Glasgow Tenement Life

Sheila’s life in Glasgow

Sheila was born in a Glasgow tenement in 1930s. She was an only child. Her mother stayed at home and worked as a hairdresser. Her father was an Inspector of Transport. She eventually became a music teacher. She played violin and sang.

Additional Information
Scran article (click on the link in a Scottish school or library) Back court of a tenement in Glasgow in the 1930s.

Glasgow museum  Tenement life- You can read a poem and a story inspired by the Tenement Life kit and see a list of objects found in a typical tenement. Here there is also a link on the right to Open Museum resources and how to do a reminiscence event for a specific era or theme. Painting of the backcourts of the tenements

Scotland on Screen fundraising film to encourage donations to take Glasgow tenement children on holidayScotland on Screen- there are a total of four clips to watch.

a fund raising film about life in the Glasgow tenements to help raise money to take children on holiday. This film is one of a series of fund raising appeal films produced for the Glasgow Necessitous Children’s Holiday Camp Fund to raise money to help send poor children on a holiday during the summer break. The film promotes the benefits of the Holiday Camp to children and parents alike and provides an insight into what life was like for Glasgow children during the great depression. A collection tin would be passed around after showings of this film at the cinema.

Gilmour Bakers on Govan Hill by Margaret McLean

Margaret’s Father owned the bakery business on Niddrid Road on Govan Hill. She started work at 3 a.m. and worked until breakfast time (7 a.m.). Then she went to school. She made rolls and cakes. After school she went to work for Jeffreys Chemist until 6 p.m. that night. She didn’t get paid for working for her parents as the money was needed to support the family. She also handed over all her chemist shop wages as well. On Sundays she went to an Open Air Service at 10 a.m. There was then an indoor service at 11 until 12. Lunch was next. Sunday School was from 1/4 to 2 until a praise meeting at 3 p.m. Then home at 4 p.m. Local Parents didn’t attend the afternoon church activities which kept their children well occupied and gave them a break. Margaret’s father was a self-educated man and had a broad knowledge of many subjects. Anyone could pick a subject and he would then talk about it. His own schooling had been curtailed by the early death of his Father and he had to leave school to enter the workforce. The libraries were very important to working people who could not afford an extensive library and he made good use of them.

Margaret left school at 15 and went to work for Boots the Chemist. Her family needed the money. She became a beauty consultant for Helena Rubenstein and got a percentage of the sales. She decided to become a nurse and trained at Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow in general nursing. She also worked for the homeless.

Tenement Upbringing

Mitchell Street, Glasgow

Mitchell Street, Glasgow

Margaret was raised in a Glasgow tenement at 3 Mitchell Street. It had a room and a kitchen. She was born in a “hole in the wall” bed where her parents slept. Margaret slept with her sister in the bedroom. Her Father made a cabinet bed which was a wooden frame on the wall and the bed folded up into it. She was born in 1944. Her Father was posted in Germany as a baker and cook for period of WW2. When she was one she caught scarlet fever. She so sick that her Father was brought home as it was thought she wouldn’t survive.

Working as a bookkeeper in Clydesdale during WW2 by Annie Atkins

Typical Glasgow tenement house- Description Dumbarton Road in Glasgow's West End, Scotland. Permission under GNU Free Documentation License

Tyypical tenement buildings

Tenement Life
Was brought up in a single end tenement in Glasgow on Lugton street. Lived on one landing and then went down half a landing to get to the single toilet. There was one toilet for one family. Inside the tenement was a black sink made of rough stone, possibly basalt. It wasn’t a belfast sink. She moved with her Mother and Father to another flat with a room and a kitchen just before her brother

An example of a hole in the wall bed from New York which also had tenements- Herkimer_House_wall_bed

An example of a hole in the wall bed from New York which also had tenements

was born. There was a built in bed in the kitchen known as a “hole in the wall” with a curtain across it.

Working Life
Annie worked as a bookkeeper at the Co-op. People used take a list into the Co-op and then a boy came out with the groceries. Also worked for Frasers Garage as a wages clerk. The garage sold vans, cars and engines for small boats. Annie remembers a one day apprentices’ strike and it affected the whole of Clyde. It was a waste of time and did not succeed. She went swimming!

