Episode 4: Tenement life, with Ana Sanchez De la Vega, Tenement House and Allistair Burt, Camphill Gate

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello, I’m Niall Murphy,  welcome to “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. Today we will be talking about tenements in Glasgow, and about what it is like living in a tenement now compared to living in one at the start of the 20th century. 

So Glasgow is a tenement city par excellence. And I imagine most of our listeners probably live in a tenement, this is why tenements are a core focus for Glasgow City Heritage Trust building repair grant programme. And the reason for that, is that the tenement is the traditional form of urban housing in Scotland, and has all classes of people covering the full spectrum of domestic life. As such, it helps undergird Scotland’s urban culture. So stone facades of tenements have helped define Glasgow streets since the 17th century. And nowadays roughly 73% of Glaswegians live in a tenement. A figure that was even higher before the 1950s.

 So what exactly is a tenement? Well, it is an idea of which dates to the Roman Empire and comes from the Latin word Tenementum or holding, which referred to Rome’s great insulae were multiple tenements were packed into these tall tenement like buildings, generating rent for the building’s owner. 

However, this image of the tenement only really takes hold in the latter part of the 19th century, and is a consequence of how our tenements evolved to accommodate the fast influx of people who after the Industrial Revolution, came to Glasgow to work in the city’s factories, mills and shipyards. During this time, Glasgow’s population grew from a quarter of a million at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign to 760,000 at the end of it, all those people had to be housed somewhere. And it had to be done in a way that prevented overcrowding, disease and epidemics. 

So this was done via a combination of statutory requirements laid down by various police acts, which governed things like cleanliness, ventilation, access to daylight and is the reason why we have things such as wally closes, which are easy to clean, and toilets and tenants. 

The turn of the 20th century were represented as a golden age of the Glasgow tenement, with the construction for rent of top of the line tenements, with all mod cons in middle class areas such as Pollokshields, and Hyndland. While the City Improvement Trust was also building model working class tenements in areas such as Trongate,  Cowcaddens and the Gorbals. 

Sadly, all this came to a halt when an incremental tax on property speculation and Lloyd George’s People’s Budget of 1909 to 10 put an end to tenement construction in Glasgow. Not only did this limited housing supply in an overcrowded city, unfortunately those problems were compounded by what happened in the First World War. 

So to combat landlords profiteering, while their men were out at the front, and 1915 under the leadership of Mary Barbour, Glasgow’s working class women went on a rent strike, which soon spread to other working class communities in the UK. So this resulted in the rents and mortgage Interest Restriction Act of 1915. Initially temporary, parts of this act were not repealed until 1989. So the unintended consequence for Glasgow, while this act was a good thing, the unintended consequence was that the cap on rents stymied Glasgow’s factoring profession, who collected rents and maintained the tenements for the owners. So the even though Glasgow’s tenements were very well built, this led to a cycle of neglect and decline over many decades thereafter. 

So by the 1950s, this neglect was coming home to roost. But rather than pay for the repairs, most owners decided to sell their tenements to their tenants, thus fragmenting ownership, and making the coordination of maintenance even more difficult. So in response to the poor condition of Glasgow’s tenements, the corporation declared 27 comprehensive development areas, with 40% of the Victorian city, including many tenements, then being swept away. 

So but by the 1970s, things were changing. So in the best example of this is Annie’s Loo. So Annie’s Loo was where Mrs. Annie Gibbon, who lived at 10 Luath Street in Govan, worked with her neighbours and students from Strathclyde University to show that it was possible to fit a bathroom into a bed recess. And when it was officially opened by Councillor Pat Lally on 10th of February 1972, this innovation caused the sensation and led to the birth of Glasgow’s local housing association movement, because it showed you could rehabilitate and refurbish the tenements. 

So on the back of this you then get in the mid 1970s middle class tenement areas such as East Pollokshields and Hyndland being declared conservation areas and suddenly by the 1980s Glasgow’s tenements are fashionable and desirable once more. So today, we have two excellent guests to talk all things tenements. Our first up is Ana Sanchez, Visitor Service Supervisor at the Tenement House, the Tenement House is a very special property owned by the National Trust for Scotland. So Ana’s role is varied, and she covers volunteer strategy and training to collections care and conservation. And she also plans exhibitions, events and special tours. 

