A slaughterhouse at the edge of Soho, on Marshall Street, killed an average of five oxen and seven sheep per day, the blood and filth from the animals draining into gulley holes on the street. Without proper barns, residents converted traditional dwellings into “cow houses”—herding twenty-five or thirty cows into a single room. In some cases, cows were lifted into attics via windlass, and shuttered there in the dark until their milk gave out. Even the pets could be overwhelming. One man who lived on the upper floor at 38 Silver Street kept twenty-seven dogs in a single room. He would leave what must have been a prodigious output of canine excrement to bake in the brutal summer sun on the roof of the house. A charwoman down the street kept seventeen dogs, cats, and rabbits in her single-room flat. The human crowding was almost as oppressive. Whitehead liked to tell the story of visiting one densely packed household, and asking an impoverished woman there how she managed to get along in such close quarters. “Well, sir,” she replied, “we was comfortable enough till the gentleman come in the middle.” She then pointed to a chalk circle in the center of the room, defining the region that the “gentleman” was allowed to occupy.
Steven Johnson (2006)