Sex and the City

DEATH OF WOMEN

SEX AND DEATH

WOMEN AND MARRIAGE

RICH OR POOR A WOMAN’S FATE COULD BE THE SAME

WOMAN AT WORK

WOMAN PLYING HER TRADE

Women

and Sex

There were two ways for a girl to get on in the 18th century and they both involved sex and the risk of disease followed by the likelihood of an early death.

The choice for most women was either wife or city prostitute. Prostitution was the riskier option and the option most likely to taken by the poor – women who had been abandoned and those who were widowed.

The 18th century saw the birth of commerce and a huge expansion of trade in the great cities of the world. The goods on offer were not only tea and sugar – there was a thriving trade in sex as well.

Sex was the commodity most often traded in 18th-century cities – sex with women, sex with men, and, sex with children.

Sex and the Age of Marriage

Since the 12th century in Europe, the onset of puberty was the acceptable time for marriage. This was about  12 for girls and around 14 for boys.

 

The first recorded age-of-consent law appeared in 1275 in England in the Statute of Westminster. It made it a misdemeanor to “ravish” a “maiden within age,” with or without her consent. The phrase “within age” was later interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke as meaning the age of marriage.

The American colonies followed the English tradition, but the law was more of a guide –  Mary Hathaway (Virginia, 1689) was only 9 when she was married to William Williams.

In Europe, the situation was much the same.

Sex and the French Revolution

The advent of the French Revolution hardly changed at a thing for women and girls. The age of consent for sexual intercourse was set at 11 years for girls in 1791. How enlightened was that?  In the 18th-century there was little understanding of childhood as a concept. Children were seen as “little adults” who were born sinful and subject to the corruptions of the flesh.

Sex and the Job Market

Women and female children were barred by law and convention from all but the most menial jobs in Europe and in the colonies. There was no chance of a woman making a decent living on her own so many were forced to make an indecent living for themselves.

Some women inherited property from their families when there was no male heir, there are plenty of examples of female innkeepers and shop owners but most of them were widows. The problem for a woman with property was that when she got married it became her husband’s. If the marriage was not a success she could be left with nothing.

With odds stacked against women economically, the trade in sex thrived. Thousands of women needed to make a living and the only thing most men would pay for was sex or sex with housework.

The Harlot’s Progress

William Hogarth’s six-part Harlot’s Progress of 1732 makes the lot of the prostitute visible in a straightforward way. The representation of Moll  Hackabout’s journey into prostitution, from the innocent country girl we see arriving in London on the first plate through to her subsequent career as a harlot and her decline towards death in plate six, is generally acknowledged to mark a turning point both in British visual culture and in Hogarth’s career but it changed little for women like Moll.

Charlotte Hayes’ Nuns

Of course, taking control of their commercial assets was somewhat more difficult for the women, the commercial world was designed for men. However, some did. One such was a woman called Charlotte Hayes. Hayes ran a brothel or ‘nunnery’ in the parlance of the day. She grew wealthy on her girls, keeping a carriage and liveried servants for her ladies of the night. She taught her girls the manners and graces of elite London society to get a better price for them. One of these so-called ‘nuns’ was Emily Warren, an ‘exquisite beauty’ who became the muse to the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. She was discovered by Hayes leading her blind beggar of a father through the streets of London. The Georgian memoirist William Hickey described sleeping with her as follows;

Never did I behold so perfect a beauty. I passed a night that many would have given thousands to do. I, however, that night, experienced the truth – that she was cold as ice, seemingly totally devoid of feeling. I rose convinced that she had no passion for the male sex.’

Little wonder, perhaps. Emily Warren had, like so many other girls, become a prostitute at the age of 12.

Hayes dressed her girls in French silks and lace and promised they would ‘satisfy all fantasies, caprices, and extravagances of the male visitor, carrying out their every wish’.

Masquerade parties were a popular cover for anonymous sexual encounters. Among the most sought-after of these risque gatherings were those held by one Mrs. Cornley, reputedly a lover of Casanova; they were held in a grand house or ‘fairy palace’ in Soho Square. The parties were honeypots for prostitutes and pimps and saw peers of the realm mix with streetwalkers.

Inspired by the explorer-of-the-day James Cook‘s accounts of Tahitian erotic rituals, Charlotte Hayes organised a tableau in which ’12 beautiful nymphs, unsullied and untainted’. These nymphs were to be publicly deflowered by 12 young men as in ‘the celebrated rites of Venus’. Her disreputable business earned Hayes, a teenage prostitute herself, a fortune of £20,000 – a sum a working man would have to work 500 years to earn.

