IN THE mid-19th century, Glasgow was experiencing its largest population boom.

A large influx of migrants, mainly from Ireland and the Highlands, led to a quadrupling of numbers of people in the city.

Many working-class citizens were crammed into areas around High Street and Saltmarket, where they experienced slum housing and filthy streets and closes.

In 1866, Glasgow Corporation received approval for the Glasgow Improvement Act which gave it the power to establish a trust. The Lord Provost, magistrates and town council were appointed trustees with compulsory powers to acquire houses and land within defined areas of the city centre, to demolish the existing slum housing, form new streets and build new housing for rent. 

Glasgow Times: A model tenementA model tenement (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

This power remained practically unutilised until 1889. The only buildings which the trustees erected up to that time were seven model lodging houses and two model tenements at Saltmarket and Glasgow Cross.

The priority of the trust was to establish  municipal model lodging houses. In the area which was the subject of the Act, there were many ‘common lodging-houses’, run by private companies. These were, in the words of the Corporation, places where ‘men and women were huddled together promiscuously in dark and ill-ventilated rooms, without any of the conveniences requisite for decent living, not to speak of healthy existence’.

Glasgow Times: Parkhead model lodging houseParkhead model lodging house (Image: Glasgow City Archives) 

These houses, besides being ‘hotbeds of vice and misery’ in the minds of the Corporation, were also centres of the propagation of disease. To remove the unsanitary abodes, the trust understood the urgent need to provide alternative and better accommodation for those who - whether from choice or necessity - frequented them.

The City Improvement Trust accordingly took the matter in hand, and in rapid succession between 1871 and 1884, they built seven model lodging houses. The seven lodging houses were stone buildings of three to five storeys in height, with flat concrete  or slated roofs of the most substantial character.

These were superior hostel accommodation for travelling workers and others, who up until now had had no option but to sleep in overcrowded, privately-owned common lodging houses with primitive facilities and hygiene standards.

These first model lodging-houses were in Drygate, Greendyke St, Portugal St, Abercromby St, North Woodside Rd, East Russell Street (all male) and Moncur Street (female).

Glasgow Times: A Ross Street lodging houseA Ross Street lodging house (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

The smallest was Greendyke Street, with 246 beds, while Portugal Street was the largest, with 437 beds. The total number of beds was 2235.

Over the years, there was a distinct improvement on the earlier, privately owned common lodging houses, which were often overcrowded and insanitary.

Lodgers could expect a clean bed in a model lodging house dormitory for just a few pence a night, and there was usually a shop on the premises. Most lodgers had few possessions. Some had employment during the day, others relied on poor relief or begging to raise the money for their bed.


There was in each a large dining-hall, and abundant accommodation in the adjoining kitchen for cooking. Each resident was allowed the use of cooking utensils and cooked their own  food

In two of the homes, meals were  supplied by the superintendents at moderate prices on Sundays, and in evenings of other days of the week.  There was a large recreation room in each home, in which occasional concerts and other entertainments were given in the winter.

Other areas followed Glasgow’s lead. The lodging houses in London were built on the same lines as those in Glasgow.  And by 1894, there were three ‘models’ in the Burgh of Govan: in Napier  Street, Helen Street and Craigiehall Street.

In 1895 the powers of the trustees were transferred to the Corporation itself. A year later, a Corporation report took a harsh tone in describing lodgers. “They are of all nationalities ... disrobed clergymen and street bullies, decayed gentlemen and area sneaks, tramps, tinkers, labourers, sweeps, thieves and thimble-riggers,” they said. “The moral tone is low, the habits are generally unclean, and so sometimes is the language.”

In 1953 there were still nineteen model lodging houses in the city.