Life in Glasgow’s Tenement House

We spent six days in Glasgow after our two-week pet sit in Edinburgh (I still miss Jodi the dog).    One of the places we visited there left a big impression on us.  It was the Tenement House.  This was a upper working class tenement home of one Miss Toward and her mother Mrs. Toward.  They lived in this one bedroom flat from the early 20th century until 1965.  Here is her  story from the exhibit.glasgow tenement house ms toward smallglasgow miss toward bio small It was being able to see how a single working woman survived in the 20th century that was so affecting.  She rented her apartment, like most people in the city.  She was very thrifty and saved whatever money she could.  Here is a layout of the apartment she and her mom lived in glasgow Miss Toward's tenement floor plan smallShe and her mom slept in the double bed recess in the kitchen and rented out the bedroom to a boarder to save money.  The kitchen would have been the warmest place in the house to sleep in those cold Scottish winters.  The docent told us that the bathroom was very luxurious in 1911 because it had an indoor toilet and hot and cold running water.  There was a shared wash house in the back of the building in which everyone had a day to use to do their washing.

Here is a photo of a photo of her kitchen ( I was not allowed to use a flash and it was not bright enough for a photo from my camera) glasgow tenement  house kitchen smallThat is a coal heated stove and oven. Above the the oven she had a drying rack that pulled down to hang clothes and up to dry them. Miss Toward did not want to pay for electricity to be put in for her landlord’s benefit, so she made do with gas lights and no refrigerator.  She did break down and converted to electric lights in 1960, but the stove was still working so no replacement was needed.  She left the flat exactly the way it is now when in 1965 she went into the hospital.  Not having a refrigerator was not as hard as it seems.  The door in the  upper right hand of the photo opened into a cold larder.  A shelf room that had holes drilled into the walls that kept everything as cold as outside, which in Scotland is pretty cold.

There was even a bit of elegance in this hard working woman’s life.  It was the parlor. glasgow tenement house table smallThis room was only used for company.  Here is the table as it would have been set for tea.  In this room there is also a stand up piano that both Mrs. and Miss Toward used to play.  No electricity meant no radio and no TV .

Remember she worked long hours being a typist including Saturday  (they eventually got a half day off on Saturday).  There were no grocery stores, you had to purchase food almost every day from separate stores (groceries, produce, meat, etc.) and prepare it from scratch.  It must have been an exhausting life, but she and her mom kept their standards and  their sense of dignity.

She spent ten years in the hospital before she died in 1975.  Her apartment was rent controlled at around 30 pounds a year and she kept paying for it the entire time she was in the hospital ( I supposed hoping someday to get to return home).

After her death the house was left in her will to the church which intended to sell it to raise funds. It was only on inspection of the flat somebody noticed its potential as it had remained completely unchanged from the olden days and decided to preserve it.  That lady purchased it and lived in it for 9 years before selling it intact to the National Trust for Scotland.  They reinstalled gas lights and made it as close as possible to the way that Miss Toward lived there. (##budget travel tip:  If you have an English National Trust card you can get into any of the National Trust of Scotland properties for free).

We both found this testament to a thrifty hard working woman to be uplifting and beautiful.

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