The Tenement House is a red stone tenement, built in 1892, and is on Buccleuch Street in Garnethill. From the outside it looks like an ordinary middle class late 19th century tenement. However, when you step inside the flat, the four rooms appears to have frozen in time, and provide a rare glimpse into life in Glasgow in the early 20th century. It was rented by shorthand typist, Miss Agnes Toward who lived in the flat from 1911, until 1965, and who carefully preserved all her furnitures and possessions with the utmost love and care. So Ana, welcome to the podcast. 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Hi, Niall, thank you so much for having me. 

Niall Murphy  

It’s a pleasure. So first off, what can you tell me about the Tenement House? You know, from within, and what sort of tenement was the Tenement House? How common was at that time to have the facilities that it had, such as an indoor toilet and an extra bedroom? What can you tell us about that?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega  

Well, the Tenement House is so unique in the way that it represents a way in which many people lived at the turn of the century in Glasgow, but it holds very personal stories of its inhabitants at the same time, so we have that dual narrative in the, in the property. 

Of course tenements are still occupied today by a lot of people, I live in one myself, and so the stories that are happening in tenements are very much alive and I feel like new chapters are constantly being added to  that story. And the Tenement House is one of the most unique places in in Glasgow, I would say the best but that’s just me. And it is a very special property indeed for the National Trust for Scotland, it is in the centre of Glasgow as you  said, and it was built as an upper middle class tenement and for our records, we know that it was lived in by a professional working class. So the people that used to live in it in those tenements were working class, bankers, young families, we have a lawyer and a nurse at one point. And so it’s typical in its structure and layout to many other tenements in Glasgow, and it has many of the same quirks that tenements still shared today. 

In terms of facilities, I think given its location and and the people, and its inhabitants, it was already built with an indoor toilet and hot running water which is quite luxurious for the time. And, and it has three other rooms so we have a kitchen, a bedroom and a parlour, and it didn’t have central heating, but instead it had fireplaces and gas lights which are still in place today and give a really atmospheric feel to it and the rest of the original fittings are from 1892 as well. And we own four flats within the building. One of them being Mr. Toward’s flat, which is the time Capsule. 

Niall Murphy  

Right? Okay, well, well, looking back at what her life was like there. And you know, it’s it’s incredible that she kind of preserved this entire flat in aspects, as it were, you know, which makes it kind of such a tribute to what it was when she first moved in. But at the same time, you know, the city is going through all these vast changes. So you’ve got, you know, Garnethill in particular is, is, you know, you’ve got sections of tenements, or parts of it that are very recognisable that, but then it just abruptly stops compared to how it was so. 

So you know, how much has changed since Miss Toward lived in the tenement?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, that’s such a great question. So Miss Towars lived in the Tenement House from 1911 till 1965. 

So a lot, a lot of things have changed since, she lived through lots of changes that were quite interesting. For example, she lived through the 1918 pandemic. So she was my age when she lived through that, which I think is quite interesting. Yeah, yeah. And her generation, and everyone that was living in that tenement at the time went through things like coping with uncertainty of a pandemic, after a war. I mean, they went to two world words while they were living in there. And it’s, which is such an example of resilience. And in terms of changes, they saw the Subway being develop, the Glasgow School of Art being built around, around the corner. And, and she saw the motorway’s changes specifically through Charing Cross, because that’s where we’re located, and completely changing the trams. And, and she also experienced a change where lots of residents of tenements were being relocated to other places and high rises, and due to the construction of the motorway, so the whole panorama changed, and but she also saw things like the Queen’s coronation on the TV. 

She has, we’ve kept in the property and amazing archive of all of the correspondence that she had, which gives us insight into all of these changes that were happening in the city at the time that she was living.

