Ladies of Ill-Repute

The Milk Sop - Thomas Rowlandson
The Milk Sop – Thomas Rowlandson

Moving along in my library, we leave last week’s Toilet of Flora, and move to my Georgian sex shelf.  On this shelf, we find the entertaining (and yet distressing) Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies.  Like last week’s book, this is also now available to you in Google Books.  The one I’ve linked to is for 1789, but you’ll be able to extrapolate to a later date.

Harris’s list is sort of a Zagat’s guide to ladies of the evening. It was not, however, written by Jack Harris, but by one Sam Derrick, based on Jack Harris’s list. Mr Derrick apparently reached some sort of agreement for use of the list, and provided comprehensive descriptions of Mr. Harris’s ladies and where to find them.  Shall we look at a few?

Picking Cheerful - Thomas Rowlandson
Picking Cheerful – Thomas Rowlandson

The book opens with Miss D-vis, No. 22 Upper Newman-street. This is a fine lively girl, about twenty-one, rather above the middle size, genteelly made; has several good friends, but is much attached to young Br-om, the lottery-office-keeper, who is now in prison, where she often visits him; is ever obliging, and seldom out of humour, understands a great deal of her business, and never fails to please.

In No. 82, Queen Ann-street, we find Mrs. D-nby, who has found a neat way to make a little additional money by wearing her clients out and renting them a room for the night.

A fine plump lady, twenty-four years old, rather short with sandy colour hair, fine blue eyes, rather of an amorous constitution; when in the arms of an equally lewd partner, she never wishes to fall in the arms of sleep, whilst Venus holds her court, Morpheus is kicked out of doors, as she keeps the house, any gentleman may have a night’s lodging for one pound one shilling, and half the money if he can do the business well.

Mrs. D-l-v-t of No. 46 Hanover-street is apparently on hiatus but is thinking about returning to the business:

And Inclined Beauty - Thomas Rowlandson
And Inclined Beauty – Thomas Rowlandson

This lady is about thirty, she was bread a milliner, and married very young an attorney’s clerk, but as his income was not sufficient to support her in the manner she wished to live, she listened to the addresses of an American gentleman who made her a handsome allowance whilst he remained in England, and took some pains to persuade her to accompany him in his present visit to that quarter of the world, but she preferred old to new England. She is at present a housekeeper, but soon intends to quit her situation and retire to snug lodging as she has experimentally found that the frail sisterhood are vary bad pay mistresses.

We further learn that she has kept her looks and wields a “birchen rod” with dexterity (in case your taste runs in that direction). We also learn that she never never condescends to grant her favors for less than a guinea.

Let’s finish with Sally Cummins, Charles Street, Westminster who is a bluish eyed comely lass, but too much indebted to art for her complexion. She talks French, and sings agreeably, and in her cups is very religious, when you should find her to be a most bigoted Papist.  She sounds like fun, doesn’t she?

So, I leave you with another book to look into. Mr. Derrick has quite a way with words and one doesn’t know how much of this to take at face value. We do know, however, that it was based on Mr. Harris’s list, which was quite probably what it purported to be.  I also leave you with some illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson, who seems best fitted for this topic.

 

About Myretta

Myretta is a founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a major Jane Austen destination on the web. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, www.myrettarobens.com and on Twitter @Myretta.
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7 Responses to Ladies of Ill-Repute

  1. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at these entries. However, some of these ladies seemed to be very practical business women! The mind boggles at the ideas one could get from reading these entries!

  2. Joanna says:

    Interesting article. I don’t know if you read Wits, Wenches and Wantons by E J Burford which covers 18th century Covent Garden.

  3. Myretta says:

    I agree, Louisa. The entries are both funny and distressing. But every single lady seems very pragmatic.

  4. Myretta says:

    I haven’t read the Burford book, Joanna. But I’ll give it a look. Thanks.

  5. Beth Elliott says:

    I love the comment that ‘she was too much indebted to art for her complexion’ – more tactful than saying raddled. Now I’m wondering if Mr Harris did all the research himself. It would have been a life’s work, surely. Thank you, this post is great fun.

  6. Myretta says:

    Jack Harris called himself the Pimp-General-of-All-England and maintained a ledger of 400 names of “votaries of Venus,” including a wealth of intimate details that he continually updated. Sam Derrick, a would-be poet, wrote the descriptions that made the published List so popular in its time and so much fun to read in ours.

  7. Hi, may I be so bold as to recommend my book on the subject, ‘The Covent Garden Ladies’? It tells the whole story of the Harris’s Lists and a number of the women on it.

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