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26 Powerful Photos Of Glasgow's Post-War Housing Crisis

Britain's current housing crisis wasn't the first, and probably won't be the last.

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The situation was particularly grim in Glasgow's Gorbals district. Tenement buildings that had been built quickly and cheaply in the 1840s to provide accommodation for Glasgow's rapidly growing population of industrial workers had become run down, overcrowded, and dirty. By 1948 conditions in the area were so poor that visiting it was like stepping back in time to the Victorian era.


Picture Post correspondent A.L. Lloyd reported in 1948 that Gorbals residents "live five and six in a single room that is part of some great slattern of a tenement, with seven or eight people in the room next door, and maybe eight or ten in the rooms above and below. The windows are often patched with cardboard. The stairs are narrow, dark at all times and befouled not only with mud and rain. Commonly there is one lavatory for thirty people, and that with the door off."

A survey carried out before the start of regeneration work in 1957 recorded that only 3% of houses in the particularly crowded area of Hutchesontown had a bath, and an incredible 97.3% of all the housing was deemed "unacceptable sanitarily". The average number of people per acre had also climbed to 458.6 by that point.


Tenement surroundings were often no better than the rundown rooms indoors. Back courts typically had bare or muddy earth in place of stone or grass and there were rats, sewage, and rubbish everywhere. Some back courts were also used for unpleasant dirty tasks like grease manufacturing and rag-sorting, and many featured disused air raid shelters.

"In some parts, particularly in the handsome westward section," Lloyd noted, "it is common to find a single tenant will lease a whole house cheap and then sublet to other tenants, room by room, till even the kitchen and the bathroom have a family living in them. Some investigators declare that subletting racketeers may make nearly £2,000 a year from a single house hereabouts."

Landlords did little to clean or maintain the properties or carry out repairs. There were few ways to dispose of rubbish either. Piles of refuse would attract rats, and kids would try to catch them for fun. Large numbers of rat-catching cats and dogs roamed freely too, and bred largely unchecked.


Lloyd attempted to find out just who the slum lords were, and revealed that the tenements were owned by private people "in London, Sydney, Shanghai and elsewhere. Factors (house-agents, they call them down South) own some tenements. Others belong to the Glasgow Corporation. What is certain is that whoever owns the Gorbals precious little has been done, year by year, to case its hideous condition."

People were campaigning to redevelop the area for many years before work finally began in the late 1957 with the creation of a comprehensive development area that called for the old tenements to be demolished and for prefabricated homes and high-rises to be built in their place.


Photographer Nick Hedges spent three years photographing the slums in the 1960s for Shelter Scotland. In October 2015, to mark an exhibition of his work, he told the Daily Record about a woman and a baby who "were woken up by the sound of wrecking ball smashing into a neighbouring tenement. The demolition crews thought the buildings were in such a state of disrepair that no one would be living there and they didn't think to check."

This left them vulnerable to abuse and casual violence. In a 2009 interview with the Daily Record, Glasgow author Colin MacFarlane, and ex-Gorbals resident, said: "We used to play football for 12 hours a day. And one night we were out playing football and all the pubs were coming out. This guy, much to our surprise, pulled out an open razor and slashed the other guy with one swoop across the throat. The blood began to spout into the air like a fountain."


"The Gorbals had a soundtrack – the kids singing as they played," MacFarlane said. "No matter what you were doing, you'd always hear kids singing. And there was always humour."

Due to space constraints and the sheer scale of the overcrowding, most of the new buildings were vast multi-storey tower blocks, including two brutalist 20-storey slab blocks designed by Coventry Cathedral architect Sir Basil Spence.

In fact the 1940s Bruce Report proposed bulldozing not only slums, but the entire Victorian centre of the city. Glasgow Corporation engineer Robert Bruce wanted the entirety of Glasgow to be a series of high-rise buildings linked with parks and rivers. He even planned to demolish the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Glasgow School of Art.

People were amazed by their newfound luxury. On a Glasgow forum, "Winnie" explained how she felt when she moved into a similar 1960s development: "I thought that we had died and gone to heaven. I was so excited about being in a new house and having the lavvy in oor hoose. I was disappointed to find that each neighbour had their own toilet and so we weren't the 'Keepers of the Toilet'!"

This photo shows two Beatles fans dancing the twist in a Gorbals estate in 1964. Many 1960s developments were built with acres of open space and recreation areas where people could congregate. It was a far cry from the densely packed slum tenements, dirty back courts, and rubbish-strewn doorways of what came to be known as the Old Gorbals.

In 2006, ex-resident Bill Sharkey told the BBC that "the 1960s flats were built out of concrete and had no central heating or double glazing. Nobody could afford to heat the houses so they were always cold and damp."

The new houses and tower blocks constructed by Glasgow Corporation were sub-standard and rushed and many were demolished in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the blocks developed mould and structural problems and the huge blocks designed by Sir Basil Spence had insect and rodent infestations.

The 1957 Johnston Report noted that despite being rehoused, many people still preferred their old areas. It said: "People who have moved out of this area to new housing districts at Drumchapel, Pollock and elsewhere are known to make the journey back to their old haunts of an evening to meet their friends in the pubs, the chip shops and the cafes. Some have even forsaken the modern convenience of their new surroundings and returned to their old ones."

As Hedges told the Daily Record last month: "Whilst in one sense these photographs are a piece of social history, in another sense they serve to remind us that the crisis in housing is as significant today as it was then."