Notes on Miners' Houses - Part VIII

(By Our Own Correspondent)

Easterhouse and Baillieston

In ordinary affairs, Baillieston doubtless takes precedence of Easterhouse as being the larger community, but in the matter of miners' houses we shall deal first with Easterhouse as in certain respects the more remarkable or notorious of the two. In both places, scarlet fever has been prevalent for several months, and although now somewhat abated, it is still cutting off its victims. The cases which have occurred are chiefly but not exclusively amongst children. At Baillieston, I heard of the recent death from scarlet fever of a young woman, a dressmaker, whose two brothers are said to be lying dangerously ill under the same disease, and in the two worst rows in Easterhouse which I visited scarcely a household has escaped the fearful scourge. I do not pretend to say how far the epidemic is attributable to the sanitary condition of the district.

Easterhouse consists of two divisions both erected on high ground,and between them is the valley in which the North British Railway. has been formed. We begin our inquiries at the end of the village having for its termination a neat little iron church, bearing on its front the intimation that it is "The gift of the children of the Free Church." Close at hand is a row of five miners' houses owned by Mr Nish, belonging to the village. They are old stone houses with single apartments, the rental being £4 5s a-year. The end house has a stone floor, and is damp in various places, even in the bed, but the others are dry and comfortable, although lacking the conveniences of modern dwellings. The ashpit and a double closet are built within a foot of the back windows, one of which looks right into the closets. It is difficult to understand why these places should not have been erected farther away, with the entrances from the opposite direction, or why the Local Authority should not yet insist on this change being made. But if a complaint of this nature be justifiable in regard to such old houses, what shall we say of precisely the same provocation to disease being offered in connection with new tenements? A hundred yards away is a brick row of nine room and kitchen houses, built by Messrs Ferrier & Strain, of Airdrie, and not yet fully occupied. The coal-cellars, one for each tenant, are carefully placed at many yards' distance in front of the houses, as if they were unclean and contagious, while the ashpit and closet are set down within a couple of feet of the back windows. The tenant who has this delightful prospect more directly under the eye than her neighbours, complains that even now she must keep her window hermetically sealed, and in summer she dreads plague. In other respects these houses are unobjectionable, and are occupied at a rental of 11s a-month. The ceilings are lofty and the floors of wood. They are still damp and raw, being so recently out of the hands of the plasterer, but there is no reason why they should not, when they have become thoroughly dry, be as warm and snug as any similar class of brick houses. These are the most modern erections in this part of Easterhouse, which tenaciously clings to the past. There are several clusters of old buildings occupied by miners and others, but only one row of any length, which is called Swinton Row. The Swinton houses - roofed with all the varieties of slate, and red-tile, and thatch - are as frail as they are venerable, consisting generally of a ground floor, and an attic chamber reached by a narrow and dark wooden stair, which creaks ominously as we clatter up to the ceiling. The first house we enter is of this kind - a kitchen and attic, for which together a rent of £6 a-year is paid. The interior of the kitchen is dark and damp and untidy, and in the attic, which is used as a sleeping room for children, it is only possible to stand upright in the centre of the floor, the ceiling sloping to both sides. Many of the houses are of this general character, but the dampness is not so common, nor where it exists so great, as one might suppose from the outward appearance of things. The explanation of this probably is that the soil is sandy, and the situation of the village favourable to natural drainage. The water supply here is from Airdrie, and is good and plentiful. Going down hill and across the line of railway, we may just glance at five very old thatched houses to the left. They are under the level of the roadway, and built of undressed stones. An old woman in feeble health says she has occupied her present house, a miserable enough hovel, for four years, and has paid £2 12s per annum for it, which she thinks should entitle her now to sit rent free, while her neighbour, also an old woman, but strong and in good spirits, lives "but and ben wi' the coo," her kitchen being in the one end and a byre in the other.

Leaving this ancient settlement, a minute's walk takes us to a new row of brick houses, erected a year since, I was told, by Mr Reid, a coalmaster in the neighbourhood. There are 14 houses in the row, all rooms and kitchens, with high ceilings, wooden floors, and three beds - two in the kitchen and one in the room. The rent is 10s a-month. They are not first-class houses some of them showing spots of damp on the walls, but there is not much to complain of. Open drains are constructed in front of the houses, and beyond these coal cellars, ashpits, and closets. For the rest the sanitary regulation of the place is lax. The ashpits are overflowing, and the closets in such a state that they cannot be entered. "A man comes and gies the 'siver' a bit soup," one of the colliers said, "but the middens are never cleaned." One of the tenants has lived for five months in the row, during which time the filth has been allowed to accumulate unchecked. The people complained of the state of the ashpits at the end of last year, but nothing came of it. I met with two women here who had recently returned from America, after a lengthened stay in the New World. They compared the mining villages of America with those of the Old Country altogether in favour of the former, where a tenant is fined in five dollars for every such breach of cleanliness as is daily committed at home, and nothing thought about it. Be this as it may, the state of things at Mr Reid's row is not satisfactory, and might easily be remedied. This part of Easterhouse does not enjoy the Airdrie water supply, but is dependent upon as much as can be had from what are called "tea-spouts" that run into a burn which passes the foot of the row. This water is believed to be good, and a sample which I tested gave no evidence of organic impurity. In rainy weather, however, when the burn is high it rises above the spouts, and so the people are driven to beg or steal. I went along and examined two of these spouts, which issue from under the fields and run into the burn at its lowest level, rendering it impossible to get the water of one without a liberal admixture of the other.

