GLASGOW shorthand typist Agnes Toward was an independent working woman at a time when that was unusual.

She went to work on West George Street, made plum jam on her coal-fired kitchen range, sewed under the gas lights in the evenings and got her milk delivered by the Co-op.

We know all this about Agnes because her story and her Garnethill home have been preserved in fascinating detail at the Tenement House on Buccleuch Street, now run by the National Trust for Scotland.

Glasgow Times:

Glasgow Women’s Library’s Seeing things project, which is designed to give women the opportunity to explore cultural events across the city with like-minded women, is heading to the Tenement House on Thursday afternoon (August 2)

Agnes and her mother, who was also called Agnes, moved in to the first floor tenement flat in 1911. It was luxurious by some standards, consisting of four rooms and a large hall, with gas lighting and an inside toilet.

Mrs Toward was a dressmaker, with shops on Allison Street and Sauchiehall Street, which perhaps inspired her daughter to carve out a career for herself too.

Agnes worked with shipping firm Miller and Richards, but in 1914 she moved to Prentice, Service and Henderson on West George Street on the understanding that she would have to give it up when the men returned from war.

(In the end, the firm kept her on, and she stayed there until her retirement at the age of 73!)

Mrs Toward died in 1939 and Agnes lived alone in the flat until 1965 when she was admitted to hospital, suffering from dementia. She died in August 1975 and with no family to clear the property, her lawyer and his niece Anna Davidson did it instead.

Realising the home had been beautifully preserved, Anna contacted museums in the area to see if there was any interest in opening it up as a ‘window to the past’ – Agnes had kept many things other people may have thrown away, such as receipts and bars of old soap, and a handwritten recipe for chocolate cake.

In the end, the flat went into the care of the National Trust for Scotland, and it has been a much-loved part of Glasgow’s tourist trail ever since.

Last year, NTS launched an ambitious project to audit, label, photograph and describe every artefact and work of art in its collections.

Project Reveal will last 18 months and cover properties across Scotland, from Broughton House in Kirkcudbright to Hugh Miller’s Birthplace Cottage in Cromarty. There are six regional teams working to complete the inventory by the end of this year, and Team West recently visited the Tenement House to discover more about cooking and eating in the early 20th century.

Silvia Scopa, of Team West, explains: “Entering the Tenement House feels exactly like stepping back in time, and cataloguing its contents has been an adventure.

“It is easy to understand why Miss Toward spent most of her time at home in the kitchen. This small room faces the back garden and had everything she needed: a cosy box bed, a big cast-iron range, a sink with a wringer, a pantry and all her cooking utensils.”

Miss Toward was a member of the St George’s Co-operative Society at St George’s Cross. She would receive milk in a metal can provided by the Co-op, which the delivery boy would then pick up on his second round in the area.

“Miss Toward loved to cook, but as she had lived through two world wars where ‘waste not, want not’ was the motto, many of the goods, spices and foods she used were kept for a long time,” adds Silvia. “In the fireside cupboard there is a large collection of jam jars, some with jam still inside. The oldest is a plum jam, made by Miss Toward in 1929!”

She adds: “The most captivating object we found is an unopened orange marmalade jar made by Wilkin & Sons, dated 1941. Amazingly, during the difficult rationing years, of World War II, Wilkin & Sons managed to keep producing their original recipes with their high fruit content.

“The price on this jar, authorised by the Minister of Food, is 1/3 shilling per lb, which equates to around £1.40 in today’s money.”

Silvia smiles: “’Historic food’ and the containers in which it is preserved can offer an interesting insight into people’s everyday lives – but we were never really tempted to taste it ourselves…”

To find out more about Seeing Things at Glasgow Women’s Library, email or call 0141 550 2267.

To learn more about the Tenement House, visit