Friday, October 10, 2008

(Fe)male Order Shopping-Harris' List of Covent Garden Ladies

Want to write a best-seller with plenty of sex? Well perhaps you might be lucky if you follow in the footsteps of Samuel Derrick.

Who was he, I hear you ask? Well, Mr Derrick was Irish and a bit of a con-man if history is to be believed. He used to pretend to be a member of the Irish aristocracy but in reality he was a draper's apprentice, a bad actor, and a failed poet. He was determined to better himself, so travelled to London in an attempt to join such luminaries as Smollet, Boswell and Johnson. These lofty gentlemen, however, didn't give him the time of day.

At some point, (probably, the scholars reckon, in Debtor's Prison), he must have met up with Jack Harris, (AKA as John Harrison), a waiter, and a notorious pimp - self-proclaimed "Pimp General of All England." It was Mr Harris who had a handwritten list of prostitutes, but it was Mr Derrick who - under Mr Harris's name - published the list as Harris' List of Covent Garden Ladies and made a fortune. The book was a barn-storming best-seller and sold 250,000 in its 38 years of being in print.
In a city with well over 3,000 prostitutes (for a population of 675,000) Harris' List of Covent Garden Ladies was a must have accessory for any Georgian man of leisure and pleasure Harris' list was more than just a list. It was a tour of the houses of negotiable affection, "the votaries of Venus" and the prostitutes more personal address.

It wasn't just a list though, nor was it limited to Convent Garden! - it also included anecdotes on the ladies' careers and conquests. It detailed not only their addresses, physical characteristics but also their “specialties”.

Such as: 'Miss Smith, of Duke's Court in Bow Street, "a well made lass, something under the middle size, with dark brown hair and a good complexion" ' Miss Kilpin, who offers her favours inside the privacy of hackney carriages, but who is in reality 'a married city lady, who takes this method of getting home deficiencies supplied abroad'

Mrs Grafton of Wapping was fond of sailors. Her 'best customers are sea officers, who she particularly likes, as they do not stay long at home, and always return fraught with love and presents'.

Miss C: who perfumed herself (particularly below the waist) and entertained a prince who "was so much of an Englishman to despise all fictitious aids in that quarter and, turning up his nose at the ... musk, which was quite offensive to him, he rang the bell and sent the servant for a red herring".

A gentleman in possession of the book would know where to go for the fat and the thin, the top-market whores, the cheapest of the cheap. He'd be informed on the state of their teeth and tits - and their former conquests - nice to know who'd been there before you!

Mr Derrick - on the merits and profits of the book - did manage to become respectable, in the end. He became Master of Ceremonies at Bath on a huge salary of £800 a year - around £100,000 a year in today's money - but despite this rise in fortune, he still died penniless. After his death, the book continued in print in the hands of a society-aspiring prostitute, Charlotte Hayes, although it was generally thought that Ms Hayes did not write with such wit as Mr Derrick. New versions continued to be printed annually until 1797 after which society was becoming a little more prudish.

Read more in: "The Covent Garden Ladies: Pimp General Jack and The Extraordinary Story of Harris’s List" by Hallie Rubenhold – Tempus Publishing, ISBN 0-7524-2850-0

And if you get hold of a copy of The List itself - let me borrow it, will ya?


Janine Ashbless said...

You know I'm sure I saw The List on offer in a book-club catalogue.

I'm suspecting that, much like with a modern "Lush" catalogue, the anticipation and pleasure of reading what was on offer was not matched by the actual experience after purchase!

Olivia Knight said...

A sort of Which Whore? -- or perhaps a kinder comparison might be to a wine guide. It sounds hilarious; I'd love to read it! In fact... hell, yeah. Surely the Bodleian has a copy? What's the point of having access to the Bod if you can't call up crumbling guides to ladies of negotiable affection? Delicious stuff, Erastes, thanks!

Madelynne Ellis said...

Am I the only one who finds the figures involved incredible. Population of 675,000. You can assume at two thirds of those are children. So, 225,000, only half of those are women. That's approximately 112,500 men and 3,000 prostitutes. So that's 37 men to every prostitute. Sounds like a very busy day!

