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Glasgow: Life in the City a Century Ago

Glasgow, Scotland

Glasgow’s Tenement House gives a time-warp peek at life in an early 20th-century apartment: a fully equipped and furnished kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and living room. Then we visit an Art Nouveau tea room designed by the great Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Complete Video Script

For a fascinating dimension of Glasgow in Scotland, we're visiting the Tenement House. It offers a chance to take a trip back in time.

It's the early 1900s and we're dropping by the apartment of Miss Agnes Toward. A docent brings each of the rooms to life.

Docent: This is the posh room, the parlor.
Rick: The posh room.
Docent: Yes, it's the posh room. If you had visitors, friends, you would bring them in here. You would play the piano and have a good old sing song. That was your entertainment for the family.
Rick: This is just beautiful.
Docent: This is set for afternoon tea which would be, as you can see, drop scones and ginger cake.

Docent: As you can see, it's a marble fireplace. This is an over mantle which is obviously made from wood. That is to present all your ornaments and your little treasures, if you like. It was really basically to impress people.

Docent: This is the kitchen. This is the family hub. Everything happened in the kitchen.
Rick: This really was the central gathering place. This is quite a piece of machinery.
Docent: It is, yes, a state of the art. This was coal-burning. This is where the coal was kept. You would take the coal from here and to the stove, light the stove with sticks, paper, and whatever. That coal then would heat in the oven, would cook the food, would heat the hot water for the bath.
Rick: In this age before electricity, how did they have lighting?
Docent: They had light from gas. All the lights in the flat were lit by gas.

Docent: This is the bathroom.
Rick: Running water!
Docent: It certainly is. Very few people in Glasgow in 1892 actually had a bathroom within the flat. This was quite something.
Rick: This whole place was quite posh.
Docent: It was.

Docent: As you can see, this is medicines. There are different colored bottles simply because a lot of people couldn't read what was on the label, but they knew that if you had a green bottle, it may have been a poison, so you didn't drink it. A white bottle was okay to drink.

Docent: This is the bedroom. As you can see, it has a fireplace. There is evidence to see that they did have a lodger. We assume that the lodger would have the bedroom.
Rick: Oh, so they would rent out this room to help pay their bills.
Docent: Yes, help to pay the rent.

Docent: Over here, we have some perfume bottles, hairbrush, and this is tongs. You heated those and it was to curl your hair.
Rick: That was an early curler.
Docent: Yes, it was.

While Miss Toward laced her world with Victorian trinkets, Glaswegian architects of her same generation were pioneering a minimalist and organic new style, Art Nouveau.

These tea rooms, opened in 1903, are a masterpiece by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Tea rooms like the Mackintosh at the Willows were hugely popular during the industrial boom of the late 19th century.

During this age of Victorian morals, the temperance movement was trying to discourage the consumption of alcohol. Tea rooms like this were designed with an agenda: to be an appealing alternative to eating and drinking in the pubs. Workers well-paid or not needed a place for lunch. This place is unusually posh.

Mackintosh challenged the norms of this practical port city with playful details, creative use of glass, and a stimulating blend of organic swoops with vertical lines. It was both stark and light at the same time.

In addition to giving office workers an alternative to pubs, these tea rooms provided a place where women could gather while unescorted and this was during a time when being out alone could give a woman a less than desirable reputation.