Lodgers, Landlords, and Landladies in Georgian London by Gillian Williamson. Review by Sarah Murden

London: Bloomsbury Academic. 2021. Pp 256. £85.00 Hardback; £28.99 Paperback; £76.50 Ebook. ISBN: 978-1350212633.

How often, when we walk past surviving Georgian houses, do we wonder what life would have been like for the people who lived behind those closed doors back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? Probably not very often, if at all, if truth be known. We admire the classical architecture which has stood the test of time and is iconic of that period, but what about the lives of those who lived there?

Gillian Williamson’s book Lodgers, Landlords, and Landladies in Georgian London investigates what life would have been like behind those closed doors, both for the landlord/lady and for a lodger. The majority of homeowners weren’t rich and famous, they were more your average working people, living lives we may well be familiar with today – going to work to provide for their family, staying at home to raise the family, socialising with friends, but also taking in lodgers to make ends meet – so what was life really like behind those iconic Georgian doors?

I have to begin this review with a confession. As someone who spends most of their time in the eighteenth century, I had never given lodgers, landlords or landladies a second thought, but this book has definitely shone a very bright light into this world, and how much social history was hidden behind those doors. This book is quite probably unique in its investigation, which makes it utterly fascinating and extremely thought-provoking.

Lodging in the eighteenth century could be compared to a certain extent with multi-occupancy student accommodation today, but with the landlord/lady and possibly their family also living ‘on site’. A lodger rarely had their own door key, and did you even know that there was a ‘code’ to ringing a doorbell or knocking on one of those Georgian front doors waiting to be let in? Each knock or ring defined who you were and your status within Georgian society.

How did one approach the task of finding somewhere to lodge in Georgian London? In some ways part of the actual process of finding lodgings hasn’t really changed that much since the eighteenth century, instead, it has just become quicker. As with today, where you are going to live in London determined the price you would pay for lodgings. Some people only took lodgings for ‘The Season’, others only when Parliament was sitting, but for most, it was taken more as a long-term residence, assuming you weren’t ejected for a misdemeanour, or simply because the owner had a change in their situation, and you would perhaps stay there for about a year or so.

Williamson investigates this process thoroughly, in a step by step way, from the landlord/lady placing an advert in say a newspaper, to potential candidates applying, often via a third party, to how lodgings were advertised, how much it would cost to rent a room(s), the size of your accommodation and then of course, there were the extras to be carefully considered – did you want to do your own cooking in your room or pay for meals with your landlord/lady or dine out? How about laundry? – would you do you own or pay the household servant to do it for you? What about heating? – after all, it was cheaper to sit in the parlour with the owner rather than spend money on your own coals, but then maybe you would have to mix with other lodgers who you may or may not rub along with, who were also trying to save money on heating. Cost was of paramount importance, as were ways to save money on what was an expensive art of simply living. One amusing quote Williamson includes is a reference to the poet William Wordsworth who visited the Lambs at their lodgings, who were then charged extra for sugar as Wordsworth took more sugar in his tea than most – everything had its price!

Lodgers agreed an inventory so there could be no argument when they moved out, along with recompense at the end of the agreement for any damage caused, which it appears was not uncommon, be it spilled ink or fire damage, the list goes on. It was always worth considering when taking unfurnished accommodation that the lodger should check out the status of their landlord so that, should the bailiffs be called in, your possessions weren’t also seized to fund their debt.

Moving lodgings, now this was another performance in itself, such as packing your chest(s) then unpacking at your new location. Williamson investigates methods for arranging your chest to be transported for you, as of course it contained all your worldly goods. Next came the settling into new, strange accommodation, often with people you would never have associated with before and who you may not get along with.

Williamson cites several people who disliked this process intensely and for whom a record remains of their experiences. Then of course, there was the issue of having to live in a room with furniture and accessories which might not have been to one’s taste, but not being able to afford one’s own dwelling with a front door meant there was no choice. Funds determined the potential size of the accommodation, so it may have been just a tiny garret or several rooms with use of the household servants.  Stereotypical gender roles were often assumed, with female lodgers having to fend for themselves, whereas it was commonplace for female landladies to do extra things for their male lodgers, such as repairing clothing and caring for them if unwell.

Some landlord/ladies allowed their lodgers to have their name on the front door to help callers know that you lived there, but it’s perfectly feasible you might be charged extra for this service.

Trying to ‘rub along’ together with strangers is never easy and that hasn’t changed despite the passage of two hundred years. We all have our own idiosyncrasies, as people did back then, but for most people today, we can close our doors and be ourselves – not so for many in Georgian London, as you had to consider the other lodgers.

