Scotlands History

Post-war housing and new towns

Throughout the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, Scotland’s housing had been seriously inadequate. Slum dwellings in the cities were appalling. The problem was most acute in Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city. By 1945, the long-term problems of overcrowding, poor hygiene and damp were made worse by war damage. Urgent action was needed.

Before the war newer green-belt suburbs had spread to the edge of big cities. Places like Knightswood, Pollok, Mosspark in Glasgow; Pilton and Sighthill in Edinburgh; and Downfield in Dundee were built.

In the late 1940s and early 50s vast municipal schemes were added to these; Drumchapel, Easterhouse, Castlemilk in Glasgow; Muirhouse, Craigmillar, Niddrie in Edinburgh but these were soon seen as too far out of town with too few local amenities. The housing shortage wasn’t solved but it was lessened for a while.

New towns were an ambitious attempt to meet Scotland’s housing challenge. They were sometimes called ‘overspill’ towns, because they took people from the big cities.

East Kilbride was the first, started in 1947. Now Scotland’s sixth biggest town, with over 70,000 people, it had new terraced housing in grouped residential areas, and it attracted a variety of local employers to the area, including Inland Revenue offices and the Overseas Development Agency (now Department for International Development). It was nicknamed ‘Polomint City’, after a new feature; its many roundabouts.

The second new town was Glenrothes in Fife, started in 1948, now with more than 40,000 residents. Its success was boosted in the 1970s when it replaced Cupar as Fife’s county town. Its became the heart of ‘Silicon Glen’ - successfully attracting many electronics businesses.

The other new towns were Cumbernauld (1955), Livingston (1962) and Irvine (1966). The project for a sixth new town at Stonehouse in South Lanarkshire was abandoned in 1976, and the Scottish New Towns Development Corporation was disbanded in 1993.

Of the five, Irvine was perhaps the least typical new town. Uniquely, it was a development based on two very old towns: Irvine had been a royal burgh since 1372, and Kilwinning was also a medieval foundation around a now-ruined abbey dating to 1160. Irvine is also by the seaside and still boasts a small working harbour - the site of the Scottish Maritime Museum.

  • Illustration of Cumbernauld town centre and shoppers
Click on the image to view a larger version.

New towns

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