Domestic Architecture

In the early eighteenth century the buildings on the main streets of towns could be large private houses, or could be subdivided, often with simple wooden partitions, into flats or single rooms. Back streets often had simple single-storey cottages, but with gardens, while along closes could be found an assortment of buildings, often with no gardens.

Photograph of Castle Street, Dumfries.

Castle Street, Dumfries, part of the new town off the main road to the west, designed by Robert Burn in 1806, and built 1816-20.
© SCRAN/Charles McKean

The long eighteenth century saw the development of larger, taller and more solid buildings on the street frontages, and the gradual removal of thatched roofs from all but the most humble of structures, mainly because of the risk of fire. Multiple occupancy houses were often redesigned, with internal partitions of brick, to reduce fire risk, and a greater concern for privacy and security. At the same time new streets were being laid out, usually with terraced houses, each with its own walled garden.

For the elite, the ideal to aspire to was the detached suburban villa, set back from the street, self-contained within its garden wall, private and elegant. Examples of town houses, new streets and suburban villas can still be found in many towns.

THumbnail photograph of a town house in Greenock.

Thumbnail photograph of a town house in Dumfries. Thumbnail photograph of a town house in Old Aberdeen. Thumbnail photograph of a town house in Leith.

151 Finnart Street, Greenock.
© SCRAN/William Young

24 Castle Street, Dumfries.

81 High Street, Old Aberdeen.
© SCRAN/W.A.Brogden

138 Constitution Street, Leith.

Inside, houses developed specific rooms for specific functions. The first such was the dining room, followed by the drawing room or the less formal parlour. This meant that bedrooms were no longer used for entertaining as well as sleeping. The number of items of furniture increased, and the introduction of upholstery, carpets and curtains made life more comfortable. Smart houses had lobbies, entrance halls which made a statement about the house and its owner, and provided a buffer between the street and the heart of the house. A typical lobby might contain chairs, a side-table, an umbrella stand, and a barometer.

Photograph of lobby, Viewfield House, Dunfermline.

The lobby of Viewfield House, Viewfield Terrace, Dunfermline, built c.1810.

Privacy involved not only the house but the garden. In towns and suburbs, walled gardens provided space to relax, to take exercise, and to grow plants for pleasure as well as for food. A large town garden would include a lawn, beds for flowers and vegetables, and fruit trees and bushes. Some town plans include enough detail to show the layout of gardens. By the early nineteenth century inventories record the presence of garden furniture.