Tuesday, 9 March 2010

"The Steamie" - a Glasgow childhood in the 1920's

Some of you read and enjoyed the excerpts I printed from my father's story of his early years growing up in the Scottish countryside.   At about the same time, my mother was being raised in the bustling and overcrowded city of Glasgow.  11 years ago my journalist brother-in-law interviewed her and recorded her memories of those childhood years.   This is an edited extract:

"I was born in 1921 and brought up in Maryhill in Glasgow and our
first house was a tall red sandstone tenement, with three storeys above the ground floor. Each floor housed three families, each in very basic two-roomed apartments. We had one room for cooking and living and one bedroom. There was also a little lobby inside the front door where we had a coal bunker – this made everywhere very dusty. The kitchen/living room had two set-in beds in the wall. My mother and father slept in one and my brothers in the other. My sister and I slept in a set-in bed in the only other room. The kitchen had an open range for heating and cooking and there was a sink with a cold water tap by the window. Any hot water had to be heated on the range. If we wanted a bath we had to fill the tin bath in front of the fire, but you had to be quick because there wasn’t much hot water and you would get told off by the rest of the family for hogging the fire. The toilet was on the half-landing of each floor, shared by three families. This didn’t worry us much – if someone was using the toilet we just stood on the landing and looked at the world out of the window.

Once a month we went to the bath-house for a ‘real do’ where we could take our time and have plenty of hot water. That was quite fun. The baths were in a big building with the wash-house and the swimming pool and each bath was in a little cubicle.
Maryhill bathhouse

We had a wash-house for clothes washing at the back of the tenement, shared by all the families in the building, and we took it in turns to use it. Each family would be allocated a different day and time of the week and you had to get up really early in the morning to light the fire under the boiler to heat up your water. You had to supply your own wringer and then hang your washing out in the back court, which was a huge area, about the size of half a football pitch. If it rained, you took your washing indoors and hung it on pulleys in the apartment.

If we had tuppence to spare, we went to the public wash-house, known as the ‘steamie’, which was in the next street. You were allocated a stall of your own, with two big steel tubs and plenty of hot water. Some women with lots of washing would try and use the next-door stall as well as their own, without paying the tuppence, but there were lots of supervisors keeping an eye on you. You still did the washing by hand, on a washboard, rinsing everything out several times and putting it through the huge wringer. We didn’t use a mangle, because it didn’t get the clothes dry enough. Then the clothes were hung over rails which seemed to pull out of the wall, or some heated contraption about 7’ high. While the clothes were drying you had to clean up your stall and leave everything spotless and dry for the next person. By the time you’d done this, your washing would be dry and you would pack it in your basket. If you were really lucky you would have an old pram to put your basket on and push it home. We didn’t have a pram, but my sister and I would carry a handle each and we only lived around the corner, so it wasn’t far to go home.  This would all take about two hours, or longer if you spent time chatting and catching up on all the gossip.   My mother was lucky because she had me and my sister to help her.

Shortly after my youngest brother died, we moved to a brand new tenement building that had two bedrooms and a kitchen/living room. We had a gas cooker in the kitchen, a wash boiler and proper beds. The best thing was we had hot water from the taps. That was great. That was really living!"


Anonymous said...

Wow, what memories ... and amazing photos to accompany them. The steamie looks like hard work but I'd imagine it was a very social time too. You are so lucky to have all this family history Chrissie. Thank you for sharing it.

Printed Material said...

We don't know we're born do we? This sounds like hard graft. Great evocation of this period and how special that the memories come from your own family. At least you have them, so often people don't ask the right questions until it is far too late. Wonderful stuff. Lesley.

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The Blether said...

Hi Chrissie,

Great post. I've just started blogging myself (eBlethering.blogspot.com) and I was searching for pictures of a steamie for a wee joke of mine.

I was born in Govan, raised in Greenock and lived in Maryhill (now moving to Melbourne) and this story is so familiar to me from all the stories my Nana and mum would tell me. I'll be forwarding this on for their enjoyment.

Thanks for letting me pinch a picture!


Julie said...

What a treasure full of social history - I was researching my grandmother born in George St tenement 1923 so now have a realistic image of what it was like, thanks.

Gill said...

Hi Chrissie,
Just puting together some of my Mum's photos for her upcoming 90th birthday and thought it would be nice to see if I could find some images of Maryhill in the 20's. She was born in Maryhill in 1921 like your Mum. I wonder if they new each other? My Mum's name was Catherine Forrester but she was known as Rena.

Anyway thank you for your Mum's memories, I remember my Mum talking about the steamie so I am going to print your article and let her read it. I am sure it will bring back some memories for her.



Ailsa Gray said...

Hello Chrissie,

I came across your blog by pure chance (I was googling pictures of Glasgow tenements) and I have spent most of the afternoon reading through all your posts - wonderful! I really enjoyed reading this instalment of your mother's memories, and wondered if you would be able to post more. Also, you mentioned some of your father's memories - where have you posted those? My mother-in-law was also born in Glasgow, near Maryhill, in 1920 - her name was Jeannie McFarlane - and I used to love listening to her stories of tenement life. best wishes, and carry on posting! Ailsa xx