How this slaveowner’s West End roots are being used to confront university’s past

By Ian Marland at

Robert Bogle Jnr was a man of his time, whose vast wealth funded a fine estate on the banks of the River Kelvin.

His sixty acres of land stretched from what is now Byres Road to Hillhead and the old Partick Road.

But the fact that Bogle and his family fortune were built on the back of slavery is now being used to repair the wrongs of the past.

The University of Glasgow’s campus in the West End was built on Bogle’s former Gilmorehill house and estate.

On Friday, a plaque was unveiled marking the university’s links to the notorious slave-owning merchant.

Plaque

The plaque points to the slave past of the university’s notorious predecessor, merchant Robert Bogle jnr. Photo: University of Glasgow

It is part of a process being undertaken by the institution – the first of its kind by any UK university – to face up to its past.

A report last year, uncovered many direct links to the university from the slave trade.

A widely-publicised reparations deal has now been struck between the University of Glasgow and the University of the West Indies.

‘Benefitted’

The institutions will work together on founding the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research.

An historic Memorandum of Understanding was signed Friday by the principals of the two universities.

The ceremony also included the reading of a specially-commissioned poem by Scottish Makar (Scotland’s poet laureate) Jackie Kay, and the opening of a new exhibition.

Two principals signing the memorandum

Prof Muscatelli and The University of The West Indies’ Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. Photo: University of Glasgow

The report published by the university revealed the extent to which the university had benefited from slavery.

While it played a leading role in the abolitionist movement in the 18th and 19th centuries, the institution also received significant financial support from people whose wealth was derived, in part, from slavery.

Estimates put that at between £16.7m and £198m in present-day money.

‘Difficult conversation’

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: “Talking about any institution’s or country’s historical links to slavery can be a difficult conversation but we felt it was a necessary one for our university to have.

“I am reminded of the words of Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, one of our report’s external advisers, who often says while you can’t change the past, you can change their consequences.

“This is the story of our journey to do this to further enhance awareness and understanding of our history and the University’s connections to both historical slavery and the abolitionist movement.”

Gilbert Scott Building

The Gilbert Scott Building was constructed on Bogle’s former estate.

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies and co-signatory to the Memorandum of Understanding, said: “We are delighted to sign this agreement and look forward to working with the University of Glasgow and to making the Centre for Development Research a significant, successful and long-lasting partnership.”

Gilmorehill House was demolished in 1870 to make way for the university’s magnificent gothic masterpiece, the Gilbert Scott Building.

Much of the grounds around the mansion were ornamental gardens, while an extensive walled garden contained grapes, peach trees, and greenhouses.

Demolished

Bogle died in 1822 and left his estate to his son Archibald, who in turn sold it on to the Glasgow Western Cemetery Company in 1845.

But plans to turn it into a cemetery never materialised and its shareholders sold the land to the university in 1865.

Gilmorehill House remained standing and was let out, becoming a hydropathic institution, in 1856.

The estate was sold to the University in 1865 and the house was used as a site office for the the building contractors during the construction of the Gilbert Scott Building before being demolished in c1870.

GILMOREHOUSE

Gilmorehill House before it was demolished c.1870. Photo: University of Glasgow archives and special collections

The University’s Gymnasium was built on the site of the House’s stables in 1870.

The University of Glasgow has committed to raising and spending £20 million over the next 20 years as part of reparations.

It is expected that the bulk of the funding will come from research grants and benefactions and that the Centre will be self-supporting.