On this day in history : 31st December 1892 – The first hostel for homeless men, Rowton House in Vauxhall, London opens….
It was the brainchild of Tory Peer and philanthropist Montagu William Lowry-Corry (1838-1903) – otherwise known as Lord Rowton – who put £30,000 of his own money into the venture….a considerable amount in the day – equating to over £3.5 million in today’s terms….
Lord Rowton had been Private Secretary to Disraeli and had helped to set up the Guinness Trust in 1890 – helping homeless people in London and Dublin…. He had inspected common lodging houses in the East End of London on behalf of the Trust and was appalled by what he saw…. It was then he made the decision to open the hostel on Bond Street (now Bondway) in Vauxhall….
His was a completely new concept in helping down-and-out or low paid working men…. The aim was to provide decent, cheap accommodation, that was far superior to the squalid lodging houses which were the only alternative at the time….
“Lord Rowton’s Lodging House” ~ the Poor Man’s Club, where he finds a Comfortable Home, Good Food and Wholesome Recreation ~
The accommodation comprised of 470 bedded cubicles; each man would be supplied with clean sheets and had the use of facilities to wash and dry his clothes…. In the bathrooms there was an ample supply of hot water….and each wash basin had above it a hook for him to hang his hat and coat – so he could keep an eye on them…. There was a large dining room and a library….all for the price of 6d (sixpence) a night….
Rowton affectionately referred to his venture as ‘the Beehive’…. He even had one of the beds installed in his own home – so he could try it out….
On the first night of opening only 77 out of the 470 cubicles was occupied…. However, news spread quickly – in the first year 140,105 beds were let – and the hostel returned a profit…. Such was its success that Vauxhall became the first of six such establishments across London….
It wasn’t all plain sailing from the start though…. In the early days there was a high turn over of staff – and it was hard to maintain a constant, smooth running establishment…. In the first few weeks every book in the library had disappeared – so lockable bookcases had to be introduced and a paid librarian employed…. During the first fire drill it emerged all of the copper fittings on the hosepipes had been stolen…. It was also decided that soap was going to have to be charged for as such huge quantities were being ‘used’…. Eventually a superintendent was employed – a former sergeant major – who soon had things in order….
Nowadays Rowton House is occupied by the Centrepoint Vauxhall Hostel…. The Centrepoint Charity provides accommodation and support for homeless people aged between 16 and 25 years-of-age…. Before she died Princess Diana was its patron – her son Prince William has been patron since 2005….it was his first patronage….