Victorian London - Houses and Housing - Housing of the Middle Classes - lodgings and boarding-houses


    Are distinguished by square inscriptions wafered to squares of glass, which usually intimate a desire on the part of the exhibitors (generally blooming widows) to share their domiciles with a "single gentleman." When introduced to the lady, she declares that everything is "clean and comfortable" especially the window-curtains, whose colour cannot be seen for the dust; and the bed-room which was fumigated by the last lodger with tobacco smoke. On inquired the terms, they are said to be "dirt cheap," which, judging from the state of the tables and carpet, they ought to be. - "Fifteen shillings a week, and find your own bed and table-linen," and the bargain is closed.
    At the end of the first week, you discover how exceedingly dear, cheap lodgings prove to be - for you are charged five shillings a week for blacking, and twelve-and-sixpence for coals. It also appears that you have had friends to supper every evening, or else what could have become of nine bottles of stout? You perceive that meat is half-a-crown a pound, that hens will not lay in that neighbourhood under fourpence an egg, and that the chicory and roasted grain, off which you have been breakfasting, is nearly double the price of the best Mocha coffee.
    Should you remove, on the score of economy, into a house where there are "apartments to let" at three guineas a week, and cater for yourself, it is soon perceptible that every article you order in pays a tariff varying from four to eight ounces in the lb., during its passage to the kitchen. Thus, driven by a limited income, into the illiberality of giving notice to quit, you are forced to turn yourself out of house and home, and belong to a club: taking - merely to sleep in - the "room to let"  which is advertised at the green-grocer's in a street. You are balloted for at the P-, or the L- U- to the second, and you soon find that its nick-name, "the cheap and nasty," has not been unjustly bestowed.
    Finally, you are driven to despair and get married.

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1842

When Mr. Simpson Briggs first came to town, he took up his abode in a mansion, whose various rooms were dedicated solely to the purpose of lodging medical students; and of course a very quiet well conducted and respectable house it was. Here then be pitched his tent, or more properly, pitched his things down, for he was not over tidy in the arrangement of his wardrobe in the drawers, generally choosing to keep his clean shirts in the closet with the candles and bottled porter, and his clothes in his trunk in company with odd bones, short pipes, and scrap leaves of various "Anatomist's Guides," and "Student's Companions."
    The rooms on the separate floors were all alike, except in the rents; and by describing one, a just idea may be formed of all. The landlady and furniture had both seen better days, as landladies and furniture generally have. The bed-curtains were of dark-glazed calico to keep clean a long time, and not show the dirt when they ceased to be so; the dingy walls were redolent of tobacco; and there was, in the sitting room, a dark old fashioned half-round mahogany table, whereon was to be seen a Quain's Anatomy, a scapula, a broken scalpel, a sixpenny song-book, and sundry circles of evaporated moisture, somewhat about the circumference of the bottom of a quart pot. The pattern of the carpet had long been obliterated, and its colours had now settled into a very neutral tint, variegated with mud. The looking-glass had been scored all to pieces with diamond rings whenever any of the tenants had been fortunate enough to possess such articles; a few pictures of that elaborate and entertaining kind, only met with in lodging-houses and  brokers' shops, adorned the walls, and you have a very fair idea of the apartments which Mr. Simpson Briggs rented at fourteen shillings per week.
    Although the house was situated in a very quiet street, yet various internal noises were perpetually occurring to prevent a monotonous tranquility, depressing the minds of the inmates. The servant was usually called up by a summons over the stairs, from the various floors, as all bell-pulls had disappeared in times of the most remote antiquity; and occasionally a noisy clattering down stairs agreeably broke the silence, as a student slid down the last flight, a species of descent much in vogue with the tenants, by which the top rail of the bannisters had been worn as smooth as polished mahogany, and the mat at the bottom of the stairs lacerated in several places, by receiving the first shock of their heels when they landed in the passage.
    The spot of earth on which this interesting tenement stood, was in that wide locality commonly known as "over the water" - a territory principally appropriated to medical students and actors, the latter of whom may be seen in crowds upon Waterloo Bridge about six o'clock in the evening, on their way from their mysterious abodes to the theatres; and who may also be met again, if you choose to wait for them, about midnight, retracing their steps homeward. The nearest clue we can give to Mr. Brigg's first abode is, that you went over Waterloo Bridge to get to it; which circumstance afforded great amusement to those gentlemen who honoured him with their acquaintance, when they came to call upon him.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1842


