Most of us would not have a problem finding a hotel/motel/inn if we were in a situation where we needed a place to sleep for the night. What would you do if you didn’t have the money to pay for a comfy bed? Or if you were homeless? For the poor of the late 19th and early 20th centuries London, the answer might be to head to a homeless shelter, many of which were operated by the Salvation Army and provided food and shelter from the cold in exchange for a small fee.
The shelters went by many different names depending on the cost and type of sleeping or in some cases sitting arrangements available. You might find yourself at a Penny Sit-up, a Two Penny Hangover, or a Four Penny Coffin (or just Coffin House). These shelters did not provide the best of conditions, but they were considered a well-meaning, inexpensive, and compassionate attempt to deal with the heightened emergence of homelessness at the time. For those that could afford them, the shelters served as a better alternative to sleeping outside in a wet doorway. The shelters provided warmth, sometimes food, and a certain amount of safety, all things in short supply out on the streets.
The penny sit-up was a lodging type where for a penny a person was allowed to sit upright on a bench or lean against a wall while sitting on the floor, but was not allowed to sleep. While not the most comfortable, it at least provided heated shelter for the night.
The two penny hangover was a similar lodging type to the penny sit-up, but instead of just sitting, the person could lean on a rope that was placed in front of the bench. Unlike the penny sit-up, people were allowed to sleep while leaning on the rope, but had to stay on the rope and were not allowed to lie down. The rope was then cut at daybreak in order to encourage the people using them to wake up and leave. This may sound terribly uncomfortable, but for many, it was better than sitting on the floor, not sleeping at all.
The four penny coffin was a lodging type where a person would be able to lie down flat on and sleep in a coffin shaped wooden box with a tarp for covering for the price of four pennies. The aim of these lodgings was to provide a little more comfort and aid to the poor than they might get with the one or two penny options. This type of lodging usually included hot breakfast in the morning and sometimes even soup and bread. The four penny coffins were often deemed worth the price as they provided a better sense of safety and allowed for personal sleeping space.