penny sit-up, two penny hangover & the four penny coffin 

The penny sit-up, rope hang-overs and the four penny coffin were some of the cheapest Victorian era homeless shelters at that time. In these public refuges clients would be allowed to avoid the “moving on” laws of the time, which made it illegal for people to remain vagrantly upon the streets.


For one penny you could just sit on a bench (they were not allowed to lie down and sleep on the bench) in a reasonably warm room all night long.


Those who managed to pay the price of two pennies were able to afford the so-called “two penny hangover”: they couldn’t enter the sleeping quarters but could be allowed to join others to sleep on the shelter’s benches in a room with a rope across it to literally ‘hang-over’ (to achieve a more comfortable position). The pieces of rope were cut early in the morning so that the shelter’s clients would wake up early and leave the premises. 


Best of all and for four pennies you could actually lie in your own wooden coffin crate communally. This practice continued in the first half of the 19th century but died out when government programs started providing beds for the homeless free of charge.


The wooden boxes were close together had a mattress of straw and an oil-skin blanked, possibly as they were easy to hose down with water in the morning. This is one of the first homeless shelters to be created for the people of Blackfriars, in central London. It was operated by the Salvation Army during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in order to provide comfort and support to its destitute clients. There were more expensive homeless shelters available in London, such as a “four penny coffin“.


At the time this was considered a well-meaning, inexpensive, and compassionate attempt to deal with the relatively new phenomenon of homelessness. By today’s standards, this shelter at Blackfriars would be considered inadequate and callous toward these individuals. However, The Salvation Army believed these shelters provided relief from the harsh London winters

A value on sleep?

Those who could only come up with a single penny were allowed to sit on the shelter’s benches and rest, but they weren’t allowed to sleep and the shelter’s officials monitored the rooms at night to shake any poor folks who closed their eyes and drifted into a troubled slumber.

At the Twopenny Hangover, the lodgers sit in a row on a bench; there is a rope in front of them, and they lean on this as though leaning over a fence. A man, humorously called the valet, cuts the rope at five in the morning. This has been written about by George Orwell in “Down and Out in London and Paris”

‘And pray, Sam, what is the twopenny rope?’ inquired Mr Pickwick. ‘The twopenny rope, sir,’ replied Mr Weller, ‘is just a cheap lodgin’ house, where the beds is twopence a night.’ ‘What do they call a bed a rope for?’ said Mr Pickwick. ‘Bless your innocence, sir, that ain’t it,’ replied Sam. ‘Ven the lady and gen’l’m’n as keeps the hotel first begun business, they used to make the beds on the floor; but this wouldn’t do at no price, ‘cos instead o’ taking a moderate twopenn’orth o’ sleep, the lodgers used to lie there half the day. So now they has two ropes, ’bout six foot apart, and three from the floor, which goes right down the room; and the beds are made of slips of coarse sacking, stretched across ’em.’ ‘Well,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Well,’ said Mr. Weller, ‘the adwantage o’ the plan’s hobvious. At six o’clock every mornin’ they let’s go the ropes at one end, and down falls the lodgers. Consequence is, that being thoroughly waked, they get up wery quietly, and walk away!

-Dickens “The Pickwick Papers”

 An innovative system of indoor sleeping pods for homeless people was launched in 2019 at the 999 Club’s night shelter in Deptford.

The interlinking structures provide privacy and added security to those using them as temporary bedrooms in the charity’s emergency shelter.

The pods were designed by architects Reed Watts, who were selected in an open design competition held by the charity Commonweal Housing in 2017.

Prompted by research into the lives of migrant workers living in tent encampments in London, the competition sought to find a deliverable model for reusable, short-term accommodation that could be installed in halls and empty and underused buildings.

The pods stand 2.1 metres high, 2.1m in length and 1.9m wide, are made of 18mm thick, fireproof birch plywood and have privacy partitions with a raised platform for a mattress that acts as both a bed and a seat as well as storage space for personal belongings. Two of the side panels are shared with the adjacent pod, and a curtain on a rail can further close off the personal space at night-time.

The pods have been designed to be practical and affordable to make and easy to assemble with no tools. Reed Watts and Commonweal Housing will release the design on a Creative Commons basis so they can be replicated more widely.

