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In this part of Canada, most of us have taken adequate shelter for granted. Many have
oversized, overheated and overfurnished palaces. At the same time, in relation to average
income, most houses are "out of reach" for many families. The evolution of
shelter as a basic human need is an important study. I'm interested in your stories of
housing, either here or in your homeland. (Here's a story from Trinidad 200 years ago.) Please email me at the
Please click on the above links to access articles from my newsletter, The Scarboro Heights Record, and the publications of the James McCowan Memorial Social History Society.
Here's a view of typical Scottish housing 250 years ago -- people
and cattle in the same small building.
The subsistence level of economic
activity in the fermtoun meant that social conditions were wretched. The typical Lowland
farm house of the early-mid eighteenth century was described by William
Aiton in 1811:
About 50 years ago, the farm houses in the county of Ayr [adjacent to Lanarkshire on
the west] were despicable hovels; many of them were built in part, and some altogether of
turf, or of mud plastered on stakes and basket work... That part of the building which
served the family for lodging, sleeping, cookery, dairy &c, denominated the
"in-seat", was about 12 or at most 14 feet square, with the fire either in the
centre, or in the gable, without "jambs" or "smoke funnel". On larger
farms, another apartment, of nearly the same dimensions, and which entered through the
"in-seat", was called the "spense", in which were stored the
"meal chest", "sowen-tub", some beds, a cask into which the urine was
collected, known by the name of the "wash-tub", spinning wheels and reel, when
not used, and the goodwife's press, if she had one. The other part of the building was occupied by the cattle, which generally entered by the same door with
the family; the one turning to the one hand, by the "trans-door" to the kitchen,
and through it to the "spense", and the other turning the contrary way, by the
"heck-door" to the byre or stable. The "trans" and "heck"
doors were in the centre of the partitions, so that the people in the "in-seat"
saw "butt" to the byre, and the inhabitants of the byre and stable, could look
"ben" to the "in-seat"; hence, houses built on that construction were
said to consist of a "butt" and "ben".
From When The Ground Fails: An Economic Watershed
The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #3