Sleeping Over Strung Out Rope

As strange as that may sound, that was a method many homeless people had to get inside a shelter, have some food and a place to sleep. In London, England in late 1800s, the poor used to pay a penny to sleep over ropes strung out if they couldn’t afford a box bed. It was considered the lowest form of accommodations. People bend over a rope for the night, no laying down. This method was many times used by drunken sailors who had already spent all their money ashore.

Such shelters were operated by the Salvation Army from late 1800s into early 20th century. There was a charge and it varied with what type of sleeping accommodations the person selected. Least expense was the penny sit-up where a homeless person could get food and shelter in exchange for a penny. The person sat on a bench all night but not allowed to sleep, just sit which kept them from being outside in the cold and any rain.

For 2 pennies, there was the two-penny hangover. Here they sat on the bench that had a rope placed in front. The person got food and could sleep when he leaned on or hung over the rope during the night. The person could not lie down on his back.

For four pennies, a homeless person could stay in a small narrow wooden box, got food and shelter. The person could lie down in the box that resembled a coffin or a crate. Rows of such coffin boxes to accommodate many people. It was considered the cheapest homeless shelter to sleep on one’s back in London and known as a coffin house. The Salvation Army also had shelters which offered a bed for a much higher price. Using any of these types of shelters protected the person from the night cold or any rain. Everyone was awakened about 5 am, had some food, and had to leave by 6 am.

This practice was also done in the 1800s into the 20th century in American cities. Especially used in seaport cities that a ‘penny hang’ was an establishment common, located in a cellar or basement. It featured hooks in the walls, with ropes strung in parallel from one side to another at about shoulder height. In the late evening, a homeless person, a drunk or exhausted “clients”, who had spent all their money, or were too boisterous to be allowed anywhere else, would enter the penny hang, after paying a penny, and then drape themselves over a rope, and attempted to sleep as best they could. There was no bench to sit on and lean over. The proprietor could come down in the morning and untie one end of the ropes, so that the clientele who had not managed to wake up and stagger out already, would collapse together in a heap on the floor and told to leave. This practice have some people believe the phrase ‘hungover’ after drinking alcohol came about from this practice.

It might be hard to think you might have had an ancestor who had to use one of these types of shelters or they may have worked at one of these shelters. It would be difficult to research but if they did work at one, you might have some luck there. At least this way you are aware such activities did exist.

Photos: Sleeping in a box; sitting up all night on a bench; wooden crates to sleep in; rows of boxes at Salvation Army shelter; and stand to lean over a rope.

Related Blogs:

London Over the Years

Your Great Grandparents Did What?

Lost Ancestors

< Return To Blog yikes - that rope hanging thing is inhumane ... how horrible to be reduced to such circumstances.
Teresa 1/07/20

They got food and shelter, certainly not luxurious but drunken sailors and others make bad choices sometimes, creating bad circumstances. At least there were humane and caring people who sought to help those in need, better than freezing and starving to death. Those without even a penny could go to the workhouse often run by the Parish Church where they got food,health checks and shelter, children were cared for too. Many objected that they had to abide by strict rules concerning behaviour, e.g no fighting, drunkeness, swearing, avoiding work, etc. Not a great life, but again, better than dying.
glenn garry 1/07/20

So true.
alice 1/07/20

Many were glad to have it.
alice 1/07/20

I agree, I would certainly prefer a good handing rather than freeze in the cold!
Anthony Melons 1/07/20

It is amazing what was once done. Thanks for writing.
alice 1/07/20

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