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For many middle-class women, especially those from the lower ranks, the need to work was pressing. Providing accommodation as a lodging-house keeper was one form of employment that allowed women to undertake a business that was closely linked to their domestic role and which was also considered to be 'respectable'. Demand for lodgings was high in London, and women were heavily involved in the accommodation trade. Detailed record linkage using evidence from trade directories, fire insurance records and census enumerator's books allow us to explore the contexts in which such women operated. Typically, lodging-house proprietors were single women, both widows and spinsters, either working alone or with other women. Establishments were relatively small and relied on word of mouth rather than directories to advertise their existence. They ranged in social status from those lodging-houses that provided more or less permanent accommodation for wealthy fund-holders to the low lodgings provided for poor migrants to the city. Either way, operating a lodging-house allowed women to extend their domestic role and make accommodation a business.

Original publication




Journal article


London Journal

Publication Date





41 - 53