Niall Murphy  

It must be fascinating to be able to read that archive and kind of  what she recorded there. So there are other things as well that are worth teasing out from that?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, I mean, her and her mother, so they are two women, basically. And they’re both working women, which I quite like, the mother was a dressmaker, she was a shorthand typist, and they never made any major changes to the flat, but also they hoarded all sorts of objects that we would normally thrown away. And so Agnes, there were both named Agnes just to make our lives easier. But Agnes the younger, she became a shorthand type is, which meant she often kept carbon copies of the letters that she sent, which is great, because you get both parts of the correspondence here. And, and it’s an amazing resource. Because, you know, that and all of the newspapers, magazines, receipts that she kept really helps paint a picture of the of life back then.

Niall Murphy  

It just sounds absolutely fascinating. So, you know, looking at that, then do you think that living in a tenement now compared to how it was during the first half of the 20th century? Is it very different?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yes. It is definitely, I mean, it’s, it’s, we’re so lucky to have modern commodities that have allowed our roles and structures and families to evolve. And, and in terms of things like hygiene, it’s a big change. And I can control the heating and the lights of my flat from my phone. Can you imagine people back that and like knowing this, and when they had to, like, not only like, light the fireplaces or the range, but use gaslights if they were to know, right, and so no more coal ashes to clean and no more clothes going through the mangle. I think we’re unbelievably lucky. 

But at the same time, visiting the Tenement House and living in a tenement can really help you understand the architectural design of the, of the buildings, and they’re still loved and lived in and sought after, because of these architectural features that are still quite handy for us today, like the borrow lights or double windows that you were referring before, and very much, but I wouldn’t like to share my toilet with all of my neighbours or a half of  the garden, so yeah, definitely. I think I prefer now. 

Niall Murphy  

Yes, yeah, I’ve been I’ve been there and done that, actually, for a wee while was living in a tenement in East Berlin. And this was in the early 90s. And we had a shared toilet or what Glaswegian would call a cludgie on the half landing of the stair, and you know, it was treated like a throne, that every everybody, it was immaculate and you never left it dirty. And to everybody lining the walls of all of this. It was all postcards that people sent the toilet from all over  the world, it’s absolutely hilarious. So all these kind of, you know, wherever you went in the world, yeah had to send the postcard back for the loo. So it was, it was quite fascinating to see, to see stuff like that. 

Okay, returning back to the Tenement House them. How popular is it with visitors to Glasgow? How many you know, before the pandemic? How many did you get every year? And how many volunteers do you have? 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

So I am very lucky, because I have a team of approximately 83 volunteers who cheer my days  with the best stories, many of them have either lived in a tenement or live in a tenement. And they share their love with our visitors about all things tenement and they are great, and I love them. And I’ve missed them terribly through this pandemic. 

And, and in terms of visitors on a non COVID year, and last year, we had, well, the year before Covid, we have 26,000 visitors coming in from all over the world and to see, you know, this place, because it’s so unique. When you visit a city, I think having the opportunity to really understand and see how people lived back then. Back then it’s, it’s definitely a joy. So we’re really happy to be able to share that with people from all over the world. We have some people specifically from Australia and Canada that are kind of like tracing back their heritage, and they want to see how their relatives used to live. So they’re always really interested in see everything tenement related. And then we have people who just come for the the signings, or maybe they are new proud owners of a tenement and want to understand the bed recess, or how it worked. And then we just have families as well, which is quite nice. And my favourite is the, the grandparents when they come with the children, because it’s such an interesting conversation, the grandparents have the knowledge of, of the tenement there and everything the way that they used to live, and it’s just so unique to see. 

Niall Murphy  

Yes, yes, I can  imagine. I mean, it must be quite difficult having to deal with that. I mean, I’m just trying to think, you know, I’m in my tenement at the moment. If I had 26,000 people through my door every year be an awful lot of wear and tear. How would you handle things like that? 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

So yeah, it’s, it’s like having when you have a party in your house, and then after you need to clean like that every day. And well, we handle that with the love and care of our staff and volunteers who help us keep everything right. People are really respectful of the tenement anyway. And so yeah, we love it, the more we do own four, other three other flats in the building, so four in total, so we can kind of like, you make the most of the space there. But yeah, it’s it’s a lot of people in a tiny tenement.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Why do you think people love the Tenement House so much? 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega 

Well, I think people love the Tenement House so much because it’s so near to everyone’s hearts in the way that we passed tenements. If you live in Glasgow, you’ve passed a tenement every day. Or you maybe you live in a tenement, or maybe your granny lived in a tenement. So there’s something that is just surrounding us, and it’s there and it’s part of it’s part of Glasgow. 