The book comprises of seven chapters, plus an extensive notes section at the end and is without doubt a book which will appeal to anyone with an interest in social history, day to day life in the Georgian Era and social housing in general. The book is filled with fascinating anecdotes, and I have learnt so much from it, including much I had never even thought about, and as such I would highly recommend it. I’m sure it’s one I will return to again and again in future research.

Sarah Murden

All Things Georgian

Sarah Murden, FRHistS, is an eighteenth-century historian, genealogist and independent researcher, who has also co-authored five books, published by Pen & Sword books. Sarah is most well known for her website, All Things Georgian, which includes around 700 articles, covering all aspects of Georgian life.

Blog: WSG Mentoring Scheme by Dr Annalisa Nicholson  

I applied to the WSG Mentoring Scheme in the autumn of 2020 at a time when isolation was the order of the day in the UK. For me, this sense of disconnect with the wider world was compounded by the faceless cycle of postdoctoral applications, a process that felt bewildering and discouraging. Still in the third year of my PhD, I was only eligible to apply for Oxbridge Junior Research Fellowships (JRFs) where every application required a slightly different set of research statements. The rejections steadily rolled in with zero feedback.

For those unfamiliar with this particular postdoctoral scheme, the Oxbridge JRF competitions run annually. Every Oxbridge college runs its own scheme, so positions vary widely from one-year to five-year posts with different salaries and benefits. Some colleges have ‘open’ competitions where applicants can apply from any subject background in the arts and sciences while others are subject-specific (e.g. English JRF) or even have a defined theme (e.g. a JRF focused on postcolonial studies). In terms of eligibility, you usually need to be within three years of handing in your thesis. What is especially attractive is that you can apply in the third or fourth year of your PhD, i.e. *before* you have handed in your thesis, which can really help close any funding gaps. For instance, if you’re planning to hand in your thesis by the end of an academic year in August or September, you can apply for a JRF that will start in September or October of the following academic year, allowing you to move immediately from PhD to postdoctoral position. This differs from the eligibility requirements of Leverhulme and British Academy where you need to have either submitted by 23 February (Leverhulme) or had your viva by 1 April (BA). In both cases, you’re left with a funding gap of several months between PhD and potential postdoc. However, what is especially unattractive of the Oxbridge JRF scheme is that each college runs its competition distinctly from other colleges. This means that every application is different – different closing dates, different length research statements, different number of referees. They are also hugely competitive. One rejection email I recall stated that the college had received over 900 applications for one post. Amid such an oblique landscape, it was difficult to know how to pitch my research.  

When I saw the WSG Mentoring Scheme advertised, I was immediately keen to apply with a view to focusing entirely on my postdoctoral applications. My supervisor, Professor Emma Gilby, was always wonderfully supportive of these applications, but only so much of our supervision time could be devoted to projects beyond the thesis. As well as wanting to carve out time for applications, I was especially eager to talk to an academic with expertise on early modern women in multiple national contexts to help me situate my own work. Even though I was officially attached to the French department, my research interests lie in the history and writings of early modern women in Europe, hovering at the intersection of several disciplinary boundaries including French, English, and History. My PhD was on French exiles in Restoration London and my future research was leaning towards the global reach of Huguenot women. I was unsure how to frame the value of my interdisciplinary approach.

Not long after the deadline for the scheme passed, I was thrilled to find out that I had been successful and would be paired with Professor Brenda Hosington. It was an excellent fit as Brenda’s long and rich research career has drawn attention to the writings and influence of dozens of early modern women in both France and Britain. We set up a virtual meeting for January 2021. In preparation for it, Brenda asked me to send her a detailed summary of my thesis and its chapters.

The meeting was enormously encouraging and reassuring. Firstly, I benefitted from a new pair of eyes on my work, which is always helpful. Brenda gave me wonderful feedback on my doctoral project from how to frame it in broad terms to little snippets of insight like Voltaire’s comment in his Lettres philosophiques on women’s influence in England. Secondly, we had an enjoyable and productive conversation about how to pitch a postdoctoral project. Although a big part of any first postdoctoral position involves developing your thesis into a monograph, you still have to pitch a second major project in your applications. If you’re applying in the third or fourth year of your PhD, it can be difficult to come up with a second project. I’d written statements for several similar projects – usually on banished women in Francophone contexts – but I was underconfident in my ideas. During my conversation with Brenda, she probed each chapter of my thesis to see if there was spare material to inspire the second project. We ended up speaking a lot about Huguenot women because part of my thesis discussed Huguenots in London and Brenda had recently worked on the Huguenot-born translator Suzanne DuVerger who lived and worked in London. I mentioned that I had considered writing up a postdoc idea on Huguenot women but hadn’t been sure how to formulate my intervention in the field. She recommended some reading and we decided to organise our next meeting for a few months’ time to give me space to think.

Weeks later, I saw an advertisement for a JRF in Modern Languages, with a preference for projects on ‘translation’, at The Queen’s College, Oxford. Buzzing with ideas about Huguenot women and translation from Brenda’s reading recommendations, I applied with my usual description of my thesis and a brand new research statement on ‘Huguenot Women: Lively Translation and Communication, 1500-1700’. Happily, I got the interview and the job.

The whole experience of the mentoring scheme was incredibly useful. Even if I hadn’t got the job, I gained fresh perspectives on my work and a sense of confidence in my ideas. Like many ECRs, I missed out on heaps of opportunities to network during the pandemic at a crucial time in my career. The WSG Mentoring Scheme is an excellent way to make a new contact – with the possible bonus that your mentor will extend their own network to you – and to hear about future opportunities for conference papers, publications, and teaching posts from someone well-acquainted with the field. I am very grateful for the experience.

Dr Annalisa Nicholson

The Queen’s College, Oxford

Reminder: WSG Seminar on Thursday 13 October 2022 via Zoom

Waiting room opens 17.45 for 18:00 – 19:30 (British Summer Time) Chair: Sara Read Zoom host: Trudie Messent

The first seminar of the 2022 – 2023 season takes place on Thursday 13 October 2022. Please note the earlier seminar time of 18:00 – 19:30.

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24 hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2022-2023 season.

13 October Seminar papers

Yvonne Noble: Anne Finch’s Mrs Randolph.

In contract to the editors of the new Anne Finch edition, I identify her friend and fellow poet, Mrs. Randolph, as Mary Castillion Randolph, first wife of the Recorder of Canterbury. This paper surveys the poems we can identify as hers and demonstrates her place at the center of an open and admired poetic circle in a period – – the 1690s– when most women poets, like Anne Finch, tried to shield their identities in anonymity or with pastoral names. Four poems have been known by Mrs. Randolph; here I identify a fifth. Abstract by Yvonne Noble

Valeria Viola: Eighteenth-century Global Domesticity. Don Luigi and Donna Caterina Riggio, Princes of Campofiorito.

In the eighteenth century, the most disparate goods were both the reason and the outcome of a vast cross-cultural network, and people moving these goods from one place to another were the agents that enabled this network. As a diplomat of the Spanish crown, Don Luigi Riggio et Branciforte (1677 -1757), prince of Campofiorito, travelled through Europe for 35 years with his wife, Donna Caterina Gravina et Gravina (1676-1747). On their travels, the princes of Campofiorito brought with them a vast collection of assorted furnishings, expanding it with new acquisitions. In so doing, this material culture constructed their international trait and stressed their alignment with both the eclectic taste introduced by the Bourbon King of Spain and the politics underlying this taste.

The contribution focuses on the coordinated work of the two, in the cities where they lived as Spanish ambassadors, namely Venice (1737-1740), Paris (1740-1746) and Naples (1746-1750). The paper explores how the practices and behaviours of the ambassadors affected the permeability of their domestic boundaries and the creation of the social network necessary for their role. In detail, it explores the elusive figure of Donna Caterina through her will, her only surviving letter, and some memories of people who met the couple. Abstract by Valeria Viola

For further information, please see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, please see our membership page.

Post by Trudie Messent

Women’s Studies Group 1558 – 1837 2022 – 2023 Seminars

We are pleased to announce that we now have both in-person and zoom seminars.

In-person meetings. These will take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, on Saturday afternoons. We will be allowed into the room at 12.30, Greenwich Mean Time, to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 13.00 – 15.30. Please arrive between 12:30 and 13:00. There is a break for tea, coffee and biscuits halfway through the session.

The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including for those who are partially sighted. Seminars are free and open to the public though non-members will be asked to make a donation of £2 for refreshments. Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.

ZOOM meetings. These will take place on Thursday evenings and will be hosted by a member of the WSG committee. The session on Thursday 13 October 2022 is from 18:00 – 19:30 (British Summer Time),  with the waiting room opening at 17:45.  In 2023 the January  12th  & March 9th sessions will run from 19:00-20:30 (Greenwich Mean Time), with the waiting room opening at 18:45.

SEMINAR DATES and PAPERS
Thursday October 13, 2022 via ZOOM.  Waiting room opens 17.45 for 18:00 – 19:30 (British Summer Time) Please note earlier time. Chair: Sara Read, Zoom host: Trudie Messent

Yvonne Noble: Anne Finch’s Mrs Randolph.

Valeria Viola: Eighteenth-century Global Domesticity. Don Luigi and Donna Caterina Riggio, Princes of Campofiorito.

Saturday November 12, 2022 at The Foundling Museum (12:30 for 13:00 GMT)

Tia Caswell: “La Reine en Chemise”: The Deployment of Female Agency and the Construction of Marie-Antoinette’s Public Image as the Natural Woman.

Clémentine Garcenot: The impact of the French Revolution on aristocratic family life.

Carolyn D. Williams: Problems with Reading Plays: Degradations and Redemptions of Hermione in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

Saturday December 3, 2022 at The Foundling Museum (12:30 for 13:00 GMT)

Julia Gruman Martins: Between Manuscript and Print: Alchemical Recipes from Isabella d’Este to Isabella Cortese.

Eleanor Franzén: Selling Sex, Selling Stories: the Magdalen House Texts, 1758-1777.

Janette Bright: ‘A careful, motherly woman’ or ‘Prime Minister of the House’: assessing the status of Matrons at the London Foundling Hospital (1740-1820).

Thursday January 12, 2023 via ZOOM. Waiting room opens 18.45 for 19:00 – 20:30 (GMT) Host: Sara Read

Emanuele Costa: Pen and Paper, Not Needle and Spindle: Maria Gaetana Agnesi on Women’s Equality.

Lesley McKay: Widows fight the disruption of widowhood in Norway and its former territory, Shetland during the early sixteenth century.

Anna Ferrandez: Did Jane Austen Read Mary Wollstonecraft? A Comparative Study of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Austen’s Fiction.

Saturday February 4, 2023 at The Foundling Museum 12:30 for 13:00  GMT

Federica Coluzzi:  Epistolary networks of early women readers of Dante: a survey of the reading evidence.

Maria Grazia Dongu: Uses of Boccaccio and Shakespeare in Shakespear Illustrated by Charlotte Lennox.

Jennifer Germann: “At the tribunal of public and just criticism”: The Social and Scientific Networks of Margaret Bryan.

Francesca Saggini: On the Humble Writing Desk

Thursday March 9, 2023  via Zoom.  Waiting room opens 18.45 for 19:00 – 20:30 (GMT) Host: Trudie Messent

Karen Griscom: Lucy Hutchinson Reads Poetry and History in Shakespeare’s Richard II.

Claudia Cristell Marin Berttolini: Sor María Anna Águeda de San Ignacio: a unique woman in 18th century Puebla.

Find our more about us on https://womensstudiesgroup.org

Please reply to Carolyn D. Williams on cdwilliamslyle@aol.com

Reminder: WSG Workshop Saturday 24 September 2022

The Women’s Studies Group Annual Workshop on ‘Women on the Margins 1558 – 1837’ will take place in-person on Saturday 24 September from 12:30 – 16:40 (BST) at The Foundling Museum,  40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ

Registration is now open on Eventbrite via this link, which will close on Friday 16 September 2022. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/womens-studies-group-1558-1837-annual-workshop-2022-tickets-400948657227

Late registrations may be possible by emailing the organiser, Miriam Al Jamil via wsgworkshop@gmail.com

Registration fees include lunch, refreshments, and entry to the Foundling Museum:  

£23 for non-WSG members; £19 for WSG members; £17 unwaged/student members

Schedule:

10:30 Doors open. Distribution of materials and refreshments.

11:00 Keynote – ‘On the Margins?: Interrogating the notion of marginal status in the Long Eighteenth Century by Dr Karen Lipsedge (Kingston University) & Dr Emma Newport (University of Sussex)

12:15 – 1:15 Lunch & time for participants to view the Foundling Museum (both included in fee)

1:15 – 15:45 Participant presentations (including tea break) Participants are invited to prepare a 5-minute presentation from any discipline, related to  ‘Women on the Margins 1558 – 1837’.

These presentations should focus on women, imaginary, fictional or real, who might be considered as being on the margins, or in borderlands, and the ways in which they experience, navigate, and/or disrupt this characterisation.  20 printed handouts and/or a couple of PowerPoint slides are helpful. Please email slides in advance to  wsgworkshop@gmail.com 

15:45 – 16:30 Summing up and closing discussions – Dr Karen Lipsedge & Dr Emma Newport

Email wsgworkshop@gmail.com with dietary requirements and any queries/late registration.