Notes on Miners' Houses Part I

(By Our Own Correspondent)

The Glasgow (Western) District

As reform, like charity, begins at home, I first made a pilgrimage to a district west of Glasgow, and lying equidistant from Maryhill and Partick, where I had reason to believe miners' houses were not altogether in a satisfactory condition. Our road from Maryhill lies along the towing path of the Forth and Clyde Canal. After walking a quarter of a mile or so, we come to a row of miners' houses erected on a higher level than the canal, and, as if the prospect were not an inviting one, looking the other way. This is Balgray Row, belonging to Mr Addie of Langloans Colliery, and consisting of 22 room and kitchen houses, all occupied. They appear to have been built for a dozen years, and are not bad houses of their class, although in certain details they might be easily improved. In front of the row are two large ash-pits; an open drain is carried along its whole length; and at each end is a public closet. The ash-pits and drain are well kept, but the closets are untidy. Internally, the construction of the houses is good. There are two beds in the kitchen and one in the room, the floors of both apartments being of stone. On an average there are eight or nine people in each house. Few lodgers are kept, and the general health of the row is good. No fever or other epidemic exists. The people complain that for want of chimney cans there is a good deal of smoke in the houses, and also that the supply of Loch Katrine water is defective. For the last three weeks they have carried water from the Maryhill Gas Works, Mr Hislop, the manager of these works, having kindly allowed them to do so. The rent paid for all the houses is 9s a month of four weeks, or £5 17s a year. The tenant is liable to ejectment on leaving the service of his landlord. 

Quitting Balgray Row and finding our way to Crow Road, the Blue Row next craves attention. This is a line of 15 houses, chiefly occupied, I was informed, by miners, and of the most wretched description. With two exceptions they are all single apartments, having ceilings six or seven feet high, and are very insufficiently lighted. Going to the back of the row, I counted four small windows, the other houses being lighted only by the equally small windows in front. None of the tenants keep lodgers, for the reason, perhaps, that they find it difficult enough to stow away their own belongings. The ground in rear is of considerable extent, and might form excellent kitchen gardens. It is, however, anything but well kept. A couple of piggeries have been set down, but there is no closet for the whole row, and only one ash-pit, which is formed by staking off a bit of ground at the end of the line of houses. Loch Katrine water is drawn from a well at the back. The rent paid for these houses is 5s 4d for four weeks, or £3 9s 4d per annum. The only way to improve them is to sweep them away.

After Blue Row, Scaterigg may be called the Miners' Paradise. This hamlet is situated near Anniesland Toll, on the Crow Road, and forms three sides of a square. The houses, of which there are 20, were built by the Rev. Mr Oswald of Scotstoun, whose minerals are worked by the Monkland Company. The company are the nominal proprietors of Scaterigg, under an arrangement with Mr Oswald, as I was informed, by which the rents are regulated so as to yield only a very moderate percentage. The plan of construction is in all respects admirable. In the centre of the square coal cellars for each house are erected, and here also are two wells, from which Loch Katrine water is drawn. Two wash-louses with boilers enable the housewives to keep their kitchens clean and tidy on days when chaos would otherwise prevail, and four closets are erected where they are least offensive to sight and sense. The square is well kept, and three of the houses which I visited were bright and neat, the room windows curtained with white muslin. They are all of two apartments, with two beds in the kitchen and one in the room, and the moderate rental paid is 6s per month, including water, or £3 18s per year. Occupancy legally ceases when the tenant leaves the employment of the company, but my informants all concurred in saying that this power of ejectment was never exercised. The health of the place is good; epidemics are unknown. In connection with Scaterigg there is a store, which is managed on the co-operative principle, and is entirely apart from the company. The premises are old and incommodious, but a new building f brick is in course of erection at a little distance, and will soon be ready for occupancy. I was not fortunate enough on the day of my visit to find the storekeeper, but his youthful deputy informed me that the quarterly balances generally yielded a dividend of 2s a £, some of the members with numerous families getting in this way a bonus of from £4 to £5 every three months. A careful young fellow, one of a family of three, allowed his dividend to lie until at the New Year it reached £15, of which he uplifted £12, leaving the remainder as a nest-egg.

