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Living in tenements early childhood memories

Updated on December 12, 2011

old photos of my hometown

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tenements still standing today
tenements still standing today
tenements still standing today

childhood memories

Tenement living was seen as answer to the overcrowded housing, and to house the influx of workers in what was becoming a thriving shipbuilding and industrial town .The tenements sprung up from the mid 1800,s to early 1900s.The pictures are of the tenements in my home town in the 1920s.Nothing much had changed by my time in the 50s. The flat we lived in was called a room and kitchen, this meant it consisted of one small bedroom, and a larger room which was your living room, dining room and kitchen all in one.The kitchen had a set in bed, which was like an alcove with a bed in it about two feet off the ground, and a curtain you could pull to hide it. This was to be mine and my brothers bed for the first eight years of my life.

With so many families in such a cramped area the women had rotas for everything.You had an allocated day for hanging your washing in the backcourt,and if it was raining the washing was hung on a pulley in the already overcrowded main room.

As there was no running hot water, water had to heated on the stove for washing and cleaning. My mother used to fill the kitchen sink with water and stand me in it to wash me, which was okay but a bit embarrassing when your eighteen.

As luck (or bad luck) would have it my mother and father were housed in one of the early models, this meant that you shared a toilet on the landing with two other families. The scariest thing for one so young about having the “cludgie” (a slang name for toilet) on the landing was as every child knew the cludgie monster lived in the toilet system, just waiting to catch some unsuspecting person sitting there and pull them in .No wonder so many kids suffered from constipation.

This reminds of when I had just started school.We had a very religious teacher,and one day she was trying to find out if we said our prayers at bedtime.She asked johnny "what is the last thing you do at night?"."dae ma homework miss" Johnny answered ."No the very last thing?"asked the teacher."brush ma teeth miss" replied Johnny.No "the very very last thing?"asked the teacher.Johnny replied "pee in the sink miss".

The backcourt of the tenement block I lived in was like an adventure playground to a young boy .My earliest memory is marching round it in my lone ranger outfit playing, (the type of toy someone how doesn’t like you gives your son), my tin drum.Did you know? A true intellectual is someone who can listen to the William Tell overture and not think of the lone ranger.

You didn’t have the toys you have today, so as kids we had to make our own entertainment and many wonderful street games were invented. Some fun, and some mischievous.

The tenements in the next street to mine had dunnies under them. This meant they had cellars under the street but to us kids they were dungeons or dunnies. The pavements on this street also had gratings, that meant sometimes people dropped thinks down into the dunnies and we could go treasure hunting. There was a secondary school at the end of the road, and as we were getting older we realised that not only can we search for money doon the dunnies, we could see up the skirts of the girls going home from school. I tell you some kids have been traumatised for life by the things they have seen.

Most kids owned three pairs of footwear.Your school shoes,your plastic sandals,(the early model of today's crocs),and your wellies.The school shoes had to do you a whole term so if the sole wore out your maw would cut a cardboard insole and put it inside to keep your feet dry.Your plastic sandals for the summer,and wellies for winter and rainy days.I was the younger of two brothers,which meant I got the hand me down clothes,thank god it wasn,t an older sister

From the late fifties they started to demolish the worst of the tenements and build new houses.quite a strong sense of community builds up in tenement living, and a lot of people were moved onblock to new housing schemes,so they still had the same neighbours but not living on top of one another.

My own family moved to a maisonette just half a mile away from our old tenement.My mum thought she had died and went to heaven.The house had every thing she wanted.She had hot and cold running water,electric heating, which meant no more coal and dirty grates to clean, and of course a bathroom of her own.My older brother and I thought we had an indoor playground. We used to take the doormat inside and use the stairs as a slide,we had a bed each,and best of all a bathroom so no more cludgie monster.Street life was still the same as most of my friends had moved to houses within the same area.

In the sixties the worst decision made on housing was to start building those monsters called skyscrapers. A bit of tenement history is the story of the jeely piece .When you were out playing and wanted something to eat you would shout up to your window maw throw is oot a piece.Now these new monsters made this feat impossible.Below is a video of the jeely piece song.


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    • lyndre profile image

      lyndre 3 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks Penny

    • profile image

      Penny 3 years ago

      What a great read - well written telling of life in the tenements in the early 1900s (and then some). My mother-in-law's tenement didn't have electricity until 1946 - to her dying day my sister-in-law always rejoiced in the convenience of flicking on a switch for light and heat; for cooking and ironing.

    • lyndre profile image

      lyndre 7 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks for dropping in ST. Glad you enjoyed my trip down memory lane.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      What a beautiful memoir. You graced the telling of your tale with words that bring the reader right into your story and at the same time you helped us non-Scots understand the innuendos of your dialect.

      You have a gift...let it keep on giving.