The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow

Description

In 1868, Glasgow’s population – which had quadrupled in fifty years – was growing far faster than the city could accommodate. Poor working-class immigrants, most of them from Ireland or the Highlands, were crammed into the squalid, crowded central area of City Parish, converted for quick cash from the apartments of the middle classes who had sold up and moved out west. 

Conditions were appalling. Frederick Engels (1820–1895), writing in 1844, said he ‘did not believe, until I visited the wynds [side alleys] of Glasgow, that so large an amount of filth, crime, misery and disease existed in one spot in any civilised country’. 

In 1868, the City Improvements Trust began to replace these slums with more adequate social housing (though this resulted mostly in shifting the poor elsewhere in the city). Thomas Annan (1829–1887) was commissioned to document the rapidly changing urban landscape. 

Annan, an accomplished figure in photographic reportage, art and technology, produced less than three dozen photographs of the area between 1866 and 1871, but his dispassionate and clear pictures of The Closes and Wynds of Glasgow – produced in the technically challenging low-light conditions of the sunless back alleys – have become classics of social documentary.

Full title:
The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow
Published:
1900 [photographs taken 1868], Glasgow, Lanarkshire
Format:
Photograph / Image
Creator:
Thomas Annan [engraver], William Young [introduction]
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
L.R.404.g.8.

Related articles

Slums

Article by:
Judith Flanders
Themes:
Poverty and the working classes, London

Judith Flanders examines the state of housing for the 19th-century urban poor, assessing the ‘improvements’ carried out in slum areas and the efforts of writers, including Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew, to publicise such living conditions.

The built environment

Article by:
Liza Picard

Liza Picard examines how industrialisation altered the building of cities and affected the different social classes living within them.

Industry and Empire: the town plans of the 19th century

Article by:
James Elliot
Themes:
Town and city, Transforming topography

James Elliot explores the development of town plans through technical and social change during the 19th century.

Related collection items

Related works

Oliver Twist

Created by: Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’s (1812-1870) second novel, originally published in serial parts 1837-39, and as a three ...