London has always been a noisy place. Amongst the cachophony of sound in the Victorian streets was the chanting of the “Patterers”, either moving or stationary. In his London Labour and the London Poor, Henry Mayhew devoted an entire chapter to an investigation of the artistry, lives and habits of these Londoners. An extensive section of the chapter gives us a very detailed description of the lifestyle and con tricks of the pattering class. In our fifth instalment we visit the Low Lodging-Houses of London. There were enormous contrasts. The “Farm House” boasting connections to Cardinal Wolsey and Queen Anne, was a model of cleanliness. I another, bugs and lice floated in the water provided for the use of the “guests.” Approximately 10,000 people were permanently accommodated in the 200 or so lodging houses used by the patterers. The people who ran these places were either “civil and decent, or roguish and insolent.” Some of the lodging-houses are of the worst class of low brothels, and some may even be described as brothels for children.
The patterers, as a class, usually frequent the low lodging-houses. I shall therefore now proceed to give some further information touching the abodes of these people -reminding the reader that I am treating of patterers in general, and not of any particular order, as the “paper workers.”In applying the epithet “low” to these places, I do but adopt the word commonly applied, either in consequence of the small charge for lodging, or from the character of their frequenters. To some of these domiciles, however, as will be shown, the epithet, in an opprobrious sense, is unsuited.An intelligent man, familiar for some years with some low lodging-house life, specified the quarters where those abodes are to be found, and divided them into the following districts, the correctness of which I caused to be ascertained.Drury-lane District. Here the low lodginghouses are to be found principally in the Coalyard, Charles-street, King-street, Parker-street, Short’s-gardens, Great and Little Wyld-streets, Wyld-court, Lincoln-court, Newton-street, Starcourt.Gray’s-inn Lane. Fox-court, Charlottebuildings, Spread Eagle-court, Portpool-lane, Bell-court, Baldwin’s-gardens, Pheasant-court, Union-buildings, Laystall-street, Cromer-street, Fulwood’s-rents (High Holborn).Chancery-lane. Church-passage, and the Liberty of the Rolls.Bloomsbury. George-street, Church-lane, Queen-street, Seven-dials, Puckeridge-street (commonly called the Holy Land).Saffron-hill and Clerkenwell. Peter-street, Cowcross, Turnmill-street, Upper and Lower Whitecross-street, St. Helen’s-place, Playhouse-yard, Chequer-alley, Field-lane, Great Saffron-hill.Westminster. Old and New Pye-streets, Ann-252 street, Orchard-street, Perkins’s-rents, Rochester-row.Lambeth. Lambeth-walk, New-cut.Marylebone. York-court, East-street.St. Pancras. Brooke-street.Paddington. Chapel-street, Union-court.Shoreditch. Baker’s-rents, Cooper’s-gardens.Islington. Angel-yard.Whitechapel, Spitalfields, etc. George-yard, Thrawl-street, Flower and Dean-street, Wentworth-street, Keate-street, Rosemary-lane, Glasshouse-yard, St. George’s-street, Lambethstreet, Whitechapel, High-street.Borough. Mint-street, Old Kent-street, Longlane, Bermondsey.Stratford. High-street.Limehouse. Hold (commonly called Hole).Deptford. Mill-lane, Church-street, Giffordstreet.There are other localities, (as in Mile-end, Ratcliffe-highway, Shadwell, Wapping, and Lisson-grove,) where low lodging-houses are to be found; but the places I have specified may be considered the districts of these hotels for the poor. The worst places, both as regards filth and immorality, are in St. Giles’s and Wentworth-street, Whitechapel. The best are in Orchard-street, Westminster (the thieves having left it in consequence of the recent alterations and gone to New Pye-street), and in the Mint, Borough. In the last-mentioned district, indeed, some of the proprietors of the lodging houses have provided considerable libraries for the use of the inmates. In the White Horse, Mint-street, for instance, there is a collection of 500 volumes, on all subjects, bought recently, and having been the contents of a circulating library, advertised for sale in the Weekly Dispatch.Of lodging-houses for “travellers” the largest is known as the Farm House, in the Mint: it stands away from any thoroughfare, and lying low is not seen until the visitor stands in the yard. Tradition rumour states that the house was at one time Queen Anne’s, and was previously Cardinal Wolsey’s. It was probably some official residence. In this lodging house are forty rooms, 200 beds (single and double), and accommodation for 200 persons. It contains three kitchens, – of which the largest, at once kitchen and sitting-room, holds 400 people, for whose uses in cooking there are two large fire-places. The other two kitchens are used only on Sundays; when one is a preaching-room, in which missionaries from Surrey Chapel (the Rev. James Sherman’s), or some minister or gentleman of the neighbourhood, officiates. The other is a reading-room, supplied with a few newspapers and other periodicals; and thus, I was told, the religious and irreligious need not clash. For the supply of these papers each person pays 1d. every Sunday morning; and as the sum so collected is more than is required for the expenses of the reading-room, the surplus is devoted to the help of the members in sickness, under the management of