The Lodger’s Threshold

door lockAs I work on my latest conference paper, one of the questions I am considering is to what extent lodgers could define their own boundaries in someone else’s home. Lodgers were commonplace in the homes of the 19th-century working class and for the household taking in lodgers, Davidoff states, it ‘was a sign that the family could no longer be kept private’.[1] But, to what extent did taking up lodgings mean a sacrifice of one’s privacy? My investigations of late 19th-century London coroners’ inquests reveals that lodgers, while often being incorporated into the household and daily domestic life, could, nonetheless, physically determine their own thresholds therein.

John Styles study of lodging in 18th-century London (documented in the records of the Old Bailey) reveals that ‘Many tenants had their own room key and kept their own rooms locked’.[2] This, the coroners’ inquests reported in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper in the late 19th century reveal, was a practice continued in those London homes accommodating lodgers.

Repeatedly, coroners’ inquests held on those who had died while lodging in domestic dwellings refer to the lodger’s room being locked from the inside and doors having to be broken open when a landlady/landlord became concerned. At an inquest held upon an elderly widow lodging in the home of Mrs. Jennings of Wood Street, Woolwich, the landlady called before the coroner’s court to provide testimony stated that on the day in question ‘not hearing her [lodger] about, she went to her room. Getting no answer she tried the door, which was locked, [she then] procured assistance, and an entrance was effected. Deceased was lying on the floor undressed, as if she had fallen out of bed… [She] had been dead for some hours’.[3]

However, it was not just when a lodger had died within the locked room that a landlady/landlord had difficulty gaining access. The inquest reports also reveal that some householders would have little control over the lodger’s space in their home.

In June 1890, Lloyd’s Weekly reported on an inquest held on the body of 75 year old Anthony Cook who had died in his London lodgings from syncope. Called to provide testimony, Sarah Ann King, wife of a tea dealer, stated that Cook lodged in her home – 64 Richard Street, St. George East – ‘he paid 2s. 6d. a week for one room, which he always kept locked… [King] had never been in it till Monday and when she did do she found it in a most filthy state’.[4] This case was far from unique. In December 1896, Lloyd’s Weekly reported on the death of 71 year old James Bird Oliver who had died from starvation in the home of Iliffe Hayes, 36 Clayton Road, Peckham. Hayes told the coroner’s court that Oliver had lodged with her for the past two years and ‘was of somewhat eccentric habits and would allow no one in his room’. Like Cook’s landlady, when Hayes finally gained access, upon her lodger’s death, she also found it in ‘a filthy state’.[5]

Likewise, in May 1885, Lloyd’s Weekly reported on the death of George Morton Hasson, a 73 year old pensioner of the Great Western Railway company, who had died as a result of gangrenous wounds at his Marylebone lodgings – 16 Earl Street – the private domestic dwelling of James Lomer, bootmaker and his wife Phoebe, a dressmaker. Providing testimony to the coroner’s court, James Lomer stated that his lodger ‘objected to the interference of anybody in his household arrangements. He consequently was left very much to himself… Latterly he locked himself in very much, and finally refused to allow anybody to come near him. On the 1st of May, as he was not heard to move about or make a noise of any kind for some time, witness went and knocked at his door, but could not get an answer for some hours’.[6]

It is evident, therefore, that for some of those lodging in someone else’s home they were able to define and control their own space through the use of a locked bedroom door. Yet, the inquests also reveal that not all private dwelling lodgers were able to possess their own thresholds, as for some their bedroom was also the family’s bedroom

[1] Leonore Davidoff, ‘The Separation of Home and Work? Landladies and Lodgers in Nineteenth- and Twentieth Century England, in Fit Work for Women, ed. by Sandra Burman (Croom Helm, 1979), pp. 64-97 (p. 69).

[2] John Styles, ‘Lodging at the Old Bailey: Lodgings and their Furnishing in Eighteenth-Century London’, in Gender, Taste and Material Culture in Britain and North America, 1700-1830, ed. by John Styles and Amanda Vickery (Yale University Press, 2006). Also see Amanda Vickery, ‘An Englishman’s Home is his castle? Thresholds, Boundaries and Privacies in the Eighteenth-Century London House’, Past and Present, 199 (2008), 147-173.

[3] Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 17 Apr 1887, n.p.

[4] Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 29 June 1890, n.p.

[5] Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 6 Dec 1896, n.p.

[6] Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 17 May 1885, n.p.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s