Up to 40,000 people lived in the notorious Glasgow slum of the Gorbals in the late 1940s. They live four, six, eight to a room, often 30 to a lavatory, 40 to a tap.
At first sight, of an early morning, the Gorbals looks like any other poor area. Its flat, wide streets are lined with flat-faced tenements. There is a pub on every corner and an undertaker’s (open day and night) in almost every other block.
It is not until you get inside the tenements that you realise the Gorbals is no ordinary poor place. It is, in fact, an area that provides a very special version of the slum problem. The tenement blocks in the Gorbals sprung up in the 1840s as people flocked to Glasgow to work in the city’s factories.
Unable to keep up with the demand for housing, the tenements were built quickly and cheaply and were designed to pack as many people in as possible. But appalling conditions came with it and it was not unusual for houses to have no water facilities and for sewage to run through the streets.
In its beginnings, the problem was one of immigration. A century ago, thousands of poor labourers began to arrive in Glasgow. They came to work on the new-fangled railways and the docks of the Clyde. They came for higher wages, for fuller plates, for what they conceived to be a better way of life than was possible in starving Erin and the wasted Scottish Highlands.