Dosshouse

In Brief

When Stephen says that he has no place to spend the night, Corley tells him that "There was a dosshouse in Marlborough street, Mrs Maloney’s, but it was only a tanner touch and full of undesirables." A tanner was 6d.,  quite cheap for a night's lodging. For 4-6 pence, establishments called doss-houses, or kip-houses, or common lodging-houses, would put people up in crowded, bad-smelling dormitory rooms.

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Gifford notes that Marlborough Street lies just a bit west of where Stephen and Corley are standing, and that the 1904 edition of Thom's does not list a Mrs. Maloney on Marlborough, but does list many "tenements." Since Thom's did not list names in connection with tenements, it is possible that one of these derelict buildings did house a Mrs. Maloney's, but for Joyce's purposes the veracity of the name may not have mattered much in the anonymous sea of Dublin's tenements. That a doss-house, as opposed to a more respectable boarding-house, would have resided in one of these buildings is almost certain.

On his website dedicated to British workhouses, www.workhouses.org.uk, Peter Higginbotham observes that doss-houses "were notorious for their overcrowding." The daily fee, he notes, "bought a bed or, in many cases, a share of a bed. Not only was bed-sharing common, but some establishments operated a two-relay system where a bed was occupied by one person during the day, and another by night. In some cases, a three-relay system shared a bed in three eight-hour shifts. / As well as the bed, a doss-house could provide access to a kitchen which also served as a common-room. In smaller lodging houses, the proprietor might even supply breakfast."

Higginbotham quotes at length from author Jack London's vivid account of staying at a large London doss-house. Size, in London's experience, generally meant improved quality: "The little private doss-houses, as a rule, are unmitigated horrors. I have slept in them, and I know; but let me pass them by and confine myself to the bigger and better ones." He observes that even at the larger establishments the nauseating smells, grimly uncongenial society, and complete lack of homelike surroundings made a mockery of the commonly used phrase, "The poor man's hotel." At some, paying an extra penny (say, 5d. instead of 4d.) would entitle one to an individual "cabin," but these were cubicles rather than rooms: spaces barely bigger than a bed with no ceiling, no door, no facilities for storing one's possessions from day to day, and no way of blocking out the snores of all the surrounding sleepers.

Doss-houses catered mostly to unmarried workers in Dublin's vast proletarian underclass, and were only a small step above the charitable workhouses that offered a place to sleep in return for hard labor or religious self-improvement. Of all the options of places to stay the night that Stephen ponders on June 16—the Martello tower, his aunt Sara's house in Irishtown, Bloom's house—the poor man's hotel on Marlborough Street is by far the grimmest. 

In Cyclops, the unnamed narrator says that Bob Doran's mother-in-law, Mrs. Mooney, "kept a kip in Hardwicke street." A "kip," in Irish parlance, is a dive: a seedy, filthy establishment. The narrator's use of this word for Mrs. Mooney's boarding-house is a slander in keeping with his reference to her "procuring rooms to street couples." In Joyce's story "The Boarding House," Mrs. Mooney caters to a better-off clientele and does not rent beds by the night. Her "young men paid fifteen shillings a week for board and lodgings (beer or stout at dinner excluded). They shared in common tastes and occupations and for this reason were very chummy with one another." Mrs. Mooney is charging more than four times what Mrs. Maloney charges, and she clearly maintains some semblance of welcoming strangers into a middle-class home. The story does mention, however, that the boarding house "was beginning to get a certain fame," suggesting sexual irregularities—so perhaps it has declined by the time represented in Ulysses, and the narrator of Cyclops is not entirely off base.

JH 2019
  A small doss-house ca. 1900, renting "Good Beds 4d. Per Night For Single Gentlemen Only." Source: www.workhouses.org.uk.
  A two-relay doss-house ca. 1900. Source: www.workhouses.org.uk.