An urge to learn about my family history and a desire to find out what conditions were like in the world they lived in made me realise that some time in the future someone, descendant or other interested people, might be curious about what life was like in the Govan of the 1930s. In the 1970s I began to jot down what memories could be dredged up, but doing so by hand was laborious and time consuming, and after a year or two I had achieved only in sixty to seventy hand-written pages with about fifty to sixty thousand words. After more time had passed there wasn't much more, and a significant amount of that was devoted to the results of family history research. But some of it related to life in Govan in the decade before the Second World War as seen through quite young eyes, and it is mainly those experiences that have been drawn on for this book. The follow-up volume entitled In Peace & War (IPAW), part 5 has the wartime experiences.
In 1988 technical assistance in the form of a word processor was acquired, which made a significant difference to the amount of work produced. While the next paragraph gives a brief picture of my origins, in general the writing concentrates on much of what was interesting for entertainment's sake as well as for serious study in the future. The references in each part heading could be consulted by students of the period. IPAW has more writing about family life.
My maternal grandparents came from Dundee to Glasgow in the late 1890s, and while my paternal grand-mother was Glasgow born her husband was a 'Geordie' from north east England. Mum was born at 16 Harmony Row in 1901 and Dad at 40 Elderpark Street in 1898 - this building is still standing in 2015. After their marriage in 1927 my parents lived in a sub-let room, vague details of which I had heard about over the early years but never knew exactly where. Then I happened to look with a more perceptive eye at details in an insurance document in the family archive dating from that time, and it was there, 80 Elderpark Street - 6th February 1928. They lived here for about six months before moving to a rented house on the tenement first floor at 7 Howat Street, where my mother lost her first baby at the end of 1928 by a miscarriage. Then in September 1930 I arrived.
Grandson Paul is standing in the close mouth of number 7 below the bay window of the room where I was born, and the two on the left were double kitchen windows. At this time all tenement properties were owned by individuals who engaged factors to look after and maintain them and let them out to tenants and collect rents. The first time I became aware of a tenant buying a house in a tenement was in the 1960s. Number seven is on a corner of the block and that time the close walls were tiled and stair walls were painted to shoulder height. It has, or it had, because my last visit there was seventy-odd years ago and the general refurbishment of the area in the 1970s will probably have altered it, a large square open stairwell with the staircase winding up from the ground floor round the walls to the three upper landings.
The close & stairwell were gas lit, but in common with most others similarly located in a corner of a block, it had no windows to the outside to admit daylight, but a section of the roof above it had windows known as roof-lights which provided daytime illumination. Other stairs away from the corners of blocks had conventional staircases with close-set flights of steps and windows on the half-landings which almost invariably overlooked the back courts.
Something that has been lost sight of in this later age is the term three storey. In 1993, when the original AGC book was being prepared for publication, I had great difficulty in persuading the English editor that this term applied to buildings such as the one seen in photo above; he maintained that it should be four stories. It took a little time to get him to understand that the term three stories applied to one with a ground floor and three upper! In the descriptions below 'close entrance under 'oriel' window should be 'bay' window. In the oriel the curve is segmented.
HOUSE MAIN DOOR
On the outside face of the outer door frame on the landing, at shoulder height on the side on which the door was hung there was a wire operated bell pull. It was a half-inch thick by five inches by three plate of sheet brass, pressed and shaped and flanged to appear solid, which was fixed to the frame with the long axis vertical. In the centre of the plate there was a knob of the same metal, with a square steel rod extension attached to it that went part-way through the door frame. A length of thin wire fixed to the end of the rod passed over a small pulley wheel on the inside of the door frame and went up to the top of the fanlight. Here it was attached to a length of spring steel or a coil-spring that was secured to the frame at its other end. When the knob was pulled a small bell on the end of the spring tinkled.
The main door had a knob, a large name plate and letter box of brass which, with the bell-pull, in those days of one-up-man-ship cleanliness competition with the neighbours, every housewife was driven to polish with Brasso at least once a week. Internal apartment doors, of lighter construction but of the same design as the outer door, had knobs that were incorporated in a metal plate on the apartment side of the door, on the inside of which there was a small sliding locking device known as a 'snib'. Above each door, the outer and the two leading to the apartments, there was a fanlight window to allow light into the lobby in the days of gaslight, because other than the staircase skylight, no light was provided here until electricity was installed.
Our house, the last one of the three on the first landing (one stair up), was a simple 2-apartment room-and-kitchen with a short 8' x 4' hall, or lobby as they were known, with two tall shallow cupboards called presses in the facing end walls. On entry, the wall facing the landing door had the two apartment doors, bedroom on the left and kitchen on the right. A standard feature of the period was that all doors in tenements, outer and internal, were of solid wood with tall narrow recessed panels in four sections. The panels were in the form of two short above and two tall below a raised horizontal centre line, and these were bordered by an inset of wood moulding. In a later age tenants took great delight in flush panelling these doors with hardboard or plywood. Thirty or more years on other younger people 'discovered' and removed the panels, imagining that they had made an interesting discovery of an old decorative design underneath.
KITCHEN LAYOUT FIXTURES AND FITTINGS DRESSER & COAL BUNKER
The bunker for storage of coal for the open fire had a hinged lid fitted with the hinges three inches away from the wall, so that it would remain open safely leaning back against it. The front flap too was hinged above mid-height so that the top eighteen inches could fold down outside. Its capacity, which was seldom filled because of expense, was two 1cwt (50kg) bags of coal with the front down, and another two with it raised and secured in place with rotating catches at the fixed top corners. Above the dresser and bunker, at a height of around six and seven feet there were two shelves fixed to the wall, long and short, of the same heavy-gauge wood, one above the other about a foot apart and the same in depth on which were stored the larger pots, china mixing bowls and other large or less often needed cooking utensils. The items described here are seen with the shelves in much reduced form below.
KITCHEN WINDOW RECESS
The window recess had two of the main items of equipment in the kitchen, the sink and work-top. The white sink, referred to by older people then as 'the jawbox', was boxed in with wood panelling to form a two-door cupboard on the side opposite to the sink, which stretched across under the window for the full width of the recess and reaching out a few inches into the kitchen on either side beyond. Older tenements had sinks of blackened cast iron that could never be made to look clean. Cleaning materials used around the sink and worktop were kept in the cupboard.
On one side above the cupboard and alongside the sink there was an inch thick solid panel of wood fitted level so that it didn't drain, with an extension over the front edge of the sink. A single swan neck water tap that supplied only cold water was the standard fitting in all houses in working class areas. It was called a 'crane', and was fixed to one side above the sink in a low bulkhead at the foot of the casement shutter. This bulkhead provided a small shelf to hold items like a soap dish, scrubbing brush, nail and tooth brushes, shaving equipment, pumice stone, and steel wool for cleaning the cast iron pots of the time. The crane itself was low down at the foot of the shelf support so that it could be turned down into the sink to enable the shutter on that side to be closed, or to allow another board to be placed over the sink to give extra workspace if required. Only now seventy decades on do I realise why the tap was called a crane; it was because it could be made to 'luff' like the jib of a single arm crane. All domestic water pipes were of lead, the danger to health of which had been known, but work to change them for copper piping began only in the 1960s and 1970s.
AN EARLY MEMORY.
In winter frequent movements were seen of people busy with one of the never-ending household chores like preparing a meal, washing dishes, a man just in from work stropping an open razor then shaving and washing himself, or a woman washing small items of clothing and using a scrubbing board. In those days domestic chores took up far more time than they do today. A popular song of the period heard frequently on the wireless was:
When the lights are low,
As the flickering shadows,
Softly come and go'
These words from Love's Old Sweet Song (when sung by Irish tenor John McCormick) are indelibly imprinted in my memory. They appeared to me to have been specially made up to describe what I was seeing. It was the first of many occasions when a piece of music became associated with an event in later life.
MANTELPIECE & GASLIGHT (Spelling mantelpiece/shelf is the structure, mantle is the white asbestos fitting required to burn the gas and produce light efficiently.)
The mantelpiece seen on the right in the photo above containing the kitchen range with fireplace and gas stove, was built into the wall opposite the bunker in most houses. It was a solid structure of brick with cement facing between four to five feet wide with brick pillars at both sides, which rose to above eye level and projected out about four inches from the wall. It was surmounted by a wooden platform known as the mantelshelf. The shelf was broader and deeper than the mantelpiece, with a fairly deep overhang at the front and rather less at the sides. It was a convenient place on which to keep certain items in regular use at the fireplace such as the tea caddy, matches, a box with a spare mantle for the gas light and tapers and candles. A kitchen mechanical clock placed here as depicted would have had to be moved away from the heat rising from the fire as fluctuating temperatures affected its time keeping. All clocks then were mechanical and had to be wound up, usually daily, although expensive seven-day clock were available.
Among other items on the shelf were a small store of penny coins kept handy for the gas meter, and it was a convenient 'parking' place for ornaments of brass and china, such as 'wally dugs' (pottery dogs). But it invariable became a location for all kinds of other odds and ends that were needed around the kitchen. The overhang at the front of the mantelshelf was an ideal place to have installed underneath it a length of expanding curtain wire with spring clips at each end which fitted on the shelf ends. This was where dish cloths and towels and any other small damp item that would dry quickly by the heat from the fire and gas stove were hung.