SHE is so hurt to hear that the children disturb you! She has the greatest trouble in keeping them quiet, but begs you will not hesitate to mention it if they are at all noisy. She has told them at least fifty times never to come into your room, the little plagues! She a very sorry, but she cannot make twenty breakfasts, and wait upon twenty gentlemen all at once. You really must wait a little longer. Well! it's very strange, but the chimney never did smoke before; whatever can be the cause of it? Oh! that noise at the back is the skittle-ground - she quite forgot to mention it previously, but her house adjoins "a public," - it's a treat nuisance to be sure, but it's only of an evening, and won't trouble you much after eleven. - She hopes you feel yourself perfectly comfortable?
    She can't for the life of her make out who takes your books! all she knows is, that she's no time for reading - it must be that hussey, ANN; she'll send her away as sure as she's born, if she catches her at it! - You must make a mistake-there wasn't a bit of the leg left yesterday, she's ever so positive there wasn't - she can show you the bone if you wish it. - She never recollects coals so abominably dear; it's quite shameful! The ton you had in last week is all gone, and she was obliged to lend you a coal-scuttle herself this morning. - She can't make out what makes the paper so very late - those tiresome boys are enough to wear one's life out. - She's very sorry if there s no mustard in the house -  she has told ANN to get some at least a hundred times, if she has told her once, but it's of no use. She must get rid of the girl! - Lor! how very provoking - she wishes you had only told her you wanted some hot water - she's just that very minute put the kitchen fire out, but there's some nice fresh water, if you'll have any.
    What! a FLEA? (it is quite impossible to express the scream type; the reader must imagine in his mind's ear something equal in shrillness to a railway whistle), A FLEA!!! did you say. Oh! that she should live to hear such a thing! She's only a poor lone widow, and its cruel - that it is - to throw such a thing in her face! Well! if you are bitten all over, it no fault of hers; you must have brought the "nasty things" in yourself. Her house is known to be the sweetest house in the whole street - you can ask anybody if it isn't ! - Would you be kind enough not to ring the bell so often - there s a poor invalid lady on the first floor, and it distresses her sadly ! - She begs your pardon, but linen always was an extra - she had a gentleman who stopt in her two parlours once for ten years: he was a very nice gentleman to be sure, something in the law, and he never all the time raised so much as a murmur against the linen, nor any other gentleman that she has had any dealings with. You must be mistaken.
    She really cannot clean more than one pair of boots a day - some persons seem to have no bowels for the servants - poor creatures! - Well! what's the matter with the curtains, she should like very much to know? What, rather old! Well! on her word it's the first time she's even been told so, and they have only been up these eight years, - if so much, decidely not more! However, if persons are not satisfied, they had better go - she has been offered three and sixpence a week more for the rooms - and goodness knows she doesn't make a blessed farthing by them. She's anxious to satisfy everybody, but cannot do wonders - and what's more, won't, to please any body! - She's extremely sorry to hear that you have lost half your shirts, but she cannot be answerable for her servants, of course. She has told, her lodgers over and over again always to be careful and lock their drawers, till she's fairly tired of telling them! What do you say? They always have been locked! Well! she shouldn't at all wonder now that you suspect her? - if so, she can only tell you to your face that she doesn't wear shirts, and begs that you'll suit yourself elsewhere. She never experienced such treatment in all her life and more than that, she won't - no, not to please the Queen, or the very best lodger in the world! Perhaps you'll accuse her next of stealing your tea and sugar? What, you do? Well! she's ashamed of you - that she is - and should like exceedingly to know what you call yourself? A gentleman indeed! No more a gentleman than she is a gentleman. However, she won't harbour such gentlemen in her house, she's determined of that so you'll please take the usual notice, and bundle yourself off as quick as you can, and precious good riddance too! She won't stand nonsense from anybody, though she is nothing better than a poor widow, and has not a soul to protect her in the wide world! She never saw such a gentleman.
    Not a word more, however, is said. The next evening some oysters are sent in for supper "with Missus' compliment's, please she says they're beautifully fresh;" or if it is. Sunday, she ventures in herself with her best cap, and two plates, one over the other, and "hopes you will excuse the liberty, but the joint looked so nice, she thought you would just like a slice of hot meat for luncheon, with a nice brown potato." She stirs the fire; sees that the windows are fastened down tight; can't make out where the draft comes out; asks in the softest voice whether you wouldn't like a nice glass of pale ale; and finishes by wiping with her apron the dust off the mantelpiece and all the chairs, and hoping that you're comfortable.
    As the fatal day draws near, she knocks at the door. "Is she disturbing you? Would you be kind enough to let her have a little drop of brandy - she should esteem it a great favour - she has such a dreadful sinking."
    The next morning she lays the breakfast cloth herself. For the first time the weekly bill is not ready, "but she's in no hurry - any time will do. Why! surely you're not thinking of going in this way? You have been with her so long; she should be miserable to lose you - such a nice gentleman too - you cannot mean to go!"
    But, alas! there is no appeal. Here let us shut the door. Language is too weak to describe the terrible slammings and hangings, and the fearful sarcasms of that last day. Arithmetic too, falls powerless before the awful array of formidable "extras" in the last week's bill of the MODEL LODGING-HOUSE KEEPER.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1848

