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.

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Accommodating Grandpa – A 19th Century Example

Co-residence with kin in old age past and present has been widely discussed by historians of old age, the family, and community, but one area that has hitherto remained somewhat of a mystery in co-residence situations is how, in the already cramped dwellings of the urban working-class and rural labourer, these elderly relatives were accommodated.

In my recent article in the Journal of Victorian Culture I have already begun to explore the accommodation of the lodger in these homes through a study of coroners’ inquest reports and I now seek to ask how offspring accommodated their elderly parents when they were no longer in the position to remain in their own homes. It is well documented that Grandma was, in increasing old age, far more likely to be taken in by kin, than was Grandpa – the arguments for which is numerous and beyond the scope of this particular blog post.

The case I want to explore today is a coroner’s inquest which reveals how one Grandfather was accommodated in his son’s household. In June 1841, the Census Enumerator for Butley, a small Suffolk village, recorded that the residents of one of its households was John Barham, a 35-year-old Agricultural Labourer, Emma Barham aged 33, three children – aged 15, 10, and 4, as well as Henry Barham, aged 75 years.[1] We can infer, from his surname, Henry was related to the family he was now residing with, but so many other questions remain as to his accommodation in this household: when and why had he come to live in this particular household? What was his relationship to the family with whom he resided? And, in what was most likely an already overcrowded household, where did Henry sleep? – are just a few of these.

Yet, a tragedy befalling this household just weeks before the Census was taken not only reveals that the Barham’s had four children in total, but it also begins to uncover some of those questions pertaining to Henry Barham’s domestic circumstances. On 19 April 1841 an inquest was held on the body of 20 month old Elizabeth Barham, who had died as a result of consuming (accidentally) bread and butter laced with arsenic intended to destroy the mice that had been overrunning the Barham’s home. Called to give his account of the fateful event was ‘Henry Barham of Butley, labourer’. Recounting to the coroner’s court his evidence, Henry Barham stated that he had come to live with his son ‘at Michaelmas last’ (so he had been living with them for some months) and during this time ‘my little granddaughter slept in the same chamber as me’.[2] One supposes that this sleeping arrangement was born out of practicality and cannot have been an ideal solution to accommodating ‘Grandpa’. Sharing a chamber with such a young child undoubtedly would have disturbed his sleep from time to time, although on the day of the fatal accident it was the chimney sweep arriving at half past five which woke the still sleeping members of the Barham household.

There are still numerous aspects I would like to uncover as to Henry Barham’s experience of living with offspring in his increasing old age. One frustratingly unanswered question is how Henry felt about his living situation. Did he relish sharing a household with his son and young family? Or, did he yearn for the peace and quiet of his own home? While I doubt, in this particular case, I will be able to answer such a question, other inquests do reveal such intimate and pertinent details regarding the various household arrangements of the elderly in 19th century society…

[1] HO107/1028/2/7 Page 7

[2] SROi HB10/9/55/15

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“Accidental death from suffocation through eating a piece of carrot” – the lodger in the adjoining bedroom

My recent article and JVC post explored the presence of the lodger in the bedroom in the dwellings of the Victorian urban working-class. In these I reveal how the lodger could be found sleeping all around the home, including the family’s bedroom and even, on occasion, the marital bed. However, the design of many a nineteenth-century working-class home meant that the lodger did not have to be sleeping in the bedroom in order to ‘intrude’ on this space. Hallways and landings, taking up valuable space, were uncommon in cramped urban and rural homes for much of the period. Instead, the staircase or, in some cases, merely a ladder, was positioned in the backroom or single lower room (see image), leading directly into one of the bedrooms above.[1] Therefore, the occupants of an adjoining bedroom would have to pass through this room in order to reach their bed, disturbing those already sleeping.

Penny Illustrated News, 12 January 1850.

Penny Illustrated News, 12 January 1850.