The important installation on the mantelshelf was the gas light fitting. The mains gas supply was piped up from the ground floor of the close with cast iron piping through the landings to the three upper floors of the staircase, with a branch pipe to each house and the landing lights. The gas meter installed in lobbies of the houses was well above head height, and a stool or chair was kept handy there to reach it. From the meter another pipe ran down to a branch under the floor of the lobby, one pipe from which led into the room embedded out of sight within the wall and across to the centre of the ceiling where the light fitting was suspended. The other branch passed from the lobby under the floor boards into the kitchen to the corner of the mantlepiece, where it ran up in the corner to the mantelshelf and along its back against the wall to the middle of the shelf. Here, it had a ninety degree elbow turn and projected out a couple of inches beyond the edge of the shelf, where there was a tap to control the flow of gas and where it became a smaller diameter pipe of brass. It then turned up vertical in another elbow bend and ended in a tall swan's neck with the light fitting on the drooping end well above normal head height. The gas light next to the clock seen in the photo above was only roughly set up and is much less elaborate than the real ones.
A circular metal collar about four inches in diameter and held in place with four brackets was fixed on a horizontal position on the end of the pipe. In it there were three knurled screws pointing inwards spaced evenly round the circumference. The screws held in place a globe about eight inches in diameter of usually clear glass or a more expensive one engraved with frosted artistic designs. The globe had openings top and bottom, the top one having a thickened, outward curling lip which fitted into the collar to be held in place by the three screws. The opening in the bottom of the globe was wider and generally had a decorative moulded edge. Inside the globe, on the end of the pipe was the device which produced the light, a mantle, a delicate creation shaped like a large bulbous thimble with small holes. Made in a mould of white clay/asbestos type material, with use it needed to be replaced occasionally. This could be because during warm weather with no lit fire, to save using a match to light the gas stove, a taper or a paper 'spill' was applied to the white hot mantle which tended to cause wear to its delicate fabric.
When lighting the gas a naked light was always applied first to the mantle with a match or a taper (spill). When the gas was turned on, the mantle ignited with a 'plop', and continued to burn with a soft hiss, producing a pleasant white light. It was vital to follow this procedure because if the gas was turned on before the light was applied, the gas could fill the globe, and when the light was applied there was a mild 'boof' of an explosion which could shatter the globe. A reduced flow of gas was necessary at first by means of the tap to begin with until the mantle warmed up, because it too could shatter if too much heat was generated too soon. The light it produced was roughly equivalent to the old 60w electric bulb.
Increasing the amount of illumination could have been achieved by adding extra light fittings, but I never saw it in any working class home, because the additional cost both of the installation and the gas used made it too expensive. Some upmarket homes did have brackets with two, or even three, mantles and globes in the centre of the ceiling to illuminate large rooms. An easier alternative to operating the tap in the pipe near the mantelshelf was one fitted to the vertical part of the swan's neck. It had a long horizontal arm fixed at the centre with holes at each end to which thin chains with loops on the end were attached, that dangled down to within easier reach. This arrangement provided a finer control for adjusting the amount of light as required.
Original tenement fireplaces had the disadvantage that, to accommodate an ash pan in the space below, the fire itself was about a foot above floor level, so that in cold weather in these draughty houses, feet had to be propped up on a stool to benefit from the warmth. In the 1950s people began experimenting by removing the ash pan and grate and installing a 'nest' which stood in the recess on short legs to raise it up above the hearth, with a space of about three inches deep for the ashes to gather underneath.
Fireplaces in room-and-kitchen houses had flues that ran up inside the walls to a chimney-head on the roof, to draw the smoke up from the fire. The range had a gas stove sitting on top of the larger of the two sides, left or right-handed depending on the location of the flue. The entrance to the flue was a low cast iron square sectioned tunnel that could be moved by sliding it in and out (back and forward) to facilitate cleaning when the fire was out. The floor of this tunnel, which was level with the range top, was a solid cast plate that could also be moved in the same way. When pulled out over the fire, with the fire lit the smoke passed up behind the plate and went up the flue, and with a good-going fire, as the plate itself warmed up it could be used as a hob. Also, by removing first a disc in the centre of the plate itself, then a ring, gave small or larger apertures for a cooking pot or a kettle to sit on.
When the fire was burning, after a time the tops of the range on either side became hot enough to keep a stock pot warm. A gas stove (missing from the mockup in photo number 4 and faintly seen in the photo above) sat on top of the larger side of the range. Below it there was the oven with a heavy door and two wire shelves that was heated by gas jets supplied by a branch of piping running from the mains supply out of sight under the floor. This was supplemented by heat conducting through from the fire. Mainly because of the difficulty in judging temperature I never saw our or any other oven used seriously for this purpose; it was only ever used for keeping cooked food hot or warming dinner plates. There were no oven thermometers in those days for working class homes so skill had to be gained by experience, and most women were reluctant to experiment because of financial restrictions and the fear of wasting anything. Nevertheless, stories were heard of certain individuals who were adept at using the range oven for baking.
To allow the hob to be cleaned the stove could be lifted up at the end nearest the fire and parked over-centre to rest against the side wall of the recess. The frame itself had a pair of loose swivelling feet at the outer end that were self-locking when the stove was in the down position. The burners were of course part of the frame, and the gas feed arrangement to allow this to be done was very simple.
The pipe carrying gas to the burners was in the form of a 'J', lying horizontal from the point where it left the main pipe and passed round the leg of the mantelpiece into the recess. The long leg of the J was within the recess, and it was from it the feeds to the three burners emerged in a row, each with a tap to control the flow of gas. Because of the need to mix air with gas to make it burn efficiently, the usual arrangement, as with the Bunsen burner in the science class of school days, was for a rotating collar with a hole in it to be placed in a tight but adjustable fit over the Bunsen tube. The collar could then be turned to match up with a similar hole on the burner stem pipe allowing, according to its setting, a variable amount of air to be drawn in. When the stove was in the using position, the pipe beyond the taps was in the form of a tapering nozzle which fitted free, i.e. with space all round, into each burner pipe which had a belled end to receive it.
As with the Bunsen the amount of air allowed in was critical, and the adjustment here was by thick discs about the size of an old penny with a fine screw-threaded hole in the centre. The discs had a knurled edge and were a little larger than the belled end of the burner pipes, and ran on a thread behind the nozzle. When turned on the thread they opened or closed the gaps, altering the amount of air going in to mix with the gas. The advantage of this arrangement was that there was no physical connection between the nozzles and the burner pipes, which enabled the stove itself when out of use to be lifted up on its pivot without having to uncouple piping. If burned without being mixed with air, coal gas did so with a cool dirty white flickering flame. But when air is introduced the flame turns blue and gives off a muted roaring sound, and when adjusted correctly the heat generated is intense.
It was vital to ensure that no smouldering embers fell out and bounced over the fender and burned a hole in the carpet, a not infrequent event which could set the house on fire if there was no-one in the kitchen. On burning down, coal reduces first to cinders, then ash, a fine grey powder with the consistency of flour. The fire had to be stirred up occasionally by raking it with a poker, to riddle the ash through the bottom bars of the grate into the ash-pan below, or it became choked and went out because the flow of air was blocked. This operation was known as 'poking the fire'.
While most of the ash went down into the ash pan, some of it along with some of the heat was drawn up the chimney with the smoke by the natural draught. But a small amount always drifted into the apartment making cleaning a much more frequent job than could possibly be visualized today. Of course the immediate surroundings, the range itself, and furnishings and carpets near the fireplace, were worst affected. The work of keeping the fire going was dirty and unpleasant and was avoided if possible, except in cold weather when it became almost a favourite chore. From the visit by the coal-man, who carried in the 1cwt. bags (stiff dense canvas sacks) on his back through which some of the coal dust always percolated, who dumped and emptied them into the coal bunker, to the point where it left the house as ash to be taken to the midden, a coal fire generated an exceptional amount of work.
In wet weather the bags would be damp which kept the dust down. But when they were dry, on being emptied the fine coal dust drifted out in a cloud over the surroundings which required a general cleanup. The coal then had to be dug out with a coal shovel or by hand, and put into a bucket or coal scuttle and carried over to the fire-place. Some of it was in large lumps that had to be broken up with a hammer, which further spread dust and coal fragments around, and making you aware of another hazard; unless you were very careful you might get a bit in the eye goggles or eye protectors were unknown then. The rest of the operation was equally disagreeable, because keeping a fire going was a task requiring a fair amount of skill which only came with practice.
If fresh coal was put on a fire without first raking out the ashes, it gradually settled down into a dense layer which blocked off the air needed for combustion, so that the heat given out diminished, it would die down and could go out. This happened occasionally to even to the most vigilant stoker through inattention or being distracted, especially if the coal was damp or of poor quality. Women gossiping with neighbours on the stair head for an extended time were particularly affected, when one might be heard saying, wide-eyed and with a gasp - 'Ah'll need tae go or ma' fire'll be oot!'.