see also London by Day and Night for Lodgings vs Hotels - click here

see also Charles Manby Smith in The Little World of London - click here


    A glance at the advertisement sheets of the Times will. enable the stranger readily to determine in which quarter he will take up his abode. The West End is, of course, the dearest neighbourhood; but comfortable lodgings, at moderate rates, may be obtained in Pimlico. The Bloomsbury and Russell Square district is quiet, respectable, and within an easy distance of the principal places of amusement. The streets leading out of the Strand are a complete congeries of lodging-houses.
    The tariff at the respectable Boarding-Houses in the City appears to bear the following average: Bed and breakfast, 3s.; dinner (chop or steak), 2s.; tea, with chop, 1s. 6d., without chop 1s. ; private sitting-room, 2s. 6d.; attendance, 6d. per day. But at many Eating-Houses and Coffee Houses of good character the traveller may obtain respectable accommodation at still lower rates.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

    A favorite resort of the homeless are boarding-houses. Of these establishments there are hundreds in London---from those devoted to the entertainment of minor City clerks, rigorously "engaged during the day," to those which---one is almost led to suppose---nobody under the rank of a baronet is received, and even then not without a reference as to respectability on the part of a peer. But most of these houses have one or two features in common. There is always a large admixture of people who go there for the sake of society; and of this number a considerable proportion is sure to consist of widows or spinsters of extremely marriageable tendencies. The result is that, unless the residents be very numerous, individual freedom is lost, and, instead of living an independent life as at an hotel, the members of a "circle" find themselves surrounded by such amenities as may be supposed to belong a rather large and singularly disunited family.
A great many marriages, however, are made in these establishments, and it is not on record that they turn out otherwise then well. It must be admitted, too, that men go there to find wives as well as women to find husbands, so that the arrangement thus far is fair on both sides. But I have been informed by men who are not among the latter number, that it is found difficult sometimes to get the fact generally understood. The consequent mistakes of course lead to confusion, and the result is the occassional retirement of determined bachelors into more private life.

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Henry Mayhew et al. , London Characters and the Humorous Side of London Life, 1870?

