Description of the Liverpool night asylum for the houseless poor


This is a report on the work of a charity providing overnight lodgings for Liverpool’s homeless population. It summarises activity between 1830 and 1839. 

The Liverpool Night Asylum for the Houseless Poor was one of the first charitably run night shelters in England. Egerton Smith, the asylum’s founder, was known for his philanthropic works, as well as a publisher and founder of the Liverpool Mercury newspaper. 

Smith published, and presumably funded, this report himself. It is an unbound pamphlet, which made it cheap to produce. It was probably intended for the interest of the charity’s benefactors – Liverpool’s gentlemen and merchants – as well as to raise further funds. 

What details does the report provide? 

On the pages shown here are plans of the beds and the building floor. Men and women were kept in separate rooms, on different floors. Accommodation was basic and, by our modern standards, uncomfortable – inhabitants slept on wooden boards. However, the charity provided dry shelter for those who would otherwise sleep outdoors, and Smith emphasises that the house was kept clean and hygienic. 

Page 23 contains a table showing the numbers of lodgers from 1830-39. Dormers are divided into seamen (typically without permanent lodgings), mechanics and labourers, women, boys and girls (teenagers to young adults), and children, many of whom were probably orphans. Boys drastically outweighed girls (5929 compared to 3284). In total, 42266 individuals lodged with the charity, and stayed an average of 2-3 nights. 

This asylum, located in a port, provided support for people from minority groups who found themselves excluded, whether financially, socially or politically, from mainstream society. During the Irish potato famine, for instance, large numbers applied from Ireland. The report further reveals information about an African presence in 19th century Liverpool. It relates the stories of a boy of mixed race – his father an overseer in Jamaica, his mother presumably held as a slave – who ran away from an apprenticeship at sea, and of a man who escaped from a slave plantation in Louisiana and stowed away on a ship bound for Liverpool. 

The Liverpool Night Asylum closed in 1849 and was incorporated into an existing workhouse.

Full title:
Description of the Liverpool night asylum for the houseless poor, in Freemason's Row, illustrated by a ground plan of the building and a side view of the dormitories; with a statement of the number of persons who have taken refuge therein [...]
1839, Liverpool, Merseyside
Pamphlet / Report / Illustration / Image
Egerton Smith
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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