Raking out prior to the stoking operation required fine judgement during cold weather. If it was begun too soon, unless you had a long poker it could result in scorched knuckles. Left late, so that the heat had died down past a certain point, the fire, loaded up with fresh coal, could take a long time to regenerate, in winter leaving the occupants huddled round the range wrapped up in coats, hats and scarves, and holding out their hands to catch some warmth until it did so. In my memory, during the very coldest weather in these draughty houses there is no exaggeration in that description!
As bed-time approached the fire was left to die down as low as possible to reduce the chance of a cinder falling out unobserved. Some people, particularly those with children, had a fireguard of stiff metal mesh to put in front within the fender which could be an effective block to stop cinders and sparks reaching the carpet. While it was effective, a fireguard restricted the amount of heat getting into the apartment so it was only used if the need was imperative. In winter mornings getting the fire going quickly was necessary. First the cinders remaining would be thoroughly raked to clear out all the ash from the grate down into the ash pan. Then, carefully checking they were cool enough, using fingers the cinders were lifted out and placed on a sheet of newspaper and made up into a parcel.
All of the range, hob, cooker, all round the back and sides of the recess, the grate of the fire and the vertical bars at the front, the hearth and occasionally up the chimney through the sliding access hatch in the top of the recess with a long handled flue brush as far as the arm could reach, to sweep it clear of soot. The debris gathered from this operation was deposited into the ash pan and taken down to the midden in the back-court and dumped there (below). It was once estimated that in winter something like 80% of all domestic rubbish was ash and cinders from domestic fires, as not everyone was economy-minded enough to save the cinders. Bear in mind too that the fire was an excellent way of disposing of burnable household rubbish which, if it generated additional heat, so much the better.
After the cleanup, the fire was laid ready for lighting by crumpling up a sheet of newspaper and placing it in the bottom of the empty grate. Sticks of wood were put on top, criss-crossed to leave air passages, then the parcel of cinders was laid on top along with some small pieces of coal. When applying a flame it was essential to do so using a taper to the paper at the bottom, so that the sticks caught alight before the paper of the parcel burned through, and allowed the cinders to fall down and smother the flame before it got a proper hold. If that happened the laying operation had to be done over again. Public health authorities advised that to help keep down vermin and deter scavenging cats and dogs, empty food tins should be scorched in the fire before being put in the midden. Removing the hot cans was a job for tongs.
An essential item at the fire-place in nearly every home was the companion set. It comprised of four items, a small brush and a shovel, a poker and the aforementioned tongs, which were suspended from a metal rod mounted in a base and having a cap on top with a carrying loop and four brackets set at 90Ί to suspend the implements by loops on the ends of the handles. The tongs were used to lift out the cans and the odd stone that sometimes arrived with the coal. One of the stove fittings was a small shelf that clipped on to the range directly in front of the fire bars, and a door that was normally left open but could be closed in front of the bars, forcing the draught to enter through the bottom bars if the condition of the fire needed it. Both of these were of the same cast iron as the range, as was another longer shelf in front of the oven below its door to rest anything hot on momentarily as it was being lifted out. The smaller shelf at the fire-bars was convenient for sitting the filled teapot on to keep it warm, while making sure that the handle and the knob on the lid wouldn't be scorched by heat.
FENDER & COAL SCUTTLE
A scuttle was a receptacle made from same metal as the fender found in most houses to hold ready to use coal. The one in our house was in three parts. There was a 12-inch diameter outer drum with embossed decoration, side handles, a pagoda-dome-like removable lid with a broad, pointed knob on top, and three low feet. It was normally kept within the hearth or placed just outside it. Inside the scuttle there was a plain inner bucket with two wire loop handles fixed to the rim for lifting it out to be carried to the coal bunker for refilling. What remains in my memory about the coal scuttle was that when the inner bucket was removed for filling, it was essential to up-end the scuttle itself to empty any dust or small pieces of coal that had fallen inside. If this wasn't done, when the replenished bucket was being replaced, the piston effect caused the displaced air to waft the dust up into eyes and lungs.
The taper holder (below) hung from a nail driven into a side of the mantlepiece. It was a tapered, triangular shaped box of stiff card less than a foot high and about three inches at each of its three sided top, having a short extension from one of the sides with a hole in it for hanging pointed end down from the nail. It held the tapers that when lit from the fire, were used by smokers to light a pipe or cigarette, the gas stove or gas mantel. They were bought as packets of thin strips of soft wood, or were painstakingly made up from thin strips of folded up newspaper, something my granda used to do for lighting his pipe.
It could be bought as ready to use bunches of sticks from hardware stores, ironmongers, newsagents and other corner shops. They were usually made from old railway sleepers which, having originally been treated with creosote burned well. The sticks had to be of a suitable thickness and from six to eight inches long. If they were too thick they wouldn't catch alight, or too thin they would be consumed too quickly before the cinders started to burn. The bunches held as many sticks as could be grasped in a loop a little larger than would be made between the hands with middle finger and thumb almost touching, and were tied with a length of twine which incorporated a carrying loop. The photo above is of a firewood merchant in Govan with his horse and cart and crates full of bunches for delivery to shops. In the 1930s they cost three-halfpence a bunch, but I remember selling them in the Co-op grocers in the 1940s and '50s, by which time they cost tuppence-ha'ppeny, or 1p in today's money.
It was seldom necessary to buy sticks for our fire because Dad, an engineer-fitter, brought home pieces of wood from his work. Engineering works handling heavy materials always had baulks of timber lying about for use as props and chocks. The smaller pieces used to disappear after a time as they became contaminated with oil and grease, and six-to-eight inch sections sawn from the length were carried off home by workers to be used for kindling. Another local street trader, the one in our district was Drummond, used to sell bags of ordinary box and other scrap wood from his cart, and once or twice when Dads' supply failed to turn up, a much complained about bridging quantity lacking the oil contaminant was bought from him.
To prepare the wood for kindling the pieces of timber were taken out to the landing. There, kneeling on the door mat within the lobby and working over the doorstep on the stone floor using a small axe, the pieces of sleeper was split down to the required size, usually by the man of the house. This job, done weekly in winter, was always done on a Friday evening, fascinated me and I could not wait to be old enough to be allowed to use the axe. Landing surfaces were invariably chipped by the axe, but the marks were covered up when the door mat was replaced. Residents of these houses today where the surface of the landing is as it was originally might wonder how the marks came to be made. The best job I could hope for then was to be allowed to gather up the chopped sticks and place them properly aligned and tidy in the storage box, a wooden Australian butter box scrounged from the Co-op. A childhood rhyme comes to mind:
Three four, open the door,
Five six, break up sticks,
Seven, eight, lay them straight,
Nine ten, a big fat hen.
That seemingly irrelevant last line was probably an expression of relief when the job, one of a seemingly never-ending series of chores, was completed.
When using wood as kindling a hazard encountered was that certain kinds of timber could occasionally 'spark' when burning. They were explosive bangs which shot out tiny slivers of smouldering wood that could, and occasionally did, land on a fireside rug and burn a hole in the pile if it wasn't spotted and dealt with in time, or on furnishings or the clothes of someone sitting nearby. This was probably caused by small pockets of air trapped in certain types of timber (one I think was larch), in which expansion produced by heat cause it to explode. That type of wood had to be avoided, but we were never able to tell which was which until the first of it was burning and sparking away. If there was no fireguard the rest of that batch had to be disposed of into the midden. It may seem a peculiar thing to be nostalgic about, but I well remember the distinctive smell of burning carpet when a spark had landed there un-noticed. This caused noses to twitch until it was identified, then panic set in as the chairs near the fireplace were pulled back and the carpet or floor searched frantically, looking for the tell-tail wisp of smoke. If it wasn't immediately spotted a sure way of finding the ember was to run a hand over the pile. It was effective but could be painful. This was another reason for the fireguard.
Although the gas stove on the hob had a grill, in our house toast was nearly always made at the fire, as apart from economy reasons in that it used no gas, it seemed to taste better done that way. When toasting at the fire, if scorched knuckles were to be avoided a proper toasting fork was required, and ours was a stout implement with two wide spaced prongs and a short bone handle. A four-pronged fork seen in another house and coveted very much by me was the same length as ours, but it was made of wire and had an extending handle which doubled its length (below), so that there was no risk of getting burned. Usually the best heat came through the bars at the front, but if the fire was burning well it could be done on top. If the bread was soft and new there was a chance, if the slice wasn't securely stitched on the prongs, it could fall off onto the coals. When that happened to me and no-one noticed, the slice was quickly recovered before it began to burn, any trace of ash or coal dust was removed from it, and it was slipped onto the pile with the fervent hope that I wouldn't get landed with it. The grill was used during warm weather when the fire wasn't needed.
Bulk coal was delivered in wagons to the merchant's railway depot, but the process of bagging it always produced a fair amount of surplus dust and tiny pieces known as dross, only a small amount of which householders would accept with their delivery. Surplus dust left after the bagging was swept up and stored then sent to the briquette makers, where it was mixed it with a little cement or plaster and water then cast in moulds around the size of a half brick. The moulds were put into an oven to dry and harden, then sold to men, usually apparently disreputable types who went round the streets selling them, sometimes still steaming, on a broad barrow with a flat platform. The one in our district called out 'coalbrikates', and sold them for something like tuppence each. Tam, the elderly bowlegged short individual who did this in our district occasionally added for effect, 'big scarcity!' Bulk-for-bulk, briquettes were cheaper to burn than coal and one could be put on a fire along with the coal as an economy measure. Another type of briquette encountered at a later date was oval in shape, like large eggs that could be shovelled up, and were sold by weight.