    I said something about boarding-houses just now. A great many of the homeless who have not tried these establishments---or having tried them are unwilling to renew the experiment---live in furnished lodgings. On the Continent they would probably put up at hotels: but hotels in this country are not adapted for modest requirements, and furnished lodgings take a place which they have not yet learned to occupy. The mode of life is anomalous. It is neither public nor private. You may be independent in an hotel; you may be independent in your own house; in lodgings you can be independent by no possibility. If you spend rather more money than you would either in an hotel or your own house, you obtain comfort and attention; but the object of most persons who take lodgings is to be rather economical than otherwise, so that the reservation is of very little avail. Lodgings are of two classes---those that profess to be so, and those that solemnly declare they are not. The former are decidedly preferable, apart from the immorality of encouraging a sham. In the former case, if you occupy---say as a bachelor---only a couple of rooms in town, and the rest of the house is let to other people, you will obtain but precarious attendance from the solitary servant, and the chances are that you will never be able to get a decently-cooked meal. The food that they waste in such places by their barbarous mode of dealing with it is sad to think upon. Your only resource is to live out of doors as much as possible, and consider your rooms only as a refuge---the logical consequence of which is that it is best to abandon them altogether.
But you are better placed even under these conditions than if you go to a house in one of the suburbs---a pretty villa-looking place---knowing nothing about it beyond the information offered by the bill in the window. A not very clean servant opens the door, and does not impress you favourably at first glance. You are hesitating, under some discouragement, when the mistress of the house---presenting in her decorated exterior a considerable contrast to the servant---appears upon the scene and reproves the domestic sternly for her neglected appearance, sends her away to restore it, and meantime proceeds to transact business upon her own account. You ask her if she lets apartments. She gives a reproving look, and says "No," ignoring the announcement made by the bill. You mention that you knocked in consequence of seeing that intimation in the window; upon which the lady says---
"Oh, is it up? I was not aware. The fact is, I wish to receive a gentleman to occupy part of the house, as it is too large for us"---the old story---"and my husband being a great deal out, I find it rather lonely. But my husband is very proud and objects to having strange company."
You remark that you need not have applied in that case, and will go elsewhere. This brings the lady to the point.
"Oh, I did not mean to say that you could not have any apartments here. I intend to have my own way in that matter"---this is said in a playful, fluttery manner, with a running laugh. "If you will step in I will show you the accommodation we have. All I meant to say was, that we are not accustomed to let lodgings."
Rather amused than annoyed, you submit to be shown the rooms. They are pretty rooms---light and cheerful, and ornamental to a fault---and the garden at the back is alone a relief from the pent-up place you have been occupying in town. So, after a few preliminary negotiations---conducted on the lady's side in the same playful manner---you agree to take the place, say for three months. The lady is evidently pleased at your decision, and avails herself of the opportunity for renewing her assurance that the house is not a lodging-house, and that you may expect all the comforts of a domestic life.
"There are no other lodgers," she added; then, as if suddenly recollecting, she corrects herself: "That is to say, there is a commercial gentleman who is a great deal away, sleeping here for a night or two---a friend of my husband's---and yes, let me see, a medical gentleman to whom we have allowed the partial use of a bedroom to oblige a neighbour just for the present, but I do not count either of them as lodgers."
A commercial gentleman sleeping for a night or two, while he is a great deal away, does not seem an ordinary lodger at any rate; and from the distinction drawn in the case of the medical gentleman who is only allowed the partial use of a bedroom, you are inclined to think that he is permitted to lie down but not go to sleep. However, you make no objection to these anomalies, and take possession of your new abode.
There never was such an imposter, as you find out only next day. The bagman and the medical student---as those gentlemen must be described, if the naked truth be respected---turn out to be regular lodgers, and as thorough nuisances as a couple of noisy men addicted to late hours and exaggerated conviviality can well be. And the woman never mentioned a discharged policeman---her father, I believe---to whom she affords a temporary asylum in the kitchen, in return for intermittent attentions in the way of blacking boots and cleaning knives---when he happens to be sober. For the rest, there is nobody in the house who can cook even such a simple matter as a mutton chop without spoiling it; and there seems to be everybody in the house who is determined that your private stores shall not be allowed to spoil for want of eating and drinking. Nothing is safe from the enemy, who combines forces against you, and they take care that you shall have no protection, for not a lock which can give shelter to any portable article will act after you have been two days in the house. As for your personal effects, they are in equal danger. The average amount of loss in wearing apparel is one shirt and two handkerchiefs a week; and miscellaneous articles are sure to go if they are in the least degree pretty or curious. And the coolest part of the proceeding is, that the mildest complaint on your part brings down a storm upon your devoted head, such as you could not have expected from the playful and fluttering person who had given you such pleasant assurances when you took the rooms. She claims to be Caesar's wife in point of immunity from suspicion, and asserts the same privilege for everybody in the house. "No gentleman was ever robbed there," she says; and she plainly hints that no gentleman would say he was, even though he said the fact.
This is no exaggerated picture of many suburban lodgings to which outsiders of society are led to resort for want of better accommodation; and a large number of persons who are not outsiders in the sense in which I have employed the term, but who are simply not settled in the metropolis, are exposed to a similar fate. For those who are prepared for an ordeal of another nature, the "cheerful family, musically inclined," offers, one would think, a far preferable alternative. But it is not everybody who is prepared to have society thrust upon him, either in this quiet domestic way or in a large boarding-house, and there ought to be better provision than there is for the floating mass of casual residents in London. In Paris not only are there hotels suited to the requirements of all classes of persons, but the maisons meubles are places where they may live almost as independently as in their own houses. In London, the only realization of the luxury short of an entire house is in what we call "chambers;" and a man's chambers are most certainly his castle, whatever his house may be. That the want is being appreciated, is evident from the rapid extension of the "chambers" system, in the way of the independent suites of rooms known as "flats." But the flats, as now provided in Victoria Street, and elsewhere, cost as much as entire houses, while the latest additions, the Belgrave and Grosvenor mansions, are even more costly, and beyond the reach of the classes to whom I have been referring. The latter would be deeply grateful for accommodation of the kind on a more moderate scale, and the investment of capital in such an object could not fail to be profitable. Besides the desolate people into whose sorrows I have entered, there are in London, it must be remembered, many hundreds of outsiders of society of a different kind, who are outsiders only from that conventional society in which it takes so much money to "move," and who ought to command greater comfort than they do while they are working their way in professional pursuits. For those actually in want of companionship, I suppose they will always incline to the hotel, or the boarding-house, or the "cheerful family, musically inclined."

