LANT STREET, SOUTHWARK, IN THE MID NINETEENTH CENTURY
Published online: History-Pieces.co.uk (2008)
Lant Street in the Borough, Southwark, stretches west to east from Southwark Bridge Road to Borough High Street. It is located in the area known as ‘the Mint’, which in the nineteenth century was notorious for its poor, overcrowded and insanitary conditions, as well as for crime and disorder.
Lant Street is probably best known for being where Charles Dickens lodged in 1824 as a 12 year old boy, when his father was imprisoned for debt in the nearby Marshalsea prison. Although Dickens resented being put to work in a boot-blacking factory, he apparently had no complaints about his lodgings, which were in a back attic overlooking a timber yard, in the house of Archibald Russell, an agent for the Insolvent Court.
In 1837, in The Pickwick Papers, Dickens described Lant Street as having a transitory population, prone to midnight flits when the rent was due. With regard to the occupations of the residents, Dickens identified some clear-starchers, journeymen bookbinders, housekeepers employed in the Docks, dressmakers, jobbing tailors, and one or two prison agents for the Insolvent Court, and claimed that the majority of inhabitants were either occupied in the letting of furnished apartments or in mangling.
This paper examines the characteristics of the population of Lant Street in the mid nineteenth century, mainly through an analysis of the 1851 census. Issues considered include the origins and occupations of the residents, housing occupancy levels and public health. The youngest Lant Street resident with an occupation recorded was 10 year old George ‘Meding’. His story, and that of his family, is told in the second part of this paper.