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Story Of London

Mayhew’s London Prostitutes: V Part 2


In 1862, Henry Mayhew published his analysis of the prostitution business in London. It formed a part of his magnificent survey: London Labour and the London Poorextracts from which we continue to publish on this site. In this extract we move out of the West End to the rougher parts of town and the brothel of the East End. We are also introduced to the “Bunters” and meet “Swindling Sal” and “Lushing Loo.” Then there is the fifteen-year old who was forced o entertain twelve men in a few hours(“paucis horis.”). Finally, we hear of a wonderful escape from the attentions of two thugs and a fierce mastiff!

PROSTITUTION IN LONDONBoard Lodgers
Part TwoThe CutThose who live in Low Lodging Houses.In order to find these houses it is necessary to journey eastwards, and leave the artificial glitter of the West-end, where vice is pampered and caressed. Whitechapel, Wapping, Ratcliff Highway, and analogous districts, are prolific in the production of these infamies. St. George’s-in-the-East abounds with them, kept, for the most part, by disreputable Jews, and if a man is unfortunate enough to fall into their clutches he is sure to become the spoil of Israel.We may, however, find many low lodging houses without penetrating so far into the labyrinth of east London. There are numbers in Lambeth; in the Waterloo Road and contiguous streets; in small streets between Covent Garden and the Strand, some in one or two streets running out of Oxford Street. There is a class of women technically known as “bunters,” who take lodgings, and after staying some time run away without paying their rent. These victimise the keepers of low lodging-houses successfully for years. A “bunter,” whose favourite promenade, especially on Sundays, was the New Cut, Lambeth, said “she never paid any rent, hadn’t done it for years, and never meant to. They was mostly Christ-killers, and chousing a Jew was no sin; leastways, none as she cared about committing. She boasted of it: had been known about town this ever so long as Swindling Sal.And there was another, a great pal of her’n, as went by the name of Chousing Bett. Didn’t they know her in time? Lord bless me, she was up to as many dodges as there was men in the moon. She changed places, she never stuck to one long; she never had no things for to be sold up, and, as she was handy with her mauleys, she got on pretty well. It took a considerable big man, she could tell me, to kick her out of a house, and then when he done it she always give him something for himself, by way of remembering her. Oh! they had a sweet recollection of her, some on ’em. She’d crippled lots of the —- crucifiers.” “Did she never get into a row?” “Lots on ’em, she believed me. Been quodded no end of times. She knew every beak as sot on the cheer as well as she knew Joe the magsman, who, she might say, wor a very perticaler friend of her’n.” “Did he pay her well?”This was merely a question to ascertain the amount of remuneration that she, and others like her, were in the habit of receiving; but it had the effect of enraging her to a great extent. My informant was a tall, stout woman, about seven-and-twenty, with a round face, fat cheeks, a rather wheezy voice, and not altogether destitute of good looks. Her arms were thick and muscular, while she stood well on her legs, and altogether appeared as if she would be a formidable opponent in a street-quarrel or an Irish row.Did he pay well? Was I a-going to insult her? What was I asking her sich a ‘eap of questions for? Why, Joe was good for a —- sight more than she thought I was! – “polite.” Then she was sorry for it, never meant to be. Joe worn’t a five-bobber, much less a bilker, as she’d take her dying oath I was.” “Would she take a drop of summut?” “Well, she didn’t mind if she did.An adjournment to a public-house in the immediate vicinity, where “Swindling Sal” appeared very much at home, mollified and appeased her. The “drop of summut short, miss,” was responded to by the young lady behind the bar by a monosyllabic query, “Neat?” The reply being in the affirmative, a glass of gin was placed upon the marble counter, and rapidly swallowed, while a second, and a third followed in quick succession, much, apparently, to the envy of a woman in the same compartment, who, my informant told me in a whisper, was “Lushing Lucy,” and a stunner – whatever the latter appellation might be worth. But the added “Me an’ ‘er ‘ad a rumpus,” was sufficient to explain the fact of their not speaking.What do you think you make a week?” at last I ventured to ask. Well, I’ll tell yer,” was the response: “one week with another I makes nearer on four pounds nor three – sometimes five. I ‘ave done eight and ten. Now Joe, as you ‘eered me speak on, he does it ‘ansome, he does: I mean, you know, when he’s in luck. He give me a fiver once after cracking a crib, and a nice spree me an’ Lushing Loo ‘ad over it. Sometimes I get three shillings, half-a-crown, five shillings, or ten occasionally, accordin’ to the sort of man. What is this Joe as I talks about? Well, I likes your cheek, howsomever, he’s a ‘ousebreaker. I don’t do anything in that way, never did, and shant; it aint safe, it aint.How did I come to take to this sort of life? It’s easy to tell. I was a servant gal away down in Birmingham. I got tired of workin’ and slavin’ to make a livin’, and getting a —- bad one at that; what o’ five pun’ a year and yer grub, I’d sooner starve, I would. After a bit I went to Coventry, cut Brummagem, as we calls it in those parts, and took up with the soldiers as was quartered there. I soon got tired of them. Soldiers is good – soldiers is – to walk with and that, but