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W.S.Gilbert , London Characters and the Humorous Side of London Life, 1870?

APARTMENTS-The visitor who intends to make a long stay in London will do well to take apartments. These he may find at moderate prices in all the suburbs, especially at Islington, Kensington, and Pentonville. At the West-end apartments may be obtained from ten shillings a week for a single bed-room, use of sitting- room and attendance, to two or even three guineas a day for accommodation of a more pretentious character.
    At coffee-houses and taverns in the neighbourhood of the City and in the suburbs, beds and breakfasts may be obtained at all rates, from a shilling to a crown. As a rule avoid temperance hotels, which - strange as it may appear - are neither clean nor economical. There is no necessity to order wines or spirits, if you do not wish it, at any of the hotels here mentioned. De gustibus non est.

Routledge's Popular Guide to London, [c.1873]

    LODGINGS - The visitor who wishes to make a lengthened stay in the Metropolis, will find it most economical to take lodgings. These he may get at all prices, from the suite of elegantly furnished rooms in the West End, at 4 to 15 guineas a week, to the bed-room and use of a breakfast parlour, at 10 shillings a week. In the West End the best kinds of lodgings are to be found in the streets leading from Piccadilly - such as Sackville-st., Dover-st., Half-Moon-st., Clarges-st., and Duke-st, and in streets leading out of Oxford-st., and Regent-st., St. James's-st., Jermyn-st. The apartments of the best class are those in private houses, let by persons of respectability, generally for the season only. A list of such apartments is to be found, however, at the nearest house-agent's, who gives cards to view, and states terms. An advertisement in the Times for such rooms, stating that "no lodging-house-keeper need apply," will often open to the stranger the doors of very respectable families, where he will be more likely to get all the quiet and comfort of a borne, than in a professed lodging-house.
    FURNISHED HOUSES for families can always be obtained at the West End, on application to a house-agent, at prices varying from 5 to 25 guineas a week, according to size, situation, &c
    CHEAPER LODGINGS. - Strangers requiring moderate lodgings in a central situation, should seek for apartments in some of the secondary streets leading from the Strand, such as Cecil- st., Craven-st., Norfolk-st., Southampton-st., Bedford-st.. or the Adelphi. Also in the neighbourhood of Pimlico, and round Victoria Station, in Vauxhall-bridge-rd., Warwick-st., Ebury-st., Chester-st., or near the Marble Arch and Edgware-road, in Cambridge-st., Connaught-st., &c., &c., good rooms may be obtained at a moderate rate. In the season, the prices range from 1 to 4 guineas for a sitting and bed-room. The middle-class visitor who is bent on sight-seeing should obtain a bedroom in a healthy locality, and the use of a breakfast-room. Such lodgings may be had for half-a-guinea a week. He can either provide his breakfast himself or get his landlady to provide it for him. The various chop-houses and dining-rooms, of which there are nearly 600 in the Metropolis, will supply him with his dinner; whilst the 900 coffee-houses will afford him a cheap tea in any quarter of the town.

