Posted by: christinelaennec | October 30, 2015

The Tenement House, Glasgow

A few weeks ago, I was very lucky to be able to visit The Tenement House in Glasgow.  This property has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland for the past 30 years and has a very interesting history.  The day I visited was one of the first days that photography was allowed inside!  I was so happy to be able to show you.

Table set for tea in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Table set for tea in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

For many people, the word “tenement” conjures up abject poverty.  In Glasgow, however, the term denotes 19th-century apartment buildings that were quite genteel, and in many cases have remained so ever since.   This tenement building was built in 1892, and the flat that houses the museum was the home of Miss Agnes Toward.  Miss Toward came in 1911 and lived there with her mother.  Mrs. Toward was a seamstress, and her daughter Agnes earned a living as a stenographer.

A closer look!

A closer look!  Yes, the baked goods are real.  I’m sorry I don’t know what the cake is.

The flat has four rooms:  the parlour and bedroom at the front, the kitchen and bathroom at the back.  The parlour would only have been used for special occasions.  I remember the flat of my darling neighbour Mrs. Morrison in Aberdeen (1908-2003).  She was born in the flat, lived all her days there, and near enough died there.  Mrs. Morrison’s parlour was kept for best, such as a visit from the minister.  At Christmastime, she would send me in there to admire the flowers her nephew always sent her – they lasted for ages because the room was glacial!

Perhaps Miss Toward’s parlour was used rather more frequently.  The guide explained to us that, even though the flat has only one bedroom, the builders made sure to include a bell for the servant.  You can see the crank handle to the left of the fireplace.  More than likely, any household help would have come for the day, rather than lived in.

Fireplace in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Fireplace in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Miss Toward didn’t like to change things, as you can see.  She worked until her mid-70s, and lived in the flat until 1965, when she had to leave it to be cared for in a home.  She died in 1975.  At this point, a very unusual thing happened:  the niece of Miss Toward’s church elder, visiting the flat after her death, realised how special it was, with so much left unchanged.  She arranged to buy it and its contents, and lived there for seven years before selling it to the National Trust for Scotland in 1982.  So everything in the Tenement House (with the exception of the baked goods) is as Miss Toward left it.

The china set in the "Glasgow Press," the Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The china set in the “Glasgow Press,” the Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

I was amused to be told that the shallow cupboard for the china is called a “Glasgow Press,” because the exact same cupboard in our Aberdeen kitchen was called an “Aberdeen Press”.  In Ireland, all cupboards are “presses”.

The only change that the National Trust made to the flat was to reinstate the gas lights in the flat.  It is certainly atmospheric, with the smell of the gas jets and also the darkness inside, even on a fairly bright autumn day.

The mantlepiece in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The mantlepiece in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The mantlepiece is flanked by a pair of “wally dogs,” the china dogs that you still see in Scottish homes.  I don’t know where the word “wally” comes from but people also call the beautifully tiled entrance hallways of the tenements “wally closes”.  So I think “wally” is a Scottish word for glazed ceramic, albeit perhaps only used in those two instances.

In the parlour there is a box bed:

Box bed in the parlour, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Box bed in the parlour, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

And a beautiful piano:

The piano, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The piano, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Miss Toward’s photograph is on the piano.

In the shop downstairs, I found instructions for making a “spill” – or as another elderly friend in Aberdeen taught me, a “spillie”.  (Aberdonians are fond of adding “-ie” to words:  “Go wash your wee handies.”)  Before the days of firelighters, people folded newspapers in this way, to use to light the fire:

Instructions for how to make a "spillie". The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Instructions for how to make a “spillie”. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Fireplace with spillies, the Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Fireplace with spillies, the Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The kitchen, although darker than the bay-windowed parlour, would have been the main room where people lived.  And the heart of the kitchen was the range:

The kitchen range, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The kitchen range, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The rag rugs are recreations of the originals, which eventually wore out:

Rag rug in front of the range, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Rag rug in front of the range, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

In the photo above, you can glimpse the cords for the pulley, which hangs above on the ceiling.

The kitchen was also the laundry room, and you can see the mangle (wringer) and washboard at the sink:

Kitchen sink and view out to the back green. The Tenement House, Glasgow, 2015.

Kitchen sink and view out to the back green. The Tenement House, Glasgow, 2015.

I remember my mother using a mangle to wring out sopping wet laundry from the washing machine in about 1970.  Gosh, women worked so hard just keeping a family fed and clothed!