The chimney sweep below was seen occasionally with his assistant in the streets as they passed along between jobs carrying their equipment. It consisted of a long coil of soot impregnated rope having a round flat stiff-bristled brush on the end that was a tight fit in the flue, with an iron ball-weight attached by a short length of chain, a ladder to gain access from the top landing to the loft to get on to the roof, and a bundle of sooty sacking to cover the fireplaces. As the day went on he became so black that by the afternoon he began to look like an African of the very blackest kind without the shiny skin. If there was any man whose employment made him dirtier than the coalman, it was the chimney sweep.
The flues from all eight houses on adjacent sides of two closes, one from each apartment in each 'through and through' house (windows to back and front), passed up within the dividing wall separating the closes to a common transverse chimney head on the roof that in a three-storey tenement had sixteen chimneys pots. Flues from the middle single apartment house on each landing were usually contained in a four pot chimney head overlooking the street. The job of the sweep's helper was to assist in locating the correct flue to be swept, and the two of them, the sweep at the chimney head and the helper at the fireplace, shouted to each other via the flue. The round flue brush must be hanging out of sight on his other shoulder.
When the correct chimney was found (this is when mistakes were made because in very dirty chimneys voices could be quite muffled), after a pause to give time for the helper to cover up the range with the sacking, the sweep would drop the brush down. Aided by the weight he pulled it up and down, lowering it down a few times, a section at a time, to dislodge as much of the soot as possible. But no matter how carefully the fireplace was sealed some always escaped into the apartment which added to the householder's labours. After the cleanup in a ground floor house with the tallest flue, a couple of buckets full of soot could be obtained which the sweep deposited in the midden. The photo below is of a cleansing department worker carrying a basket of rubbish from the midden through the close to the cleansing truck parked in the street.
If a feeling of relief was experienced when the noise began to subside, apprehension rose again when on looking out the window you became aware of people in the houses round about at their windows, or in the street or back-courts, looking up at the sight. The chimney pot would have been belching out a thick plume of dense black smoke and sparks like a mini volcano, with burning soot being spread around downwind, to be replaced with a jet of flame which shot up as the burning reached the chimney itself before subsiding. If washings had been hung out to dry in the path of all this muck, their owners were in for a nasty surprise when they came to take them in. Although it wasn't easy to identify whose chimney was responsible, some very lively altercations can be recalled. I seem to remember that when it needed sweeping, our chimney was set on fire most times late at night because Dad thought that the shorter top flat flue of the house in Linthouse had less risk of being caught.
BACK SMOKE & BLOW-DOWNS
In the oldest tenement buildings, and some not so old, depending on the standard of workmanship and materials used in their construction, flue linings sometimes began to break up. Or it could be caused by a sweep's too vigorous use of the brush, when the weight below the brush was made to bang about in the flue with his sweeping effort that was perhaps aided by weakening caused by chimney fires in the past. All fires had individual flues and if you lived in an upper floor where the flues were like this it was possible to get back-smoke from a fire in a neighbour's house below even with no fire burning in your own house! This happened to us once or twice in Linthouse.
A blow-down was usually caused by a strong wind dislodging a layer of soot high up at a chimney head in need of sweeping which, in falling knocked down more which increased in volume as it fell. In the worst case it had been known to happen to a family living on the ground floor in a three storey building, with debris from the full height of the flue descending on them and pouring out into the kitchen just as they had sat down to a meal. Their difficulty in cleaning up would have been compounded by having a partially smothered fire to cope with. I used to think that soot was an incombustible product of the fire, but later came to understand that it is composed of certain still combustible elements escaping from the coal before it had reached a temperature high enough to burn it. It went up the chimney as smoke where some of it was deposited in layers as soot.
Made from semi-glazed earthenware pottery material, the chimney pots originally had the two-foot extension seen on the one on the left in row of pots in the sketch above, which sat over the top and rested on three or four lugs on the pot's upper rim, leaving a narrow space all round for a current of air to enter moving upwards to boost the draw. The flues themselves were also made from pottery material, some of which gave more trouble with a lack of 'draw' than others. When it was persistently troublesome the only alternative was to replace the cap with a can, a four-foot slightly tapered tube of thin galvanised sheet steel, which had to be paid for by the tenant plus the cost of fitting. The cans were of two or three different designs, which spoiled the tidy appearance of a row of identical pots on the chimney-head. The most common cans were those with the top rim cut away to resemble the circular row of upward pointing arrowheads (sketch above).
There were other cans of more elaborate design, one of which had a mouth which lay over at 90° in a moveable cowl seen in sketch of the chimney above, with a fin on top that ran on a bearing to turn the vent away from the wind so that it served as an extractor. This type wasn't as popular as the advantage might imply, because as it aged the cowl could stick on the bearing so that it would act as a scoop when the wind blew into it. There was also a type with a ball shaped rotating dome having a cap with a number of angled vents which turned continually according to wind-speed. All these had additional difficulties of their own, one of which was that they had to be guyed down with wire to stop them being blown off by a strong wind. Another was that they had to be removed when the chimney was being swept, and any can over a certain age was sure to be affected with rust and could be in danger of collapsing when handled, which meant of course that it had to be replaced. But I seem to remember these cans had a vertical opening in the side, with a door that could be opened to allow a sweep's brush to be inserted is also seen in the sketch above.
A situation sometimes developed which was exasperating, but viewed from this distance in time was amusing when, as deterioration progressed, a 'granny', as the rotating type of chimney can was called, developed a squeak as it came to the end of its life. It could become more of a penetrating variable shriek as the wind rose and fell, which was bad enough during the day, but imagine what it must have been like for people at night within earshot trying to sleep. When that happened it could generate much frustration, because nothing could be done about it as it was the responsibility of householder, who in some cases could not afford to have it attended to. The best that could be hoped for was that collapse was imminent.
HOUSE FURNISHINGS THE RECESSED BED
The surface of the bed-frame on which the stuffed, un-sprung mattress lay was a dense inter-coiled spring-wire mesh which, when it sagged with use, could be re-tensioned like tuning a stringed musical instrument by turning screws in one end with a spanner. With the bed made up, the recess could be curtained off from the rest of the apartment, its height above the floor providing a good hidden storage space underneath. A disadvantage of the height of the bed was the risk of someone falling out. Usually after this happened a couch would be placed in front of the bed to catch anyone taking a tumble during the night, which also served as a step for anyone going in. Note a man's 'combination' underwear draped over the front of the bed, a heavy one-piece vest and pants needed by men working in the open air of the shipyards in winter.
Our settee was covered with a shiny material that looked like leather to begin with, but was, as it soon became apparent, a cheap substitute. It may have been a fabric called Rexine which hardened and became brittle with age and use. After a time it began to crack and open up in areas of greatest use and curled up along the weft of the canvas backing, leaving uncomfortable sharp edges. But the settee continued in use by covering the seat with a tartan blanket. It was probably this settee that features in my second Govan book, In Peace & War; the story told in part 5 in the section entitled Move to Blairlomond (from Cove).
Many local householders had one of the 5' x 2' wooden kitchen tables seen above. It had an 18" hinged flap on one side and two shallow drawers for cutlery and kitchen utensils on the other. The top and the flap were smooth but bare and unpainted and had to be kept well scrubbed, while the lower parts were painted black. The legs of the one in our house were decorated with simple turned mouldings, and there was a short spar between the two end pairs, and two long spars joining the end ones at an all too convenient height for putting your feet on. Even after being well warned, many a knock on the shins I received from Mum for absentmindedly marking the spars. The popularity of these tables was reflected by the fact that they were made locally, in the kitchen furnishings department of the Co-op (SCWS) factory in Shieldhall.
These tables were very popular and were seen in many other houses visited. The Govan Reminiscence Group had one just like it in the mock-up of the kitchen of the 1930s built by other members around 1990 for exhibitions. Note the couple of pairs of shoes parked on the spars in the photos. This table has a hand operated domestic meat mincer mounted on it. There were also two 'easy' fireside chairs.
Floors were covered with linoleum, or wax-cloth as it was commonly known, which was available as squares, oblongs, or by a measured length cut from a roll. The most common pieces were the individually patterned oblongs with a border design that at best were slightly smaller than the dimensions of the apartments, the surrounding area of floor board planks of which was treated with dark staining. My parents were at first unable to afford carpets for their first house, but with the passage of time mats were introduced, then bigger carpets that covered most of the floors in both apartments were acquired. The area in front of the fireplace nearly always had a mat that was either laid on the lino or on top of the carpet, which could be replaced at less expense when it became worn or it had traces of being burned by sparks from the fire. The fitted carpets of today came to us much later in the 1960s.
