Clanfield and Bampton Historical Society
April 16 2013. Liz Wooley. Oxfordshire Lodging Houses.
In Victorian times the Common Lodging Houses which proliferated around the country, in almost every city and market town, were regarded, at least by those middle class people who had no need for them, as degrading and evil, but that was not the whole story, as Liz Woolley told the
society in a talk at the Carter Institute that was vivid with imagery and fascinating detail.
The overcrowding – in one instance a room 12ft by 10ft contained six beds and 32 occupants – and the lack of sanitary arrangements – in
Banbury one privy was shared by 10 houses - and often no water at all, led to disease, while delinquency was rife. Often the keepers of the houses were fences who encouraged the occupants to steal and bring back their swag, and alcohol and gambling were the main sources of ‘relaxation’.
But the Common Lodging Houses filled a need, for itinerant workers, many of them skilled, who travelled the country in search of employment, and also provided a base for foreigners, with a mass influx of Irish after the potato famine, but also from further afield. In Oxford there were 20 just in St Thomas’s High Street – the area around the present-day ice rink - in houses rented from Christ Church College. Perhaps the most famous of the Oxford keepers was Annie Farina, who died in 1941, who with her husband Ferdinando walked to Oxford from southern Italy and set up a Common Lodging House in the Plasterer’s Arms; eventually her family ended up owning 10 Common Lodging Houses.
Despite the widespread condemnation of the houses on moral and health grounds, in the end it was mainly for economic reasons that they disappeared, when regulation, and the costs involved, made running them unviable.