And when it comes to the Tenement House, it has a very genuine voice, it’s, it’s something people can really relate to, because the contents of it, they’re not really expensive, they’re valuable tools because because of the stories they tell, but they’re not like amazing, it’s not an amazing collection of paintings or objects, it’s more about things that you would have in your own house and the collection of it makes a really interesting life. And so yeah, I just, I just think that our, that there are no barriers, it’s just nice and immersive. And and for me in particular, like I love it because it shows the story from a woman’s perspective, it was the home of two working women and that’s quite important as well so I just think people love it because they can they can connect with it.

Niall Murphy  

So did living in a tenement then, involved a lot more shared responsibilities such as the cleaning of the close so the rota for the wash house. 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, it’s funny because I’ve been seeing lots of really wonderful stories about neighbours right now that through the pandemic have been getting in touch with each other maybe like revamping some of the spaces, the closes or the gardens and it really reminded me of the responsibilities that people share back then. 

In the Tenement House so the neighbours would have had to have a rota, like you said, to clean the close and making sure everything was like spotless and people really took pride in having a really nice, and look after the close and and also the turns for the wash house and drying their clothes and and I think there was a really like, an important sense of community back then that sort of like got lost in the way and it was coming back again and it’s just lovely. It’s just lovely to see those stories coming back and if anything good has happened from these lockdowns is that we’ve all been sharing more with our neighbours and just being a wee bit more mindful of them and like, you know, talking to them like like, like they’ve done on Camphill (Gate). So that’s always really lovely to see.

Niall Murphy  

Many thanks Ana, that was really fascinating. So now let me introduce our second guest Allistair Burt from Camphill Gate. Now Allistair has  lived in Camphill Gate, which is a tenement on the South Side of Glasgow for 16 years. So he has a background in architecture, working as a project architect for 14 years for a large commercial practice, and now works as an illustrator designer, under the name “Hole in my pocket”. Camphill Gate is a 1906 B listed tenement by architect John Nisbet and builder John McTaggart, it is located in Shawlands on the site of historic Crossmyloof Bakery on Pollokshaws Road, just opposite Queen’s Park and Langside Halls and because it’s located opposite the park and so it doesn’t have any buildings opposite, that means it can rise up to five storeys which is quite unusual in Glasgow, so it’s red sandstone, and has really good Glasgow style details on the building. So there are 12 shops along the ground floor and 24 flats above. And because it fronted onto a bakery, the building was the first tenement in Glasgow to be constructed from fireproof materials. So while it might look traditional, behind the sandstone, it is in fact of concrete construction. So as there was  no space for for a drying green, they had to incorporate it on the roof, hence the wonderful communal rooftop garden. From 2016 onwards, the residents started to investigate different ways to have the building repaired. 

So to help raise funds, they’ve done things like hold concerts, parties and yoga classes up on the roof. So in in 2017, the owners of Camphill Gate successfully applied to Glasgow City Heritage Trust for a building repair grant to help restore that tenement to its original condition. So repairs include renewal of the asphalt mastic roof, re-slating and renewal of lead clad finials and flashings to the source of dome roofs, repairs to external stonework repairs and renewal of  mastic and decoration to the windows, renewing the close entrance store and repairs to rear doors. So renewal of the cast iron rainwater goods and soil vent pipes, and repairs and repainting of the decorative cast iron railings on the top of the building. So Allistair. Welcome to the podcast. 

Allistair Burt  

Thank you for having me, Niall.

Niall Murphy  

That’s a pleasure, Allistair. So first off, this is a difficult question. How difficult was it to get everybody else in all the three closes in the building on board with repairs?