The first electric vacuum cleaner my Mother bought in the late 1930s was a German made cylinder type. Before this time the smaller mats and carpets had to be taken down to the back court and hung over the dividing railings to be beaten with the carpet beater and brushed with the carpet brush seen below. Protection from the sharp spikes of the railings was achieved by a community minded individual providing a length of three-inch-by-two timber long enough to accommodate the width of the largest carpets.
The strip of wood was hammered on over the spikes then secured with a length of fence wire wrapped over each end and under the railings top, then twisted tight. Shaped like a tennis racquet, the beater below was made of cane, with the strand ends from the pleated flat part twisted together to form a handle about eighteen inches long and bound at the outer end with wire. The 'business' end the size of a large dinner plate was quite efficient at dislodging the dirt when used energetically in the correct way, then the job of dislodging the fluff was finished off with a carpet brush. When beating carpets care had to be taken not to do it if washings were hung out to dry. Period dramas and documentaries I've seen on tv that show this aspect of early 20th century life in working class districts never get it right. The women depicted act as if they are playing at carpet beating, instead of showing how much effort was required to dislodge the dirt, and they are never shown brushing a beaten carpet to dislodge any lingering fluff or fibres not dislodge by the beater. Also the beater is usually seen working on the top surface, which beats the dirt into the pile instead of the bottom to knock it out! The lower edge of the carpet was held away from the railing during beating to allow the dirt to fall to the ground.
WIRELESS Except for the BBC's publication Radio Times, 'radio' was then a modern term that didn't come into general use until after the war. When called up for national service in 1949 I trained initially even then as a wireless operator. Wireless was invented in the early 1900s by an Italian, Marconi, and was operated by amateurs for about 30 years. Having started transmitting in 1923 from established stations, the BBC was still at a fairly early stage in its development, the corporation having been set up some ten years before the period being written about. There are some recollections of the programmes of the period, the most notable aspect of which I found were the voices. Regional accents just did not exist as far as the first (Scottish) Director General John later Lord Reith was concerned, and all broadcasters spoke 'proper' upper-class King's English. The next generation saw the same phenomenon at the beginning of television, and it is 'well seeing' that Lord Reith died about thirty years before Rab C. Nesbitt came on the scene. However, future generations might consider Rab to be tame compared with what they, in their more 'enlightened' age, will encounter.
News bulletins of the time carried reports of wars, in China involving the Japanese at first, then later in the decade the civil war in Spain. At the end of bulletins listeners were frequently rendered agog with the words 'Here is a police message'. They featured requests for information mainly about road accidents or, less often, crime or missing persons that related mostly to the London area, where anyone with information about incidents was requested to telephone Whitehall 1212, or, very occasionally, for events in our area the number was Glasgow Bel ****. The annual licence fee of ten shillings for all receivers was between a quarter and a fifth of a week's wage earned by Dad.
There were recitals of chamber music and orchestral concerts and variety shows with bands, comedians and singers (crooners was the term then) with the latest popular songs mainly from theatre shows and cinema films, and drama in the form of plays. Dance music was performed by the orchestras of Henry Hall, Ambrose, Harry Roy, Joe Loss, Billy Cotton and others. Scots songs were featured on our local station. A variety show of enduring memory, 'Monday Night at 7 o'clock was to prove so popular that it was changed to the greater peak listening time of Monday Night at 8 o'clock, with an introductory song, the words of which were: 'It's Monday night at eight o'clock, O can't you hear the chimes, They're telling you to take in easy chair ' Included were features such as playletts, comedy spots with a resident comedian, and sometimes a guest orchestra playing different types of popular music, and a quiz called Puzzle Corner, the answers to which were given the following week. The quiz was conducted by a gentleman named Ronnie Waldman, and featured something that began as a genuine mistake which generated so much interest that it was made permanent, a deliberate mistake that listeners were invited to listen out for. Writing in with the correct answer had the exciting possibility of having your name mentioned on the programme the following week.
Children's hour at 5pm on weekdays is remembered with fondness. The presenters were Uncle Mac (Derek McCulloch), Auntie Kathleen (Cathleen Garscadden), and another mysterious individual with the unlikely name Auntie Cyclone. There were stories and plays such as 'Toytown' with Larry the Lamb, Mr. Growser and Mr. Plod the policeman and other characters. The children's television comic drama series Worsel Gummidge of more recent times was first broadcast on the wireless in the 1930s. The tv version was, initially anyway, a nostalgic experience for me to watch. Farmers used to set up figures stuffed with straw and dressed to resemble a human in their fields to act as bird scarers, and Worsel G was an animated version. In Scotland they were known as tattie bogles. In the 1980s a tv programme celebrating the 50th anniversary of Children's Hour featured a recorded interview with Auntie Kathleen, and a thrill of nostalgia was experienced on hearing her voice again, but she died not long after this.
Among the many performers on the variety programmes, one in particular remains prominent in my memory. Suzzette Tarry was obviously French and spoke in heavily accented English. Another contributor was a man who was introduced with the song, 'Red Sails in the Sunset'. Very little of the output was recorded because the main medium then was 78rpm discs with a maximum of five minutes a side, and playing anything longer than five minutes involved a pause while records were turned over or changed on the turntable that had to be done at similar intervals thereafter. Programme timing sometimes left short gaps, and the interval was filled with a pleasant sequential peal of Bow Bells.
The 'Paul Temple' detective series by Francis Durbridge shown on tv during the 1960s was first broadcast on the wireless in the 1930s. Further series were continued after the war when the introductory music used was 'Coronation Scot'. But the music used for the original wireless series was 'The Storm' from the suite Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov which was almost my first exposure to orchestral music. Never has a piece been employed so successfully for tension heightening effect. Whoever selected it deserved an award, but this was half-a-century before award ceremonies were conceived. Each evening when the weekly episode was due, Mum, Dad and I waited with mounting excitement as programme time approached. After the announcer finished his introduction, the first notes of the approaching storm always generated for me a spine tingling thrill of anticipation. Other excerpts from the same suite were used with similar electrifying effects during the course of each episode, which invariably ended with a cliff-hanger situation leaving us on tenterhooks until the following week. Since then I never hear it without being carried back to a time of tranquillity.
Homes without electricity had to have either a crystal set or one powered by dry batteries or an accumulator. The latter was a heavy square section clear glass moulded lead/acid battery a little larger than the present day motor cycle batteries, which had a thin metal-strap carrying-frame. Depending on use, with a full charge it had the endurance of a month or so. On running down, the accumulator had to be taken to a radio shop or a garage or hardware store with charging equipment. The nearest place for us was George Munley's 'Govan Music House', in Govan Road west of Howat Street, and people were seen carrying their accumulators there. The Munley shop can be seen on the right in the photo above of the Fairfield goods train passing along Govan Road at Howat Street.
These portable power packs had a major disadvantage. Should the dry battery, or accumulator run down at tea time without the possibility of getting it recharged until the next day, having a fully charged spare or a stand-by battery to hand was essential if an eagerly awaited programme was due to come on. Failing that, an evening without the wireless was unavoidable. But the expense of a spare accumulator was beyond the resources of most people, who, to avoid disappointment, those with mains electricity considered it best to save up for a mains operated set.
Early dry batteries had two disadvantages; their endurance was poor and they tended to leak towards the end of their life. Many a chest of drawers or sideboard top was ruined by a battery at the end of its life, connected up and lying out of sight behind a wireless set overnight, with highly corrosive fluid leaking out and ruining a polished surface. Even taking the precaution of sitting it in a metal tray was no sure protection, as the metal could be eaten through more slowly but just as surely.
A crystal set could be made by anyone with the skill and knowledge of what was required. My maternal grandfather Joe Chambers had made one for his own enjoyment and love of classical music over the years since the early 1900s, but by the time I came along he had a battery operated set. Crystal sets had the major disadvantage that they needed an elaborate aerial in the form of a long length of copper wire. Tenants in the long sides of an oblong tenement block were ideally placed for aerial hanging, but they had to come to an arrangement with a tenant in a house in the opposite side of the block to have the wire suspended between them, and this was only possible for those living above one-storey level.
Ground floor dwellers of course could not have an aerial of this type. They had to arrange to share with a neighbour living higher up to allow them to connect into their cable; otherwise they and block-end dwellers were restricted to an in-house aerial. Even with the arrival of battery and mains powered sets the external aerial arrangement gave the best reception, and continued in use until the late 1940s when the development of more powerful transmission and better quality receivers allowed an indoors aerial to be used. This was probably a spin-off from wartime research into wireless. Mains sets had to be earthed, which was done with a cable that plugged into a socket at the rear and the other end attached to a water pipe. Attaching it to a gas pipe wasn't a good idea.
The bare wire aerial cables had to be insulated from contact with earth through the fabric of the building, and this was done using white porcelain insulators rigged at each end, from which the signal was taken inside to the wireless by a length of insulated cable. The distance involved meant that the length of un-insulated cable would be just about right, but what others living in the block ends did to overcome the problem caused by the much greater distance isn't recalled. A solution would be to suspend the cable diagonally, at an angle between ends and sides of the block, but there is no recollection of having seen this done. Even those living one stair up aerial wires could encounter difficulty because, except near corners where the wires passed across above the dykes with the washhouses and middens, they were almost within the reach of children dyke-climbers and were liable to be interfered with. The newer battery/mains valve sets required smaller aerials that could be installed indoors. I think both houses at the ends of a cable could use it.