they don’t pay; cos why, they aint got no money; so I says to myself, I’ll go to Lunnon, and I did. I soon found my level there. It is a queer sort of life, the life I’m leading, and now I think I’ll be off. Good night to yer. I hope we’ll know more of one another when we two meets again.When she was gone I turned my attention to the woman I have before alluded to. “Lushing Loo” was a name uneuphemistic, and calculated to prejudice the hearer against the possessor. I had only glanced at her before, and a careful scrutiny surprised me, while it impressed me in her favour. She was lady-like in appearance, although haggard. She was not dressed in flaring colours and meretricious tawdry. Her clothes were neat, and evidenced taste in their selection, although they were cheap. I spoke to her; she looked up without giving me an answer, appearing much dejected. Guessing the cause, which was that she had been very drunk the night before, and had come to the public-house to get something more, but had been unable to obtain credit, I offered her half-a-crown, and told her to get what she liked with it. A new light came into her eyes; she thanked me, and, calling the barmaid, gave her orders, with a smile of triumph.Her taste was sufficiently aristocratic to prefer pale brandy to the usual beverage dispensed in gin-palaces. A “drain of pale,” as she termed it, invigorated her. Glass after glass was ordered, till she had spent all the money I gave her. By this time she was perfectly drunk, and I had been powerless to stop her. Pressing her hand to her forehead, she exclaimed, “Oh, my poor head!” I asked what was the matter with her, and for the first time she condescended, or felt in the humour to speak to me. “My heart’s broken,” she said. “It has been broken since the twenty-first of May. I wish I was dead; I wish I was laid in my coffin. It won’t be long first. I am doing it. I’ve just driven another nail in, and ‘Lushing Loo,’ as they call me, will be no loss to society. Cheer up; let’s have a song. Why don’t you sing?” she cried, her mood having changed, as is frequently the case with habitual drunkards, and a symptom that often precedes delirium tremens. “Sing, I tell you,” and she began,In a regiment of dragoons,
I gave him what he didn’t like,
And stole his silver spoons.
When she had finished her song, the first verse of which is all I can remember, she subsided into comparative tranquillity. I asked her to tell me her history. “Oh, I’m a seduced milliner,” she said, rather impatiently; “anything you like”. It required some inducement on my part to make her speak, and overcome the repugnance she seemed to feel at saying anything about herself.She was the daughter of respectable parents, and at an early age had imbibed a fondness for a cousin in the army, which in the end caused her ruin. She had gone on from bad to worse after his desertion, and at last found herself among the number of low transpontine women. I asked her why she did not enter a refuge, it might save her life. “I don’t wish to live,” she replied. “I shall soon get D. T., and then I’ll kill myself in a fit of madness”. Nevertheless I gave her the address of the secretary of the Midnight Meeting Association, Red Lion Square, and was going away when a young Frenchmen entered the bar, shouting a French song, beginning “Vive l’amour, le vin, et le tabac,” and I left him in conversation with the girl, whose partiality for the brandy bottle had gained her the suggestive name I have mentioned above.The people who keep the low lodging-houses where these women live, are rapacious, mean, and often dishonest. They charge enormously for their rooms in order to guarantee themselves against loss in the event of their harbouring a “bunter” by mistake, so that the money paid by their honest lodgers covers the default made by those who are fraudulent.Dr. Ryan, in his book on prostitution, puts the following extraordinary passage, whilst writing about low houses:-An enlightened medical gentleman assured me that near what is called the Fleet Ditch almost every house is the lowest and most infamous brothel. There is an aqueduct of large dimensions, into which murdered bodies are precipitated by bullies and discharged at a considerable distance into the Thames, without the slightest chance of recovery.
Mr. Richelot quotes this with the greatest gravity, and adduces it as a proof of the immorality and crime that are prevalent to such an awful extent in London. What a pity the enlightened medical gentleman did not affix his name to this statement as a guarantee of its authenticity!When speaking of low street-walkers, the same author says:-These truly unfortunate creatures are closely watched whilst walking the streets, so that it is impossible for them to escape, and if they attempt it, the spy, often a female child, hired for the purpose, or a bully, or procuress, charges the fugitive with felony, as escaping with the clothes of the brothel-keeper, when the police officer on duty immediately arrests the delinquent, and takes her to the station-house of his division, but more commonly gives her up to the brothel-keeper, who rewards him. This inhuman and infamous practice is of nightly occurrence in this metropolis. When the forlorn, unfortunate wretch returns to her infamous abode, she is maltreated and kept nearly naked during the day, so that she cannot attempt to run away. She is often half starved, and at night sent again into the streets as often as she is disengaged, while all the money she receives goes to her keeper whether male or female. This is not an exaggerated picture, but a fact attested by myself. I have known a girl, aged fifteen years, who in one night knew twelve men, and produced to her keeper as many pounds.