 

The Harris’ List

The centre of the Georgian sex trade was Covent Garden. There, men could not pass it without being accosted by women silently offering their arm or making lewd suggestions in their direction.

In the Covent Garden coffee shops and jelly houses, where exotic concoctions were eaten from tall glasses, hundreds of lavishly adorned women sat looking for business.

The infamous Harris’ List of Covent Garden Ladies was a directory of London prostitutes, circulating from the late 1740s. It detailed each girl’s charms.  A typical entry in 1788, described Miss Lister, of 6 Union Street, Oxford Road. ‘She is painted by the masterly hand of nature, shaded by tresses of the darkest brown, with the neighbouring hills below full ripe for manual pressure, firm and elastic, and heave at every touch.’

A German visitor of the time observed prostitutes in the West End with these words. ‘Usually, a crowd of female creatures stand in front of the theatres, amongst whom may be found children of nine or ten years, the best evidence of moral depravity in London. In general, the English nation oversteps all others in immorality, and the abuses which come to light through addiction to debauchery are unbelievable.’

The dawn of the Victorian age and new attitudes to morality meant that prostitution gradually went underground but it did not go away. Streetwalking was made an imprisonable offence in the 1820s. For the whores, harlots, pimps, and courtesans of Georgian London, the party was over but their abuse was not.

 

Sources:

The Secret History Of Georgian London,  Dan Cruickshank

Prostitution and Eighteenth-Century Culture: Sex, Commerce, and Morality,  edited by Ann Lewis, Markman Ellis

Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in Eighteenth-century British Literature and Culture, Laura J. Rosenthal

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Flowers, Theatre and Fashion – Fanny Abington

Flowers, Theatre and Fashion – Fanny Abington

The actress Frances Barton or Frances “Fanny” Barton was the daughter of a private soldier who started her working life as a flower girl and a street singer. As an actress, she performed in taverns and resorted to selling herself as many hard-up women did in those days before she made it onto the stage.

Her first step to success came when she got a job as a servant to a French milliner. Fanny learned about costume and acquired some French which afterward stood her in good stead as she mingled in London’s high society as a famous actress.

Actress Fanny first appeared on the stage was at Haymarket in 1755 as Miranda in Mrs. Centlivre’s play, Busybody. Following that she became a member of the Drury Lane Company, where she was overshadowed by its more established actresses Hannah Pritchard and Kitty Clive. However, Fanny was an she was an ambitious actress and travelled to Ireland where she had her first major success Lady Townley in The Provok’d Husband by Vanbrugh and Cibber. Fanny worked at her trade, she became a consumate actress and five years after she began her career she received an invitation from David Garrick to return to Drury Lane.

Fanny married her music teacher, James Abington, a royal trumpeter, in 1759. It was not happy and the pair separated but she retained his name calling herself Mrs. Abington. She remained at Drury Lane for eighteen yearsFanny played Mrs. Teasel in Sheridan’s School for Scandal making the role her own. She also played Shakespearean heroines – Beatrice, Portia, Desdemona and Ophelia and the comic characters  Miss Hoyden, Biddy Tipkin, Lucy Lockit, and Miss Prue. Mrs. Abington’s Kitty in “High Life Below Stairs” put her in the foremost rank of comic actresses, making the mop cap she wore in the role the reigning fashion“.

This cap was soon referred to as the “Abington Cap” and frequently seen on stage as well as in hat shops across Ireland and England. Adoring fans donned copies of this cap and it became an essential part of the well-appointed woman’s wardrobe. The actress soon became known for her avant-garde fashion and she even came up with a way of making the female figure appear taller. She began to wear a tall-hat called a ziggurat adorned with long flowing feathers and began to follow the French custom of putting red powder on her hair.

An example of Fanny’s influence on fashion – the high ziggurat style hat.

Sir Joshua Reynolds painted her as Miss Prue a character from Congreve’s Love for Love. The portrait is the best-known of his half-dozen or more portraits of her. In 1782 she left Drury Lane for Covent Garden. After an absence from the stage from 1790 until 1797, she reappeared, quitting it finally in 1799. Her ambition, personal wit, and cleverness won her a distinguished position in society, in spite of her humble origin.

Source; Wikipedia

Illustrations: Fanny Abington, Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Marie-Dauncey,1789, James-Northcote, Fanny as Miss Prue, Joshua Reynolds.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon 

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May Day – It’s not what it used to be!

May Day – It’s not what it used to be!

