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2 Oct 2018

Warm and homely – a trip to Tenement House

Written by Lauren Miller
Tenement House
Braes High student Lauren Miller has been trying out our £1 entry for Year of Young People. She knocks on the door at the Tenement House.

Hidden in Glasgow’s city centre sits a time capsule that depicts life in a working class tenement house. As a unique and refreshing property, the Tenement House offers an insight into the traditional urban housing in Scotland that often housed up to 15 people. It has been preserved in its condition from the early 20th century and was purchased by the National Trust for Scotland in 1982.

This property in particular housed Miss Agnes Toward, who lived there between 1911 and 1965, when she was taken into hospital for the last decade of her life. After 10 years of neglect, her home was taken into to the hands of Anna Davidson, who made it her mission to ensure it was protected. Today, the house gives a very detailed glimpse into the past and the hardships many families faced during this time.

Tenement House
Lauren arrives at the Tenement House for her visit

The first thing I noticed as I walked through the entrance was a poster with the title, ‘Preserving the past for the future’. I’m sure it helps many to understand and appreciate such a rare property. This house had inhabitants only within the last century and a sense of real character still remains.

On the ground floor there are two rooms filled with posters and information about those who lived in the tenement itself. A timeline of Miss Toward’s life hung on the wall which allowed me to connect with her as she welcomed me in to her everyday life. By the time I was ready to go upstairs I found I had gained a real understanding of the life she had led.

Halfway up the stairs there’s a window peering out onto the garden, which still had a washing line up. In order to get in to Agnes’s home I had to knock on the door, which already gave the property such a homely feel. I was welcomed by three members of staff who I found to be very warm and approachable. I could see how passionate they all were about the house, each of them very knowledgeable and delighted to answer any questions I had.

The first room I came to was the bathroom, which Agnes was very lucky to have in the first place. It was a very narrow space with exhausted toothbrushes and old soap lying on the sink, toiletries and medication lying on the windowsill. It created a very convincing layout to the original bathroom.

Bathroom at the Tenement House
Bathroom at the Tenement House

The kitchen had a warm and homely atmosphere. All the pots and pans were still lying out as if they’d just been used, the washing board was lying next to the sink and, amazingly, a jar of plum jam made by Agnes in the 1920s was still in the cupboard!

I had a brilliant conversation with one of the members of staff, who mentioned her own past of living in tenement housing as a child and that working here gave her a kind of nostalgia. She told me of the games the staff often play with kids. They ask them to find a specific object in the house that looks incredibly different to the modern version. By explaining the importance of keeping a property like this alive she helped me to understand the significance of such a rare treasure being appreciated by everyone.

Pots and pans hang in the kitchen
Pots and pans hang in the kitchen
“The Tenement House is a warm and homely property that can be appreciated by all ages and can completely change how you view the life you have.”
Lauren Miller

With a newspaper and china still lying out on the living room table, it had a lively atmosphere. The bed in the corner looked confining and almost cold; it definitely caused everyone in the room to appreciate their warm, cosy bed just that little bit more.

Items on the sideboard create a homely feel
Items on the sideboard create a homely feel

There were hair tongs lying on top of the dresser in the bedroom that looked more like pliers. The idea of having to heat them up on a fire rather than flicking a switch gave me a sense of relief with the advances we’ve made in the last century.

Hair care has changed a lot in the last 50 years
Hair care has changed a lot in the last 50 years

The house in general is not what I expected. I thought I knew how people used to live 50 years ago but I didn’t expect the great differences between my life and theirs. I feel almost guilty that more people don’t know about this enchanting property. The individuality it holds means that the Tenement House is a warm and homely property that can be appreciated by all ages and can completely change how you view the life you have.

It’s a priceless insight into the lives of not just Miss Agnes Toward but of everyone who lived in tenement housing during the first half of the 20th century. It’s easily accessible and is a ‘must see’ in the heart of Glasgow.

As a teenager, I believe we must have the ability to appreciate a more recent history. The National Trust for Scotland supports the interest and passion of the next generation and are offering £1 entry to any of their properties for anyone that holds a YoungScot card. This should surely lure anyone into exploring such a rich culture and uncovering more of Scotland.

Explore the Tenement House

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