Housing Conditions in Port Glasgow

Housing: the workers,

This is a description of the Bay area of Port Glasgow. The housing conditions here were probably worse than in any other shipbuilding area on the Clyde. This was the area which was demolished and rebuilt with the help of money provided by W.T. Lithgow (See Document 17, LW8)

After perambulating the area and visiting the different closes and a number of the houses and after listening to the evidence led at the Inquiry, I have no hesitation in affirming that the area is insanitary - insanitary to a degree that could hardly have been imagined as possible nowadays, in a British town.


Except round part of its outskirts there are no streets in the area, and the only access from place to place is through narrow, dark and filthy lanes and closes. The houses are crowded onto the area without any order or arrangement, or any consideration of light, access, or ventilation.


Many of the houses are damp; in more than one I saw water trickling down the walls - the result of the floors being as they are, in many cases, a number of feet below the surrounding earth, and of bad drainage and bad building. The windows are mostly small, and often look into a blind wall at the distance of a foot or two so that in many houses it is necessary to keep a light burning all day. In a number of cases there are small wastes between the houses into which the windows look, and which are too small to be utilised for any purpose, and are simply receptacles for rubbish and filth of every description.


The interior construction of many houses is extremely bad. The stairs are badly constructed, and in some cases it is necessary to crouch in ascending and descending. Much of the woodwork is rotten, and the masonry worn and crumbling. Many of the apartments have no fireplace, being merely corners partitioned off, and very often the second apartment of the house is just a receptacle for rubbish and abominations. Box-beds, unhung windows, and dark narrow passages are other obstacles to proper ventilation.


To a population of upwards of 2000 there are only 13 W.C.s and two objectionable privies. As there are no gardens, woods or waste grounds, in the immediate neighbourhood, this means that the great bulk of this large population have to perform the offices of nature within the precincts of their narrow and crowded dwellings, with consequences to the sanitation and morale of their households which can well be imagined.

The contents of the domestic utensils are often kept in the house until the evening, when they are emptied into one of the gullies, or thrown out at the window, or carried to one of the ashbins, provided by the town. These ashbins, which are emptied every two or three days, are sinks of feculent corruption, standing open in the closes, often beside the doors of the dwelling-houses, and with children playing around them. I noticed one which was leaking and from which a disgusting stream was trickling down the cobble stones of the close. In one house which I visited, and in which I found two men, a woman and four children in a front room about nine feet square, I was at first denied admittance to the back room until the woman of the house had performed some office there, which, as I ascertained from the Medical Officer, was emptying certain utensils out of the window, and the appalling atmosphere of the inner chamber fully confirmed this explanation.


Very many of the houses have no water supply, and the water has to be carried from outside taps, some of which are at a considerable distance from the houses. This is not in itself, of course, sufficient to condemn the area as insanitary, but the carrying of water in this way amidst such insanitary surroundings, and the meagre supply which it encourages, tend to aggravate the general insanitary and filthy conditions of life in the area.


Port Glasgow Improvement Scheme Inquiry, 31 March - 4 April 1903