Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Working Girls of London

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Loretta reports:

William Hickey’s adventure with the teenage prostitute led me to look up the statistics for the early 19th century.

From John Wade’s A treatise on the police and crimes of the metropolis (1829)

Dr. Colquhoun * has subjected himself to some ridicule in attempting to estimate the number of female prostitutes in London, which he made amount to 50,000, divided into the following classes:—
Of the class of well-educated women 2000
Of persons above the rank of menial servants 3000
Of persons who have been employed as menial servants, and seduced in early life 20000
Of those in different ranks in society, who live partly by prostitution, including the number of females who cohabit with. labourers without matrimony 25000

By including women unmarried, who cohabit with labourers and others, and of which the number is very great in the metropolis, we do not think that Dr. Colquhoun's estimate is greatly beyond the truth. The number of prostitutes in some parishes, especially those in the vicinity of the docks and river, is almost incredible; while, again, some of the out-parishes, as Islington and others, are comparatively exempt, and abound as little in female prostitution as any country parish of equal extent and population.

From a statement laid before a Parliamentary Committee, in 1817, it appears that, in the parishes of St. Botolph-without-Aldgate, St. Leonard, Shoreditch, and St. Paul, Shadwell, containing, together, only 9924 houses, and 59,050 inhabitants, there were 360 brothels, and 2000 common prostitutes.***

It is painful to think of the tender age at which poor creatures are exposed to prostitution in the streets and brothels of London, and to which they are compelled to resort, either by the keepers of infamous houses, or their idle and abandoned parents. Some of these wretched children are under ten years of age, and, consequently, are below that period of life, during which it is a capital crime, under any circumstances, in any, to have carnal intercourse with them.

When the Guardian Society visited the City Bridewell there were 111 wretched women, the ages of whom varied from 14 to 54 ; the largest proportion appeared to be of the ages from 18 to 22. There were—
1 of 14, 1 of 16, 1 of 17, 11 of 18, 12 of 19,  10 of 21, 13 of 22,  6 of 23, 1 of 24, 3 of 25, 10 of 26, 9 of 27, 4 of 28, 6 of 29,  7 of 30,  5 of 32, 2 of 33, 5 of 35, 3 of 36,  1 of 54

Out of these, 85 had been in a state of prostitution from two months to two years; and the largest proportion of these from two to three years. The unfortunate creatures had been repeatedly committed to prison; and instances occurred where they had been committed from eighteen to thirty times.****

*author of A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis.
**Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, page 340, 7th edition.
***Second Report on the Police of the Metropolis, 1817, page 459.
****Third Report on the Police of the Metropolis, 1818, page 30.


Michelle Buonfiglio said...

'morning, NHGs all!

Wow. This is an amazingly disturbing topic and brings to mind the fact that it took, what, 160-70 years (please don't quote me or give me heck on my lack of specificity) in the US for men to begin to be arrested along w/prostitutes they were using? And the idea of including women living in sin may strike us as laughable, but it wasn't all that long ago that cohabiting still was considered the same round here. But the hopelessness of the situations described is what makes this so impactful; girls under 10. All coupled w/your excellent choice of engraving of the coffee house.

And, yeah, I always block all this out when heroes visit brothels, even the best ones, and even when they start to think about the situations of the girls later.

Vanessa Kelly said...

The Regency underworld was a pretty grim place, and not at all romantic, that's for sure. Donald Low's book (called Regency Underworld) has some info on prostitution/child prostitution, although that isn't his focus. But he cites several examples of flash houses, which were often filled with young girls and boys, who were "run" as thieves by the proprietors. Those children were often sold out as prostitutes, too.

I was recently doing research on prostitution and crime in Bath, and I was stunned to find out how widespread it was in that genteel town. It just didn't match up with the images we have of Bath. It's probably a safe bet to say it was just as bad in any fair-sized town in England.

nightsmusic said...

I can't remember, but I think it was one of you two who recommended City of Sin by Emerson and Hughes to me. They cover this of course and I find it fascinating. It takes you from Roman times to the late Victorian era and really, things hadn't changed much over the centuries.

One of the things mentioned above though:

Some of these wretched children are under ten years of age, and, consequently, are below that period of life, during which it is a capital crime, under any circumstances, in any, to have carnal intercourse with them.

I don't understand. Does that mean that children had to be a certain age before one could be arrested for having intercourse with them? What the heck did they consider it before that age??

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Theo, I'm afraid you're reading the passage with 21st century sensibilities. Prostitution at that time was regarded as being entirely the "seller's" crime: women were naturally weak and, once seduced, readily become "bad" and lapse into prostitution. They can't help themselves. It's all about Eve, leading poor old Adam to sin. If the woman is poor or lower class, then it's all the more to be expected. The guys doing the buying are never at fault, except if they're married, and then only because they've committed adultery.

Which comes around to the "wretched children." At the time of this quote, it's still not a crime to have sex with children; there aren't any laws against it. So by my reading, this quote isn't about "how awful that adults are patronizing these child prostitutes", it's that "these child prostitutes aren't old enough to know what they're doing, and so, through ignorance, can't be charged with the crime that they're committing."

Yuck, on every level.....

nightsmusic said...

Actually, I was reading that as, below a certain age, the purchasing party held no responsibility and couldn't be charged. Once the girls were of a specific age however, but still not considered at an age of consent, then the purchasing party could be charged with a crime.

I'm not explaining it well. I was looking at the crime not from the child being charged, but the adult.

Still doesn't make sense, does it.

*sigh* Long day today...

I do agree though. A big EWWie, no matter how you look at it.

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