Pushing up the hill, and crossing the Monkland Canal, we come to "The Dandy Row" and "Wester Maryton," two rows of old houses, with red tiles, the one forming a continuation of the other. In the Dandy Row there are twenty and in Wester Maryton ten houses. The tenants are miners employed in Dungeon Hill Colliery, belonging, as I was informed, to the trustees of the late Major Robson, and the rent of the houses, which are all single apartments, is 5s per month of four weeks. A more unhealthy class of houses than those which are known as the Dandy Row - a name bestowed upon them by some local satirist - I have seldom seen, nor have I ever found so much disease existing within the same limited range. Wester Maryton is not a whit better in either respect, the two rows being jointly known in the district as "The Hole." Let us first look at them from the outside. In front is the parish road, and beyond it the Monkland Canal, securely fenced in the interest of the lieges. Behind is a field which has a considerable fall towards the houses, and at the bottom is only about two feet below the level of the roof. It is not, however, carried right down to the houses, a deep trench having been formed extending along the whole length of both rows. An attempt has been made to cut a drain at the bottom of the trench, for pipes are seen at either end; but no tile has been laid down to carry the water away, nor does the drain appear to be properly levelled. In short, judging from present appearances, choked as it is with dirt and refuse, it is practically useless. We shall learn when we go into the houses whether or not this is the case. Note also, that along the whole double row there is not a single back window, nor any means of ventilation. Ashes and filth of all kinds are thrown down at the beginning of the Dandy Row, and in an opening which divides it from Wester Maryton is the only ashpit of the place, overflowing and abominable. There is no closet, and coal cellars or other conveniences of a similar kind are undreamt of. Entering the first house in the Dandy Row we find that it is quite as dismal as the outside led us to expect. The roof is rotten and stained with rain at various places, and the brick floor is also damp. The people tell us that in wet weather the rain drops from the ceiling, and soaks in through the back wall, and streams out at the door. This statement is confirmed by several of the neighbours. In the second house the rain comes through the roof over the beds. In the third house damp appears on the back wall, and at the back of the beds, on which boarding has been placed between the wall and the mattress, and water lodges under the beds. The fourth house - a wretched place, in which there is almost no furniture - has a cold, mouldy smell. The woman says she has often lifted as many as four bucketfuls of water from the floor. The fifth is spotted with damp on the ceiling. In the sixth house a child is ill with bronchitis. “Water comes in on wet days and floods out to the door,” is the explanation given of the appearance of the floor, stated too, without any feeling - rather in the hard hopeless tone of people who have been taught to expect nothing better. In another house the baby is ill with scarlet fever, from which an older child has just recovered, and the mother suffers from a sore throat. In yet another one of the children is lying with scarlet fever. The father tells me that he has lived 16 months in the row, and during that time has scarcely ever been free from colds. Wester Maryton, as I have already hinted, is in much the same state. Sitting in the centre of the first house you may study the stars through a hole in the ceiling and openings in the tiles. In wet weather of course, the astronomer would require to provide himself with an umbrella. On 11th December last one of the children died from scarlet fever. The woman of the house says that two Sundays ago she carried out about twenty pailsful of, water, which found its way in from the back. In the next house all the children have had scarlet fever, and one was buried at the beginning of December. In another house, a child is ill with bronchitis; and a door or two farther on, I am told that one of the children, a boy, died of scarlet fever, and was buried a fortnight ago. The water used at "The Hole" is got from a pump at some distance. I could not learn where the water comes from, but it is evidently not from a spring. The Nessler test showed distinct contamination. This pump is often out of order, and the people then take their water from any burn at hand. I was very thankful to get out of “The Hole."

Baillieston is; supplied with good water from Airdrie, and to this extent is favourably situated as compared with part of Easterhouse, but a number of its houses, while better than those at "The Hole", are of a very bad description. The worst classes are to be found in the rows on each side of the main road from Easterhouse to Baillieston, just as the latter village is entered. On one side of the street the houses belong to private proprietors, and on the other some of them are "company houses," leased by Mr Reid from a lady at Easterhouse. The former are small single apartments, rented at 5s 5d a month - dark, dirty, and some of them extremely damp - and rooms and kitchens at 8s a month. The ground at the back is filthy and untended. The worst houses which I saw are those leased by Mr Reid, especially a back row of single apartments for which 6s a month is paid. They are old stone houses having at one end a large ash pit of a very offensive kind. One of the tenants told me that during the rainy season last summer the water was a foot deep in his kitchen. The floor rises towards the door, and it became necessary to lift several bricks in order that the water might escape. The walls of this house are damp from floor to ceiling. Another tenant, on turning out her bedding last week, found that the mattress was rotten with damp. One of the houses recently vacated because of the damp, was let to another family, but on seeing its condition, they refused to take possession. The houses in the front row are not much better than those behind, and the rent is 6s 6d a month. Near to these old tenements Mr Reid has erected a large number of brick houses, furnished with iron beds, and hand having large well kept ash-pits and closets outside. They are good rooms and kitchens, with wooden floors and high ceilings, and the rent is 10s a month.

Walking on to Crosshill, a suburb of Baillieston, I looked at two rows of brick houses belonging to Mr Young, coalmaster - rooms and kitchens on one side, and single apartments on the other; and at a row of single apartments belonging to Mr Reid. These are all good, but not first class dwellings, and the sanitary arrangements are at least less faulty than elsewhere. The two-room houses in Young Square, with wooden floors, are £6 a year, and the single apartments, both in the Square and in Reid's Row, are 7s a month. [Glasgow Herald 2 February 1875]

107 St Vincent Street,
Glasgow, 3d February, 1875.

Sir - In Article No. VIII. you state that the "Dandy Row " and "Wester Maryton" houses at Easterhouse belong to the trustees of the late Col. Robson. This is a mistake, which kindly correct in your next issue. The houses belonging to the late Col. Robson lie farther to the east, and have been put in a thorough state of repair. - I am, & c.,
Henry Forrester, Factor for the Trustees.
[Glasgow Herald 3 February 1875]