Allistair Burt  

It was it was tricky. It was tricky. As you see there’s 24 flat owners. And then there’s 12 business owners, 12 businesses, but not all of those businesses own the property. So then they are also the landlords of those properties as well to sort of navigate through the process. I mean, it’s been a long time coming. Most people have been fully supportive. There’s been one or two who didn’t want to be spending money on something and they couldn’t see the benefit of it. But I think we’ve managed to convince everybody, you know, have near unanimous involvement and thumbs up from everybody.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. No, it’s it’s, it’s, you know, I can appreciate how difficult that is, and how it can be like herding cats. And I have enormous respect for you and your fellow owners that have managed to come together and actually do that and keep working on it. Because it is, it’s, it’s a, it’s a big task over all those years to just kind of keep going and keep working through it. So tell us more about what you’re trying to repair and make better on the building?

Allistair Burt  

Well, as you said to your listeners, it’s quite comprehensive. There’s a lot of stuff needs done. 

When I first moved into the building in 2004, I noticed a few bits and pieces that were not looking their best. And with the centenary coming out for the building, so 1906 was built. So 2006 I was looking well there is any bits and pieces we could repair? And the railings were in a bit of a sorry  state. And we pay the company into wire brush down all the railings and repaint them. But actually they came out and they cut through the main supports of the railings, all the railings fell forward. And were hanging over the over the road. So for the last 16 years, 15 years, we have had temporary scaffolding poles in place to secure the railing so that they are safe for people. So that’s nice. Yeah, so that was the first thing that kind of brought people’s attention to the issues. But as we explored getting that done, it proved quite tricky to get everybody on board. And we were finding that maybe information that was being shared through the factors was not maybe directly being matched up per close, per close. So we started talking, talking together as a group. 

And we then hired the brilliant architect Fiona Sinclair, conservation genius, and she produced a detailed, a detailed report for us into what was needed. And the extent covers a lot of works that were previously repaired in the 1980s. When, as part of that major refurbishment of the tenements that took place.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, it’s something that we come across a lot in our work.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah. And as you as you will know that there’s, the work is not always done to the best standards.

Niall Murphy  

All done done up at once and in too much of a rush and nobody learning from each other’s mistakes because there wasn’t enough time to learn from each other’s mistakes.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah I mean and it was great they were giving you 90% grants for it so I’m sure everybody was delighted but a lot of the stuff… Fiona identified that a lot of details were changed that it shouldn’t haven’t been impacting us. So one of the major things is the rainwater outlets and the rain water pipes are all far smaller than the building originally tended to have so I think the gutters are a third of the size that they originally were really and they were supposed to have big hoppers as well but I only got i think i think is an 85 ml rainwater pipe on our, on our gutter so every single time it rains from the moment that work was done, it when it rains the gutters fill up, they backup and they get onto the slab underneath the asphalt and then find their way through until the top four flats yeah so.

Niall Murphy  

 This is a real issue in Glasgow because once you get the stone saturated it just like this acts like a big sponge, taking the heat out of the building. So that’s that’s a major issue around Glasgow.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah, so that that’s that was the kind of thing that really got us. Most of the things that we really noticing all the top floor flats have ceiling damage, some of the flats above have also got ceiling damage as well because the ones been getting in, but then it’s been running down the inside face of the stonework and then finding its way out the floor below as well. Yes. And so that’s, that’s been, that’s helped us kind of convince everybody it was a shame that it took until the ceilings were collapsing to everyone to be feeling  the need, but we got there!

Niall Murphy  

It’s very, it’s very difficult. Okay, tell me more about the the history of the roof itself as kind of a social space, you know, when did, when did you start thinking about that, and how is that evolved?

Allistair Burt  

Well, when I first moved into the building, the roof wasn’t really used, there was one other flat I think that used the roof. But in fact, when I moved in, there was a broken fridge an old bike without any wheels and a pile of rubbish and stuff laying on the roof. So I cleared it out, and then so we put some nice little plants and some decking down to protect the roof. And then slowly over the years more and more people have started to get to get used to the roof, it is the really unique thing that’s the big selling point of view is amazing. From there, we can see it across the whole of the West, and the south of the city. Unfortunately, the park just a little bit, we can’t see the East End, but we can’t have everything, we can see a lovely park. 

But that, that’s that has been a real benefit for the building because I know all the people not only in my close, but the two neighbouring closes because the building has over three closes that share, share the roof. And you would never know them. But quite often you go up there in the summer and there will be somebody sitting having a little barbecue or they’ll be somebody playing a little guitar and you can go over and join them and have a little chat. And it just makes it feel a special safer place. And yes, I can imagine, but it was the, we were kind of spurred on by the, by the problems of trying to get some of the repair was carried out previously. 