Staying in the pods provided Mark with the freedom to interact with the other hostel guests whilst providing him with his own space. The pods provided him with a sense of security, safely surrounded by his own belongings. Mark further noted that the feeling of having somewhere to return to at the end of the day additionally brought a sense of normality to his life. Mark told Commonweal that this reminder, coupled with the privacy of the pod, had an aspirational impact on him, reinvigorating his sense of worth, whilst providing him with an additional drive to work towards finding more permanent accommodation.

Matt Watts of Reed Watts said: “Having worked with 999 Club, Housing Justice and Commonweal over the past months, we’ve been profoundly inspired by the work they do and the impact that the night shelters can have on the lives of homeless people. By releasing the design as a royalty-free Creative Commons licence we hope to give as many organisations as possible an opportunity to use the pods where there is a need for short-term shelter.”

Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive of Commonweal Housing said: “We are really excited that the 999 Club is going to be using more pods and we’re looking forward to further assessing the impact they have on people using the shelter.

“Without collaboration with shelters like the 999 Club we would not be able to test the pods as a temporary form of accommodation, so we’re grateful to be working with them, and looking forward to seeing the results.” 

Sleep pods in St Leonards 2020 style – £30 per night

Like other towns, Hastings and St.Leonards must adapt to a constantly changing market. We keep hearing how town centres are dying and it is true, the way we buy new shoes, a coat or the latest DVD has changed for the foreseeable future and probably forever. High business rates and contemporary purchasing behaviours make running the type of shopping experience we are used to practically impossible, large department stores are a relic of the past. 

For many years researchers have told us that people no longer visit town centres to shop, most preferring to meet friends there instead for coffee and a cake. We have such a creative community and an important history to make the most of.  If we enrich our past it can become our future We must encourage Hastings Borough Council to recognise this opportunity. With their active support perhaps we can attract the tourist £ back to an area that once enjoyed significantly more activity. 

Art :

‘Coffin Beds and Penny Sleeps ‘: An Exhibition on Victorian Homelessness, 2015
at the Geffrye Museum of the Home in London, draws on paintings, photographs, newspaper reports, diaries, and the scarce personal objects left behind to recover their perspectives.

Four Penny Coffin facts :

“At five-feet-seven long, it isn’t long enough for some people to stretch out full-length in, and the oilcloth sheet and mattress stuffed with straw provide little warmth, so I think to modern eyes it does look and feel rather horribly grim,” Fleming explained. “But some people at the time recorded that it did provide a sense of safety, and did at least allow for a personal sleeping space. Not everyone visiting [the museum] seems that keen to try it out though.”

999 Club Sleeping pod facts :
guests said – “It was much better for me to sleep in the pod, rather than the main hall. It’s tidy, private, warm and it was my own space.”

Tim Fallon, Chief Executive of the 999 Club, said: “We are excited about launching these sleeping pods, which are the first of their kind in the capital. They will provide very welcome privacy and a quiet space for people who come to our night shelter at their most vulnerable time.”

Slum Tourism‘ can be found, not just in Brazil, but also India and South Africa, where you can take guided tours to peak into the world of those who call these slums home. In Rio and Sao Paulo these tours are a lucrative commercial business. Trained tour guides, usually led by residents, take you around a pre-planned circuit including stopping off at community centres or schools that have been funded for with the tour profits. You can find Wi-Fi, banks, cafes, shops and places of worship tucked away in the myriad of winding alleyways.

But going on one of these slum tours brings up the question of ethics. Are they just voyeuristic excursions or simply showing a rounded view of the city as a whole? Warts and all?

The Brazilian government keen to clean up their most visited cities before the influx of tourists, according to some, created favela rehabilitation programmes, moving thousands of residents out to rural areas, getting tougher with crimes and placing police units inside to track down gang leaders and drug traffickers. In the last few years, and thanks in part to the cash spent on the 2014 World Cup and the planned 2016 Summer Games, favelas have had a makeover especially in Rio. Many have been upgraded to fuse them back into the inner city, attracting middle classes to move in and live there meaning more tourist friendly bars, restaurants, cafes and guesthouses have opened for business.

Modern slum in India –
the only slum adversities independently associated with GHQ score ≥5 are: paying a high price for water (Indian rupees ≥200 per 1000 L), having to sleep sitting up or outside the home due to lack of home space