Book Review: The Secret World of the Victorian Lodging House

If your British rellies were crims, drifters, homeless, immigrants, hookers, abandoned kids, a family on hard times, artisans, beggars, thieves … in other words, the underclass, then you will be fascinated by this social history of life in that underbelly of Victorian life – the lodging house. The Secret World of the Victorian Lodging House (Joseph O’Neill) is written by someone who grew up in a lodging house in the 1950s and developed an intense curiosity into not only the history but to the people who ended up living this way. Turns out not a lot of study had been conducted into this layer of society – but what an intriguing piece of research it is.

In Victorian Britain, lodging houses were crucial to help people make the transition to industrial city life as more folk moved into the cities to secure work and accommodation. Not all houses were the same, however. An intriguing court trial addresses the fact that in a room of seven beds sleeping seventeen men, a man’s body lay decomposing for days before anyone thought it odd.  The mind boggles, as indeed it did back then to those who couldn’t believe such things actually took place in their respectable cities.

Equally as absorbing is the chapter on beggars and tramps which claims the more shocking a beggar’s disfigurement, the more successful the beggar. Gross wounds, it appears, enhanced greater sympathy from the public when it came to parting with their pennies. There was even a social divide amongst the lower classes. Beggars, for example, seldom mixed with burglars and might even look down on those who actually worked for a living. 

This is well worth a read as the nights get colder and longer, and curling up with a book just might be the definition of bliss!

There are several copies to borrow within the system, click here to find an available copy.

 - Joanne Graves, Auckland Research Centre.

This entry was posted on Thursday, 14 May 2015 and is filed under ,,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

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