You can see where the coal was kept in the photo below:

Countertop and coal bunker to the right of the kitchen window. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Countertop and coal bunker to the right of the kitchen window. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

In the corner of the kitchen is another box bed, in the “granny nook”.  I wrote about the granny nook in our (1884) flat in Aberdeen here.

Box bed in the "granny nook" in the kitchen. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Box bed and hot-water-bottle (do people call them “piggie”s?) in the “granny nook” in the kitchen. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The bedroom, we were told by the guide, was probably rented out to a lodger.  So presumably Miss Toward slept in the kitchen, which would have been very warm.

The original straw mattress is still under the bed in the bedroom, and her own suitcases are piled on top of the wardrobe.  She liked to take her summer holiday in Largs, on the Ayrshire coast, southwest of Glasgow.

Bedroom window with sewing machine. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Bedroom window with sewing machine. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.  There is a small coal scuttle on the floor to the left of the sewing machine.

Bedroom fireplace and wash-stand. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Bedroom fireplace and wash-stand. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.  The round dark ball in the dish is Pear’s Soap made in the shape of a cricket ball to commemorate some sporting event.

You can find out more and watch a short video about the Tenement House on the NTS website here.  It is closed over the winter, but if you are in Glasgow in the spring, summer or into October, I would highly recommend a visit.

And now I will tell you another little story about my lovely neighbour Mrs. Morrison.  As I wrote above, she was born in her flat in Aberdeen in 1908, and lived there all her days.  I knew her in the last decade or so of her life, and she was such a good friend to me.  Like Miss Toward, she had changed very little in her house.  She used to say to me, “Christine, I know exactly what will happen to this flat.  It will be bought by a property developer and made into a student flat.”  I had to agree with her that this was likely.  The day she died, she took a stroke just when I was due to take her grocery shopping.  I went with her to the hospital in the ambulance, and she died that evening.

Some time later, for no particular reason, both Michael and I picked up the Property Listings.  (This was before everything happened on the internet.)  I thought it was strange that we both had that impulse, since we weren’t looking to buy or sell anything!  That day, unusually, I had a bit of time to put my feet up, and I flipped through it – and saw that Mrs. Morrison’s flat was for sale.  I took this as a sign, and the next day I went by the estate agents and asked for the schedule.  In it I saw the photographs of her flat – all white walls, stripped of woodwork, fireplaces filled in, laminate flooring, curving plasterwork gone, beanbags in corners.  It was unrecognisable.

Call me silly, but I felt she was tugging on my sleeve and saying, “Look what they did to my lifelong home!”  So I had a wee chat with her, and I told her I completely understood, and it was a terrible shame, but that she had moved on now.  At least Miss Toward must have a sense of peace to know that even her jam preserves have been untouched!

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Responses

  1. Absolutely fascinating. You write so well Christine.x

  2. Gosh, what a trip to the past! I remember the press, the range, the mangle, the clootie rug, and my uncle using a spill to light his cigarette. And I have learned, through Glaswegian contacts of my daughter’s, that there is another use of wally – false teeth are sometimes called wally, because I guess they were once made of porcelain.

  3. How neat! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you for sharing the tenement, brings back memories of living in Paisley on the top floor of a walk up. Just lovely to see these preserved. I would like that kitchen range, nice and cozy, although a lot of work with the coal.

  5. I went there recently Christine. I wasn’t prepared for how emotional it would be. Many items in Miss Toward’s kitchen were similar or the same as those my Gran had in her kitchen. What a wonderful little museum.

  6. Also Christine to be peely wally is to be pale and wan but you’ve probably come across this one. There is another early Scots meaning for wally meaning fine or splendid.

  7. It rather boggles my mind to think of someone living in one place for so long, I guess because I have moved at least 18 times in my lifetime so far! But I can imagine that there can be a wonderful sense of peace in such routine. I’m glad the National Trust is preserving the Tenement House and that you were able to share it with us. I love the discussion of word derivations 🙂 Happy Halloween! xx

  8. I feel as if I’ve been back in time, what a wonderful post. I must take my dad to see this place, since he’s writing about his own childhood home which had a lot of similarities to this one. Your story about Mrs Morrison was the perfect addition to the tour.

