglen, were Castle Street meets King Street and close to the more recent Town Hall. It was occupied by English forces during the First War of Independence, and was besieged by Robert the Bruce. Rutherglen Castle later became a property of the Hamiltons of Shawfield, and in 1568 it was destroyed by by James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray as punishment for the family's support for Mary, Queen of Scots, at the Battle of Langside.
By the 1600s, Rutherglen was best known for its large horse fairs, which took place in the broad Main Street. Fairs were held twelve times each year and Rutherglen became particularly renowned as a place to buy and sell draught-horses. During the second half of the 1700s Rutherglen began to industrialise. Coal mining first made its mark on the immediate area in the 1770s, and metal working, dyeing and printing operations also commenced. In 1775 Rutherglen gained its own bridge across the River Clyde, designed and built by James Watt, a man better known for his later work on steam engines.
In the early 1800s a factory was established at Shawfield, to the north of the centre of Rutherglen, to produce chrome and chromates. The Shawfield chemical works ended up producing over two thirds of the UK's chromate products, and continued to operate until 1967. The downside of this was the impact of the highly toxic raw materials and products on the health of those working at the factory and living in the surrounding area, and a continuing legacy of contaminated land, some of whose impacts have only become clear after redevelopment of the sites involved.
Today's Rutherglen is well worth visiting, and has plenty to remind the visitor of its history. At its heart is the extremely broad Main Street, a legacy of the horse fairs once held here. The castle is long gone, as is the tolbooth that stood on the north side of the street until demolished in 1900. The centre of attention is inevitably the imposing Town Hall, built to impress in 1861-2. A little to its west is Rutherglen Old Parish Church. The church you see today was built in 1902, but the nearby freestanding tower is thought to date to around 1500. Nothing seems to remain of the truly "old" Old Parish Church, built in the late 1100s.
On the south side of Main Street is the striking St Columbkille Church, built in brick between 1934 and 1940. A little further west on the same side of the street is the old Vogue Cinema, built in 1936 and now operating as a bingo hall.