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Kitchen Bed

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Kitchen bed and range, Unknown source
Kitchen bed and range

The kitchen bed was a feature of the old Glasgow tenement, dating back to the latter half of the 19th century.

It was also referred to as the the 'hole-in-the-wall' bed.

The Victorian image of Glasgow is typified by the grey, beige, and reddish sandstone tenements which occupied many of the city's streets and were constructed mainly in the period between 1850 and 1900. Governed by the Glasgow Police Act, the four-storied blocks were never taller than the width of the street, and built in city blocks with short gardens, drying greens, and outside lavatories or ash pits at their centre.

Glasgow tenements

By 1875, a model working class tenement comprised a single room flat between two two-room flats. Few had lavatories. The standard middle class flat was three-roomed, but those in more upmarket areas could include a parlour, dining and drawing rooms, two bedrooms, a bathroom closet, pantry, kitchen, and a servant's bedroom.

Grander tenements had external carving, decoration, bay windows, close doors, stained or painted glass in the stair windows, iron balustrades, or entrance halls lined with decorative tiles. Such tiled closes were also known as a "wally" close. A number were overtly classical, designed by architect such as Alexander "Greek" Thomson, Alexander Taylor, and Alexander Kirkland. The century brought tenements with impressive bay windows, tall decorated chimney-stacks, and many other details of the Glasgow style.

Contrary to the general impression given that they were slums, and representative of squalor, tenements were class-neutral ranging from the tiny, single room flat to an enormous elite apartment. They gave Glasgow physical homogeneity and provided the semblance of having a more integrated community than those cities whose wealthy had fled to detached houses in the suburbs.

However, redevelopment in the late 20th century revealed that many tenements had also been built by less reputable architects, using sub-standard methods and materials. Many buildings were found to be dangerous, and would have cost more than they were worth to restore, so were demolished.

Wally or wallie

Scots word for china or porcelain, pronounced 'wahli'.

Wally originally meant, and still can mean, fine, good-looking, decorative, or ornamental. Over time, it came to mean china or porcelain, since the adjective was so often applied to fine decorative china objects. The most widely used example is probably 'wally dugs', referring to decorative china dogs, followed by the plural form 'wallies' (pronounced 'wahliz') referring to false teeth, now made of plastic but originally porcelain.

Kitchen beds

The tenement kitchen was generally large and included an alcove sized to fit a double bed, which would be hidden behind curtains hung across the opening - this was the kitchen bed.

Its purpose was not to accommodate visitors, but to release one of the bedrooms within the flat for the use of guests, while the usual occupant moved to the kitchen bed.

In most cases, this would mean the children migrating from their bedroom to the kitchen, but this came with certain advantages. They could expect be given an extra warm drink by way of compensation, and in winter, benefited from the heat of the fire that would be burning in the large black-leaded grate that served the kitchen. They also got to overhear the adult's conversation which carried on after the the children had been sent to bed, and forgotten once the drapes were drawn and they were out of sight.

The kitchen bed would also serve as play area during the day, and the children could use their imagination to pretend the curtained area was all sorts of places, ranging from the inside of a church, or a theatre, or somewhere where gymnastics could be practised, until an adult decided the bed springs were at risk, and brought the fun to an end.

The kitchen bed is a thing of the past, having disappeared at the end of the 20th century when many tenements were modernised and modified to bring them up to date with current building regulations.

The former kitchens were converted into kitchenettes, and the old ranges were pulled out and discarded, as were the beds, and the alcove area just became part of the room, which might also have become a dining room.

Furniture that allowed beds to be hidden also led to the demise of the kitchen bed, as folding settees and similar rendered them redundant for accommodation of the occasional visitor.

Modern thinking regarding hygiene and cleanliness also meant that the idea of a bed which shared the air with cooking smells, steam from pots and pans boiling on cookers, and the airborne grease from grilling and frying, was no longer acceptable to most people.


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