  9. I absolutely loved this post, thank you so much for the tour. How important it is to take care of history and learn from it. I know all the past lives can’t stay, but too many homes have been stripped of personality in the name of modernisation and progress. Sorry about your friends flat. She lives on in your memory though, as does her home. Blessings, Pam in Norway

  10. I loved reading this post and and seeing all the photos of such a special place. Not very often do you find a museum like home intact exactly as it was from the original owner. A few years back I had the pleasure to tour the Dodge House in Michigan. All the items were still intact and it was fascinating. You’ve added another item to my must see list. I hope all is well with you and the family. Hugs, Pat

  11. Thanks for sharing

  12. I love touring places like this. I would think the box beds would be hard to make up. I can’t help wondering what that little white mouse on the kitchen window sill next to the scrub board was all about??! I’m very familiar with a spill. When we lived in England, our house keeper showed me how to make them but called them pips. I still make them to start the fire in our wood stove for winter heating. They work great for wood or coal! That’s a sad story about Mrs. Morrison. I’m glad she didn’t see what happened to her flat.
    Thanks for sharing your visit! ♥

    • Forgive me for answering Anne, Christine but the mouse is part of the children’s activity sheet at the Tenement House. You had to hunt for him and other items. My little boy was charmed by the place. Sandra

      • Thanks, Sandra – I didn’t notice it, and couldn’t have explained its presence!

  13. Like another in your comments I too felt quite emotional visiting the tenement house. My gran lived ‘up a close’ in Buchanan Street, above the bus station! The bus station before the one thats there now that is! My gran also had a parlour for special occasions and for me to play shops with her sideboard which housed her tins! I used to lay out all her tins on the settee and everyone had to come into my shop to buy stuff! How she must have dreaded me visiting lol. The word wally could perhaps mean something along the lines of ‘pretend’. I only say this because I know lots of people in Glasgow call false teeth wallies which suggests its something thats not real – does that make sense?? Such a shame about Mrs Morrisons flat but thats the way of the world unfortunately, although I think some people still appreciate the ‘old’ stuff. x

    • I asked my hubby about ‘wally’ and apparently it means china and the reason it is also applied to false teeth is because they would have been made of porcelain in days gone by. He is a font of all knowledge lol. x

  14. Merci CHristine pour ce très intéressant article ! J’aime beaucoup visiter ce genre de lieu, toujours émouvant. Nous allons essayer de faire des spillies la prochaine fois que nous ferons du feu dans la cheminée!… Dommage qu’il n’y ait pas aussi un panneau expliquant comment faire les rag rugs! J’ai toujours aimé cela mais ce n’est pas du tout dans les traditions françaises. Très bonne semaine à vous et un grand merci encore.

  15. Thank you everyone for your kind words and the most interesting discussions of familiar houses of yore. So many memories flooding back! Marksgran, I love the tale of your “shop”. And I’m so pleased people will be making some spillies this winter.

    What an interesting discussion of the word “wally”. Sandra, I had forgotten about the expression “peely wally,” it must be linked to the paleness of porcelain. I wonder if the expression “What a wally” (meaning, what a fool) has anything to do with wally dogs / closes / false teeth? My Concise Scots Dictionary can shed no light… perhaps it is too concise on this point!

    Annie, this video tutorial looks pretty good if you want to make a rag rug similar to the ones in the Tenement House: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM28h_VonOI
    There are other tutorials online where the strips are hooked onto a different kind of base (hessian, etc.).

    • Merci, beaucoup, Christine, je vais le regarder et si je le peux, me mettre au travail !

  16. I suspect wally in the sense of fool has a different origin, probably in a personal name. It isn’t Scottish, whereas the use for dogs, closes, and teeth is exclusively Scottish.

    • Thank you Flora! I hadn’t realised “what a wally!” is used in other parts of Britain.

  17. Loved seeing all these photos and being reminded about the Tenement House. I was able to go there early in our stay and it informed all my reading about the “old days” after that. Our dear friend in Airdrie grew up in a one room Glasgow tenement so I think this place would seem like luxury to him! In fact, I think he loved to bring people to see the Tenement House. Your friendship with Mrs. Morrison is such a special thing.

    • How interesting about your friend. One-room tenement flats must have been incredibly crowded. Yes, my friendship with Mary Morrison was very special, and I treasure it.

  18. The hot water bottles are indeed called pigs. We have a couple sitting on our stairs, as ornaments.
    Hope to be in touch once I get next week out of the way (our ELIR, if you remember that acronym)

    • Oh I’m glad I was right about them being called pigs. (Because they look like a pig’s face and snout?) I have a vague and unpleasant recollection of the ELIR exercise. As much as I would love to be able to go back to work, I wouldn’t enjoy having to take part in that…


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