When a valve wireless set, which might have as many as six of them, was switched on there was a delay while the large valves, the size and shape of an elongated old 40 watt bulb, warmed up. This could take as much as a minute or so, which always produced the slightly apprehensive feeling of the 'will it/won't it work' kind, especially if you had switched on late to listen to something you particularly wanted to hear. People today with radios often have them turned on all the time even if there's nothing worth listening to, but that didn't happen in the days before tv because of the amount of power the valves of wireless sets used. Thinking about this now seems to indicate that the external aerials were only needed for crystal sets, and they became redundant but had been left in place when battery and mains set were acquired. When we lived in Linthouse there was a cable strung between our house and the one opposite. At the time of the externally strung aerials there could many wires strung between one side of the rear of a tenement and the other.
Going to the cinema or a theatre, attending a football match or listening to the wireless was the best family entertainment available. There were between six and ten theatres 'up the town' that put on variety shows and plays, but the only times I was ever taken there was for the Christmas pantomimes. One occasion involved the additional thrill of a trip on the underground railway at the age of five, when it was still cable hauled, from Govan Cross to Cowcaddens Stations to a theatre panto in the New City Road area.
SHARED LANDING TOILET
Like many tenement blocks in the West of Scotland, the ground plan of the ones we lived in at Howat Street and Skipness Drive in Linthouse were enclosed oblongs, with individual back-courts for each close that were divided by spiked railings. At eight feet in height with flat concrete roofs having a slight slope, the dykes in the enclosure within the blocks along the middle of the courts were composed of wash-houses and middens. The photo above is of me at the age of four standing in the back-court of 13 Hutton Drive, with the midden behind and the wash-house off to the left. There was one of each for each close, with the two double sets standing back to back, one set on either side of the centre of the block's long axis. In the Skipness Drive block, and presumably the same in Howat Street, both ends had pairs of individual detached washhouse/midden buildings with slated roofs for the three closes each in Holmfauldhead Drive and Clachan Drive. The space between these buildings was filled in with an 8 foot high brick wall seen on the right, and this setup was a magnet for adventurous children.
The arrangement meant that there could be gaps of different widths between some buildings which provided challenging jumps of varying degrees of difficulty for children. Initial access was gained by climbing up on to a railing where it abutted a washhouse wall, from which standing carefully on top of a spike brought the roof to chest height where it was easy to scramble up. When the jumps of our own dykes had been mastered, those that were within our current ability anyway after much time was spent daring and goading each other, we began to trek round neighbouring blocks looking for other gaps to further test our nerve.
As time passed we became more experienced, returning occasionally to try to conquer those that defeated us previously. Considered now the dangers were appalling, less so in falling off than what you might land on. In those days almost all railings everywhere had spikes to deter climbers. All were dangerous, but some were lethal with those separating back-courts among the worst, having slim sharp points. Concern of parents was understandable, knowing their offspring were larking about and forgetting the danger, and their dilemma was great in not wishing to call them off and give them a 'showing-up' in front of their pals. In my own case, at the age of seven I was warned off a few times in private, but the obvious way to avoid being seen was to go to one of the neighbouring blocks and climb there, hoping that no-one knew your parents and would 'tell' on you. Stories circulated of falls ending in impalement on spikes but there were no fatalities I was aware of, although a boy of brief acquaintance showed two piercing through-and-through scars in a thigh!
Access to the wash-house where most tenants did their weekly washing was allocated in daily 'turns', mornings and afternoons, among tenants of the usually twelve houses in a three-storey tenement close. Inside, in a corner of a space about ten feet by eight with single thickness walls of rough brick, a concrete floor and sloping roof, to heat the water there was a large waist high copper boiler with a capacity of around fifteen gallons. It was set within a squat part-round brick housing built in a corner attached to the wall, on top of which there was a shallow dome-shaped sheet metal lid, loose, not hinged, with a handle in the centre of the top of the dome.
Below the boiler, which was filled from a tap (not shown in the sketch), there was a fireplace with a raised nest, and a flue which rose up in the corner to a chimney-head with four chimneys on the roof, the other ones belonging to the neighbouring and opposite wash-houses. The water was heated here but there was no outlet to draw it off. Next to the doorway, against the outer wall and below the window, there were two deep, white-glazed pottery tubs, each with a cold water tap, a drain hole and plug with a wooden batten between them. To have the water boiling in good time the woman with the first turn of the day had to have the fire set and lit at an early hour, and attend to it occasionally for stoking so that the water would be warm enough for at the latest around 9am.
The routine was that if the husband was up for work early enough, or rose earlier than usual and was willing, getting up at 6am was normal, he carried paper, sticks and some coal down and set the fire including the cinders from the previous use. He then filled the boiler and lit the fire before going off to work. But no matter how careful he was, sometimes the fire failed to catch and it would go out. When that happened and the wife failed to check that the chimney was smoking, it might mean that unless she could be squeezed in after the afternoon turn, hers would have to be put back until later in the week. In winter and on other rare occasions a washhouse was seen in use by candlelight. The wife's work began after eight o'clock with taking down the clothes to be washed. They were carried in a large oval wicker basket along with washing soap and powder, a washboard, scrubbing brush, a Reckett or Dolly Blue whitener, clothes rope and clothes pegs. The wringer (below is modern version) was a heavy item that had to be carried down separately.
When the water was boiling, she would be ready to begin the hard work. Using a large tin ladle with a wooden handle which held about a half gallon, around half the scalding water was transferred from the boiler to the nearest tub. Then the white things were put into the boiler with soap powder to be boiled for a time, perhaps with the whitener in cube or powder form added. Scalding accidents caused by spillages were an occupational hazard when transferring the hot water. After the water in the tub was cooled to hand temperature from the tap, the rest of the washing was put in it and the laborious work of washing began.
The wash-board, a flat wooden frame with legs which stood about two feet high by around eighteen inches wide, was used for this. A piece of wood was fixed across the top end, and below it within the frame there was a backing with a ledge to hold the washing soap and scrubbing brush. Below this was fixed the large horizontally ribbed glass or aluminium plate for rubbing the clothes on. It was a tiring operation that no-one having a washing machine with a one-and-a-half hour washing cycle has to endure today.
The actual rubbing of the clothes was done using the washboard with its feet in and the upper part resting on the front of the tub. In this position it lay at a comfortable angle for the work, and using an up-and-down motion over the ribs with as much force as could be exerted, the soapy clothes were alternately dipped and massaged. After being washed the first batch of clothes were put individually through the wringer which was mounted on the batten between the tubs, then into the other tub to be rinsed in clean cold water, put through the wringer again and hung out to dry. After a brief period of boiling, so that the hot dripping clothes could be handled from a safe distance, the white clothes were transferred from the boiler using a heavy brush pole that was bleached with use to a now empty tub. With the water cooled the white things were treated in the same way then they too were put through the ringer, rinsed, wrung again and hung out.
Our wringer, a predecessor of the spin dryer and made by Acme, a Bridgeton company, was a device for squeezing most of the water from the washed clothes, which was fixed to the batten between the sinks by clamps at both end of its base. Wringers had two spring-loaded light coloured hard rubber rollers mount horizontally, geared together (at this time with unguarded coarse gears) and operated by a dimly seen black handle in the photo above similar to the starting handle of then contemporary motor vehicles. Pressure on the rollers was exerted by a spring that could be adjusted with a round cast-metal open wheel on top of the wringer body, which, in a post-war design improvement, became the kind of decorative wing-nut not seen in this photo.
A big disadvantage of the wringer that the spin dryer does not have was that it was liable to be severe on clothes, and buttons in particular tended to get broken. Fingers too needed careful watching, particularly if two people were involved. Underneath the rollers there was a pivoting tray to catch the water squeezed out, so that it could be diverted to run into either tub. When the tubs were emptied of clothes, the plugs in the sinks were pulled out for them to drain down onto the floor and, if it was the last wash of the day, the boiler fire was put out and the boiler itself emptied and dried off.
The floor had a slight slope all round running down to the drain in its centre, and there was a draining channel in it from under each sink to guide the suds and rinsings to it. A duckboard on the floor at the sinks kept shoes and feet dry, and a plain waist high wooden bench (much larger than the one seen in the sketch) on which the washed clothes were shaken out and folded before being put into the basket and carried out into the back court and hung out to dry. An aspect of the hot water left in the boiler by the morning user, was that the woman with the second turn of the day could watch the white clothes being hung out in the morning. If she was less fussy and under the pressure of a large washing to do, she could ask the woman who was finishing, to leave it for her to use, which would save much time waiting for a fresh lot to heat up from cold.
At that time starch was still used on collars and cuffs of dress shirts, and on parts of certain women's garments, to stiffen up the limp natural materials then used for dressing up on special occasions. Most shirts worn by working men were made without collars, the latter of which could be purchased in whatever quantities were judged to be needed. Six collars was a usual number, and they were fitted to the necks for wear using collar studs, one each front and back, which meant that with a fresh starched collar fitted each day a shirt could be worn for a week. I seem to remember that my Dad's working shirts had this arrangement, but he habitually wore them without a collar. I had a pair of collar studs, long at the front and short for the back, among the keep-sakes, but on looking them out to take a photo of them one was missing.
