Stone tenements are characteristic of housing in Glasgow — they have been part of the fabric of the city since the 19th century when they were first built to house the huge influx of manual workers to the city during the industrial revolution of the Victorian era.
What Is a Tenement?
Believe it or not, there is actual official law in Scotland which defines what a tenement is!
Section 26 of the Tenement (Scotland) Act 2004: “Two or more related but separate flats divided from each other horizontally”.
The Early Days
The earliest red, grey and beige stone tenements were built between 1850 and 1900 using locally sourced materials. Usually four stories tall, they were never taller than the width of the street and were built in blocks along streets inner city areas creating the city’s distinctive ‘grid’ pattern.
There was one front door which opened into a shared close where each individual flat could be accessed but they didn’t yet have indoor toilets – instead there would be a shared one in the back garden – and between eight and ten families would live in one building. The bay windows help make the distinctive street patterns you can see today.
Also, did you ever wonder why the cupboard usually on the right of the fireplace was very thin? It was bricked up at the end of construction (single brick) as it allowed the construction workers to pass materials along the whole block when building. Now you know!
Across the Social Strata
The size of flats depended on how affluent the area they were built in was. Some flats had only one or two rooms, and were normally built in working-class areas like the East End, more middle class areas like Hillhead and Woodlands had three room flats. Some, in areas like Hyndland, were much larger and had more decorative features like stained glass windows or doors and ornate iron railings.
Opportunities for Architects
The basic tenement architecture allowed the opportunity for the most well known practicing architects of the day. Alexander “Greek” Thomson, Alexander Taylor and Alexander Kirkland brought classical influences to these buildings in more affluent areas like Pollokshields.
Although tenements were successful in housing large numbers of families during a population boom, this lead to problems such as poor sanitation and overcrowding.
In 1866, The City Improvement Trust sought to improve these conditions by demolishing tenements that were no longer fit for purpose and built new ones which had running water, inside toilets and two or more rooms such as St George’s Mansions at Charing Cross.
In the 1960s and 70s further tenements were demolished and more fashionable high rise blocks were built in their place but from the late 70s and 80s, tenements became more sought after once more.
Today, tenements are still the most common form of home in Glasgow, no matter where you go in the city. Buyers and renters, whatever their budget, are drawn to their large rooms, high ceilings and period features like cornicing which can found almost no-where else in the UK. In fact, Glasgow plays host to the only tenement conservation area in the UK, in Hyndland. Living in a tenement, you know you’re living in part of Glasgow’s rich and unique history.
Continue Your Curiosity
If you’d like to explore the history of Glasgow tenements more here are some links to get you started: