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Overnight Accommodations for the Destitute in the Victorian Era

In the Victorian era, the homeless were a persistent challenge for Londoners. It was also an issue in Paris. Industrialization was one reason for an exploding homeless population.  In order to accommodate the railroad, neighborhoods had to be demolished. That resulted in fewer houses and tenements, and drove up rents. In addition, workers from rural regions flocked to London looking for work. The jobs they took gave them some money, and contributed to the rent spiral.

Charitable organizations offered shelters known as penny sit-ups, two penny hangovers (or two-penny ropes), and the two or four penny coffins.

Of these, the penny sit-up was the cheapest option. A penny got a person food and shelter, and the penny sit-up price allowed the person to sit on a bench all night in a warm dry building. Of course in hot weather there was no air conditioning which added to the squalid conditions.

One journalist went to see how the penny sit-up operated and provided the following description:

“Rightly understood, the ‘Penny Sit-up’ is the most remarkable feature of the homeless side of London, not so much because of what the ordinary visitor sees as of what he does not see. He carries away a mental picture of a large shed, of row after row of backed forms, occupied to their fullest capacity by men in all stages of squalor; and if he is there about midnight, of the inmates bent forward on their seats, with their heads resting on their folded arms, which are supported in turn by the backs of the forms in front of them, all, or nearly all, are fast asleep. That is the surface aspect of the ‘Sit-up’; and it is sufficiently pathetic and suggestive to haunt one for weeks afterwards. … You can find men in the ‘Penny Sit-up’ who have slept in the Salvation Army shelters, shifting about from one to another, every night, since they were opened.”

If a person had two pennies, he or she could purchase the two penny hangover. This option, like the penny sit-up, allowed the person to obtain food (usually tea or coffee and some bread), shelter, and a bench. A rope was placed across the bench so that the destitute client could lean over it and sleep. The person still could not lie down. Moreover, in the morning, when the rope was cut, the destitute person was expected to immediately leave.

The two penny hangover solution was once described by the writer Charles Dickens in his “Pickwick Papers”:

“’And pray Sam, what is the twopenny rope?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick. ‘The Twopenny rope, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, ‘is just a cheap lodgin’ house where the beds is twopence a night!’ ‘What do they call a bed a rope for?’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Well the advantage o’ the plan’s obvious. At six o’clock every mornin’, they lets go the ropes at one end, and down falls all the lodgers. Consequence is that, being thoroughly waked, they get up very quickly, and walk away.’”

If a homeless or destitute person wanted to lay down to sleep, he or she needed to purchase what was called the two penny or four penny coffins. The two-penny coffin was for the bed alone and the four-penny coffin usually included food. These two or four penny coffins, sometimes called bunks, were barren wooden boxes barely long enough to allow a person to stretch out. They contained neither mattress nor covers.

There were night officers running herd and security over these facilities and drunkenness was prohibited. The drug plague wasn’t the issue it is today so zombie dangers were less of a threat. They were thoroughly cleaned out once the clientele left which was at 6 am.

Last year I had the misfortune of encountering benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) – (where do they come up with ‘benign” for this affliction- anything but) which necessitated me being outfitted with a catheter and bag. This happened while visiting my son in the US. The issue was unresolved when I returned to Europe. I am also hobbled from a quad knee tendon rupture and surgery in 2020 from a fall.

I then ran into more bad luck as flights were continually cancelled and delayed. This was at the tail end of the scamdemic when air travel was poorly functioning.

One hellish airport I experienced during this ordeal was Brussels. I was exhausted at this point but had to wait there for seven hours. I sat nodding in and out in the miserable equivalent of a one penny sit up. And here they are.

Notice the floor, and here is the concourse. At one point and in need of laying out to relieve my stiff knee and find a little more space for my catheter bag – I located a corner with thin carpet. It was about the hardest surface I’ve ever half-slept on. They must use some kind of hardened marble.

Next they hauled my sorry ass to Frankfurt for another delayed connection. Frankfurt was an upgrade to a two penny coffin, although quite hard and uncomfortable. And thankfully when I laid out there were no monitors to bother me. I found a relatively quiet spot as Frankfurt doesn’t have the long wide concourse that the Brussels one penny sit up shit show offers. Travel tip- if you fly into or out of Europe and have any connection waits, avoid Brussels like the plague.

11 Comments on Overnight Accommodations for the Destitute in the Victorian Era

  1. Unless you’re still in your 20’s and/or have never been any further than your state fair, “traveling” has become a thoroughly degrading experience. Thoroughly. TSA lines to nowhere, nosebleed prices for the simplest comforts and cattle prodding galore. Even prior to the pandemic, air travel was in FULL downward spiral. And as Katie Hopkins has recently noted, it’s not a coincidence. No one can be this incompetent without deliberate intent and concerted, coordinated effort.

    Reservation glitches, system wide shutdowns and nationwide FAA collapses, particularly during peak holiday season, are now standard fare. And it’s all designed to make us throw in the towel on air travel altogether. For the elite, our mobility is a threat. It’s why the accommodations provided are designed to make you feel you are “pre-homeless”.

    Flying “Space-A” on a military flight is an entirely different view and makes you realize just how dumbed down we’re being treated on commercial flights. I’ve long felt these ridiculous “air rage incidents” are orchestrated BY the elite to justify the “detention hall” atmosphere. I’ve tried to follow up on these supposed ragers and there’s almost ZERO info on their prosecution or consequences. It’s why they run the false flag articles every 6 mos. or so to KEEP us inline.

    • I remember my first international flight back in 1968…showed up 15 minutes before take off, checked in my luggage, showed my boarding pass , entered the plane and off I went. Most people today have no idea how bad it’s become.

      • Had a wonderful client who’d been one of the original swingin’ stewardesses during the golden age of air travel. By the early 60’s she explained; passengers dressed up in their Sunday best to travel, were exceedingly polite and reveled in the luxury experience. Fast forward to early 2000’s ( and she had to confront some dirtbag trimming his toenails in the aisle! ) We’re a lot to blame.

        Pre-9/11 I recall as a young service member, getting poured out of a taxi 15 mins prior to take-off, being escorted by an airline employee to my gate, only to be poured onto the plane. Total rockstar experience.

        But as you imply, those whose only exposure to AT is post-9/11, they haven’t a CLUE how accommodating things used to be. They think it’s all perfectly ‘normal’ to be groped, rushed and shuffled along like so much product on an assembly line.

  2. I’ve had reasonably good luck on my flights from Detroit to Austin to visit my son and grandkids. Flying at the onset of the pandemic, pre mask requirements, was great. The plane was barely one third filled. Now I go non-stop, first class, which helps a lot. Anyone that would work for the TSA (created on the false premises of 9/11) has got to be really hard up for employment. Have never flown internationally and don’t intend to in the future. Just the flight times alone sound like torture.

  3. Dubai is crazy… I once saw hundreds of Bangladeshis sleeping in rows in the middle of the floor.

    I definitely wouldn’t go to those horrid places in London. I’d be working in a manor house and sleeping on straw with cows nearby, dreaming of my pail milk in the moring, except of course my j infiltrated merchant ancestors at the time owned the manor house. Now I live in my kitted out little van and i sleep like an angel for free with plentiful fresh air surrounded by trees on the Japanese futon sunk into piles of fine down and 2 daxie heaters. Winter of course is coming but I can do minus20F and I have appropriate heater and can just fire up big bird. I can’t take the heat but I love cold and lately my nose has been running with fall and it’s great to just have a functioning immune system and not be the kind of idiot that rushes to Walgreens to stuff it up. I love sleeping in the van and I buy kurgerrands. Boone NC is a great little place and I’m going to stay for winter and just got a 3rd shift job somewhere clean, quiet and warm and will hibernate during the day … or perhaps hit the slopes. The golf club is closed for winter and bar job finished. I told a couple of the members that I selfpublish books and they should write the memoirs. They laughed like hyenas, the kids can’t read anymore! They won’t understand, they’re too stupid! The food bank gives out great local nongmo farm veg here and aldis grass-fed is delish and so wellpriced. I’ll make soups on the clock at work. Im not getting sick from merica urban poison or anything else and a year from now ill be home and free and far far far away, tho about another year of shopping and canning then no more phone. I am extremely RESILIENT considering this entire plan was derailied 3 years ago and i had to start from scratch minus my property. Well boohoo soon ill have another better one.

    Wells Fargo says I can buy fractional shares now on their app but I don’t think investing in any of that crap is worth it at this point. It turn into track n trace emoney at any time and I’d probably not sleep well knowing what I was invested in.

    So yeah I never understood why people gravitate towards each others diseases.

