Strangers in the Shadows – An Exploration of the ‘Irish Boarding Houses’ in 1950s Leicester as Heterotopic Spaces

Angela Maye-Banbury


Existing research regarding the Irish immigration experience in England tends to focus on the push and pull factors which promoted the search for a better life ‘across the water’ (Garrett, 2000; Ryan, 2008) or the specific mental and physical health experienced by the Irish resident in England (Aspinall, 2002; Raftery et al., 1990). This paper adopts a different stance. Using Foucault’s concept of heterotopias (Foucault, 1986; 1994;) as a heuristic, the paper focuses on the ‘boarding houses’ of Leicester, England in the 1950s and 1960s in which many Irish men lived upon their arrival in England. Drawing on Irish men’s oral histories, I consider how these quintessential properties may be construed as worlds within worlds, placeless places and non-homes. The spatial and other strategies deployed by the landlords/ladies as a means of disciplining and controlling the lodgers are exposed. The paper also explores how the distinctive vernacular landscapes of the boarding houses were laden with multiple juxtapositions, including the interface between materialism and maternalism and productive/non-productive labour. The distinctive existentialist form of temporality evoked by men’s stories of boarding house life suggests that the passage of time was accumulated but never recorded.

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