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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Everyday Life

The Home

By Hugh McBrien

Medieval Glasgow was a small place; during the early centuries it had no more than three or four hundred homes, housing a population of only a few thousands. Most of the houses were of timber with wooden or wattle and clay walls, and thatched or wooden shingle roofs. The street frontage buildings of the better-off townsfolk were of at least two storeys with the merchant's or craftsman's booth or workshop on the ground floor, and their private rooms on the floor above. The less well-off lived and worked in the same rooms of their smaller buildings.

Behind the street frontage were outhouses, barns and byres, and vegetable plots. Townsfolk grew most of their own food, made most of their own clothes and kept animals which were taken to pasture each day and brought back into the town each night. While the richer merchants and upper classes ate bread and meat, mainly beef, mutton and a wide range of fish, fowl and dairy produce, most families ate a lesser quantity bread and meats and the poorest folk made do with oatmeal, barley, kale and what meat they could afford. Fruits, berries and nuts were welcome additions in season. Ale or weak beer was the main drink for all classes and ages.

People had few possessions or pieces of furniture. The kitchen had its hearth and a few earthenware cooking pots, some wooden bowls or platters, knives and horn cups. Only the richest could afford pottery jugs and storage vessels, others made do with leather and wooden versions. The well-off had beds, chests to keep their clothes in, well-made tables with benches to sit on, and a cupboard or primitive sideboard to hold dishes or food. The poorest townspeople who worked for their better-off neighbours had to do without most of these.

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