In the 1950s she went to night school to do her A’Levels. She then taught primary school for three or four years but didn’t like the organisation. During this time there was 70 % unemployment. Clothing was very poor. There was a song called Nobody’s Child which came out at that time. She worked for a time at the Glasgow Assistance Board (GAB) teaching people how to fill in the unemployment forms.

Additional information

Glasgow story website covering unemployment in 1950sGlasgow Story website
– Lots of information about the History of Glasgow and the life in the tenements.
-1950s to the present – a challenging time for employment in Glasgow.

Nobody’s child You-Tube clip of the composer and singer Hank Show performing the song.

Shettleston History Project

“This site was created by members of the Shettleston History Project. From September 2005 the group has been researching the history of Shettleston and the experiences of the people who live and work there. It was decided to put together a website to showcase the work the group has done since forming. “  Shettleston is a district in the East End of Glasgow. Here is a set of links on the Shettleston History Project to other sites related to Glasgow tenement life.

National Trust Tenement House in Glasgow
National Trust Tenement House in Glasgow“The Tenement House is an authentic 19th-century Glasgow tenement house and was the home, for over 50 years, of Miss Agnes Toward, an ordinary lady who kept all sorts of things others would have thrown away.”

On the website is a series of photographsof the inside of the flat. It seems to be at the upper end of tenement life compared the stories like Annie’s above.

Training to be a Tailor in Edinburgh in the 1930s By Isabella Cumming

Shandwick place in Edinburgh Source: Wikicommons Date 16 February 2010(2010-02-16) Isabella Cummings was clever with her hands and used to sew. When she turned 14 years of age (1932) it was decided by her family she should become an apprentice tailoress at Shandwick Place in Edinburgh. She learnt to make coats, jackets and shirts. She earned 6 /- a week. Her mother took 4 /- for her keep. She needed 1 /- for bus fare and she used the final 1 /- for stockings, personal items and shoes.  Whatever she could save she gave to her grandfather, who looked after it for her.  He returned it to her when she wanted to buy shoes. He doubled any amount she saved. He worked for the Edinburgh Rubber Mill, William Smith, where he was a foreman.

DescriptionTailor from Das Ständebuch (The Book of Trades), 1568 Date1568 SourceManners, Custom and Dress During the Middle Ages and During the Renaissance Period by Paul Lacroix, Manners, Custom and Dress During the Middle Ages and During the Renaissance Period, available freely at Project Gutenberg

Tailor from Das Ständebuch (The Book of Trades), 1568
available freely at Project Gutenberg

She started work at the age of 14 in 1932. The apprenticeship lasted 5-6 years. The workshop was based in the Oak Street Area. She worked with a tailor’s dummy. The older men in the trade had started work back in the 1870s and 1880s. Most people lived into their 70s. The tailors worked in basements which were very cold and damp. Basements were found at the bottom of stone stairs. They worked with a continual electric light. Many of the tailors sat cross-legged on a long table so they were able to work closer to the light. The kilt makers sat on the long table with the cloth draped around them and off the floor. The sewing machines were treadle and not electric. People came into the workshop where there were dressing rooms. Most of the customers were Jewish. The workshop also made Red Cross uniforms

Bangour Village Hospital (now disused)

Bangour Village Hospital (now disused)

Disused nurses' home at Bangour

The nurses’ home at Bangour (now disused)

and this meant that when World War 2 started Isabella wasn’t called up immediately. She did eventually join the Civil Nursing Reserve at Bangour Hospital for burns for her training. She had a year in Edinburgh in a hospital fro geriatric medicine. She then went on to serve two years in Gogarburn, just out of Edinburgh.

Her family lived in a building called a stair off Murchison Grove. It was a tenement which was a very tall building. Their building was a pleasant place to live.

Additional links

Blue_Fairy_Book-The_Brave_Little_Tailor-1 Source: Wikicommons. This work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 90 years or less.

The Brave Little Tailor sitting on his table sewing

There are many images from the Grimm’s Fairy tale story of the Valiant Little Tailor sitting on his table sewing in the way that Isabella describes in her memory above.

Bangour Hospital

Before and After video of Bangour Hospital- film contains a series of archive images and up-to-date images of the same scenes. With a simple search there are many pictures on the web of the hospital site which seems to be a favourite place to explore now it is closed.

Singer model 27, drawing of treadle table from instruction manualTreadle sewing machines

Singer model 27, drawing of treadle table from its instruction manual. This machine dates from 1896.