EVEN by Victorian standards, when cities across the country expanded like a sumo wrestler’s waistline, the pace at which Glasgow grew was phenomenal. As people poured into it from the Highlands, Islands and Ireland, what had been a pretty, dear, green backwater not much bigger than Biggar is today, metamorphosed in a few hectic decades into a teeming, polluted, vibrant metropolis in which the gulf between the haves and have-nots was seemingly unbridgeable.

You can read about this in detail of course in the history books but if you want to get an instant impression then where better to go than a map? That, at least, is the contention of John Moore, a specialist on Scottish cartography and Collections Manager at Glasgow University. It is a claim compellingly upheld in his book, Glasgow: Mapping the City, which is as lavishly illustrated as it is intelligently argued.

In this companion volume to its Scottish and Edinburgh counterparts, Moore traces Glasgow’s history through the eyes of the cartographers who drew it. Thus you can follow how the city evolved, mushrooming from a huddle of streets around the Trongate to encompass areas that were once rural farmland. A case in point is the district of Knightswood which came into being in the 1920s when it was realised that the current housing stock was inadequate for a population bolstered by troops returning from the trenches expecting to be given “homes fit for heroes”. Knightswood, which had formerly been farmland, was part of the solution and its layout, as an early plan shows, was a “child of its time”, with no pubs but with plenty of parks, tennis courts, bowling greens and empty space.

The first map of “Glasco” dates to 1596. It was drawn by Timothy Pont, a pioneer cartographer whose aim was to provide information for the powerful people who needed it for their own ends. Almost a century passed before the next representation of the city appeared. This was not a map in the modern sense but several drawings done by John Slezer, a “high German” who, in 1671, was appointed Chief Engineer for Scotland. One drawing is of the Bishop’s Castle, a handsome-looking pile which was probably built in the twelfth century and which was demolished in 1789 to make way for Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

In the eighteenth century maps were made at regular intervals, some to assist industry, others the military. The first “comprehensive” plan of Glasgow came “comparatively late” in 1778. It was still a small town encompassed by what in the 1960s was termed “green belt”. But the mark of notable merchants such as John Glassford, Andrew Houston and George Bogle is evident in the naming of streets and the ownership of land. Back then linen was the industry in which Glasgow was pre-eminent but that was soon to change as trade with the Americas increased.

Map-making is an art as well as a profession and the nineteenth century was notable for the production of maps which were as beautiful as they were useful.

One such was a map made in 1827 showing policemen’s beats. Were a crime writer to think of setting a novel during that period it would be an invaluable document. Around the same time, notes Moore, the watchmen’s duties included keeping an eye on “idle or suspicious persons” and ensuring that lamps were properly lit, sewer gratings cleared and carts removed from streets.

Soon maps covered all areas and aspects of the city’s life, including sanitation, health, transport and the Clyde. There were maps for tourists and postmen,cyclists and visitors to the International Exhibition, and, in 1884, one, issued on behalf of the Glasgow United Young Men’s Christian Association which showed where alcohol could be bought and consumed. In all there were 1,485 pubs and 263 licensed grocers, emphasising that while, as Moore says, Glasgow has “no monopoly on drunkenness” it has an unenviable record.

Mapping technique in the twentieth century became increasingly sophisticated and scientific. The city grew and changed as cities do. None is ever finished. Walk around Glasgow and what you are witness to is perpetual flux. Nothing remains the same for very long and it is the cartographer’s job to capture this dynamic. The last map here, however, is not one produced by a professional but that by the polymathic Alasdair Gray which daily delights commuters as they pass through Hillhead subway station, a reminder that maps can be fun as well as functional.

Glasgow: Mapping the City by John Moore; Birlinn, £30