In the above description of doing a washing there is no mention of bed clothes and, in particular, blankets, curtains or other bulky items that needed only occasional cleaning. This was a whole new dimension to the work for which most women used the 'steamie', as the district communal wash-houses were known. The average number of children in any family was around three, and having a large family could double or treble the work and might even need an all-day turn at the end of the week if other users agreed to it.
Agreements had to be negotiated among tenants about the access to the washhouse, and disputes sometime arose over turns. The door of the wash-house was kept locked when out of use and the key was circulated according to turns. Occasionally, because of someone's absentmindedness the key went missing and the cry would go up 'who's got the washhouse key'. With the usual number of houses in each close, if every tenant needed to use it, with one turn in the morning and another in the afternoon, six days would be required for all to get their washings done.
That never seemed to occur because there were usually one or two single occupants or couples, the woman of which could do her washing in the kitchen sink and only needed to use the wash-house occasionally. Others, such as those with washings to do for a large family went to the steamy, the nearest of which was in Harhill Street a few hundred yards away from Howat Street using an old pram, which was known as 'the steamy pram'. But there were often individuals of a quarrelsome disposition who found something to complain about in the various aspects of washday, and some lively situations can be recalled. One of these was the failure of a user to empty the boiler or clean out the grate of the fire properly, and tidy up before 'posting' the key to the next person via the letter box.
DRYING THE CLOTHES THE PULLEY
The simplest type of pulley had a single 3" X 1½" piece of timber of around two feet longer at both ends than the distance between the pulley wheels. The dangling rope-ends were passed through holes bored through the broad section and secured with a knot. This single span was insufficient where there were more than two people in the house, but the capacity of the pulley could be increased by fitting a pair of fretted, usually decorative cast iron brackets on the rope ends. These had four holes through which thinner (1½" X Ύ") smooth wooden struts with the edges rounded off were put through, which increased the capacity of a pulley by four times as seen in the photo below.
Bearing in mind the greater height of the old tenement apartments with ceilings of between ten and twelve feet, when the pulley was assembled, the loop for pulling it up and lowering it had a knot put in it at a point which allowed it to hang level. When it was lowered the knot came against the double wheel, holding it at a convenient height of between waist and shoulder for loading the clothes on. With the loaded pulley raised, the excess of the now much longer loop was wound securely onto a cleat screwed onto usually the adjacent window frame facing, or, if the pulley was hung the other way round, it was fixed to the door frame. In houses with large families the housewife had to get all the clothes dried in relays which, for a number of reasons, in winter caused a great deal of irritation. The smell of cooking might be very noticeable when garments were worn, which hopefully would soon fade. Large items on the pulley tended to hang down to head height, shirt sleeves for example, dangled down so that the heads of adults brushed through them. But the main difficulty was that, in the depth of winter, if washings were extra large, there were occasions when the previous weeks washing hadn't dried when the next weeks compliment was ready to be hung up. One solution I never saw in any house to getting all the washing dried during wet weather in houses with six or more occupants would have been to install two or even three pulleys side by side. But this would have made the atmosphere in the kitchen very stuffy.
During the time we lived in Linthouse from 1937 to 1945, at first there were three of us in the house, then my sister arrived in 1941. Very occasionally the situation described above regarding the problem of getting the clothes dried happened to us. What people did when there were up to ten or more individuals to 'do' for is hard to visualise. Still in use in my house today there is a clothes horse I made in 1958 when newly married.
Weather permitting, washings were hung out in the backcourt, and as mentioned previously the back courts had iron railings around four feet high separating them. Some courts had four permanent poles planted in the ground to string the clothes ropes from. In others the railing section joins themselves had extension bars going up to a height of six feet, with hooks near the top having one, sometimes two, on each side of the railing for tenants to loop the rope on.
Additional hooks were sometimes fixed to tenement wall and/or the washhouse itself, to give extra stretches. A large washing sometimes required as many stretches as was available, so that two ropes would be needed. With all the washing hung out and secured with wooden, later plastic, clothes pegs, the next problem was that when first put out damp, some items would be heavy, depressing the rope and causing the clothes to hang down near to or even touching the ground, so that people walking to the midden, and sometimes children playing brushed through them. This was partly taken care of with portable clothes poles.
The poles were eight or nine feet long lengths of 3" x 1½" timber with a notch cut in one end for the rope, while the other end had a flat point to dig into the ground. With this pole placed in the centre of a stretch, most of the clothes could be raised to a relatively safe height which also helped them to catch a breeze. Each tenant was expected to contribute a pole that was usually marked with the owner's initials, and they were kept in the washhouse to be used by anyone. Another point to take into consideration is this. Materials used for most clothes today are often modern inventions that are a good deal easier to clean and will dry quicker than the natural fabrics of the period being written about.
In being dependent on getting the washed clothes dried outdoors it was a case of watching the weather, and that could be a heartbreak causing extra work. Often women working within the very limited view of the interior of the tenement block and dependent on the appearance of that portion of sky visible from within it, covered the backcourt with a big washing, when a wider view would have allowed them to see that rain would be arriving soon. There were times when I heard my mother and other women say with heartfelt anguish, 'Ah'd just covered the back (court) with all my washing when the rain came on, so ah had to rush and take it all in again, and it's still raining so how am I going get it dried now?' In winter an extended period of wet weather could cause severe problems when the pulley had to be used.
The iron had to be put back to re-heat frequently so most women had two of them, one to use while the other one was warming up. Two of them can just be made out in this photo.
The aunt died in 1940, and having been offered to Mum during the house clearance, I dimly remember it being pushed carefully along the street on its tiny wheels from 13 Hutton Drive to 12 Skipness Drive, and carried by Dad assisted by a couple of friends, with some difficulty up the three flights to our house. Other people I knew who had a mangle were nearly all older women, which may indicate that they were no longer being made, and those that were around had been in the possession of families for a long time, perhaps having been passed down through two or three generations. Some women, the aunt was one of them, could make a copper or two by taking in other people's washed clothes to put through their mangle, charging something like tuppence for an average wash and a ha'penny for a pair of linen sheets, linen and cotton being ideal materials for this treatment. Laundries and one or two small local shops also provided this service. For large, bulky domestic items such as blankets, winter sheets and curtains, the mangle was ideal.
When we moved from Linthouse to Old Pollok in 1945, Mary Ann's mangle came with us in the flitting, and was installed in a brick air-raid shelter that had been built at the start of the war in the back green of our end-terrace house there. It was in use for about a decade before being abandoned as washday requirements altered when, with the march of progress, Mum acquired her first washing machine with a wringer attached which could cope with the heavier articles. Eventually the old one was taken away by a scrap man who gave Mum a shilling or two for it. In operation, it had to be treated with care and concentration especially if the work was being done by two people, more so than with a wringer for the larger diameter rollers of the mangle could more easily trap fingers.
I was a victim of the mangle on one occasion when working with Dad. In the gloom of the shelter he was turning the handle while I was feeding sheets into the rollers when, just at the point where the rollers begin their grip and I should have released mine, the index finger and thumb of both hands were caught, and at that same instant he was distracted and had looked away while continuing to turn until he heard my cry of pain and stopped instantly. Although not bad enough to require hospital treatment or even a visit to the doctor, both thumbs and forefingers were badly crushed so that I lost thumbs and index fingernails in the weeks following as the injuries healed.
What came out of the 'lums' (chimneys) was well known and dreaded by local housewives on washdays. The amount of soot and grit the plant put out was prodigious, and in the surrounding districts wind direction had to be checked before hanging out a washing to dry. Living to the north-west about three-quarters of a mile away, I got to know that if the wind was from a south-easterly direction and was strong enough, the pollution could contaminate washings as far away as Linthouse and windows had to be closed. The volume of pollution varied, but if the wind was strong, at its worst each breath taken in left the impression of having grit in the mouth. The prevailing wind was westerly and residents to the east must have had a hard time coping with the dirt.
On the western side of Craigton Road opposite the destructor there was an area of ground occupied by sports clubs, a bowling club and two football grounds, one of which was used by cleansing plant employees in an industrial league. Their ground was known as Tinto Park. The other was a club in the city junior or amateur league in what was known as Benburb Park, and the team was 'The Bens'. One of the pitches is seen at top left in the photo below. A photo of both teams in the early 20th century can be seen near the end of part one in IPaW.
The rubbish collection road trucks entered the plant from Craigton Road seen also at top left of the upper photo, where two trams are also seen at what was then the terminus before the new bridge over the Glasgow to Paisley railway line on the left was built in the late 1920s. The trucks entered the plant at the double shed and ran up a ramp to the three-bay shed where they emptied their loads, then continued on down the ramp in the foreground. The rubbish was moved by an enclosed belt that carried it over to the burning plant at the four chimneys, then the residue was cooled by water and tipped into railway trucks in the below ground level siding for disposal elsewhere. The three dark wooden towers beyond the burning plant were for cooling the water used. Note the junction of the three roads, Edmiston Drive, Shieldhall Road and Craigton Road at top right, and the plant employees football ground at top left of the aerial view. The vehicles below used for collecting the rubbish, a large fleet of which was operated by the Cleansing Department, are worthy of describing in that their design, though appearing antiquated today, was then ahead of its time, with a feature not seen again for about twenty years.
