Liverpool Mercury 1913

The Municipal Lodging House

It was a hard winter, two old women hobbled past my window with shawls over their heads and hawker’s baskets on their arms, it had been bad weather all day, and they had much of their wares left. They searched their pockets and counted over their coppers anxiously.

One said, “Have you got your Kip ?” Kip meant the where-with-all for a bed – a lodging for the night. An important question on a cold night.

I donned my shabbiest clothes, and put 9d in my pocket, watched till I saw a similar old woman, and made my way out into the night.

“Do you know a cheap lodging-house, mother ?” I asked. She looked at me curiously, my disguise not convincing.

“Not for the likes of you,” she said at length.

“But I am very poor, really,” I answered, “I’ve only 9d in the world, if you know of any place good enough for you, it’ll be good enough for me.”

My words established a fellow-feeling and she took me to a large building which she assured me was a grand building for a respectable girl, and she could, “Keep ‘erself, to ‘erself.”

It was a Municipal lodging-house, she told me 5 to 6d would procure me a bed and the use of all conveniences of the establishment.

From her glowing description, I thought she was exaggerating, but, really, I could not imagine any place better planned. It was an improvement on the ordinary lodging-house.

5d paid at the little office by the door, bought a ticket with the number of the bed cubicle on it, the old woman conducted me through the mysteries of the house.

There was a large day room, where any number of women could sit and read, write or sew. A dining room fitted with numerous long scrubbed tables and benches. In an inner kitchen were two large stoves, the tops of which got red hot, so that much business of cooking could be carried on.

Dozens of pans were provided and boiling water was always ready in a huge copper urn! The fire and water were available from the earliest hours of the morning, so that market workers could get a hot meal before starting out. A good number of teapots and enamel mugs and dishes could be obtained.

Being evening, the kitchen was fairly crowded with women, who had returned from a days work or in search of work.

The positions of their various pecuniary positions could be gauged from the extravagance or otherwise of their meals.

One, big, red-faced woman, with a cruel indifference for the longing glances of those less fortunate, was frying an immense steak with onions. Beside her a poor lame skeleton of a woman was making an attempt at a savoury by melting down scraps of cheese in hot water.

Bloaters and “two eyed steaks” [red-herrings] seemed favourite and fried onions found cheap and effective. Fish was plentiful owing to one of the hawkers disposing of her day’s leavings at half-price between the women.

Many ironical remarks were passed between them,

“Is your ‘alibut done, Mary ?” in reference to a bloater.

“Lets try the hartichokes,” when a few potatoes had to be tested.

But the humour could not cover the tragedy that was there and my heart sick at the ones with not a copper over for a scrap of food.

To see them in rags, ill-nourished, deformed, cramped with rheumatism; to see them follow with hungry eyes every morsel of food that went into the pans; to see them try to “cadge” some fragments from the more fortunate; to see them sidling up to the fires and hot water pipes to obtain the warmth, that food should have supplied.

I feel almost ashamed to eat my fill while I know such want exists and is unsupplied

My old woman suggested supper; and undertook to make my 4d last me for two meals.

There was a shop in the building, I bought a “ha ‘penny brew” [mixture of tea and sugar], a halfpenny onion, and halfpenny worth of lard, [which I divided leaving half for morning] a halfpenny worth of milk [also divided] and halfpenny worth of bread, [two slices].

I made a pot of tea, fired the onion with the lard, and with the bread made a savoury supper. In the morning I bought another brew, another halfpenny worth of bread and had a similar meal.

Many of these poor women had no better meals for days at a time, and not too frequently either.

After supper I explored the downstairs, the sanitary arrangements were excellent.

A large general lavatory, filled with two dozen basins, with hot and cold water in each, and free foot-baths. A large wash-house with steam-boilers, hot-air drying arrangements, and two gas irons.

The company was mixed, out-of-work, servants, hawkers, charwomen, street singers, formed the majority, and there was a slight sprinkling of the higher walks of life.

At night we were conducted upstairs and an attendant unlocked our doors, each one had a separate cubicle containing a bed and a chair. All the walls were painted green, and everything scrupulously clean.

Despite the music of a multitude of snores in many keys, I passed a comfortable night, in an excellent bed. We were awakened at 8am and I bid goodbye to my old woman friend


Copyright 2002 / To date