Question about West End tenements...

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Question about West End tenements...

Postby westender » Thu Jul 08, 2004 4:13 pm

Okay, maybe somebody here knows.
Many moons ago when I was a student living in bedsit land, I stayed in a basement flat in Kersland Street. This was in a row of traditional red sandstone tenements; there were closes and main door flats in the block. I wasn't up a close: I stayed in a basement flat, but to get to the basement you had to go through the main door flat, the one on ground level - and the stairs down to the basement were inside the main door flat.

Thing is, both the upstairs and the downstairs flats were exactly the same. Two huge rooms with bay windows at the front, looking onto the street, and two big bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom. The only difference was that the ceilings of the basement rooms were lower than upstairs, but in all other respects they were two identically laid out flats.

This has always puzzled me. Who were these main door flats originally designed for? When I was there all the rooms were occupied by students, upstairs and downstairs; but there's no way that the downstairs flat could have built as servants' quarters, which is one suggestion I've heard. They are basically two identical family homes, as far as I could see - except the only way to access the basement is through the main door house upstairs. And the only way the folks upstairs can take the rubbish down to the bins at the back is to come downstairs, through the basement flat.

Can anyone explain this strange layout? One main entrance to what is essentially two separate houses?
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Postby My Kitten » Thu Jul 08, 2004 5:19 pm

When I lived in Dennistoun in a ground floor flat there were two cellars underneath as you walked out to the back yard. When you went into them they appeared to be a carbon copy of the layout of the flat above but without windows (they had really small ones at the back but nothing apart from the vent bricks at the front), it had walls in the same places and spaces where the doors would have been. I always thought that was wierd too.
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Postby Ronnie » Thu Jul 08, 2004 6:05 pm

I guess the walls in the downstairs flat were holding up the walls in the upstairs one, so they had to be in exactly the same place! The layout of the Kersland Street flat is exactly the same as the house of a friend of mine, in one of the terraces along the north side of Great Western Road near the Botanics. My guess would be that both floors were the one house ... the front toom upstairs would be kept for very special occasions, there would be a room downstairs for the day maid (a servant who did not live on the premises), as well as a lounge, maybe a billiards/ games room, bedrooms and so on. With a largish family, the rooms would soon fill up. That's my two centimes worth, anyway.
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Postby My Kitten » Thu Jul 08, 2004 7:02 pm

Ronnie wrote:I guess the walls in the downstairs flat were holding up the walls in the upstairs one, so they had to be in exactly the same place!


:oops: emma being a bit dim shocker hehehe

The height wasnt very comfortable if you were tall, but for someone my height (5ft 4) it was easy to move about, would have been an ideal hidey for kids.
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Postby escotregen » Sat Jul 10, 2004 11:20 am

Westender, the main door flat arrangement was a 'prestige' dwelling within Victorian tenements. They would quite often have their unique extensions and even individual back gardens. I agree with Ronnie that the two-level flat you describe was all the one dwelling at one time. The other and well-known variation in tenements is to have shops in the ground floor; the old feu duties on sharing repair costs etc. were often very biased in favour of the commercial shop units because they were seen by landlords to be more commercially attractive than rented flats (changed days - nobody in their right commercial mind takes on a shop in the ground floor of a tenement now). The existence of main door flats also reflects the rich social mix there once was in tenements. In Scotland, our townscapes have always been more continental European - rather than the little Englander towns of Coronation Streets and where tenement = slum in officials' eyes. To this day middle class folks in German and French cities see little merit in ownership of houses in the suburbs as opposed to renting good quality apartments in the city centre. In the Maryhill close I grew up in we had a range of occupants from a poor old widow in the ground floor to teachers and the owners of the local shop at other levels. Another reason for the continuance of the strange layout you found in your flat even though it was multi-occupied is that conversion and structural works in tenements can be very, very dangerous. This is because, to remain intact, most of these structures depend on their box-like structures and the compression of load bearing walls. If you move one wall you can bring the whole lot down. Whilst I was working at a Glasgow Housing Association the neighbouring Association suffered a close collapse (causing several injuries and one death) - the cause was that the small trader who had just taken on the tenancy of a ground floor shop had knocked through a load bearing wall; like the hole in the hull and subsequent sinking of the Titanic, the subsequent collapse of the entire close was a mathmatical certainty.
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Postby Fossil » Sat Jul 10, 2004 1:26 pm

Cheers for that escotregen. always wonder about that to.

