Victorian London - Houses and Housing - Housing of the Poor - Lodgings

    Yesterday an inquest was held at the Horse Shoe and Magpie, Saffron Hill, before THOMAS STIRLING, Esq., Coroner, on the body of James Parkinson, aged 36, who came by his death under the following circumstances. The Jury proceeded to view the body of the deceased, which lay in the upper part of a low lodging-house for travellers, in West Street, Saffron Hill. It was in a high state of decomposition, and a report was generally circulated that he had come by his death by unfair means. 
    Mary Wood being sworn, deposed that she was the landlady of the house in West Street, which she let out in lodgings. The deceased occasionally lodged with her, and he was a dealer in cat’s meat. On Tuesday night last he came home and asked her for a light, and proceeded to his bedroom. On the Wednesday witness proceeded upstairs to make the beds, when she saw the deceased lying on his bed apparently asleep, but she did not speak to him. On the Thursday she proceeded to the upper part of the house for the same purpose, when she again saw the deceased lying as if asleep, but she did not disturb him, and he was ultimately discovered to be a corpse, and his face quite black.
    Juror. Pray, how many beds are there in the room where the deceased slept?
    Witness. Only eight, and please you, Sir.
    Indeed, and how many persons are in the habit of sleeping in the same apartment?
    —There are generally two or three in a bed, but the deceased had a bed to himself.
    Very comfortable truly. Is it not strange that none of his fellow lodgers ascertained that he was dead?
    —No, Sir, they go in and out with­out seeming to care for each other.
    Do you mean to say, if a poor man was to take a lodging at your house, you would let him lie for upwards of 48 hours without inquiring whether he required nourishment?
    —Why, Sir, I have known some of my lodgers, who have been out upon the spree to lay in bed for three and four days together, without a bit or a sup, and then they have gone out to their work as well and as hearty as ever they was in their lives; I have known it often to have been done. There was plenty of grub in the house if he liked to have asked for it; but I thought if I asked him to have victuals he would be offended, as he might receive it as a hint for the few nights’ lodging that he owed me.
    Mr. Appleby, the parish surgeon, proved that the deceased died a natural death, and the Jury returned a verdict of ‘Died by the visitation of God’