When I think of May Day I think either of Maypoles, Morris Dancing and the Jack in the Green or the old Soviet military processions in Red Square.

The origins of May Day stretch back into the mists of time. In the late Middle Ages people in England started to dance around a Maypole (a pole with no ribbons) as a celebration of Spring and to encourage fertility in the soil and people. This was banned by the Puritans but came back with the Restoration in 1660 and has remained with us ever since – the Victorians added the ribbons.

By the seventeenth century England was on the long march to modernity and urban living and London was well on the way to being the first great modern city in the world so May Day in London had nothing to do with May Poles or flowers. It was one of a number of days of the year; Shrove Tuesday, Ascension Day, Midsummer and St Bartholomew’s Day; when disorder reigned.  Between 1603 and 1642 Shrove Tuesday riots involved apprentice boys attacking brothels, bawdy houses and playhouses to reduce temptation during Lent! In the same period there were eight May Day riots. The attacks on bawdy houses seem to peter out after the Restoration and the nature of May Day and other celebration days changes again.

In the late seventeenth century there is evidence of what are called ‘ridings’ in London and other towns. In a ‘riding’ those who are viewed to have transgressed the sexual morality of the day were harangued in the street by the mod who beat their pots and pans and shouted at the tops of their voices in what was called ‘rough music.’ In June 1664 a woman appeared before a magistrate in Middlesex accused of following a woman down the street shouting, ‘whore, whore’ and clapping her hands. She was joined by others and soon there was a riot. On May Day those who were deemed to have offended their community were spat on, had dirt and stones thrown at them as well as the contents of chamber pots. In London the haranguing husbands who had beaten or cheated on their wives was particularly popular as was terrorising brothel keepers and the mothers of illegitimate children.

Historian Charles Pythian-Adams has argued that during the eighteenth century May Day celebrations in London were transformed. The population of the city was becoming socially segregated with the rich withdrawing from popular or plebeian activities, but this notion leaves out the growing urban middle class and the effects of growing religious non-conformity. As the eighteenth century progressed so did social separation (both class and gender) but it was not exclusively the elites separating themselves from the poor, the middle class were able to buy their way into urban elite culture, they may not have had a box at the theatre but they could have a seat in the stalls; and as for the poor they separated into those who chose the strictures of religious non-conformity (no pagan rituals) over the perceived laxity of the established church were certain pagan rituals were accepted. This new urban culture was not conducive to what we think of as May Day traditions and its celebration or marking lapsed until it was re-invented and sanitised by the Victorians who gave us children holding ribbons and dancing round the May Pole in the Board School yard.

Source: The Eighteenth-Century Town: A Reader in English Urban History 1688-1820, By Peter Borsay, Routledge 2013

Illustration: Country Dances round a Maypole (decorative painting for a supper-box at Vauxhall Gardens, London), Francis Hayman (1708–1776), Victoria and Albert Museum.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29  Also available on:

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Mary Woolstonecraft’s Friends

Mary Woolstonecraft’s Friends

Mary Wollstonecraft was born on 27 April 1759 she is one of the world’s first feminist writers. She decided to become a writer in 1787, 230 years ago, and moved to 45 George Street, in Southwark, now called Dolben Street. It was from Dolben Street that she launched her career, with the publication of her novel, Mary: A Fiction.

Two friendships shaped Wollstonecraft’s early life. The first was with Jane Arden in Beverley. The two frequently read books together and attended lectures presented by Arden’s father, a self-styled philosopher and scientist. Wollstonecraft revelled in the intellectual atmosphere of the Arden household and valued her friendship with Arden greatly, sometimes to the point of being emotionally possessive. Wollstonecraft wrote to her: “I have formed romantic notions of friendship … I am a little singular in my thoughts of love and friendship; I must have the first place or none.”[5] In some of Wollstonecraft’s letters to Arden, she reveals the volatile and depressive emotions that would haunt her throughout her life.

The second and more important friendship was with Fanny (Frances) Blood, introduced to Wollstonecraft by the Clares, a couple in Hoxton who became parental figures to her; Wollstonecraft credited Blood with opening her mind. Unhappy with her home life, Wollstonecraft struck out on her own in 1778 and accepted a job as a lady’s companion to Sarah Dawson, a widow living in Bath. However, Wollstonecraft had trouble getting along with the irascible woman (an experience she drew on when describing the drawbacks of such a position in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, 1787). In 1780 she returned home, called back to care for her dying mother.Rather than return to Dawson’s employ after the death of her mother, Wollstonecraft moved in with the Bloods. She realised during the two years she spent with the family that she had idealised Blood, who was more invested in traditional feminine values than was Wollstonecraft. But Wollstonecraft remained dedicated to her and her family throughout her life (she frequently gave financial assistance to Blood’s brother, for example).

