8.25.31: on the night of the 25th I started off from Chelsea with about 14/– in hand, and went to lew levy’s kip1 in westminster bridge road. It is much the same as it was three years ago, except that nearly all the beds are now a shilling instead of ninepence. This is owing to interference by the l.C.C. who have enacted (in the interests of hygiene, as usual) that beds in lodging houses must be further apart. There is a whole string of laws of this type relating to lodging houses,* but there is not and never will be a law to say that the beds must be reasonably comfortable. The net result of this law is that one’s bed is now three feet from the next instead of two feet, and threepence dearer.
1. kip: originally a brothel; then a common lodging-house (as here) and by extension, a bed; today a sleep.
8.26.31: The next day I went to Trafalgar square and camped by the north wall, which is one of the recognized rendezvous of down and out people in london. at this time of year the square has a floating population of 100 or 200 people (about ten per cent of them women), some of whom actually look on it as their home. They get their food by regular begging rounds (Covent garden2 at 4 am. for damaged fruit, various convents during the morning, restaurants and dustbins late at night etc.) and they manage to ‘tap’ likely-looking passers by for enough to keep them in tea. Tea is going on the square at all hours, one person supplying a ‘drum’,° another sugar and so on. The milk is condensed milk at 2½d a tin. You jab two holes in the tin with a knife, apply your mouth to one of them and blow, whereupon a sticky greyish stream dribbles from the other. The holes are then plugged with chewed paper, and the tin is kept for days, becoming coated with dust and filth. Hot water is cadged at coffee shops, or at night boiled over watchmen’s fires, but this has to be done on the sly, as the police won’t allow it. some of the people I met on the square had been there without a break for six weeks, and did not seem much the worse, except that they are all fantastic ally dirty. as always among the destitute, a large proportion of them are Irishmen. From time to time these men go home on visits, and it appears that they never think of paying their passage, but always stow away on small cargo boats, the crews conniving.
* For instance, Dick’s cafe in billingsgate. Dick’s was one of the few places where you could get a cup of tea for 1d, and there were fires there so that anyone who had a penny could warm himself for hours in the early mornings. only this last week the l.C.C. closed it on the ground that it was unhygienic [orwell’s note]. l.C.C. was the london County Council.
I had meant to sleep in st Martin’s Church,3 but from what the others said it appeared that when you go in you are asked searching questions by some woman known as the Madonna, so I decided to stay the night in the square. It was not so bad as I expected, but between the cold and the police it was impossible to get a wink of sleep, and no one except a few hardened old tramps even tried to do so. There are seats enough for about fifty people, and the rest have to sit on the ground, which of course is forbidden by law.
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