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In pictures: Victorian homelessness

A comfortable home was out of reach for many people during the 19th century, as poverty became an increasingly common problem throughout the period. Victorian London’s poorest residents are now the main focus of an exhibition at the Geffrye Museum of the Home

Published: June 19, 2015 at 2:35 pm
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Named Homes of the Homeless - Seeking Shelter in Victorian London, the exhibition takes a closer look at the lives of the poor and the homes and buildings they inhabited.


The exhibition draws on recent research into how some people attempted to avoid the workhouse by renting a bed for the week, or just a night, in lodging houses with strangers. For those who could not afford the rental prices, many were left homeless and slept on the streets of metropolitan London.

The photographs, paintings and artefacts on display at the Geffrye Museum of the Home portray the reality of homelessness for many during the Victorian period.

Men in ‘coffin beds’ in a Salvation Army Shelter, c.1900 © The Salvation Army Heritage Centre

A Recess on a London Bridge by Augustus Edwin Mulready, oil on canvas, 1879. Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK © Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums/Bridgeman Images

A ‘penny sit-up’ in a Salvation Army shelter in Blackfriars, London, c1900. Photograph published in Living London edited by George Sims (Cassell, 1901). © Geffrye Museum of the Home

The Pinch of Poverty by Thomas Benjamin Kennington, oil on canvas, 1891. © Coram in the care of the Foundling Museum

Lodging House in Field Lane from Sanitary Ramblings by Hector Gavin 1848. © Wellcome Library London

Wooden doll dressed as an elderly inmate of Thursford Workhouse in Norfolk, c1900 © Norfolk Museums Service

St Marylebone Workhouse new casual ward for the poor from the Illustrated London News 1867 © Wellcome Library London

The Homes of the Homeless - Seeking Shelter in Victorian London exhibition will be open at the Geffrye Museum of the Home until Sunday 12 July 2015. Admissions are £5 for adults and £3 for consessions.


To find out more about the exhibition, click here.


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