Amanda said...

i believe i first read about this list in Michel Faber's wonderful book "The Crimson Petal and the White" about a prostitute named Sugar in 19th century London. it's an amazing book and i recommend it highly. i've heard there's a sequel of stories called Apple. Faber, along with Sarah Waters and Emma Donoghue are my favourite chroniclers of that period since Dickens.

great math too Madelynne :) the ratio of prostitutes to men is very high. i wonder if these men ever got anything done at all...

thanks for the fascinating post, Erastes.

Jeremy Edwards said...

I realize that a "red herring" is a kipper, but I actually think this is the first time I've seen the phrase used literally. And, I might add, so memorably.

JamiSings said...

Madelynne - 3,000 adult female prositutes. That doesn't include the male ones or the (yuck) children forced into it.

I often wondered how women got into that lifestyle back then. I mean, you read about the women Jack The Ripper killed and how they started it for the price of some gin and a bed for the night. But other then that. How did brothels go about recruiting for instance? Can't be like pimps today, could it?

And darn, the local library doesn't have this book. You know, for research purposes. Not to have a snort and giggle.

tls said...

Since this sounded fabulous, I googled it and you can buy a "best-of" compilation from Amazon UK for 3 pounds. It's nice to know that some academic suffered through all that research (finding the best entries), so we don't have to.

Madeline Moore said...

Really interesting stuff, Erastes.
I admit I've been intrigued by this post since you booked it in the calendar - without having any idea what it would be about. The title is just so delicious.

I should have known what it was about because I, like amanda, *devoured* 'The Crimson Petal and the White', as did Felix, afterwhich we gave it to many others as a Christmas present. It's a terrific book. I'm interested to read that there's a sequel.

Thanks for this post, Erastes. Little nuggets of information like this can only be a plus in the life of the erotica writer, and also, it's a hoot!

Kate Pearce said...

Well, how fascinating! Of course I'm now itching to include that little gem in something I write-I bet we all are, right?

and Janine-so right on the LUSH comparison-I love reading the catalogue and am sometimes disappointed by the appearance of the finished product :)

Janine Ashbless said...

I heartily recommend a book called Slammerkin, Jamisings. It's a novel (very roughly based on a real historic person) about a girl c.1763 who gets into the prostitution business, gets out, ends up murdering her mistress... Absolutely full of eye-opening (and sometimes gut-wrenching) period detail and should answer any questions one has and probably make you wish you hadn't asked them.

Excellent post, btw Erastes - really interesting. Thanks! Guess what Mr Ashbless will be getting for Xmas...

Erastes said...

Ooo - Janine, really? I'll have to search harder. And yes, I agree, unless you were prepared to spend a LOT of money...

*Snorts* - Olivia, yes! Which! Whore? That would be perfect. You have access to the Bod? *drools*

Madelynne, I never looked at it like that - very true.. I could do 37. Perhaps. Not every day though... :D

Thanks, Amanda - glad you enjoyed it!

Jeremy Edwards - yes- and very pongy!

Hi JamiSings - I did look for numbers of male prostitutes (don't forget gigolos too)but to no avail - I wonder if there are any "official figures" or whether they were too difficult to count.

As to recruiting - an awful lot was infiltration, a girl arrived in town and was met off the coach by a friendly lady who knew somewhere she could stay....

Tis - Thanks for that! I shall treat myself to that!

Thank you, Madeline, Kate and Janine! - I'm glad that my posts go down well, a lot of the Lusties do historical, so as you say, everything is useful!

JamiSings said...

Ooo - Slammerkin's in my library system. Thanks for the recomendation.

You know you all can just call me Jami. My username is "jamisings" because - well, my name's Jami and I sing.

Erastes - I think it's probably more likely that they didn't want to agknowledge that men sell themselves for sex too. There was a major denial of that sort of thing after all. (Wasn't it like Queen Victoria who believed that while men could be homosexuals women could not? I know one of the queens believed it was impossible for women to want to have sex with other women, yet totally belived men wanted each other.)

And I guess there were pimps of sorts back in the day. I know some girls (and boys) got sold into it by their own parents at a young age and probably never escaped. (There's a teen novel I just checked in today that if I remember correctly is called Sold. About an Indian girl who's sold into a brothel by her step-father after the crops fail.)

Erastes said...

Actually that whole Victoria thing with the lesbians is an urban myth, I'm afraid. I believed it until recently too until Stephen Fry explained that it wasn't true - and suddenly I realised why - our monarch has no input into our laws!

JamiSings said...

Ah - well I guess there's myths about every leader. Washington and the cherry tree, Victoria and lesbians....