GLASGOW’S status as Second City of the Empire was built on its expertise in shipbuilding and heavy engineering, but a third key element - printing - has frequently been overlooked.

The city’s print trade dates back to the 17th century, thanks to the pioneering efforts of one George Anderson, who arrived from Edinburgh in 1638. As the town continued to expand so, too, did the print industry, alongside the trade in American tobacco and cotton, and Caribbean sugar.

The city had its first newspaper in late 1715, when the Glasgow Courant opened for business. In 1783 came the weekly Glasgow Advertiser, which in 1805 changed its name to the Glasgow Herald.

Now all of the city’s newspaper, book and commercial printing history has been assembled in the Glasgow Print Trail, a booklet and - if there is sufficient interest - a guided, physical trail for visitors to follow.

Maps in the booklet show the geographical spread of printing businesses. Many were clustered in the city centre. Among them were the Foulis Press, 18th century publishers to Glasgow University, in Shuttle Street, and Bell & Bain, book and periodical publishers, which was established in Glasgow Cross in 1831 and would later spend a century in Mitchell Street.

But many others were to be found outwith the city centre, including John Cossar & Co, in Govan.

Edinburgh’s printing industry pre-dates Glasgow’s by at least a century. A Print Trail has already been published, covering the capital.

The booklet is the work of the Scottish Printing Archival Trust, with funding from the Watson Foundation, which was established by John Watson OBE, who for more than half-a-century ran the well-known printers, John Watson and Company.

“I would say that during the era of Glasgow being the Second City of the Empire, printing was the third or fourth largest industry in the city in terms of numbers employed,” he said. “It was a huge employer in those days. You had McCorquodale’s, which opened a print works here in the 1870s, and Robert MacLehose, who was appointed printers to the university in 1872.

“There was such a number of printers. There were many small family businesses, certainly, but you had the big boys as well.”

Among the newspapers represented on the Glasgow Trail are the Glasgow Herald and Evening Times, the Daily Mail, and the Daily Record.

Mr Watson describes the booklet as a labour of love.

“Having spent my entire working life in printing I wanted to make sure that the rich history of printing in Glasgow was not forgotten. It is a story undoubtedly worth telling,” he said.

“Most people involved with the printing industry would generally agree that there have been more fundamental changes in the last 50 years than in the preceding centuries since Johannes Gutenberg invented printing from movable type back in 1450.

“The pace of change has been unrelenting, and with technology and new processes, the ways of communicating the printed word have changed out of all recognition. Sadly the industry has, too, and many of the companies mentioned in the booklet have fallen by the wayside.

“Nowadays there are so many ways of viewing or receiving information rather than from books or newspapers.”

He added: “For me, the print trail is a walk down memory lane and an attempt to ensure the history of printing is not lost as the years roll by. It really was crucial to the commercial success of Glasgow and I don’t want that strong heritage lost in the mists of time.

“It is worth remembering that Glasgow boasted the largest book printers in the world with William Collins & Son printing many bestsellers, including the Bible in no fewer than 42 languages. It is well known in the printing industry that every second person one who lived in Bishopbriggs worked for Collins.”

Mr Watson added: “The idea is that, if there is enough interest in the Glasgow trail, we will run a guided tour, probably starting in Buchanan Street, where the Glasgow Herald was based for many decades until 1980.”

Fittingly, the print-trail booklet was printed, free of charge, by Bell & Bain, one of the oldest surviving printers in the UK, which is now based in Thornliebank.

* The booklet, researched by archivist Helen Williams, is available via for £5.