On the whole, Scaterigg is doing well, and forms a marked contrast to the "Red Toon," as it is called, the place at which I afterwards halted, and which is connected with the Jordanhill Company. The Red Town makes what appearance it can with two rows of old dirty brick tenements fronting each other, and having broken, irregular ground between, covered here and there with mounds of ashes. One of the lines is self-supporting, but the other, consisting of two blocks, is propped up at either end. The gables incline outward, and would probably tumble down altogether but for rude, insecure buttresses of timber, which a strong-limbed miner might kick away without greatly damaging his boots. There is no proper ashpit in the Red Town, and the people shoot rubbish, anywhere and everywhere. It lies in front of their doors in heaps, and crops up here and there in bigger lots on the surface of the garden ground which dips down at the back of the houses. The men have put up a closet for themselves, this being the only outhouse of the kind. Thinking of the Local Authority, I asked a young married miner whether any inspector ever visited this charming retreat, and he replied that during a residence of five years he had never heard of any such official coming amongst them. The interior of the houses, which are all of one apartment, with two beds, is in perfect harmony with the outside. I happened, in the first instance, to go into what turned out to be the worst tenement in the row. The only occupants were an old woman of four-score years who crouched by the side of a low fire, and a startled, inarticulate girl of 10 or 11. There was very little furniture in the house, and I was not surprised to find it in a rough-and-tumble condition. With the exception of some boarding in front of the hearth, the black earth formed the floor, scooped out in various places into muddy holes. Passing over to the opposite row, I entered a trimly-kept house, with a "dresser" full of shining crockery-ware, and the walls made cheery with small pictures. The wooden floor of this house was laid by the tenant, as he informed me; and when I asked whether any lodgers were kept in the Red Town, his wife, a buxom, bright-eyed young woman, told me there were none, " because," she added, "colliers have always plenty of children." A third house at which I called was pretty much a repetition of the first. The earthen floor fell away at something like the level of Renfield Street, and the mother of the family said she had only been a short time in the house, and the children were already ailing. At the door, the garret hatchway was removed, so that looking up, one saw the sky through chinks in the roof. The rent paid for these houses is 5s a-month.

Knightswood, belonging to the Summerlee Company, is within a stone-throw of the Red Town. There are here upwards of 100 room and kitchen houses, with a population of 600 or 700. The tenements are built in three rows, and in the intervening space, which is considerable, are kitchen gardens and substantially built and well-kept ash-pits and open drains. The rows have been erected at different periods, the most recent only a year and a half ago. They are all good buildings - the newer rows having a porch or scullery attached to each house ; and the rents are 9s to 10s a-month, according to the accommodation. As I have said, large ash-pits are provided, but the indolence of some of the people shows itself in their tumbling refuse in front of the door rather than carrying it to the proper receptacle. A store in connection with the company has been opened at the entrance to the village. As far as I could learn, provisions are sold at reasonable prices; but complaint is made of a chain which has been thrown across the entrance to Knightswood, the object being, it is said, to prevent traders at a distance from driving in their carts, and so diminishing the sale at the store.

The colliery village of Netherton, to which I afterwards proceeded, lies about a mile from Anniesland Toll, in a north-westerly direction, and in a hollow a little to the south of the canal. It consists of six rows of houses, five of which are in close proximity, the sixth being at some distance. This last, the first I visited, is the best row of the whole number, and but for the condition of the westmost house, would bear favourable comparison with average workmen's cottages. The house referred to, however, is in a deplorable condition. Abutting the gable and separated from a bed-room by a brick wall, is an ashpit with a double closet, the effluvia from which permeates the thin partition and makes the atmosphere of the bed-room exceedingly unpleasant, as well as unwholesome. Damp walls, and imperfect light and ventilation, combine to reader the apartment a nursery for disease. Scarlet fever has broken out in a neighbour's house, carrying off a young member of the family; and in the circumstances it was not astonishing that the good housewife greatly feared the consequences of the disease finding a lodgment in her dwelling. Coming to the other rows, I found the existing state of matters to be even worse. Some of them lie below the level of the surrounding ground, and as the drainage is not of the most perfect description, it is easy to guess the result. In one house, an end one, the wall paper of the room, owing to the damp, was peeling off in strips, the bedclothes were moist from the same cause, the furniture was getting out of joint, and indeed the entire contents of the apartment were falling into decay. The kitchen was little better; the bed-places were damp, and had a heavy, unwholesome smell At one time the two apartments served as a stable. The houses are all bad, and for the most part uninhabitable in their present condition. In some cases the floors are earthen, in others stone and brick, occasionally all three are combined, but a wooden flooring is a luxury enjoyed by few. In one house water could be seen glancing on the walls of the bed-places, in another the damp might be traced halfway up the gables to the ceiling, in a third rain was dropping from the roof and was being caught in pots and tubs, while in a fourth patches of thick paper and cloth were carried across the ceiling to keep out the wet. No doubt, the recent thaw has aggravated the ordinary discomfort of the houses, but even in the best season they must be bad. I noticed in some dwellings that broken furniture and stray pieces of wood had been inserted between the wall and the mattress to keep the bedclothes clear of the damp, but this was not always an effective expedient, and in a single apartment, where the family numbered nine, the children slept in improvised beds on chairs rather than in the ordinary recess. Smoky vents are another common grievance. To keep out the cold, large fires have to be burned, and to get rid of .the smoke the doors have frequently to be thrown open in this wintry weather. Some of the houses are held from the superior of Garscube, but they are chiefly owned by Messrs Stokes & Dickson, colliery proprietors in the locality. The rents for single apartments are 5s 8d and 7s 8d a-month, including the price of water, and for houses of two rooms 10s a-month of four weeks. At one time a scavenger was appointed to keep the closets clean, but for some reason or other he has been withdrawn, and they are in a very dirty state. It is said that sanitary inspectors never visit the locality. At present, with the exception of bronchitis, from which a number of females are suffering, little disease exists amongst the families, although last summer fever was prevalent. There is an ample supply of Loch Katrine water, the foul water flowing through open drains.

