‘They would then cut the rope the next morning at 6 am, if you were asleep or not.’

The term ‘hangover’ is assumed to mean the suffering of a night on the beer. But where does the term come from? One explanation is from the Victorian age. During the Victorian era, paying for a ‘two-penny hangover’ was widespread among the homeless population, especially in London. A two-penny hangover is not the description of a very cheap night out. It’s somewhere you could go to sleep if you were one of the many thousands of homeless living in the country’s major cities. If you lived on the streets and had made some money during the day, depending on how much you had, you could spend the night in one of three ways; paying a penny to sit-up, two pence to ‘hangover’, or 4 pence to lie down.

Victorian society was struggling to pull itself out of centuries of poverty, degradation, and heavy drinking. It seemed society was suffering from a collective hangover from the country’s previous struggles through the industrial revolution, disease and the poor laws. In contrast, for some people, Victorian England was also a period and place of prosperity and innovation.

The population of Britain at the time lived in luxury or destructive poverty. Although the Empire was flourishing, unfortunately so were the cities’ slums, especially London’s.

There is a reason that Victorian England is often portrayed in literature as a dark and depressing palace for its poorest inhabitants. There were 30,000 homeless children in London alone during this time. For the poorest members of Victorian society, life was incredibly hard, especially if you were homeless. It was even harder at night, whereas well as contending with exposure and hunger, there were also the added dangers associated with the fall of darkness. If you were homeless, you had minimal options. However, if you scrounged up a penny, you could at least get out of the rain at a ‘penny sit-up’.

Penny sit-ups: These are precisely as you would imagine them to be. A homeless person could pay to ‘sit up’ on a bench all night in a hall for a penny. Usually, this was the only choice for people to get off the streets, particularly through the wet and freezing winters. Sometimes the rooms would be heated, and the homeless person was provided with food, but it wasn’t always guaranteed. It would seem that most of the homeless who used these sit-ups were men, but women and children were also documented as having frequented them.

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The Two-Penny Hangover would allow you to sleep hanging over a rope. This was marginally more comfortable. If you fell asleep, the rope would prevent you from slipping onto the floor and injuring yourself. People were packed in as tightly as possible. They would then cut the rope the next morning at 6 am, if you were asleep or not. They did this to free up space and serve as a reminder to the lowest in society of where their place was. Once the rope was cut, the homeless would be kicked out onto the streets again. Even with the protection these places offered, they were also not heated, and it was not unheard of for there to be one or two people who could not be woken the next morning, having frozen to death during the night.

Maybe the strangest of these weird Victorian sleeping arrangements were the four or five penny coffins for those who were homeless. They weren’t coffins, but small wooden boxes that were a remarkable likeness to coffins. They would be laid out in rows on the floor, and because the idea was to house as many people as possible, the proportions of the ‘coffins’ were small and not in the least comfortable. However, these makeshift beds were still very much valued, as associated with the two previous options, at least in the ‘coffins’ you could lie down horizontally and sleep properly.

These coffins were one of England’s first attempts at homeless shelters and were started by The Salvation Army, founded in 1865. The recently formed christian charitable organisation had noticed the sheer levels of poverty, and this was one of their earliest solutions.

Please note some of this content as come from the fantastic site of:


Paul Asling takes us on a captivating journey around London, to discover some dark tales that have shaped the city’s compelling and turbulent past.   Priced at £1.99 –

London Crime Thriller Books by Paul:

I share a special love for London, both new and old. If you like London crime books, you will love these gritty thrillers.


The Carter’s: Wars in West London

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Love You Till I Die


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