the proprietor of the lodging house, who appears to possess the full confidence of his inmates. The larger kitchen is detached from the sleeping apartments, so that the lodgers are not annoyed with the odour of the cooking of fish and other food consumed by the poor; for in lodging-houses every sojourner is his own cook. The meal in most demand is tea, usually with a herring, or a piece of bacon.The yard attached to the Farm House, in Mint-street, covers an acre and a half; in it is a washing-house, built recently, the yard itself being devoted to the drying of the clothes – washed by the customers of the establishment. At the entrance to this yard is a kind of porter’s lodge, in which reside the porter and his wife who act as the “deputies” of the lodging house. This place has been commended in sanitary reports, for its cleanliness, good order, and care for decency, and for a proper division of the sexes. On Sundays there is no charge for lodging to known customers; but this is a general practice among the low lodging-houses of London.In contrast to this house I could cite many instances, but I need do no more in this place than refer to the statements, which I shall proceed to give; some of these were collected in the course of a former inquiry, and are here given because the same state of things prevails now. I was told by a trustworthy man that not long ago he was compelled to sleep in one of the lowest (as regards cheapness) of the lodging-houses. All was dilapidation, filth, and noisomeness. In the morning he drew, for purposes of ablution, a basin-full of water from a pail-full kept in the room. In the water were floating alive, or apparently alive, bugs and lice, which my informant was convinced had fallen from the ceiling, shaken off by the tread of some one walking in the rickety apartments above!”Ah, sir,”
said another man with whom I conversed on the subject,
“if you had lived in the lodging-houses, you would say what a vast difference a penny made, -it’s often all in all. It’s 4d. in the Mint House you’ve been asking me about; you’ve sleep and comfort there, and I’ve seen people kneel down and say their prayers afore they went to bed. Not so many, though. Two or three in a week at nights, perhaps. And it’s wholesome and sweet enough there, and large separate beds; but in other places there’s nothing to smell or feel but bugs. When daylight comes in the summer -and it’s often either as hot as hell or as cold as icicles in those places; but in summer, as soon as its light, if you turn down the coverlet, you’ll see them a-going it like Cheapside when it’s throngest.”The poor man seemed to shudder at the recollection.One informant counted for me 180 of these low lodging-houses; and it is reasonable to say that there are, in London, at least 200 of them. The average number of beds in each was computed for me, by persons cognizant of such matters, from long and often woeful experience, at 52 single or 24 double beds, where the house might be confined to single men or single women lodgers, or to married or pretendedly married couples, or to both classes. In either case, we may calculate the number that can be, and generally are, accommodated at 50 per house; for children usually sleep with their parents, and 50 may be the lowest computation. We have thus no fewer than 10,000 persons domiciled, more or less permanently, in the low lodging-houses of London – a number more than doubling the population of many a parliamentary borough.The proprietors of these lodging-houses mostly have been, I am assured, vagrants, or, to use the civiller and commoner word, “travellers” themselves, and therefore sojourners, on all necessary occasions, in such places. In four cases out of five I believe this to be the case. The proprietors have raised capital sufficient to start with, sometimes by gambling at races, sometimes by what I have often, and very vaguely, heard described as a “run of luck;” and sometimes, I am assured, by the proceeds of direct robbery. A few of the proprietors may be classed as capitalists. One of them, who has a country house in Hampstead, has six lodging-houses in or about Thrawl-street, Whitechapel. He looks in at each house every Saturday, and calls his deputies – for he has a deputy in each house – to account; he often institutes a stringent check. He gives a poor fellow money to go and lodge in one of his houses, and report the number present. Sometimes the person so sent meets with the laconic repulse -“Full;” and woe to the deputy if his return do not evince this fullness. Perhaps one in every fifteen of the low lodging-houses in town is also a beer-shop. Very commonly so in the country.To “start” a low lodging-house is not a very costly matter. Furniture which will not be saleable in the ordinary course of auction, or of any traffic, is bought by a lodging-house “starter.” A man possessed of some money, who took an interest in a bricklayer, purchased for £20, when the Small Pox Hospital, by King’s-cross, was pulled down, a sufficiency of furniture for four lodging-houses, in which he “started” the man in question. None others would buy this furniture, from a dread of infection.It was the same at Marlborough-house, Peckham, after the cholera had broken out there. The furniture was sold to a lodging-house keeper, at 9d. each article. “Big and little, sir,” I was told; “a penny pot and a bedstead – all the same; each 9d. Nobody else would buy.”To