With all the information needs to  being passed directly through the factors, we found that a bit of a challenge, we started organising more regular meet-ups, and we’ve created a social media platform for us to be able to exchange things and that drove us a bit closer together. And we realised we were more aligned in terms of what we needed to get done than we thought. But when we realised we were going to have to get, we realised how expensive was going to be, we realised we’re gonna have to come to lovely people like your good selves to try to assist us, we thought, well, we need to be showing that we are trying our best to kind of improve and look after this building. So that’s when we started doing the more social events. 

Niall Murphy  

Sure, sure. So have you been collaborating with other organisations and companies, and companies you know, in order to kind of achieve these events? And you know, as a consequence of that, would you say that you’re now quite rooted as kind of an event space in the South Side?

Allistair Burt  

We are, we get, we get a lot of inquiries from people asking if we if they can use the space obviously it’s not open to, the to the public. And we’ve worked with there is a couple of  people living in  the building. There’s a lot of people living in the building who are connected through lots of different creative networks. There’s a lot of artists and writers and musicians and stuff who have lived in the building over the years. And we were able to call on some of them, including some couple of people have worked for the National Theatre of Scotland and they were able to use their connections to get quite a lot of famous people to come in and play, Kathryn Joseph came and performed up there. Not long after she had one album of Scottish Album of the Year. And that was that was quite a stunning event. She’s kind of timed her singing perfectly as the sunset and the horizon behind her. And we’ve worked with a few different, we worked with the Open House Arts Festival and we converted a couple of flats into exhibition spaces to put on a couple of gallery shows. With a couple of film showings as well.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, we used it for “Looking up and looking out” for our tenement event. So which is, which was good fun. We challenged  trying to find all the things around the roof for folk to do surveys. Yeah, it was great. And the flats as well were really, really helpful for that.

Allistair  Burt  

That was lucky because we had one of the, one of the flats had been empty for quite a while when you guys were looking to do that, unfortunately, it been relatively untouched. So people were able to kind of get inside and see a lot of the original features and, and pretty bad nick. It must be fair to say but that one that’s that’s been that’s been renovated by a young couple who moved there.

Niall Murphy  

Right. So what’s your plans? You know, once the repairs are done? Are you going to keep on doing these kind of events up on the roof?

Allistair  Burt  

I think what we will definitely be doing is we will keep doing the Doors Open Days we kind of feel we did Doors Open Days the last couple of years and we had like 1000 people came through the door on each day, which was kinda of nuts for a very, very tiny team of volunteers.

Niall Murphy  

It shows how much interested people are!

Allistair Burt  

Oh yeah, no people love it. We’ve had so many gifts. We had the great great, great great grandson and great great granddaughter of John Nisbet, who was the original architect, came out to the building. And they were really touched, because with that flat that you guys used in the first Doors Open Days that was empty and so we converted into an exhibition space. And we had one room that was full of original drawings of the building, one room had photos of the building throughout the history, because we managed to find 1906 photographs from an edition of the Architects Journal just when the building is brand new. So we’ve got a photo of the building and half the shops are uninhabited because nobody has yet moved into them, which is quite stunning. And then one other room we had kind of history of the the two main men that were behind the building, John was the the architect and John McTaggart, the builder. We’ve also had been in touch the great great grandson of Sir John McTaggart, who  is Sir John McTaggart Jr. Yeah, he, he very kindly wrote us a check. He’s quite a wealthy man. He wrote us a check for two thousands pounds, a very nice gesture. So we’re going to use his money to make a little plaque about the history and put it up on the building.

Niall Murphy  

Right an interpretation plaque, it is great idea. That’s that’s really, really interesting. That’s fascinating.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah. The idea is we’re going to do above the three closed doors. We’re going to do one about the before the building was there. So Neil, Neil Thompson, and the bakery’ s history and what he tried to do in the area, the middle one about sort, of the sort of McTaggart and John Nisbet and about the period where the building was built. And then the last one about what we have all been doing and the future of the building, because we’ve all be quite clear that like, we are just the merely, the people who live in the building, just like we own the responsibility for ensuring that 100 years time there’ll be another bunch of people who are trying to make sure that it’s repaired and looked after for the next 100 years after that.

