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Life in digs

image of a narrow London street with a row, probably of dwellings on left and a brick wall to the right and buildings in the distance behind, grey and misty atmosphereLocal street near King's College and King's College Hospital, 1891Digs were commonly found to the east of London, Bloomsbury or Southwark. New arrivals often took lodging in premises recommended by friends or relatives - the medical student Shephard Taylor, for example, lived in Dyer's Buildings, Holborn.

Life could be strict. He recalled the time another, elderly, lodger brought an 'improper female' back to his bedroom whereupon Mrs May, the 'virtuous landlady', escorted her from the premises.

One civil service student at King's in the 1880s, Harry Gooding Field, lodged in the York Road area, a popular destination for King's students owing to its abundance of relatively inexpensive digs. One night, Field arrived home late on a particularly dark night beset by heavy rain and stumbled into the wrong house in the terrace.

'Everything was pitch dark inside the hall and I moved as stealthily as possible along to reach the stairs leading to my room... when I crashed into a large hat rack, which I knew was not in our hallway. The falling of the large object caused no end of a racket and I hastily retreated.

'At breakfast the next morning our landlady... informed her six lodgers, that there had been quite a burglary in the next house late last night, but the burglar had been undoubtedly scared away when he toppled over the big hat and umbrella stand... She advised our hiding our valuables in case the burglar decided later to burgle our house. I kept strictly mum during this conversation….'

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