IN 1866, housing in Glasgow changed forever.

Glasgow Council had received approval for the Glasgow Improvement Act, which gave it the power to set up a Trust to improve housing, allowing it to buy slum property and demolish or repair it, sell land for redevelopment, and to build replacement houses.

This legislation, at the forefront of one of the first public health reform movements, aimed to tear down the slums in the poorest neighbourhoods of the old city to allow for new urban development.

At the time Glasgow was experiencing its largest population boom.

A model dwelling at Rottenrow. Pic: Glasgow City Archives

A 'model dwelling' at Rottenrow. Pic: Glasgow City Archives

A large influx of migrants, mainly from Ireland and the Highlands, led to a quadrupling of the city’s population between 1800 and 1850.

Demand for housing far exceeded supply and many working-class citizens were crammed into areas around the City Parish such as High Street and Saltmarket, where they experienced slum housing, filthy streets and closes. The City Improvement Trust gave the photographer Thomas Annan the task of documenting the condemned buildings and narrow alleyways of the slums before they were dismantled.

Few local authorities in the UK thought that the problem of a lack of decent housing for poor people was one they could tackle.

Glasgow was one of only a very few pioneering cities to take the powers which allowed them to tackle the problem.

While the City Improvement Trust bought up and demolished tracts of congested slums on a scale greater than any other British or European city, this took longer than planned because landlords were difficult and expensive to buy out.

This meant that there were insufficient funds for housebuilding and the Trust sold cleared land to private builders on condition they would build high quality houses.

The Trust itself began to construct a limited number of new tenemental streets containing houses of not less than two rooms, with running water and an inside toilet, as well as ‘model’ houses for single men and women.

The first tenements in Saltmarket and Glasgow Cross were built as ‘models’ to demonstrate to private builders what should be built. These were built to an extremely high standard and let to tenants who could afford the high rents.

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By 1900 there was a recognition of the need to tackle the housing of the poorest people.

Between 1900 and 1914 the houses built were simpler and cheaper. By 1914, 2199 houses were built by the Improvement Trust/Department.

The effects of the Improvement Trust were beneficial but on such a small scale that they barely changed the overall housing situation.