The health of the population in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries was often directly related to housing and working conditions. Overcrowding led to epidemics such as typhus, cholera and tuberculosis. Damp and humid conditions in the mills also led to illnesses such as bronchitis, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

In the 1840s, mill owners erected houses for their workers, e.g. in the model village of West Arthurlie, which alleviated overcrowding to some extent. The industrial era saw the growth of towns and villages, for example, Barrhead, Busby, Eaglesham, Neilston and Thornliebank. One woman recollects that in 1914 "in Kelburn Street you had to go outside to the toilet - one for the whole close - 3 families up the stair, 2 down - big families. You had to go awa' up tae the top of Kelburn Street tae get a wash house" (Housing the Heroes, Barrhead Community Council). It was in larger towns, however, where larger tenements were built to house workers that overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions became major public problems.

In 1894, when the average age of death was 33, the appointment of a Medical Officer of Health lead to an improvement in conditions.  Regulations were brought in to stop the overcrowding in Common Lodging Houses.  However, overcrowding and the resulting ill health it brought continued to be a problem for many years.

In 1924, Lord Weir declared that "the present shortage of working class houses is not only a national calamity but constitutes a pressing, national danger". Weir can be credited with developing cheaper steel housing, such as prefabs. The ruin of one of these steel houses can still be seen in Eastwood Park.

With the increase in standards of housing, the alleviation of overcrowding and the improvement of working conditions over the years, the health of the population improved accordingly. Developments in water supply, sanitation and the introduction of inside toilets all contributed to the decrease in incidence of serious life-threatening diseases. In Barrhead, for example, a piped water supply and sewage system was introduced in 1860-65. The opening of the Gorbals Waterworks in Glasgow lead to the supply of piped water directly into houses in many areas and meant the end of water being transported from wells.

Shanks & Co. of Barrhead played an important part in these improvements to conditions for the population with the development of their brass foundry and sanitary appliances business.  At the beginning of the 20th century they opened a pottery and produced their own ceramics.  For more information on Shanks & Co see the Local Employers page in the Related Pages section below.

The government had a large part to play in the health of the population. In 1957, for example, the Housing and Town Development (Scotland) Act allowed for overspill agreements, whereby areas such as Barrhead and Thornliebank were able to develop new housing for overspill tenants. In 1974, Local Government re-organisation meant that responsibility for Public Health was transferred to Health Boards instead of being under the Medical Officer of Health. The National Health Service in Scotland has undergone many changes over the years since its inception in 1948 and continues to evolve to this day, with many hospitals being run as self-governing trusts.

Local Doctors

Doctors played an important role in the community life of small villages and towns, and East Renfrewshire was no exception. Over six generations of the Corbett family were doctors in the area.

Thomas Corbett (in practice 1800-1855)

Thomas Corbett was commissioned in 1807 as surgeon in the East Renfrewshire Volunteers (forerunners of the Territorial Army)

Robert Corbett (in practice 1845-1888 at Hurlet and then Barrhead)

Robert was the local pit surgeon at the Victoria Pit Disaster of 1851 and was recorded as an expert witness at the Old Bailey in 1856. He was twice elected Provost of Pollokshaws.

Robert Corbett (in practice 1886-1934)

A keen photographer, he was the first Medical Officer of Health for the new Burgh of Barrhead from 1894.

Robert Corbett (in practice 1911-1959)

This Robert, whose photograph appears top right, was a renowned philatelist. He received several European Philatelic medals and edited the Scots Philatelist for many years.

Robert Corbett (in practice 1940-1977)

This Robert Corbett joined the family practice after World War II. He developed the Barrhead Medical Society, which was still active in 2002.

Robert Corbett (in practice 1970-2007)

Entered hospital practice as a diagnostic radiologist and consultant. He was elected President of the Scottish Radiological Society and in 1998 he was made Fellow of the British Medical Association.


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