    Hey, there was an excellent book Breaking the Spell about the hollow hoax that’s totally disappeared which is just as well because its not worth trying to convince anyone anymore about anything. I hope the author didn’t get it too. People had their chance and now it’s too late.

  4. It seems traveling anywhere on ‘vacation’ is a distressful experience considering the millions of people going to the same destinations, schedule delays, do-it-yourself check in, exorbitant fees for any kind of ‘service’ & having to show up hours ahead of time for each leg of the journey. And more people than not, in my social sphere, travel continuously.

    Give me home sweet home!

    • I’d go so far as to say, traveling -can- be worthwhile, but only if your plans involve staying in one location for an extended period. Not “selfie vacations” where insta-gramer’s post pic’s from the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids AND the Rock of Gibraltar all in the same WEEK. No thank you.

      After allowing time to recuperate from 12 time zone jet lag, get settled into your accommodations and get organized, a stay of a least a month at min. Preferably THREE to get over all the abuse you’ve been subjected to. Otherwise it isn’t worth the cost of airfare.

      We really need to demand a Passenger’s Bill of Rights. Hope Russ is feeling better soon.

      • My incidents were in August, 2022. I had surgery for the BPH in November and am much better on that front.

        Older people especially need to be aware of the potential for health issues abroad. You are guaranteed to have problems with the health care system. After I came out of the EMT in the US, it was a real hassle to arrange follow-up, until I returned to my residence in Europe.

        I took an uneventful three week trip to Montenegro and Croatia in June, but that was a short hop, I seemed healthy and had my son as a caddy.

        • I’d read during Spain’s economic fallout from some pretty oppressive CV lockdowns, Brit ex-pats were piling up at the morgue unclaimed ( and owing on medical bills and final expenses ) Sad.

          We’d like to spend at least part of the year in Rota as you’re never a stranger long, the weather, food AND golf are fantastic. We have TriCare Overseas but have never had to use it. As you imply.., so far.

          We’d like to at least give Montenegro ( alleged birthplace of Rex Stout’s “Nero Wolfe” ) a look see. Friends have said; “It’s Italy ( without the crowds… )”

    You can purchase a day pass to an airport lounge at the lounge desk. If you’re unfamiliar with lounges, they’re those controlled-access rooms near departure gates. Access is free for business/first-class passengers, but coach passengers can usually pay an entry fee for access. The fee ranges from $25 to $125, depending on what the lounge offers, and the fee covers everything offered. In the very least, you’ll get non-alcoholic beverages, private bathrooms, TV and comfy armchairs. The nicer lounges, like the ones you find in international wings of airports, often have full-meal buffets, unlimited booze, desks with internet access, full-stretch sofas and sometimes even private nooks to stretch out and nap and private showers and lockers. It’s a great option for long layovers or unexpected delays.

  6. Are The Homeless the problem or is the problem homelessness?

    To say The Homeless are the problem implies the individual is responsible for their condition. We picture bums who are content to live on the street, abuse drugs, panhandle, steal and generally take pleasure in acting threatening to anyone who crosses their path. Addiction usually plays a role.

    But “homelessness” implies a greater societal problem, and I think that’s where the focus needs to be. For example, we have economically homeless folks. They’re normal, everyday people — sometimes single parents with children in tow or elderly folks without means or family. They often hold jobs, sleep in their cars and would never admit to anyone they’re homeless because they’re ashamed. This happens with elderly folks and women in our society more than we’re willing to acknowledge or admit, probably because the notion that it could happen to us terrifies us.

    Then there are the homeless migrants who try to stay out of view, sleep in fields or abandoned structures. They’re never counted in the homeless population tallies, but their impact is huge on social services in states that don’t require citizenship for financial aid.

    There’s the criminal justic system homeless. When people get out of jail, if they don’t have family or friends to stay with while they get back on their feet, then they’re living on the street. How do you find a job with a criminal record and no address? When prisons do mass releases, it can overwhelm systems. Sure, some of these folks deserve misery beyond prison. But many don’t.

    And there’s the mentally ill who police cannot commit or detain. They’re a danger to themselves and others, and there’s no resolution other than hospitalization or institutionalization, but no one can force them into care legally. These include elderly people with dimentia who have no family.

    It all adds up to one big shit show. But the spotlight is always on The Homeless rather than homelessness. Why? Is it because it raises our anger rather than our empathy, politically divides us rather than unites us, deflects responsibility from the vulture to the victim? I don’t know.

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