I afterwards went on to Blairdardie, of which there are two portions, the Old and New Rows. The former is fully two miles beyond Netherton, and occupies a small piece of low-lying ground close to the canal, the southern bank of which is nearly on a level with the roofs of the houses. Some of these are single and others double, and as regards comfort or the want of it, they are almost on a par with those at Netherton, already described. Originally the row, which is of brick, was divided into 36 single houses, 18 entering from each side, with a brick wall separating the apartments; but recently doors have been knocked through in some cases, and so a few families have been provided with extra accommodation. The side walls are some 10 feet or so high. On the joists, which are led from either side to the centre, a number of deal boards are laid, and over these a tarpaulin has been placed. This covering forms the ceiling; there is no lath or plaster-work. Dampness and cold were naturally complained of. In one or two of the houses the rain was dripping in from the window, and in others it was finding its way through the centre of the roof. There were two beds in each apartment, but in numerous cases one was rendered useless by the dampness of the walls. The proprietors are Merry & Cuninghame (Limited), who charge from 5s a-month for the use of the single apartments. Water is obtained from an adjoining it, and is spoken of as of good quality. Hooping-cough and eye diseases are said to be prevalent amongst the children. The New Row, which lies on the northern side of the canal, is of modern construction. I did not visit the houses there, but the people at the Old of Row informed me that they were much better in every respect. Garscadden, which I may further notice at another time, occupies a good situation near the main road leading from Canniesburn to Duntocher. There are five rows of houses, with large air spaces between, each row being divided into 20 houses of one, two, and three apartments. The rents range from 5s 6d to 8s a-month. Messrs Merry & Cuninghame are the proprietors, and at little outlay might make the village a model one of its kind. The houses are in pretty good order. [Glasgow Herald 11 January 1875]

Notes On Miners' Houses - 12th January, 1875.

Sir, - Your reporter in his description of the "Colliery Village of Netherton," which appeared in Monday's Herald,, states "It is said that sanitary inspectors never visit the locality." This is not correct. The district is visited regularly, and reported upon to the "local authority." These reports deal impartially with the sanitary state of the place, and often they have been very unfavourable to Messrs Stokes and Dixon, for the dirty state in which the closets, &c., were found; and these gentlemen were dealt with accordingly. During the past year very considerable improvements were effected in the sanitary condition of the district. At the date of last inspection (12th November, 1874.) all the ashpits and privies were emptied and cleaned out, and the places sprinkled with chloride of lime. This was also done during August, September, and October. The drains were opened up and cleaned out, and all accumulations cleared away. The tenement from which several cases of fever had been removed was lime-washed. The wells, supplied with Loch Katrine water, had all been put into good working order and on the whole the sanitary condition of the place was satisfactory. Your reporter visited the village at the worst time possible. The sudden thaw, after such a long and severe frost, could not but make the place disagreeable, and the houses uncomfortable. The writer knows from-personal observation (having been in every house in Netherton within the last eighteen months) that a large number of the houses are in a very bad state of repair, and the coalmasters are responsible for these defects. At the, same time, the tenants might do much to improve them. They might at least be kept clean and tidy - and cleanliness lies with the occupants and not with the owners. The influence or progress which can be effected by the exertions of “Local Authorities" or their officers - especially in a district such as Netherton - must be very limited, so long as the inhabitants generally remain indifferent to or neglect those principles and facts on which sanitary science is based. The refuse and other abominations which are so frequently thrown out in front of the doors, from laziness to go to the ashpit with the same, and other reprehensible practices which could be named, together with the general nastiness about the doors, are all distinctly traceable to the dirty and slovenly habits of too many of the female portion of the community. - I am, &c., FAIRPLAY. [Glasgow Herald 14 January 1875]