The Morning Herald,  Feb.11, 1834

Upon one occasion we accompanied a gentleman in the lucifer and congreve line home to supper. We have a particular old coat, fustian trousers, and affecting hat, which we don for these select parties, and pass muster very tolerably with the help of chin unshaven, and dirty hands, as a “Needy," or “cove down on his luck." The hotel was situate in a court within a court of Drury Lane; there were five small houses in the alley, all belonging to the same proprietor, and forming part of the same establishment. Two of the houses were laid out in single beds, for the better class of visitors ; by which we must be understood delicately to allude to begging-letter writers, the lower class of impostors, and swindlers, and the inferior tribes of area sneaks, and pickpockets. The department  which we may properly designate as the private or family hotel, furnished beds at four-pence a-night, with " Sundays out," or two shillings per week, with the usual accommodation. The sheets and bedding are coarse but tolerably clean, and the accommodation no worse than is to be found in many sixpenny lodging-houses in the country. 
    The two next houses were adapted to a threepenny standard,  and the remaining mansion was laid down in a crop of tolerable straw, for those customers whose means were limited to a penny, or who were suspected of an inclination for a night's lodging without any means at all. 
    For the common use of all the guests, the lower rooms of the two middle, or threepenny houses, were knocked into a tolerably spacious coffee-room; the walls ingeniously papered with ballads, and the ceilings fantastically ornamented in arabesque, with waving lines executed in a masterly style in smoke of candle. A capital fire - fire in these hotels is three parts of the accommodation - blazed at both ends of the apartment; and near lay the common saucepan, gridiron, and frying-pan of the establishment. 
     Our friend the lucifer-merchant entered without observation, but we were not permitted to escape in the same unostentatious manner : something of the policeman in disguise may have lurked about us ; and it was not till we had reassured the company by announcing our profession, as a jigger (or manufacturer of illicit spirits), that we were received with the usual welcome of these hostelries, an invitation to “stand treat."
    It is not safe to be suspected of being " flush" of money in these parts. We accordingly preferred stripping off our waistcoat fbr the "spout," with an alacrity that shewed at once our desire to drink and oblige the company. With this, a young gentleman, incurably lame from white swelling of the knee, was despatched as being swiftest of foot, and speedily returning with a gallon of beer, a quartern of gin, and " the ticket," we were disposed to be as merry as our unfortunate circumstances permitted.
    Of the company we can say but little, and that little not very  good. A group of well-dressed young gentlemen from the fourpenny “ken" monopolized the upper end of the apartment, looking with great contempt upon the more ragged frequenters of the room, who, however, were not backward in reciprocating their aversion for those “conveyancers " of the swell-mob. We had, at our less exclusive end of the house, a young gentleman in the epileptic line, who made a good thing of it, and reciprocated our treat with unhesitating hospitality; his secret lay in a composition, which he introduced into his nostrils, and which, when he fell heavily on the pavement, on the approach of kindly-hearted looking ladies, or elderly benevolent gentlemen, appearing in the unequivocal shape of a bloody-nose, was an almost certain passport, through the heart, to the pocket. We had a street-conjurer, who performed divers tricks upon cards to admiration, but at this time got a living by selling a toy called “bandalore," which he exhibited for our entertainment, acquainting us at the same time that this curious instrument was invented especially for the amusement of King George the Fourth. 
    We had a very knowing fellow, whose profession was that of a fool ; he wore a military uniform, with worsted epaulets, trowsers with a red stripe, and a cocked hat and feather, broadside, on his head. This gentleman had seen much life, possessed a fund of anecdote, and seemed the life and soul of the society. 
    Two gentlemen "griddlers," or itinerant psalm-singers, favoured us with their experiences upon circuit. In your life you never saw a brace of such sanctimonious-looking rascals ; they had doffed the professional whine and snuffle with which, in the course of the day, they had essayed about Hackney or Clapham Rise : for they confined themselves strictly to dissenting neighbourhoods, the sympathies of the godly ; but still retained the dusky suit, the cropped and shaven head and face. Merrier rascals could not be found, though the tone of their conversation, in a moral point of view, was by no manner of means unobjectionable. However, we could not look upon them with the proper intensity of dislike, knowing what splendid examples were afforded them of hypocrisy in loftier spheres.
    We also had a brace of "shally-coves," or shipwrecked sailors who had never seen the sea. There was a distressed Pole, born in Silver court, Golden lane, who spoke excellent French, and had served at the battle of Warsaw. The rest of the company chose to preserve a strict incognito, though there can be no doubt they were persons of the first importance - to themselves. 
    We had for supper - Lucifer and I - very choice “fagots" from the nearest cook-shop ; “small Germans," and a “polony " a-piece, with a kidney-pudding and baked “'taturs" fresh from the pieman at the corner. The military gentleman - or Captain, as he was familiarly called, sported a pork-chop and a pot of beer ; the “shally coves" rejoiced in bread, cheese, and onions ; but the grand resource of the majority was the baked 'tatur and kidney pudding. Some there were who appeared not t.o be in funds; but they wanted nothing, for all that: there was no ceremony ; everybody asked everybody “Will you have a bit of mine?" and everybody who wanted it, made no ceremony of saying, " Thank you, if you have it to spare."
    When supper was over, we formed a wide circle round one of the fires; the gentleman of the white swelling jumped Jim Crow, and he of the epilepsy rehearsed his “point" in the falling sickness. The Captain entertained us with a history of his adventures in the West, as a soi-disant soldier of the Anglo-Spanish Legion. The distressed Pole sat down to write a begging-letter for one of the “shally-coves," who had been shipwrecked off the Isles of Scilly, and was then making his way home to a widowed mother in any part of England. The “griddlers " sang songs of a highly questionable character. The street-conjurer and the gentlemen of the swell mob played at cards ; and the lucifer-man deplored the competition in the congreve line, and hinted to me that he should be glad to try his hand at the “jiggering" department. 

John Fisher Murray, The Physiology of London Life , in Bentley's Miscellany, 1844

see also Hector Gavin in Sanitary Ramblings - click here

see also Henry Mayhew in London Labour and the London Poor - click here

see also Henry Mayhew's Letter III in the Morning Chronicle - click here

see also Henry Mayhew's Letter IV in Morning Chronicle - click here

see also Henry Mayhew's Letter V in the Morning Chronice - click here

see also Henry Mayhew's Letter VI in the Morning Chronicle - click here


see also Henry Mayhew's Letter XXX in the Morning Chronicle - click here

see also Henry Mayhew's Letter XXXI in the Morning Chronicle - click here

see also George Sala in Gaslight and Daylight - click here

see also Thomas Archer in The Pauper, The Thief and the Convict - click here

see also Thomas Wright in Some Habits and Customs of the Working Classes - click here

see also Thomas Archer in The Terrible Sights of London - click here (1) (2)  

see also James Greenwood in In Strange Company - click here (1)  (2)  

