End of the road for Glasgow housing institution

12/03/2019 10:32:02

It was a staple of working-class life in Glasgow for almost two centuries but now the ‘single end’ – the  one-room tenement flat - appears finally to have succumbed to the wrecking ball of history.

While there’s still a demand for modern studio apartments, single room tenement flats appear to have all-but vanished from the city’s housing landscape.

The single end reached the peak of its popularity in the second half of the 19th Century when it accounted for 34% of all housing stock in Scotland. The two-room tenement, known as the ‘through and through’ comprised a further 37% of all homes.

The extent of poverty and overcrowding in inner cities was laid bare by the 1861 census which revealed that some 226,000 families in Scotland lived in a space no bigger than 14ft by 11.5ft.

While the number of people per single end varied, the average occupancy rate was five. An 1862 study of the Canongate, Tron, St Giles and Grassmarket areas of Edinburgh showed that 1,530 single ends had between six and 15 occupants. Overcrowding was made worse by families being forced to take in lodgers, which was the case in around one in ten single end homes.

In those days there was no internal sanitation and families used outside toilets. Thankfully, the worst of the tenement slums were destroyed in the latter part of the last century.

Those that still exist have had small bathrooms of shower rooms installed and by modern standards they are particularly small properties, hence the lack of demand.

Single ends are part of our social history and, in that sense, the fact that they’ve all but disappeared is of curiosity value, but it’s doubtful many people will mourn their passing.

Professor Douglas Robertson, an expert in social history at Stirling University, says: “The reason for the lack of single ends was, like most 'room and kitchen' flats was that they were slums, as defined by the 1969 Housing Scotland Act for they were below the tolerable standard. That basic measure is still the basis of housing quality we use today. Who says there’s no such thing as progress?

“As such they were demolished, with the high-rise flats of the 1960s replacing them. And then those that remained were, in Glasgow's case, remodelled into larger flats, by getting rid of the single end and joining half to each of the adjacent room and kitchen flats.

“The standard layout on floors two, three and four was two-rooms and kitchen on either side of a single-end. This became the core work of the city's community-based housing association, from the 1970s through to the 1990s.” 

Professor Robertson added: “Barrett's produced their infamous Studio Solos in the 1980s, which challenged building regulations at the time. There was some built in most large cities but they were never popular.

“But fear not, the single end does still exist and many thousands have been built in some of the ugliest housing developments of recent years. 

“They are termed private ‘student accommodation’ and are one of the most profitable areas for property speculators these days. And who knows, when the foreign student exploitation bubble bursts, as it will, we might have a new single-end, slum issue to sweep up.” 

For more information on all types of property on the market in Glasgow and across central Scotland, call your local Scottish Property Centre branch or visit www.scottishpropertycentre.net

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