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Postby westender » Sun Jul 11, 2004 7:21 pm

Hmmmm...
okay, guess I'll just have to accept that it must have all been one house at one time...
haven't heard any other suggestions, anyway.
Thanks guys.
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Postby red_kola » Mon Jul 12, 2004 8:56 am

westender wrote:Hmmmm...
okay, guess I'll just have to accept that it must have all been one house at one time...
haven't heard any other suggestions, anyway.
Thanks guys.


Are you sure that there was no door into the close from the Ground Floor flat? That is the clincher; all main door flats have a door onto the close as well as their primary entrance. If this close door was only in the basement then the two flats must have been built as one...

I have never really understood main-door flats for this precise reason. You essentialy lose a room by having your own door. The flats are always the same shape as those above, but with the smaller Front Bedroom lost to a corridor linking to your own front door. You still have a door to the close and you still get all the noise from it anyway.
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Postby escotregen » Mon Jul 12, 2004 9:58 am

Clincher I differ on the point that 'all main door flats had their entrance in the close as well'. In fact in my time in housing one of the recurrent management problems was the stair heid rammy between main door flat occupants and the other close dwellers 'cos the main door flat people argued they should not have to take a turn of close stair-washing given that they didn't have to use the close
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Postby Strike Team » Mon Jul 12, 2004 12:25 pm

Here's something else puzzling about tenements. When I lived in Wilton Drive the whole street was made up of the usual 4-storey tenements, apart from a single small main-door flat on the ground floor, which was single storey with a flat roof. It was obvious from the stonework that the single-storey section of tenement was original. There are a few other similar small single-storey sections in the same area. Anyone know why?
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Postby escotregen » Mon Jul 12, 2004 12:50 pm

I can suggest a few possible explanations. One is that there may have been different fue blocks sold for development originally with an original gap between them. The gap could have been intended at first as an access way to the rear of the buildings. Victorian builders were a speculative lot building, on one plot with the sales from this providing the capital for building on the next plot. However, they were also highly opportunistic and if the adjacent blocks sold well they may well have been tempted to 'infill' the gap site between them or extend onto any gable end ground originally intended as amenity ground. Another common possibility is that the site of the 'infill' single house was too unstable to bear a tenement. This type of very specific ground instablity would be due to old mineworks shafts (to this day the extent of such instability in Glasgow's West End is one of the 'Great Unspoken Of' factors. Other remaining possibilities: a) an infill was built as some sort of ad hoc technical solution to a structural problem b) could be that the house was built, like the main door flats, as a prestige address, but personally I think this very unlikely as the type of person who could buy such a house would not want to buy it stuck between 2 tenements.
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Postby martin » Sat Jul 24, 2004 11:51 am

The single-story infill has been puzzling quite a lot recently, mainly because my girlfriend's been living in one for the last year.

About two-thrds of the house is a bungalow (there is a sloped roof, you just can't quite see it from street level), but two rooms are underneath the neighbouring tenement. And those two internal walls are very thick - to be load-bearing, presumably.

The odd thing is that, from the garden at the back, there are some clues that there may have been a structure above it, all the way up. The brickwork is fairly strange - but I'm afraid it's been a while since I've been there, and the only photo I've got from the garden doesn't show anything useful, hence my crap description.

It would be quite nice to know the real reason behind it, though :)
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Postby escotregen » Tue Sep 21, 2004 7:51 pm

Westender, the earlier postings you generated came to mind when I was up in Dennistoun a few days ago. Having not been in the Westercraigs part of Dennistoun for a few years I was struck by how grand and fine some of the Victorian villas and grand tenements of the Dennistoun new lands are. Then I noticed some main door flats among the tenements... and then I noticed one main door flat with an adjoining and original ground floor extension or continuation. That reminded me of the question either you or someone else raised about why there were single ground floor-only flats in amongst old tenements. I then noticed that all the main door flats in this area (around a Meadowflat or Meadowside Street?) all had these original extensions. In this neighbourhood the extensions were clearly intended to give the main door flats a certain grandness or status.
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Re: Question about West End tenements...

Postby aliferste » Thu Sep 23, 2004 9:48 pm

westender wrote:, I stayed in a basement flat in Kersland Street. This was in a row of traditional red sandstone tenements; there were closes and main door flats in the block. I wasn't up a close: I stayed in a basement flat, but to get to the basement you had to go through the main door flat, the one on ground level - and the stairs down to the basement were inside the main door flat.




I stayed in a similar flat in Kersland street...what number were you at?
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