What does the name of St Vincent Street have to do with a lawyer?

14 February 2015

Prepare for quite a tenuous link…

The name "St. Vincent Street" is not due to Glasgow's links with religion, but with its strong seafaring tradition. There are places called St Vincent in many parts of the world, but the place which gives its name to our street is the St Vincent in Portugal.

The Cape of St Vincent is at the foot of the Algarve and is the most south-western point in Portugal. Situated at the very bottom left-corner of Europe, it's where the Romans thought the edge of the world lay. Beyond the headland of these steep sea-cliffs, there lies an open expanse of blue sea stretching into the horizon.

It is a coastline rich in maritime history. The ancient Greeks and Romans and the navies of Holland, France, Spain and Portugal have all fought sea battles here, as have a succession of pirates. Even today, the Cape of St Vincent lies next to one of the world's busiest shipping lanes and is protected by one of Europe's most powerful lighthouses.

In naval history, there were a number of sea battles at this place called "the Battle of Cape St. Vincent". One of those was a famous victory for the British Navy on 14th February 1797, all connected with the French Revolutionary Wars and the Anglo-Spanish War. A heavily out-numbered and out-gunned British fleet led by Admiral Sir John Jervis defeated a larger Spanish fleet. The naval victory was so resounding that it became the Battle of Cape St Vincent.

One website suggests St Vincent Street was formed in 1809 and named in honour of the famous naval victory by “Nelson” at Cape St Vincent in 1797. Nelson was there and did play a part. In his next naval battle in the region at Tenerife, Nelson lost his right arm - but the victory of the Battle of Cape St Vincent undoubtedly belonged to Jervis.

Other websites suggest the sea battle was against the French. Although the battle was during the time of the French Revolutionary Wars which began in 1792, Spain had decided to form an alliance with France, and so Britain blockaded Spain. The Anglo-Spanish War began in 1796, and thus the Battle of Cape St Vincent took place in 1797, not with France, but with Spain.

The defeat of the Spanish navy came just at the right moment for flagging British morale in light of other events at the time. Foremost in many minds was the perceived increasing threat of a French invasion of Britain. France was in the grip of the violent French Revolution, which the British opposed. Not long before Jervis’ victory, Robert Burns had joined the Royal Dumfries Volunteers to counter any French invasion and penned the poem, “Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?” in April 1795. For all of the debate surrounding Burns’ attitude to the French and their Revolution, the first verse of this poem in his later years ends, “We'll ne'er permit a foreign foe on British ground to rally!”. The concern in the public mind had grown very real indeed.

Following the 1797 Battle of Cape St Vincent, Napoleon decided not to invade Britain and in 1798 went off to find glory in Egypt instead.

Napoleon’s hopes of invading Britain were dashed not long after that in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar, and the first “Nelson’s column” to be erected in Britain was not in Trafalgar Square in 1843, but in Glasgow Green in 1806. Other famous Nelson sea victories at the Battles of Copenhagen in 1801 and 1806 led to the naming of Copenhagen Street, on the corner of where our office lies with St Vincent Street. Copenhagen Street was fairly quickly renamed Hope Street, most probably after a famous Scottish naval officer, Rear-Admiral Sir George Johnstone Hope, who was also involved at the Battle of Trafalgar and was later appointed Lord of the Admiralty.

Therefore, many of Glasgow’s street names have clear links with its seafaring tradition and commemorations of naval victories. Jervis' stunning victory in the Battle of Cape St Vincent was celebrated by the British public and he was given various honours and riches.

Jervis was made “Earl St Vincent”. He was later referred to by the abbreviation of “St Vincent" because of his new title, and he gave name to various places or institutions. For example, locations in New South Wales in Australia such as Vincentia in Jervis Bay and the County of St Vincent are named after Jervis.

However, all such place names find their way back to that famous sea battle just off the coast of Portugal. The naming of Glasgow’s longest and straightest street in its newest commercial area as “St Vincent Street” was part of those commemorations.

So what does the naming of St Vincent Street have to do with a lawyer?

Here’s the tenuous link – Jervis’ father was a barrister, and he had originally hoped that his son would also become a lawyer like himself. Instead, Jervis went into the navy, but in probably the most roundabout way possible, his greatest achievement has managed to find its way into the address of a law firm.

St. Vincent Street has changed a lot over the past 206 years.

Today, it is home to one of the most cutting-edge law firms in the country.

We’ve won awards and accolades of a very different kind.

Our latest award even relates to adventures on the high seas and you can watch the story unfold of how Inksters took Seavaigers to Shetland.

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