Other than trams, all road vehicles up to the time being written about had engines up front, mounted over the front axle. But steam lorry engines were actually under the load bed, with the small boiler that produced the steam at the front, inside the cab and a chimney that rose up to pass through the roof. In vehicles with internal combustion engines, they were enclosed in a close-fitting housing or bonnet between the front mudguards of the wheels, with the cab behind it. This meant that the driving cab was quite far back behind the front axle. But the battery powered cleansing trucks had flat front ends. As there was no engine at the front they had a large cab mounted well forward, so that the position of the cab was ahead of the leading axle. The advantage of this arrangement became known to me in the early 1960s, when for a time I was the owner of a Ford Thames 15cwt van of similar design which was found to give excellent front end visibility for manoeuvring in tight spaces. In the 1930s view (above) of the plant was taken from Barfillan Drive in Craigton where the Glasgow to Paisley railway line ran in a cutting on the left.
Today this would be called a sales and marketing ploy to attract as many potential customers as possible. They would pause for a while to sell some then move along for the next performance. As I was of pre-school age at this time I was never able to take part in that dangerous pushing and shoving game, but I never saw him again after we moved to Linthouse in 1937. Without a doubt an accident prevention officer today would have nightmares if he encountered anything like it, and would immediately take steps to put a stop to it.
All these electrical installations were mounted on the same type of posts as the gas lights. They were very distinctive low, cast iron fluted poles with a flared base and a crossbar below the lamp. The light bulb had a reflector that was unique in that its like had never been seen anywhere else other than in the Glasgow area. The reflector was angled towards the pavement, and had a naked bulb that projected from the centre of a white enamelled shallow cone which flared away from it.
Reflectors are usually designed as a cone or a bowl round the bulb to achieve maximum efficiency by reflecting light that might otherwise be dissipated, so if the designer was aiming at the unusual he certainly succeeded here. A particular memory of these lights dates from pre-school years. It is of walking or being carried by my father from his mother's house in Rigmuir Road into Moss Road, on the way home to Howat Street after a visit on a dark night of fine rain. Very noticeable were these distinctive lights marching off in a double row, to fade in a mysterious way into the mist shrouded distance down towards Govan Road a half-mile away.
Motorised transport in the area bounded by the northern section of Elder Street, Taransay Street, Luath Street and Howat Street was infrequent because of its semi-seclusion. Those streets form in plan a broad flat `H' with Taransay Street passing across the top, so the only vehicles were mostly horse-drawn carts and hand-barrows, and motor lorries, vans and cars were seldom seen here. In that small area a private car in the street might belong to a doctor, but even that was rare for not all of those whose practices were in working class areas had cars, or was attending a wedding or a funeral. Another individual who lived up the close next to ours, number 9, had a motorcycle and he comes to mind in a rather dramatic fashion.
The owner of the bike created an entertaining scene each time he went out on it. From recollections of its appearance it was probably even then a museum piece. It stood in the street in front of his close propped up on a stand, the old style `U' bracket extending under rear wheel which when not in use was held up at the back by an over-centre spring. When starting it up he pushed it north from the close towards Taransay Street, gathering speed until he was running as fast as he could, then he leapt up and came down on the kick start lever, usually without success. Why he did this is puzzling unless it needed a combination of push/kick start. On reaching the north end of Howat Street he crossed over to the other side and proceeded back as far as Govan Road, going through these comical and strenuous antics which included much fiddling with the controls on the handlebars.
The man's physical attitude was like that of a predatory bird looming menacingly over the contraption while making adjustments. Continuing the circuit he returned to the close, and this went on for a couple of circuits until either the engine started with lots of smoke and explosive backfires, or he gave up exhausted. Motorcycle owners with their noisy machines were fairly common even then. When one roared past, it sometimes meant being engulfed in fumes having the distinctive hospital reek of a then occasional fuel additive to boost power - ether. There were no regulations governing the amount of noise an engine produced, and some drivers had no silencers fitted to their machines while others had one that looked like a trumpet and known as a megaphone silencer!
The number of horses in the streets meant that there was always dung lying around on road surfaces which made them a health hazard, particularly after a spell of dry weather. Heavy rain usually flushed them clean, but an extended dry spell caused the dung to turn to dust and chopped up straw which resembled sawdust. A wind of sufficient strength could, and often did, whip it up and make it a danger to eyes and lungs. Such weather conditions which would merely be annoying today, could be rendered hazardous. Householders with gardens or plots used to send their youngsters out to go round the streets with a barrow or a bogie and a shovel, and even a garden brush, to collect it for use as manure in season. The more enterprising children realised there was a ready market for it and sold it to householders with gardens.
Of dung collectors, I can still picture the expression of glee on the face of an urchin from his appearance not long started school, as he spotted a pile steaming in the street which a horse had just deposited while stationary. This meant that instead of having to sweep or scrape it up into a heap if it had been deposited while the horse was on the move, he could scoop it up at one go with his coal shovel. The street sweeper, or 'scaffy', had far less litter to cope with, but deposits from horses more than made up for it.
A simple barrow for collecting dung, which could be put to other uses around the garden, was easily made at home by acquiring from a grocers a discarded wooden box, like the one referred to before in which our sticks were kept. An Australian or New Zealand butter box was of an ideal size, although there was strong competition for them from people looking for cheap kindling and during the children's bogie building season to be described later. Butter was just one of many items bulk packed in non-returnable wooden boxes. Dried fruit, oranges and some canned goods were others. A single axle with a pair of wheels from an old pram could be nailed across the bottom at the centre, and a spar, or a pair of spars fixed one on either side of the box to project up at a low angle, served as shafts.
As part of the head harness, most horses working on public roads had to have a pair of patches called blinkers fitted one over each eye in such a way that they could only see forward without turning their heads. It was found that when motor vehicles first appeared, much trouble was caused by horses taking fright when one appeared coming up from behind suddenly. Through time they had become used to motor vehicles, except in one very important situation, when being overtaken. When a vehicle travelling in the same direction passed close to a horse, appearing suddenly in its vision, it can be startled, but fitting blinkers helped overcome the problem. This is where the term `blinkered' came from when used to describe the attitude of a person who refuses to see the obvious.
Horses of a nervous disposition were easily frightened and were liable to gallop off out of control with the cart. There were occasional newspaper items with the headline something like HORSE BOLTS WITH CART and the by-line Kills Man. There were two main reasons for this. Any sudden loud noise such as a sound virtually never encountered today, a backfire from a motorcycle, car or lorry, a common feature of motor vehicle engines at that stage of their development. It was a misfire caused by fuel passing through the engine un-burnt until it hit the hot exhaust, whereupon it would ignite and cause a bang which sounded like a gunshot. A car horn used thoughtlessly close to an animal too could startle it.
Another all too common cause of a horse galloping off out of control was the barking of a dog. Some dogs are territorial with a natural defence mechanism that, when another animal, horse, dog or cat, appeared in what they consider to be their territory, could cause them to bark, growl and snarl round the feet of any horse that appeared in the street. When that happened, and there were other causes than the ones mentioned, even apparently placid Clydesdales would snort and neigh, rear up then paw the ground and roll their eyes. It was a fearsome sight with the carter trying desperately to calm the animal as it tossed its head. Holding on tight to the bridle, he would be thrown about while trying to fend off the dog.
Traffic congestion which occurred on main roads in towns could sometimes be severe enough to obstruct the tram lines. If a carter had to make a delivery to a shop or other premises and found he couldn't park at the pavement edge, he simply double parked. This is tolerated in some circumstances today, but in the past if it was done on a tram route it could cause a hold up if the cart fouled the line. When coming upon such an obstruction, the tram driver who had a timetable to keep to, would clang his bell furiously and bawl and shout, because he was subject to a severe regime of discipline which didn't tolerate late or early running. Alarming or entertaining scenes of conflict were witnessed because of this.
Another more serious cause of friction between tram and cart drivers was engendered by the fact that carts were built with a standard wheel track which corresponded almost exactly to that of the tram lines. It will be appreciated that to be free from the noise and vibration of the cobble surfaces of all main roads then, carters took advantage of this whenever possible by running along the rails simply because it made life easier for them. A period postcard-type comic cartoon encountered in the past showed just such a scenario, with a tram visible, running close behind a plodding horse and cart which is occupying the rails in an otherwise empty Govan Road. Missing for me was the sound of the tram bell and the imprecations of the driver for the carter to `Get out of the adjectival way!'
The noise made by a cart rolling over cobbles was so penetrating that near it, it could be painful for sensitive ears. Carters obviously had to tolerate it while on the move, but why they did so if there was alternative employment was hard to understand. Some seemed quite oblivious to the racket and with an empty cart, or lightly loaded one and drawing near finishing time, they 'gee'd-up' their horse to a gallop which greatly increased the din. This was also a factor which made them choose to go by the smooth asphalt surfaced back streets whenever possible. 'Gee-up'' was an expression used by carters when getting their horse to start moving. Another command was a sound made with the tongue in the cheek 'check-check'.