In The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, Adam Smith posed that ‘After food, clothing and lodging are the two great wants of mankind’. Societal transformations in the following century had certainly made it increasingly difficult for the labouring classes to fulfil these three needs. Industrialization processes had accumulated labour in urban centres, while disintegrating rural household productions. And, although transport technologies vastly improved, cities hardly provided the space for durable housing, leave alone employment for this growing ‘floating population’ of day labourers, tramping artisans, maid servants, domestic workers and the like. In response to their temporary housing demands, a lucrative sector blossomed providing Smith’s third great want on a commercial basis: lodging houses.
Lodging houses, the popular counterpart of bourgeois hotels, were ubiquitous in the nineteenth century cityscape, yet have hardly enjoyed any attention of historians. Nonetheless they provide us with a unique opportunity to study the complex interactions between temporary mobilities, more durable migrations, and the structuration of housing and labour in the city.