< 1 of 1 > Back

Pathfinder Pack on 'Happy Homes for Working Men' (a SHELF Project Pathfinder)



The housing conditions in Edinburgh had a dreadful reputation in the 1860s and there had been complaints for decades about the situation. There was no organisation responsible for housing regulations in Edinburgh until the town council began to get involved in the 1850s. Several strategies were tried to resolve the problem. One was the Edinburgh Cooperative Building Company, the subject of this pathfinder. The records contain much more information on this topic. Try searching for the subject of your choice. Hugh Gilzean Reid (1836-1911), editor of the 'Edinburgh Weekly News' in the early 1860s, wrote that 'the multitude of dwellings remained a disgrace to modern civilisation and to a city of great social, religious and philanthropic achievements'. According to Gilzean Reid in 1861 '13,209 families - not less than 66,000 individuals - lived in houses of a single apartment, 1530 of which had from six to fifteen inhabitants living in each'. Hugh Miller (1802-1883), the famous geologist and editor of the Free Church newspaper 'The Witness', was very concerned about the dreadful conditions in which the working population lived. Miller was a friend of the Reverend James Begg (1808-1883), one of the first ministers in the Free Church of Scotland. Begg had campaigned for improvements in housing for the poor in Edinburgh since the 1830s. This is a portrait of the Reverend Begg. In 1861, 865 masons and 400 joiners were not allowed to work between February and May. They had asked their employers if their working day could be reduced from 10 to 9 hours, and as a result the employers locked them out of the building sites. (The reduction in the working day was a national campaign, and the Secretary for the Edinburgh branch of the movement was Gilzean Reid, who was visited by many masons during this time.) During the lockout some of the masons decided to form a cooperative company to build houses for themselves and for other workers. David Rintoul, John Ogilvie, James Colville and James Collins were all stonemasons. They established the 'Edinburgh Cooperative Building Company Limited' in May 1861. James Colville (1808-1883), became the first manager of the cooperative. The aim of the company was 'the carrying on of building in all its branches'. Shares were sold to raise capital and people could become partners in the cooperative by buying one or more one pound shares. Shareholders were entitled to vote at General Meetings and to be given a share of the profits in the form of a dividend. By 1862, out of the 341 shareholders in the cooperative 132 were stonemasons. The ECBC bought land in Stockbridge, which was very cheap as the Water of Leith bordered it on two sides. The Reverend James Begg laid the first foundation stone in October 1861. The ECBC named the first terrace (or street) after Gilzean Reid. The houses were popular and sold well so that the ECBC had enough money from sales and from shares to start another terrace, which was named after Hugh Miller. Soon, the ECBC had built the thirteen terraces that are known as 'the Colonies' of Stockbridge. They include Rintoul Place, Collins Place, Bell Place, Kemp Place, Avondale Place, Teviotdale Place, and Colville Place. On the end wall of some of the terraces there are stone plaques, some of which are decorated with carved images of the tools used by the workmen. The buildings were terraced, two-storied, built of sandstone and lime mortar and had slate roofs. Each building consisted of a house on the lower level and a house on the upper level. Each house had its own garden and its own entrance, the upper houses having external staircases. This is an illustration from 'Happy Homes for Working Men and How to Get Them' by Reverend James Begg. The first houses built at Stockbridge had a kitchen, a sitting room (parlour), a bedroom and a WC. The upper houses sometimes had two extra bedrooms in the attic. From 1861 until 1870 house purchasers were able to pay a deposit of £5 to secure a property. The remaining money was then borrowed from a Property Investment Company and paid back over fourteen years with interest. (The Stockbridge houses ranged in price from £125 to £206.) In 1871 the ECBC began its own mortgage scheme that became very successful. By 1872, the ECBC had built nearly 1,000 houses in six different areas within Edinburgh and Leith, employing up to 250 workmen. The ECBC survived until the 1950s but ceased to be a cooperative in 1945.

'Happy Homes for Working Men' (a SHELF Project Pathfinder)

The Reverend James Begg The Edinburgh Cooperative Building Company Limited The first buildings of the Edinburgh Cooperative Building Company Limited
Avondale Place Style of the ECBC buildings Success of the ECBC

Related Records

Housing, 1875 - 1900

Scran ID: 000-000-001-371-L
  © Scran 2016