The winter night shelter: From Victorian London to London 2017

In Uncategorized on January 5, 2017 by kmflett


On Wednesday night 4th January the London Mayor tweeted that as temperatures in the Capital were set to drop below freezing overnight night shelters for rough sleepers were being opened. As the author Pete Brown tweeted, did anyone ever see a similar tweet from the previous Mayor?

The Mayor’s move was both welcome and a commentary on London’s housing crisis.

In his essay Comers and Goers ( in Dyos, the Victorian City), the late historian Raph Samuel surveyed the seasonal migration of labour into and out of cities in the late Victorian period.

He noted that many came to winter in London, where, depending on the weather, night shelters, strawyards as they were called by those who used them, funded by private charity, opened up each November. The shelters were free and without obligation. People could stay for up to a month and they were heated both with a huge open fire and generally. The largest was at Playhouse Yard Cripplegate. The alternative was the Poor Law funded Casual Ward where a stay was limited to two nights and had to be paid for by a days forced labour.

Samuel lists many other places where people slept rough in London including railway arches and around the main hotels where heat was to be found, but the picture remains disturbingly similar 150 years on. Progress….


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