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April 24, 2013

Annie’s loo

Something that we all take for granted – the indoor flushing loo –  has been around since late 19th century and was pretty much the norm in social housing not long after WW1. But as recently as the 1970’s, in many parts of Glasgow, the shared backyard ‘cludgie’ was still the norm.  Rightly described as a national scandal, it provided an incentive for the tenants themselves to take action and the early impetus for the community controlled housing movement. Raymond Young tells the story in his new book ‘Annie’s Loo’.




You have to be of a certain age to remember the ‘cludgie’. It’s not something anyone remembers with affection. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine in the 21st century a time when people lived without their own bathroom and toilet; yet many folk in parts of Scotland had to share such basic facilities, with the toilet (the ‘cludgie’) outside in the back yard. This was still happening as recently as 40 years ago. It was rightly regarded as a national scandal. The campaigns for better housing didn’t just lead to better plumbing. It lead to much wider reform of housing as well.

Today, with housing and welfare reform back at the top of the political agenda (though for different reasons), a new book Annie’s Loo by Raymond Young tells the timely tale of one Govan community’s efforts to finally get indoor toilets in their tenements in the 1970s. But it also tells of how the movement for reform helped created the model for the housing associations and co-operatives that manage social housing across Scotland today.

The book launch will take place later on today (Friday) at the Pierce Institute in Govan. The author will give a local history lesson to a class of primary 7 pupils from Lorne Street Primary School. He’ll tell them about the conditions of life in the area not so long ago and also about the remarkable housing reform movement which was started by people from their community.

Raymond Young will tell the children that flushing toilets had been invented centuries earlier. “Bathrooms in new middle class homes had become the norm by the late 1800s, and were standard in new social housing from 1919. And yet, in the 1970’s here in Govan and in many other parts of Scotland, families still lived in tenement houses without an internal bathroom and toilet. Tenants in Govan decided do something about it. “The solution was partly technical, financial and social with neighbours joining together for their own and their community’s benefit. And when Annie Gibbons’ indoor bathroom and toilet was installed, media and crowds gathered to see politician Pat Lally arrive in a big black car and make his way up to the third floor, to officially open Annie’s loo.”

The event is being hosted by Dr Mary Taylor, Chief Executive of the SFHA, who also wrote the forward for the book. At the reception Dr Taylor will add that the story of Annie’s Loo “is an important part of Scotland’s social history, told by a key protagonist reflecting on the lessons of history. It is serious and wry in equal measure. And its message is very relevant today for tenants and social landlords, as we tackle the massive changes currently coming into place through welfare reform. The achievement of modest ambitions to solve a basic problem in one community in

Govan, demonstrated what could be done through a voluntary association led by the local community and encouraged and supported by enlightened governments.”

In the view of David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, “the key to the Govan community’s success in tackling their outdated living conditions was the willingness of the residents to get together for their own and their community’s benefit – and that voluntary spirit laid the foundation of today’s housing associations. Now, not only do all of those houses have internal plumbing and flushing toilets, most are insulated to high standards, with efficient heating systems in place or being installed, and support services can be provided to those who need them. The associations and co-operatives of today are significant social enterprises, providing secure affordable homes for around half a million people in Scotland, more than one in ten households.”

Annie’s Loo is a paperback of 128 pages published by Argyll publishing. It is priced at £9.99, but is available direct from the SFHA at £7. Please contact us with any enquiries about this book.

Please use the Publications Order Form to purchase copies of Annie’s Loo. Price: £7