Murray's Handbook to London As It Is, 1879

Lodgings.?The immense extension of late years of the metropolitan railway system has thrown open to those in search of lodgings a much wider field than heretofore, even when sightseeing is the object, and time pressing. To those who are very hard pushed in the latter respect, or who contemplate being out late at night after the trains have ceased running, a central situation is, of course, still of importance; and these would do well to confine themselves ? if economically disposed ? to the streets between the river and the Strand, where they will get tolerable accommodation at about 30s. to 50s. a week, or to those on either side of New Oxford-street, where the charges will run a few shilling lower. In Bloomsbury again, a little farther north, but still within easy reach of the amusement centre, will be found a whole region, the chief occupation of which is the letting of lodgings, and where the traditional bed and sitting room can be obtained at almost any price from one guinea to two and a half. Those who wish to be central, and are not particular as to the price they pay, should prosecute the search in the streets between Pall mall and Piccadilly, including the former, where they will find as a rule small rooms, often shabbily furnished, but good cooking, first-class attendance, and a general flavour of ?society.?  Prices here are a good deal influenced by the ?season,? this being the special resort of fashionable bachelors who live at their clubs; but the weekly rent of a bed and sitting room may be taken at from three to eight or ten guineas; ?extras? also, of course, being in proportion. On the other side of Piccadilly, prices are much the same, or, if anything, rather higher; but you get larger rooms for your money, the increased distance from the more fashionable clubs rendering them relatively somewhat cheaper. Beyond Oxford-street, again, there is a considerable drop, becoming still more decided on the farther tide of Wigmore-street, where very good lodgings can be had for 30s. to 40s. a week. We have here, however, got beyond the region of male attendance and must be content with the ministrations of the ordinary lodging-house ?slavey.? The streets running immediately out of Portland-place may be taken as belonging to the category of those between Wigmore-street and Oxford-street, averaging, say, from about 50s. to 60s. per week. Turning southwards again we have the large districts of Brompton and Pimlico; a good deal farther off in point of absolute distance, but with the advantage of direct communication with the centre both by rail and omnibus, and the houses are newer and of better appearance. Visitors, however, having their families with them will do well to make enquiry either of some well-informed friend or some respectable house-agent in the neighbourhood before settling down in any particular street. The prices here will be found much the same as in the two districts last mentioned, varying of course with the accommodation, which has here a greater range than in most districts. Those who desire still cheaper accommodation must go farther afield, the lowest priced of all being in the north, east, and south-east districts, in either of which a bed and sitting room may be had at rents varying from 10s. to 30s. In the extreme west, south-west, and north-west, rents are a little higher, 15s. a week being here about the minimum. In all cases, except perhaps that of the Pall Mall district, these prices should include kitchen fire, boot-cleaning, hall and staircase gas, attendance, and all extras whatsoever. It will, however, be necessary to stipulate for all these things individually. The mere word ?inclusive? means nothing, or less, being very commonly taken as an indication that the enquirer either does not know what extras mean, or is too shy to formulate his requirements categorically. Set everything out in plain terms and in black and white. Stipulate also at the same time and in the same way as to the prices to be charged for gas and coal for private consumption the former being usually charged at the rate of 6d. per week per burner, and the latter at the rate of 6d. per scuttle. It may be as well to remember, too, if bent on rigid economy, that scuttles vary in size. Finally you will find it necessary, if in the habit of dining late?i.e. after 1 or 2 p.m.?to make distinct stipulations to that effect, not only generally, but, if you so desire, with special regard to Sunday. In the first-class districts this does not so much apply, though even in them there is no harm in mentioning it. But in houses of the lower classes, this will almost invariably be found a difficulty, a very large proportion flatly declining to furnish late Sunday dinners on any terms. The usual mode of hiring lodgings is by the week, in which case a clear week?s notice, terminating on the day of entry, is necessary before leaving. If you wish to be at liberty to leave at shorter notice, or to give the weeks notice from any other day, it will be necessary to have an express stipulation to that effect in writing.

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