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No Mean City: 1914 to 1950s


By Irene Maver

Cowcaddens, 1950s In 1912, after a prolonged municipal campaign, the territory of Glasgow was extended by some 50 per cent to cover 7,763 hectares (nearly 30 square miles). With over a million inhabitants Glasgow was now Britain's most populous city after London, although, ironically, it fell far short of this status in terms of physical size. By 1921 Edinburgh, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield were all territorially more extensive. This placed Glasgow in the unenviable position of being the most congested of the non-metropolitan cities. While Edinburgh and Birmingham respectively accommodated thirty-two and fifty-two persons per hectare (a hectare is 2.4711 acres), the comparable Glasgow figure was 133.

Inter-War Schemes

Mosspark Housing Glasgow's acute overcrowding problems were inextricably bound up with the need for better housing, an issue that was addressed by the Coalition Government in the immediate aftermath of the First World War. Ground breaking legislation in 1919 made local authorities responsible for assessing housing requirements and building new homes, with the aid of state subsidies. A number of municipal "schemes" quickly emerged on undeveloped ground in Glasgow, the most substantial including Mosspark, to the south west of the city, and Riddrie, to the east. The superior "cottage" style of dwellings presented a stark contrast to traditional tenements, and was intended to serve as a showpiece for the healthier post-war city.

Knightswood Housing Overall, it was estimated that 57,000 houses were necessary to relieve overcrowding and allow for population growth in Glasgow. Yet civic leaders were caught in a dilemma. While 1,916 hectares (nearly 4,735 acres) were identified as the minimum required for building, only 600 hectares (nearly 1,483 acres) were available for this purpose within the city. To help meet its targets, the Corporation utilised land outside the boundaries. For instance, the first phase of the Knightswood housing scheme, to the northwest, was built partly in Glasgow, but predominantly in neighbouring Dunbartonshire. Corporation representatives soon saw this as unsatisfactory, as it created administrative complications and detached Glaswegians from the city's taxation base.

Boundary Extensions

Anniesland Road From the Corporation's perspective, the most logical solution to the land shortage was a further major boundary extension. Accordingly, plans were put forward during 1924 and 1925 to annex 8,616 hectares (over 33 square miles), more than double the territory of 1912. The "Greater Glasgow" restructuring proved to be controversial, as within the proposed added areas were established communities, such as Bearsden in Dunbartonshire, Bishopbriggs in Lanarkshire, and Clarkston and Giffnock in Renfrewshire. The rationale for claiming these middle-class districts was their "community of interest" with Glasgow. Essentially commuter outgrowths, they were attracting increasing numbers of residents from the city because of the technological revolution in motor transport.

Carntyne Housing In the event Parliamentary representatives determined the contours of the enlarged city, which came into effect in 1926. They supported the arguments of County Councils and community groups against Glasgow encroachment, and an extension of only 4,179 hectares (just over 16 square miles) was granted. Although built-up areas were largely excluded, there were exceptions, notably the populous shipbuilding neighbourhoods of Yoker and Scotstounhill to the north-west. There was also substantial extension to the south west, taking in Crookston, Cardonald, Hurlet, Nitshill and Mansewood. Other areas added to the city included Toryglen in the south east and Carntyne, Lambhill, Millerston and Robroyston, to the north. Knightswood was wholly absorbed into Glasgow.

Blackhill Housing A further extension of 217 hectares (536 acres) followed in 1930, adding Hogganfield and east Carntyne and enlarging the city's territory to 12,159 hectares (nearly 50 square miles). The 1931 census revealed that despite Glasgow's shifting boundaries, overall population growth had been relatively insignificant, with the result that levels of congestion had fallen to 90 persons per hectare. Since 1919 over 35,000 municipal houses had been erected, notably in Knightswood, Carntyne and Scotstoun. However, legislation from 1930 shifted the focus towards inner-city slum clearance, with Blackhill in the north east of Glasgow the largest example of a municipal scheme intended for tenants from areas cleared under the demolition programme.


Castlemilk, 1954 The 1935 Housing (Scotland) Act directly addressed the question of urban congestion, not only by requiring concerted action on the part of local authorities, but also by defining tolerable standards of accommodation. A housing survey conducted in Glasgow during 1935 revealed that 29 per cent of city houses were overcrowded, compared with 23 per cent for Scotland and 3.8 per cent for England. The Corporation set the ambitious target of 65,000 new homes within the decade, but acknowledged that there was land inside the boundaries for only half this number. According to the stringent standards of the 1935 legislation, 1,620 hectares (6.25 square miles) were needed beyond the boundaries to make up the shortfall.

As with Knightswood, the Corporation purchased building land outside the city. The Castlemilk estate, to the southeast, was the most extensive example. Originally belonging to the Stirling Stuart family, it was acquired in 1935. The site was regarded as ideal for development, because of its healthy, unspoiled environment. However, the Castlemilk purchase could not by itself meet Glasgow's urgent housing needs. Inevitably, the Corporation sought further boundary extension, promoting parliamentary legislation in 1937. This aimed to incorporate 4,900 hectares (nearly 20 square miles) of largely undeveloped land, stretching the city limits "from Clydebank to Coatbridge."

Post-War Schemes

The extension debate was less controversial than during the 1920s because the Corporation made only minimal effort to encroach upon built-up areas. Nevertheless, there were objections from the communities of Thornliebank in Renfrewshire and Westerton in Dunbartonshire which were eventually excluded from the boundary settlement. Conversely, Drumchapel, a "pretty suburb" in the north of Glasgow, was reluctantly absorbed into the enlarged city. In total 3,918 hectares (just over 15 square miles) were annexed, with effect from 1938. Glasgow now extended over 16,077 hectares (over 62 square miles), with congestion levels at 79 persons per hectare.

The new communities included Drumchapel and Castlemilk, as well as Darnley and Penilee in the southwest and Summerston, in the north. The most extensive cluster of land penetrated eastwards, taking in the historic districts of Provan Hall and Bishop's Loch. Other eastern additions included Cardowan, Gartloch, Queenslie and the village of Easterhouse, noted for its bracing environment. The onset of war starkly cut across Corporation plans for house building, but a concerted construction programme was commenced from 1945. The pressure for accommodation meant that almost 50,000 municipal homes were built in the immediate post-war period, concentrated particularly in the areas acquired between 1926 and 1938.

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