Edinburgh-Glasgow rivalry began over loaf of bread

IT is one of the world’s most historic rivalries which has seen the inhabitants of Scotland’s two largest cities attempt to get a rise out of one another for as long as anyone can remember.

Now, an academic has sliced through the enmity between Edinburgh and Glasgow to reveal it may all have flared up courtesy of a row over bread.

Robert Crawford from the University of St Andrews has pinpointed a 17th-century row amongst bakers as one of the first documented altercations which pitted the great cities against one other.

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The professor of modern Scottish literature discovered historic accounts of the half-baked rammy while researching his new book On Glasgow and Edinburgh.

While the antagonism between Auld Reekie and the Dear Green Place has been passed down through the generations, his is the first tome to explore the fractious relationship in detail.

In the 21st century, the conflict between the two “utterly distinct” cities largely lives on courtesy of football and other sports, but the historic rivalry which spans the likes of business, politics and culture, has been waged for at least 357 years, according to Prof Crawford.

Prof Crawford found the bad blood arose after Glaswegian bakers took umbrage at criticism of their produce from their neighbours 45 miles to the east. While they knew their bread was not up to scratch, pride prevented them from accepting Edinburgh’s help.

He said: “The famous, often misunderstood, rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh began over 300 years ago. One of the first recorded flare-ups happened in 1656, when the town council of Glasgow expressed concern at the bad quality of bread the local bakers were producing. Two bakers from Edinburgh offered an easy solution and also managed to one-up Glasgow – they would happily bake Glaswegians bread that met higher quality, Edinburgh standards. The gloves were off and the jousting between Edinburgh and Glasgow had begun.”

The author, originally from the North Lanarkshire town of Bellshill, around ten miles south-east of Glasgow, said that while squabbling between two nearby urban centres is common around the world, Glasgow and Edinburgh’s feud was the earliest inter-city rivalry of them all and helped define the Scottish nation.

He said: “Competition between cities in a single country is a very ancient phenomenon, going back at least to Athens and Sparta in classical Greece.

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“Yet in the English-speaking world the rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh is foundational in that it precedes and to some extent prefigures all other fully-developed, long-standing urban rivalries – those between New York and Boston, Sydney and Melbourne, Toronto and Vancouver come later.

“In England, London’s overbalancing dominance has gone uncontested and the jousting between Oxford and Cambridge is essentially between universities.

“Within Scotland though, since at least the 17th century, a sense of sparring and sometimes outright competition between the country’s two largest cities has been a defining aspect of the nation.”

Janey Godley, the comedian and actress, was born in the Shettleston area of Glasgow, but stays in Edinburgh for a month every year during the Festival. While acknowledging the rivalry, she said it was a thing of the past, only perpetuated by the middle-classes.

Responding to the research, she said: “I never knew there was bad blood with Edinburgh until I went into comedy, and all these middle-class comedians were making jokes about.

“It was never mentioned when I was growing up in Glasgow, and I don’t think the working classes care about it.

“I love both cities. Glasgow has amazing architecture, culture, and it has a real funny bone, while Edinburgh isn’t anything like the stuffy, snooty image it is sometimes burdened with – the people are very welcoming and friendly.”

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However, Prof Crawford pointed out that years on from the unseemly rammy over bread, the acrimony continues to manifest itself in new ways, ensuring the fraught relationship will never get stale.

He added: “In both cities there is the assumption that Glaswegians are rough diamonds whose hospitality, especially to those in need, is legendary.

“In Edinburgh, folk wisdom has it, at whatever time you arrive on someone’s doorstep you may be welcomed with the words ‘You’ll have had your tea’ meaning that the visitor will have already eaten and so the host will not need to provide any nourishment.

“Such caricatures are unfair, yet far too much fun to jettison.”