Niall Murphy  

Sure, absolutely. So do you think having been through all this and it’s not over yet because the repairs are about to start on site? Yeah. That’s kind of that’s kind of acts as a real kind of cohesive thing that’s kind of brought together everybody is a group of owners. Are you more of a community now?

Allistair Burt  

Yeah, I mean, the, that we were supposed to start before the pandemic and the repairs have been dragged out for so long has has caused a little bit more strain on things and I think we had that, we had everybody lined up and we were kind of like, yeah, we’re going for it and then everything kind of went down in the pot a wee bit.  Yes, so now everyone’s really excited. I’m sure I’m not sure what, they’ll what they’re gonna make of living in a building site for a year we’ll see. 

Niall Murphy  

I wish, I wish you luck,  I’m sure it will be good. It would be like you know, Blitz spirit.

Allistair Burt  

But the intention as as well as doing those three plaques that we will probably do Doors Open Days for the next at least the next few years because we had so many donations. I designed some prints and mugs that we sold. All the people that came on those days are all “oh when can we come back and see when it’s finished?” So we want to do it for the next few years at least once it’s done. We’ll have everyone back for a bit more of a celebration. But make them all wear their slippers or something just to make sure the roof is kept in perfect condition.

Niall Murphy  

I have to say I can’t, can’t wait to get back and be up on the roof again. Once we can do safely,  I’m very, very much looking forward to that. When did you come up with the idea of coming together as a group?

Allistair Burt  

I am that was that was post the centenary year really, that was when the first starting threads happened. But it took a long time to kind of build into something. We tried to get the railings repaired over several years. But we kept failing, couldn’t get everybody on board. And then we tried to get the railings and the cupolas repaired because of the glass cupolas started…but each of them had panes of glass ball down the stairwells. So they needed, they needed some urgent repair. Yeah, that was a large bang in the middle of the night that went over the next morning, imagine. 

Yeah, and so that kind of made us realise we needed to be, we needed, because it’s, there’s a lot of pressure from the factors, you need to do this, you need to do that. And I think that we all need to take quite a lot of responsibility for it as well as like us, the factors are doing what we asked them to do. And if we’re not all speaking together with one strong voice, and giving them clear instruction, then the there is,  it makes it harder for them to do stuff for us. So that was kind of 2011- 2012 probably it is when we really started kind of having proper regular meetings and discussing getting Fiona involved. 

Man, it’s a long process, man, it’s probably 10 years in the making of us getting to the stage where we are, fingers crossed, starting on site and the not in a so far future. And but yes, probably 10 years ago is when we started getting together. But we’ve got more and more. We’ve got more and more close. Like we all we all went for Christmas dinner. Not last year, but the year before we booted out the Bella Napoli restaurant and we all went down there was like 14 plus.

Niall Murphy 

That’s that’s really impressive. So therefore, do you think that having such a good relationship with your kind of fellow co-owners has made lockdown easier?

Allistair Burt  

It has I mean, it’s, it’s there’s a lot of people in the building, and we’re very cross section of society. 

So there have been, there are a couple of people who do not believe in any of it. Yeah, it’s been it’s been fun, but then having the outdoor space at the heat of the lockdown at the very early stages. 

I mean, I don’t know if we would have managed to survive without the roof garden to be able to escape. Because we could all go out there we all… because normally we’re all kind of go to the same rough areas like three or four spaces all sit together communally. Yes, but because of that, we, because we couldn’t really do that everybody kind of sat in their own little spaces. But you could go and stand there because it’s because there is big there’s lots of room to be able to stand back. Pretty much yeah, so we didn’t have any communal barbecues this year, which we usually do but we decided that was a bit unsafe this year. But there’ll be back we’ll have a big celebratory one to which we’ll invite you all too. As soon as the building is repaired.