    Common Lodging Houses.—The Common Lodging House Act has worked a marvellous revolution in the housing of the London poor. Every establishment of the kind throughout the metropolis is now under direct and continual police supervision; every room being inspected and measured before occupation, and having a placard hung up in each stating the number of beds for which it is licensed, calculated upon the basis of a minimum allowance of space for each person. Every bed, moreover, has to be furnished weekly with a complete supply of fresh linen, whilst careful provision is made for the ventilation of the rooms, the windows of which are also thrown open throughout the house at 10 am., at which hour the night's tenancy of the occupant is supposed to terminate. In its way there are few things more striking, especially to those whose acquaintance with the slums and rookeries of London dates from before the passing of this admirable Act, than the comparative sweetness of these dormitories, even when crowded with tramps and thieves of the lowest class. The common sitting-rooms on the ground floor are not it must be confessed, always equally above reproach. But even with the worst the upstairs region is at least comparatively sweet, and there are but very few that, in point of atmosphere, need shrink from comparison with any ordinary London lodging at £1 1s. or £1 10s. a week. In all cases, too, the men's and women's dormitories are separate; rooms devoted to married couples being partitioned off exactly in the fashion of the old square-pewed churches, and into separate pens upon about the same scale. The mixed lodging-houses— or those at which both sexes are received—are comparatively few, the general practice being for each house to confine itself to one class. All have a common sitting-room on the ground floor, with a fire at which the lodgers can cook their own victuals which in most cases has to be purchased at one of the small shops in which the neighbourhood abounds and where bread, cheese, dripping, bacon vegetables and indeed almost every kind of food, can be obtained in halfpenny portions. In a few instances these supplies can be obtained in the house itself. About the best sample of this kind of establishment extant will be found at St. George's chambers, St. George's-street, London-docks (vulgo, Ratcliff-highway), a thorough poor man's hotel where a comfortable bed with use of sitting-room, cooking apparatus and fire, and laundry accommodation, soap included, can be had for 4d. a night, all kinds of provisions being obtainable in the bar at proportionate rates. To any one interested in the condition of the London poor, this establishment is well worth a journey to the East-end to visit. On the other hand the following is a list of streets or places in the metropolis in which common lodging houses of the lower class are situate:




‘Old Rye-street, *Perkins-rents, St. Ann-street, *Orchard-street, Great Peter- street, end Dacre-st (Westminster)


*Turk’s-row (Chelsea)


Castle-street (St. Martin’s)


Bell-street and Little Grove-street (St. Marylebone)


Macklin-street, *Short’s-gardens, *Parker.street, *Queen-street, Dyott-street, *Kennedy-court (St. Giles)


Fulwood’s-rents and Dean-street (Holborn)


Market-street, Fitzroy-market (St. Pancras)


*Golden-lane, *New-court, *Nicholl’s-buildings (St. Luke’s)


Portpool-lane, *Holborn-buildings (Holborn)


*Flower and Dean-street and neighbourhood, Dorset-street, and Paternoster row (Christchurch)


Nicolls-row (Bethnal Green)


Cable-street (St. George East)


St. Ann-street and West India-road (Limehouse) 


Broadwall, Great Charlotte-street   (Christchurch)


Hooper-street, Tower-street Princes-street (Lambeth)



The Mint, Tabard-street, Orange-street, *Union-street (Southwark)


*Hill-lane, New King-street, Watergate-street (Deptford)


*Lower East-street (East Greenwich)


Canon-row, Rope-yard-rails, and the lower end of High-street (Woolwich)         


Brewhouse-lane (Hampstead)


Brook-green-place (Hammersmith)


Peel-street, Notting-hill (Kensington)


Garratt-lane (Wandsworth)


Wandsworth-road, Vauxhall (Lambeth)


Bangor-street, Crescent-street, St. Clement’s-road, and Walmer-road (Kensington)


Queen’s-road, Holloway (Islington)

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

Kitchen of a Lodging House, 1886 [ILN Picture Library]

see also J.Ewing Ritchie in Days and Nights in London - click here

see also Richard Rowe in Life in the London Streets - click here (1) (2)

see also George Sims in How the Poor Live - click here

see also James Greenwood in Toilers in London - click here

see also James Greenwood in Mysteries of Modern London - click here

see also Thomas Wright in The Pinch of Poverty - click here