Wollstonecraft had envisioned living in a female utopia with Blood; they made plans to rent rooms together and support each other emotionally and financially, but this dream collapsed under economic realities. In order to make a living, Wollstonecraft, her sisters, and Blood set up a school together in Newington Green, a Dissenting community. Blood soon became engaged and after their marriage her husband, Hugh Skeys, took her to Lisbon, Portugal, to improve her health, which had always been precarious. Despite the change of surroundings Blood’s health further deteriorated when she became pregnant, and in 1785 Wollstonecraft left the school and followed Blood to nurse her, but to no avail. Moreover, her abandonment of the school led to its failure. Blood’s death devastated Wollstonecraft and was part of the inspiration for her first novel, Mary: A Fiction (1788).

She followed Mary: A Fiction, with works on the education of children. Through her association with her friend and publisher Joseph Johnson she met Thomas Paine, the writer of the The Rights of Man. Paine who would become one of the great influencers of the both the French Revolution and the development of the American state opposed the idea of hereditary government—the belief that dictatorial government is necessary, because of man’s corrupt, essential nature. she also met her future husband and one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement William Godwin through Johnson.The first time Godwin and Wollstonecraft met, they were both disappointed in each other. Godwin had come to hear Paine, but Wollstonecraft assailed him all night long, disagreeing with him on nearly every subject.

It was after she left Dolben Street in 1791 that she published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). There is no doubt that her time at Dolben Street, Southwark was the furnace of her intellectual development, and was the site of her most intense creative years.

Source: Wikipedia

My own novel, Sinclair takes place in Southwark and Beverley at this time. I shall be picking up some of Woolstonecraft’s themes in my next novel.

Julia Herdman is a novelist. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1 is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29

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White’s Chocolate House

White’s Chocolate House

Think of the words ‘white’ and ‘chocolate’ and the images that come to mind are those of the ‘The Milky Bar Kid’ or that luxury white chocolate flecked with fine black vanilla seeds but White’s and chocolate in the 18th century meant something entirely different; gambling.

The impetus for London’s chocolate craze came from France, introduced as an ‘excellent west indian drink’ in the mid 17th century. A decade later pamphlets proclaimed the miraculous, panacean qualities of the new drink, saying that it would boost fertility, cure consumption, alleviate indigestion and reverse ageing: with a mere lick, it was said, it would ‘make old women young and fresh and create new motions of the flesh’.

Unlike in Paris and Madrid, chocolate drinking was not confined to the social elite in London however it was never as popular as coffee with its enlivening caffeine boost.. It was only around St James’s Square that a cluster of super-elite self-styled ‘chocolate houses’ flourished. The principal chocolate houses were Ozinda’s and White’s, both on St James’s Street, and the Cocoa Tree on Pall Mall.As befitted their location their interiors were a cut above the wooden, workmanlike interiors of the City coffeehouses, boasting sofas, polished tables, dandyish waiters and, at least in Ozinda’s case, a collection of valuable paintings for the customers to admire. In fact Ozinda’s comfortable surroundings became a hot bed of Jacobite intrigue. On one occasion in 1715, Jacobite supporters were arrested there and taken off to Newgate prison.

White’s started life at 4 Chesterfield Street, off Curzon Street in Mayfair, in 1693; owned by an Italian immigrant named Francesco Bianco. It was later re-named Mrs. White’s Chocolate House with a side line in tickets for the King’s Theatre and Royal Drury Lane Theatre White’s quickly made the transition from cafe into an exclusive club. It was notorious as a gambling house; those who frequented it were known as “the gamesters of White’s.” The club gained a reputation for both its exclusivity and the often raffish behaviour of its members. Jonathan Swift referred to White’s as the “bane of half the English nobility.” In 1778 it moved to 37–38 St James’s Street and was from 1783 the unofficial headquarters of the Tory party, while the Whigs’ club Brooks’s was just down the road.

White’s had such a terrible reputation Hogarth depicted its inner gambling room as ‘Hell’, in the sixth episode of Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress. The place is on fire but no one seems to notice. It is a picture of greed and despair so far removed from the images of chocolate we have today.

Illustration: Meissen Chocolate Cup and Saucer.

Julia Herdman is a novelist. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1 is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29

Also available on:

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