Niall Murphy  

That would be wonderful. So okay, but if I can bring Ana back in again. So I have a final couple of questions for both of you to kind of consider and the first of these is what parts of your tenement and the surrounding area would a person who moved in when it was first built still recognise? So Ana, do you want to go first there?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, sure. So what parts, so I think from the inside everything because it’s the time capsule isn’t it? 

So Agnes would feel like at home However, if she visited any of our other now owned flats within the building where we have exhibition space, and they’re all modern, she would obviously be baffled, I suppose. Just by, the, by the insight of it. And, and I know that many people, many of the residents on our building have converted the recess beds into like a small kitchenette and turn their kitchens into a bedroom so I think they will find that quite interesting and in the, in the inside and then in the outside, everything has changed it hasn’t it ? Like with the motorway and Sauchiehall Street and the rest of it. And yeah, quite a bit of time travelling isn’t it?

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely isn’t it just. Okay, Allistair, what about you?

Allistair Burt  

It will, as I’ve seen the exhibition we have the photos of the building through the years we’ve got these really beautiful 1850s aerial shots of the surrounding area so you can actually see what has changed or rather what has not changed. And I think from the, from up on the roof, I would love to have seen photos of the view from the roof because I imagine the view well for a big part it would not have changed too much. Because when you, when you’re standing on the roof and looking out you can just see all the mountains and the hills in the distance meaning you can see Ben Lomond on a clear day. And that will not that will not change not much anyway. But there are a few new things like the same Science Centre Tower is there and stuff. But other than that, the view from that side look, you know…

Niall Murphy  

It’s probably changed more since the 1960s to the early 2010s because you’d have had, I mean Glasgow at that point had more tower blocks above twenty stories than  Moscow did so and then you know so many of them have disappeared since then. So that actually has been quite a significant change in Glasgow but it’s, it’s, it’s weird because it’s returning to what it once was. Yeah. So it’s kind of a low rise city so which is quite intriguing. Yeah, definitely. Okay, so final question. And this is the loaded one. So what is your favourite building? And what would it say If its walls could talk? Ana?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega.  

Yeah, sure. I think in Glasgow we’re spoiled by choice, like Niall  that’s the hardest question ever I obviously..

Niall Murphy  

This is why is loaded, we always want to know what the answer is we ask everyone that comes to our office this question.

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

I think see for me I know it’s going to sound quite obvious that I quite like the Tenement House but it’s just because I quite like this message that everyone’s story matters and you don’t need to be royal or a celebrity or a famous person for your house and your way of living and your life to be like to matter and for your heritage to be told, and that’s that’s our whole message at the Tenement House and, and I quite like the universe preserving its stories and and like if walls could talk well I hope that I hope that they tell like the story of how it began with the women and then over time is now loved by so many other people in Glasgow which is amazing so yeah, and then if I had to kind of like chose one it would definitely be that one but it’s so hard you see you have so many good ones like Holmwood House is amazing as well like how can you choose ,don’t let me choose!

Niall Murphy  

Told you it was a tough question, Allistair you want to have a go?

Allistair Burt  

Yeah man, I’m the same the easy answer. The one, the one that’s yours, the one you live in ’cause this is my favourite building, it might have my favourite one in the in the city I would say the roof garden is perfectly a building space so if there was this building it would probably be like Oh, please make sure you stop the water coming through my head. Thank you. What’s the name of the rebuilding in the city centre that was almost got burned down last week cuz that’s always been a little favoured of mine.

Niall Murphy  

Oh the the wee British Linen Bank.

Allistair Burt  

That’s a gorgeous wee building, such a charmer and I suspect that as along with a lot of our buildings and the city they are saying please don’t let me burn down. It’s probably what they would say!

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, yeah, it’s got you know, it’s got dry rot, wet rot, you name it. So it really needs some TLC so yeah, it’s one we’re working on with Civic 215 the organisation’s kind of use it as a meanwhile space in the ground floor. So yeah, we’re working with them and Page / Park architects lead team. So fingers crossed that will go somewhere because I really want to see that one safe because it’s just so charming.

Allistair Burt  

I’m glad I brought that one up there.

Niall Murphy  

So thank you very much both Anna and Allistair. That’s been really, really fascinating. And everybody else if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share and follow the hashtag #IfGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you. 

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

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