An earth tremor shook Glasgow and its surrounding area on the 4th of July, 1570.
You might say that it’d take a fair bit to shuggle the sturdy folks of Glasgow, but the city and its surrounding area have had their share of earthquakes in the past. The first report of an earthquake or earth tremor affecting Glasgow is dated very precisely as occurring at 10 p.m. on the 4th of July, 1570. It is recorded that, “At ten hours at night there was ane quake in the cittie of Glasgow and lastit bot ane schort space, but it causit the inhabitants of the said cittie to be in greit terrour and fear.”
Another tremor was recorded on the 8th of November, 1608, at nine o’clock in the evening. That earthquake was felt in Glasgow and also at St Andrews, Cupar, Edinburgh, Dumbarton and Dundee. The impact on Dumbarton seems to have been particularly severe on that occasion as everyone apparently ran to the church looking “presentlie for destructioun.” All sorts of reasons were given for the event, including blaming a recent extraordinary drought, which had lasted several months immediately preceding the ‘quake’. No doubt there were also a few fists shaken towards the heavens.
Glasgow reported further shocks in the years 1613, 1650, 1656, and 1732, so the 1570 tremor wasn’t an isolated event. There was a significant earthquake reported in Portugal on the 1st of November, 1755, which was coincident with reports from the coast of Holland on the 2nd of November. The resultant tidal wave in the North Sea destroyed the sea walls from Holland to Jutland and over a thousand people are killed. That earthquake had a ‘knock-on’ effect on Scotland as that same morning, in the space of an hour, the water level in Loch Lomond rose by two and a half feet, before receding. Loch Long, Loch Katrine, and Loch Ness were also reported as suffering similar disturbances and the shockwave is said to have been felt at Leadhills in Lanarkshire.
Other tremors affecting Glasgow included one, in 1786, with a peculiar rumbling noise that lasted just three seconds and was felt around Glasgow Cross in the early hours of the morning. And in the Campsie Hills, in January of the following year, some unusual effects of an earth tremor were reported. A burn ran dry in several places, hedges were swept as if by a mysterious wind and horses at the plough were said to have stood stock-still in the shafts through fear. You cannae blame the poor beasts, but maybe it was just auld Tam o’ Shanter skelping by on his mare.
Evidence from seismic and bathymetric surveys along the margin of north-west Europe suggests that there are a number of features conducive to large earthquakes. In the distant past, large earthquakes may have occurred in immediate post-glacial times, in response to rapid isostatic readjustment. However, no earthquake in the UK area in recorded history has exceeded a value of around 5.7 MW on the moment magnitude scale (MMS), which is roughly equivalent to 5.5 on the Richter (ML) scale. It is probable that earthquakes in the UK are in fact passive margin events. That is when a large, distant, offshore earthquake is felt only at moderate strength over landed and populated areas without any significant observable damage. The largest historical passive margin event seems to have been recorded in 1508.
The MMS is used by seismologists to measure the size of earthquakes in terms of the energy released. The magnitude is based on the moment of the earthquake, which is equal to the rigidity of the Earth multiplied by the average amount of slip on the fault and the size of the area that slipped. The scale was developed in the 1970s to succeed the 1930s-era Richter magnitude scale and is now the scale used to estimate magnitudes for all modern large earthquakes.
The event of 1508 was felt in the Borders region and in the North Sea at Rockall. There are no contemporary accounts of the earthquake and the earliest source is that of the Scottish historian John Leslie, Bishop of Ross. Leslie’s account of the earthquake survives in three forms, all of them brief. In his ‘History of Scotland’, a work composed during imprisonment in England and presented to Queen Mary, in 1571, it is stated, “In September, ane gret erd quak wes, the xix day thairof in divers placeis, and for the maist part in the kirkis, quhilk wes asueill [as well] in Ingland as in Scotland.”
In 1578, Leslie revised and expanded his ‘History’ and translated it into Latin. That was published in Rome under the title ‘De origine’, in which there is a passage that reads, “... ingens erat terrae, non solum in Scotia, verum etiam tota Anglia, motus, quo templa in primis contremuerunt, quod quidam religionis euertendae augurium interpretabantur”. That may be translated as, “there was a great earthquake, not only in Scotland, but also, indeed, even the whole of England, which shook the churches especially, which was interpreted as an omen of the overthrowing of religion.”
The City of Glasgow can boast “a lang pedigree” as in the year 560, fifty-seven years before the Anglo-Saxon King Edwin set Edinburgh Castle on its rocky site, St. Kentigern had founded his cathedral seat at “Cathures, which is now called Glasgu.” Shortly afterwards, around 573, ‘Rederchen the Liberal’ was seated on the throne as the first monarch of the Britons of Cumbria or Strathclyde, thanks in no small part to the exertions of St. Kentigern, otherwise known as St. Mungo.
Tradition also survives connecting Glasgow with a settlement of Druids in the dim and distant past, many years before St. Mungo was even born. There were tales of sacrifices being offered on the hill where the Necropolis now stands and the Drygait is said to have been the Druids’ Gate. In the ancient Saxon tongue the word ‘Dry’ has the meaning of ‘priest’ or ‘holy man’, which translates as ‘Druidh’ in Celtic. Much later, an old Roman road from Carluke is supposed to have entered Glasgow by Bellshill, Tollcross, East Duke Street and the Drygait, crossing the Molendinar Burn, and continuing by Dobbies’ Loan.