Written by Charles Cochrane, the chairman of the Poor Man’s Guardian Society, this is a vivid account of lives lived in poverty on the outskirts of the City of London. In the basement of one lodging house, for instance, he finds:
amongst other offensive matter which arrested our attention … dead cats, in a semi-putrescent state. We were, however, assured by the parties connected with this horrid establishment, that the filth and dead animals referred to, were thrown into the cellar from the street and were frequently being removed by the dustmen. As I proceeded to question them more closely on these points, I found their answers so unsatisfactory, that I doubt very much if the dustmen pay them many visits during the year.
Cochrane visits another house and discovers that one man is renting the whole place for 11 shillings a week, but sub-letting its five makeshift bedrooms for 30 shillings a week.
The lodging houses described here are all on Field Lane in Clerkenwell, then an industrial district just to the north of the City. Largely the home of the labouring classes, it was notorious for its poverty, crime and overcrowding. In 1843, Charles Dickens visited the Field Lane ‘ragged school’ (an independent charitable school for the poorest children in the area) and was so disgusted and moved by the poverty he saw that he became a patron of the school. He had already used Field Lane in his fiction, however: it’s the location of Fagin’s den of child pickpockets in Oliver Twist (1838).