“Paucis horis, hæ puellæ sex vel septem hominibus congruunt, lavant et bibunt post singulum alcoholis paululum (vulgo brandy vel gin) et dein paratæ sunt aliis.”
With what a vivid imagination the writer of these striking paragraphs must have been gifted. The Arabian Nights and the Tales of the Genii that are so charmingly improbable, are really matter of fact in comparison. If we multiply 12 by 365, what is the result? We never took such interest in arithmetic before: 12 X 365 = 4380. This total of course represents pounds; why, it is nearly equal to the salary of a puisne judge! But perhaps the young lady whose interesting age is fifteen, is not so fortunate every night. Let us reduce it by one half; 4380 ÷ 2 = 2190. Two thousand one hundred and ninety pounds per annum is a very handsome income; and after such a calculation, can we wonder that a meretricious career is alluring and attractive to certain members of the fair sex, especially when “hæ puellæ” make it “paucis horis?” So lucrative a speculation cannot be included in the category of those who are “kept nearly naked during the day, and often half starved.”
We suggest this on our own responsibility, for we have not been an “eye-witness” of such precocious profligacy; but we make the suggestion because it is something like nigger-keeping in the Southern States of America. A full-grown, hearty negro is a flesh and blood equivalent for a thousand or two thousand dollars. If he were “larruped” and bullied, he would perhaps die, or at any rate not work so well, and a loss to his owner would ensue that Pompey’s massa would not be slow to discover. By parity of reasoning the white slave of England must also be treated well, or it naturally follows that she will not be so productive, and the £12 received from as many men in a few hours, may dwindle to as many shillings, gleaned with difficulty in a great number of hours.Dr. Michael Ryan evidently possesses an extensive acquaintance among remarkable men. Let us examine the statement of “my informant, a truly moral character, a respectable citizen, the father of a family,” who gives the following account of bullies:-Two acquaintances of his, “men of the world” (we submit with all humility that truly moral characters, respectable citizens, and fathers of families ought to be more select in their acquaintance, for birds of a feather, etc.), “were entrapped in one of the Parks by two apparently virtuous females, about twenty years of age, who were driving in a pony phaeton, to accompany them home to a most notoriously infamous square in this metropolis. All was folly and debauchery till the next morning. But when the visitors were about to depart, they were sternly informed they must pay more money.
They replied they had no more, but would call again, when their vicious companions yelled vociferously. Two desperate-looking villains, accompanied by a large mastiff, now entered the apartment and threatened to murder the delinquents if they did not immediately pay more money. A frightful fight ensued. The mastiff seized one of the assaulted by the thigh, and tore out a considerable portion of the flesh. The bullies were, however, finally laid prostrate: the assailed forced their way into the street through the drawing-room windows; a crowd speedily assembled, and on learning the nature of the murderous assault, the mob attacked the house and nearly demolished it before the police arrived” (where were the police?). “The injured parties effected their escape during the commotion”.What a surprising adventure! Haroun Alraschid would have had it written in letters of gold. The man of the world, who had a considerable portion of the flesh torn out of his leg by the terrible mastiff, must have been the model of an athlete to effect his escape and punish his bully after such a catastrophe, more particularly as he jumped out of the drawing-room window. Then that mob, that ferocious mob that nearly demolished the house before the police arrived! Mob more terrible than any that the faubourgs St. Antoine or St. Jacques could furnish during a bread riot in Paris, to harry the government, and erect barricades. What a horror truly moral characters must entertain of apparently virtuous females driving pony phaetons in the Parks! A little further on the same respectable citizen informs us, in addition,”that in a certain court near another notoriously profligate square, which was pulled down a few years ago, several skeletons were found under the floor, on which inquests were held by the coroner.” What ghastly ideas float through the mind and obscure the mental vision of that father of a family!That rows and disturbances often take place in disorderly houses, is not to be denied. A few isolated instances of men being attacked or robbed when drunk may be met with; but that there are houses whose keepers systematically plunder and murder their frequenters our experience does not prove, nor do we for an instant believe it to be the case. Foreigners who write about England are only too eager to meet with such stories in print, and they transfer them bodily with the greatest glee to their own pages, and parade them as being of frequent occurrence, perhaps nightly, in houses of ill fame.Prostitutes of a certain class do not hesitate to rob drunken men, if they think they can do so with safety. If they get hold of a gentleman who would not like to give the thief in charge, and bring the matter before the public, they are comparatively safe.