Sunday, July 10, 2016

Bachelor Boys' Accommodation in Edwardian London

(A former Rowton House in Birmingham, Wikipedia) 

Although the majority of young and single working men lived with their families in the Edwardian age, several left home for the bigger cities, especially London.  Here, they often boarded in lodgings where they were provided with meals and perhaps cleaning.  They were not allowed to cook in their rooms.  Many of these lodgings were cheap and nasty, so philanthropists started to provide alternatives for these men.  Some of these sound even worse!

Rowton Houses were built by Lord Rowton, for example, so that men didn’t have to stay in squalid lodging houses.  Here, the young men paid a shilling for a cubicle, or a half and crown for a special which George Orwell in a later era described as ‘practically hotel accommodation’.  There were strict rules in these houses.  Cooking and playing cards were not allowed, and there was no entry before 7 p.m. and the boarders had to leave before 9:00 a.m. each day. Alcohol was forbidden and men could be punished for wetting their beds or other misbehaviours. Jack London who lived in the Tower House in East London in 1902 thought that it was packed with life that was ‘degrading and unwholesome,’ but George Orwell described the Rowton Houses as ‘splendid buildings’ and thought that they were better than the other available accommodation.

Sometimes, men who worked in particular occupations were actually provided with living quarters.  The London Road Fire Station in Manchester, opened in 1906, had flats for single men and families.  They were well-cared for, with a laundry, gymnasium, billiard room and a playroom for the children. This building with its sculptures by Milson seems to have been quite an enlightened idea for its time.
Wealthier single men, such as MP’s, often had pied a’ tierres in London in buildings like the ‘bright and charmingly decorated’ Marlborough Mansions with its coffee rooms.  There were usually servant’s quarters and meals were sent up from restaurants or kitchens. Mansion flats were very popular with their elegant rooms and maid and laundry service.

Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest lived in the luxurious Albany in London.  This was the haunt of aristocrats and the very wealthy. Lord Byron famously carried on his many affairs there in earlier times.  The Albany is the epitome of elegance with its high ceilings, large windows and light-filled rooms. Some of the occupants complained that their apartments were ‘cramped,’ however.  This would definitely have been my choice!