about three-fourths of the low lodging houses of London, are “deputies.” These are the conductors or managers of the establishment, and are men or women (and not unfrequently a married, or proclaimed a married couple), and about in equal proportion. These deputies are paid from 7s. to 15s. a week each, according to the extent of their supervision; their lodging always, and sometimes their board, being at the cost of “the master.” According to the character of the lodging-house, the deputies are civil and decent, or roguish and insolent. Their duty is not only that of general superintendence, but in some of the houses of a nocturnal inspection of the sleeping-rooms; the deputy’s business generally keeping him up all night. At the better-conducted houses strangers are not admitted after twelve at night; in others, there is no limitation as to hours.The rent of the low lodging-houses varies, I am informed, from 8s. to 20s. a week, the payment being for the most part weekly; the taxes and rates being of course additional. It is rarely that the landlord, or his agent, can be induced to expend any money in repairs, – the wear and tear of the floors, etc., from the congregating together of so many human beings being excessive: this expenditure in consequence falls upon the tenant.Some of the lodging-houses present no appearance differing from that of ordinary houses; except, perhaps, that their exterior is dirtier. Some of the older houses have long flat windows on the ground-floor, in which there is rather more paper, or other substitutes, than glass. “The windows there, sir,” remarked one man, “are not to let the light in, but to keep the cold out.”In the abodes in question there seems to have become tacitly established an arrangement as to what character of lodgers shall resort thither; the thieves, the prostitutes, and the better class of street-sellers or traders, usually resorting to the houses where they will meet the same class of persons. The patterers reside chiefly in Westminister and Whitechapel.Some of the lodging-houses are of the worst class of low brothels, and some may even be described as brothels for children.On many of the houses is a rude sign, “Lodgings for Travellers, 3d. a night. Boiling water always ready,” or the same intimation may be painted on a window-shutter, where a shutter is in existence. A few of the better order of these housekeepers post up small bills, inviting the attention of “travellers,” by laudations of the cleanliness, good beds, abundant water, and “gas all night,” to be met with. The same parties also give address-cards to travellers, who can recommend one another.The beds are of flock, and as regards the mere washing of the rug, sheet, and blanket, which constitute the bed-furniture, are in better order than they were a few years back; for the visitations of the cholera alarmed even the reckless class of vagrants, and those whose avocations relate to vagrants. In perhaps a tenth of the low lodging-houses of London, a family may have a room to themselves, with the use of the kitchen, at so much a week – generally 2s. 6d. for a couple without family, and 3s. 6d. where there are children. To let out “beds” by the might is however the general rule.The illustration presented this week is of a place in Fox-court, Gray’s-inn-lane, long notorious as a “thieves’ house,” but now far less frequented. On the visit, a few months back, of an informant (who declined staying there), a number of boys were lying on the floor gambling with marbles and halfpennies, and indulging in savage or unmeaning blasphemy. One of the lads jumped up, and murmuring something that it wouldn’t do to be idle any longer, induced a woman to let him have a halfpenny for “a stall;” that is, as a pretext with which to enter a shop for the purpose of stealing, the display of the coin forming an excuse for his entrance. On the same occasion a man walked into “the kitchen,” and coolly pulled from underneath the back of his smock-frock a large flat piece of bacon, for which he wanted a customer. It would be sold at a fourth of its value.I am assured that the average takings of lodging-house keepers may be estimated at 17s. 6d. a night, not to say 20s.; but I adopt the lower calculation. This gives a weekly payment by the struggling poor, the knavish, and the outcast, of 1,000 guineas weekly, or 52,000 guineas in the year. Besides the rent and taxes, the principal expenditure of the lodging-house proprietors is for coals and gas. In some of the better houses, blacking, brushes, and razors are supplied, without charge, to the lodgers: also pen and ink, soap, and, almost always, a newspaper. For the meals of the frequenters salt is supplied gratuitously, and sometimes, but far less frequently, pepper also; never vinegar or mustard. Sometimes a halfpenny is charged for the use of a razor and the necessary shaving apparatus. In one house in Kent-street, the following distich adorns the mantel-piece:”To save a journey up the town,
A razor lent here for a brown:
But if you think the price too high,
I beg you won’t the razor try.”In some places a charge of a halfpenny is made for hot water, but that is very rarely the case. Strong drink is admitted at almost any hour in the majority of the houses, and the deputy is generally ready to bring it; but little is consumed in the houses, those addicted to the use or abuse of intoxicating liquors preferring the tap-room or the beer-shop.