Royal Holloway University of London Department of History
14 and 15 September 2010
11 Bedford Square, Royal Holloway (Central London)
Inhabiting Institutions in Britain, 1700-1950
Spaces and Institutional Structures
Jane Hamlett & Rebecca Preston (Royal Holloway): Spaces and
Material Cultures in Charitable Lodging Houses in London, 1840-1914
This paper examines the material culture of the Rowton Houses – new large-scale institutional spaces that housed working men in 1890s London. The first house at Vauxhall was founded in 1893 by Lord Rowton (Montagu Corry), the Tory peer and philanthropist who had formerly been Disraeli’s private secretary. A large-scale lodging house for working men, the enterprise was not charitable but designed to be self-supporting, and was one of a range of semi-philanthropic initiatives that emerged in response to the 1880s housing crisis in London. The success of the first house was followed by the foundation of five larger houses at Kings Cross, Hammersmith, Whitechapel, Camden and Newington Butts. The buildings provided a range of living rooms in addition to cubicle sleeping spaces, and the largest accommodated 800 men. How these buildings were laid out, decorated and used reveals the tension between the intentions of the founders, and the men who lived in and experienced the institution as a home. Rowton invested time and money in the houses and paid close attention to minute details of their physical layout. When opened the cavernous buildings were almost universally praised in the contemporary press and compared to clubs for upper-class men in the West End. Indeed, the carefully fitted interiors and lavish decoration suggest that the houses were intended to create a shared domesticity that crossed class boundaries. But those who inhabited the buildings experienced these interiors somewhat differently. We will explore how ‘home’ was constructed by the inmates of these new institutions, through duration of residence, use of space, and will consider how institutional living was framed by a series of thresholds and material boundaries.