Common lodging houses in 1930's London were low-quality lodges which unemployed or partially employ men or women could stay for an indefinite period of time, though rarely simultaneously. Unlike jail, one had to pay to gain access, though according to Orwell the rates varied from 7 pennies to 1 shilling & 1 penny a night. (Converting to the current American dollar, that ranges from roughly a nickel to a dollar). Orwell on page 31 says, "It should be added that, low as these charges sound, the average common lodging house brings in something like 40 pounds net profit a week to its owner," which converts into roughly 60 dollars our current money. Nowadays that won't cover a cell phone bill, but in 1932 america, according to www.thepeoplehistory.com, profiting 40 pounds a week could buy you an average home in 15 weeks. Needless to say, running a common lodge house was an endeavor not primarily focused on offering amenities, but cramming as many people in as possible at the lowest cost of operation. And that's exactly what Orwell turned his mind toward.
Page 30: "The bed-clothes consist of two raw-umber-coloured sheet, supposed to be changed once a week, but actually, in many cases, left on for a month, and a cotton counterpane; in winter there may be blankets, but never enough. As often as not the bed are verminous, and the kitchen invariably swarm with cockroaches or black beetles. There are no baths, of course, and no room where any privacy is attainable. These are normal and accepted conditions in all ordinary lodging houses." A disproportionate amount of laws existed between the operation of the common house and the lodgers. For example, all the things I just listed were perfectly within the bounds of the law, but it was against the law for the proprietor to have the bed closer together than 3 feet. Since maintaining this space was indeed enforceable, prices of beds went up, but not the quality. (When analyzing the effectiveness of laws, first and foremost they must be passed through the filter of enforceability; without someone to police and enforce a law, there essentially is no law). Overall, the regulation of how these "horrible, fetid dens" were operated was fickle. However, the behavior those staying within was not.
Page 31: "...it is a surprise to find that common lodging houses are governed by a set of minute and (in intention) exceedingly tyrannical rules. According to the LCC [London County Council] regulations, practically everything is against the law in a common lodging house. Gambling, drunkenness, or even the introduction of liquor, sweating, spitting on the floor, keeping tame animals, fighting--in short, the whole social life of these places--are all forbidden. Of course, the law is habitually broken, but some of the rules are enforceable, and they illustrate the dismal uselessness of this kind of legislation."
Orwell's observations lead him to the conclusion that these common lodging houses--which one pays to stay in, although a pittance--are geared toward "hygiene and morals," exacted via interference-legislation. This is a clear-cut example of the governing body (and upper classes; the two are often interchangeable in western civilization) pushing their view of morality upon the lower classes to disinfect them of their foul stench and foul morality. That's a projection the poor really only enact upon the rich in times of revolution. This is a characteristic I believe Orwell finds intriguing.
At base, he views the common lodging houses as failing at their purpose because despite people paying for a place to sleep, they get poor sleep due to the bed being as "hard as bricks." And although the sleeping standard could have feasibly been brought up to a "decent standard," it was not.
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