At the 1890 inquest of a 50 year old bachelor and waterman, William Halls, who died as a result of having ‘eaten a piece of raw carrot before going to bed [which] had got into the windpipe and settled on the lungs, causing suffocation’, his landlady revealed how her lodger encroached on her sleep and sleeping space through the night in the Brandon (Suffolk) home they shared:

It appears from the evidence of Mrs. Tilney, the person with whom he lodged, that he went home on Wednesday evening about half-past seven, that he went out again for a short time, came home again, and went to bed [in the room adjoining hers]. During the night she heard him retching as if being sick. She did not pay much attention to this, because she had often heard him like that before [he was a “habitual drinker”], but about 3.30am he got up and rushed into her bedroom, through which he would have to pass to get downstairs, apparently choking, and quite black in the face.[2]

He died before medical help could be summoned. The coroner’s court recorded a verdict of “Accidental death from suffocation through eating a piece of carrot.”

[1] Mary M. Griffiths, ‘The housing of Ipswich, 1840-1973’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Essex, 1984, p. 18; Muthesius, The English Terraced House, pp. 10, 88, 123-126.

[2] The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Standard, 28 October 1890, p. 8

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“Darby and Joan” – Bereavement, Lodgings, and Press Subscriptions.

Over the past few years I have been using coroners’ inquests, both the original records and the newspaper reports, to explore domestic life and domestic accidents in Victorian England. One thing that really stood out to me in the course of my research was the extent to which these inquests opened up the lives of the elderly at this time. Coinciding with my new research, this new blog intends to explore the domestic arrangements of the elderly living in England’s cities, provincial towns, and rural areas during the nineteenth century. In the next few posts, I plan to explore the domestic lives of those elderly living in lodgings – both lodging-houses and other people’s homes.

However, I am going to begin this blog with one particular inquest I recently uncovered in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper and was reported in numerous other London and provincial newspapers, a case I refer to as “Darby and Joan,” which tells the extraordinary tale of one elderly widow whose security in “comfortable” lodgings was provided by the substantial donations raised after the sudden death of her husband – although, this is far from a happy tale.

In October 1887, various London and provincial newspapers reported on the death of William Cox, a 77 year old artist’s model residing at 25 Elgin Terrace, Maida Vale, London. William, who had been out at sittings all day, was returning home to Elgin Terrace on a Kilburn omnibus:

Henry Gillows, conductor, said the Cox got into his omnibus at Regent-circus at ten o’clock on Monday night. Going along Maida-vale [Gillows] asked for his fare. Cox did not answer, but he seemed to be asleep, leaning on his stick. On arriving at Kilburn he was found to be dead.”[1]

His body was removed to Hampstead Mortuary, where his wife, Margaret (also an artist’s model “who sat with him for the picture of ‘Darby and Joan’ in [the 1887] Academy”), who had been “wait[ing] up for him,” identified his body.[2]

The news of his death soon spread throughout London society and at the inquest into Cox’s death, where the cause of death was determined as heart failure, the coroner:

Dr. Danford Thomas announced that the facts of the case had come to the knowledge of Mr. John Aird, M.P. [and a known art collector], who had sent him a cheque for £5 5s. to relieve the widow.”[3]

After her husband’s death and with this financial support, Margaret Cox took up lodgings down the street with the Parry family and, Reynold’s Newspaper states, was “in the receipt of 25s. per week. A subscription had been raised for her, and the money was given to her in weekly instalments.”[4] In spite of the financial support, “which enabled [her] to live comfortably”, the newspapers states, Margaret Cox had become “depressed because of the death of her husband” –“it was a case of Joan lamenting Darby” – and the following June committed suicide by overdosing on opium.[5] Her landlord, Samuel Parry, stated at the inquest into her death that, “Mrs. Cox had given way to excessive drinking. When not sober she was abusive, and he had served her notice to quit.”[6]

Reflecting on this particular case, one wonders had it not been for the press interest and the subscription raised as a result, whether Margaret, having “given way to excessive drinking” and lacking the safety net of family (her stepson, Reynold’s Newspaper states, was estranged from her), would have soon fallen down the ranks of London society and ended up at the doors of the workhouse soon after the death of her beloved “Darby.”

[1] The Morning Post, October 28, 1887.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Reynold’s Newspaper, July 1, 1888.

[5] Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, July 1, 1888.

[6] Ibid.

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