Victorian London - Crime - Prostitution - brothels and accommodation


(Before Sir W.CURTIS, Bart., and a full Bench of Magistrates)

John Jacobs was indicted, charged with keeping a disorderly house in New Norfolk-street, Commercial-road ... the prosecution had been instituted by the "Society for the Prevention of Juvenile prostitution." ... established some short time since for the laudable purpose of especially directing its object towards the suppression and prevention of juvenile prostitution. The society did not attempt to grapple with the great mass of profligacy and delinquency which prevailed to so lamentable an extent in the metropolis, but confined its exertions to the rescue of those young girls, children of tender years, from the wretched scenes of vice and depravity which were momentarily to be met with in the houses of the description of which the defendant was accused of being the proprietor. The case he should have to present to them upon that occasion was simply this. The society about 12 months since had obtained the requisite evidence to prosecute the defendant, but as was often the vase where it was everybody's business it was nobody's business, the matter had not been proceeded with. The defendant, however, had been remonstrated with, when he boldly and impudently set them at defiance; and as a prosecution was not commenced at the time he continued to pursue his disgusting and demoralizing practices until the attention of the society was called to him by a young girl, of the name of Mary Ann Shields, of the age of 16 years, who appealed to them for protection, at the same moment supplicating their assistance with a view of rescuing her from the horrid state of life into which she had been entrapped, and in continuance of which she had been compelled to remain by the defendant and his wife. . . . . . 
    The learned counsel then called Mary Ann Shields, who said that she should be 16 years of age next July. She had formerly worked at a factory at Haggerstone, but had quitted her employment by the solicitation of a fellow work-girl of the name of Maris. She was by that girl taken to a house kept by a woman of the name of Abrahams, with whom she continued as long as 14 months. At the expiration of that period she was taken to No.9, New Norfolk-street, Commercial-road, a house of ill-fame, of which the defendant and his wife were the proprietors. The defendant was the uncle of the Mrs. Abrahams to whom she had been at first taken. It was in the summer when she went there. There were four other young girls kept there, - one Betsey Brisall, aged 13; one Maria, who was 18, and the two others were about 16 each. They were all dressed up in the evening, and sent out to walk the Commercial-road. The defendant told them to look about , and speak to every man they met. A young woman, the sister of Mrs. Abrahams, went out with them to see that they did not run away. They brought gentlemen home with them. She herself, by the orders of the defendant and his wife did so. They had frequently taken home several different gentlemen in the course of an evening - she herself had taken home as many as eight or nine gentlemen in one night. The money which was presented to them by their visiters they were compelled to hand over to the defendant and his wife, who, if they suspected that the whole amount was not given
to them, would cause the girls to be searched with the view of possessing themselves of every farthing. The defendant and his wife clothed and fed the girls who were in their employ, but did not allow them any money. She had upon one occasion made an attempt to run away, but was caught and taken back to the defendant's house by his niece. On their arrival there the defendant, having heard from his niece what she had done, commenced beating her. The defendant was frequently in the habit of striking his girls, but his wife never did so. She remembered the little girl Brisall being sent away by Mrs. Jacobs because the policeman would not let her walk the Commercial-road. The girl Maria effected her escape. She had heard Mrs. Jacobs tell the nice to look about and to bring home young girls as she did not want old ones. The prisoner had said that if any of the girls attempted to run away he would have them transported for taking away his clothes. The usual hour for them to return home was 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning; but if the niece made any complaint of either of them they were told they should remain out until 5 o'clock in the morning. 
     Cross-examined - Was now under the protection of the society. Was at Abraham's 14 months, with the exception of the five weeks she was at Jacobs's. She had not seen her mother for the 14 months. For some reasons she was sent over to Mrs. Abraham's again and that person, after some time, in consequence of frequent importunities on her part, consented to let her run away, provided she did not tell the defendant that she had connived at her escape. Upon one occasion prior to this she had run away, but was brought back to Mrs. Abraham's by a policeman. After she had released herself from the clutches of the defendant and his family, she wandered about for the purpose and with the hope of meeting her mother, whom she has not seen since the moment she quitted the factory, and it was in one of those rambles that she encountered and entered into conversation with the person, a former acquaintance, who suggested that she should apply to the society in Fenchurch-street for assistance. James White, a policeman, K 285, lives in the same street where the defendant lived at No.9, New Norfolk-street. The defendant left in December as soon as the bill was found; had seen a number of young girls go in and out of the defendant's house with gentlemen. Prior to the last year there was one called a "touter," of the name of Hannah, who could not have been more than 12 years of age. The girls were in the habit, in the day time, of leaning out of the windows when dressed in an indecent manner, and nodding to the gentlemen as they passed, and they frequently used disgusting language. 
    Cross-examined. - Had not noticed the use of that offensive discourse since Hannah had left, which was before last year. Alex. Pike, a resident inhabitant of the street, stated that he lived the next door but one to the house which the defendant had occupied. The witness confirmed the testimony of those who had preceded him as to the character of the house. Mr. ADOLPHUS addressed the jury on behalf of the defendant, who he said was labouring from the effects of severe bodily disease, and advertised to the character of the society by which the prosecution was promoted. The CHAIRMAN told the jury that they must arrive at their verdict from a consideration of the evidence, and not be biased by any remarks which had been offered to them by the learned counsel, either on the one side or the other. The jury instantly found the defendant Guilty. 
    The CHAIRMAN, after consulting with his brother magistrates told the defendant the Court would not conceal from him that they considered he had been very properly convicted; and further the Court would inform him, that they were determined to visit him with a severe punishment, and he hoped the declaration would reach others who were following the same course of life as that of which he had just been so justly convicted. The punishment it was proposed to inflict upon him was very severe, for his offence called for a severity of punishment, and hard labour would be added to the term of imprisonment. If, however, it was discovered by the medical attendant of the prison that his state of health and body was such as to  render hard labour improper, that gentleman would receive instructions to communicate the fact to the visiting magistrates, who would order a commutation of the sentence in respect to that portion of it. The sentence of the Court was that he should be imprisoned in the House of Correction for the term of six months, and that he be subjected to hard labour, and pay a fine of 20l. to the King, and be further imprisoned until that fine be paid. Mr. BALLANTYNE then moved for a warrant to issue against Maria Davis, against whom a true bill had just been found for a similar offence. 
    The CHAIRMAN - Certainly.

The Times, March 8, 1837


    Rosetta Goldsmith and Elizabeth Smith were indicted, charge with a nuisance in keeping a house of ill-fame. Mr. PAYNE appeared for the
prosecution. The defendants pleaded "guilty." 
    The CHAIRMAN said, that the Court were very anxious for certain reasons, to know all the particulars with respect to the house which had been kept by the defendants; and therefore, inasmuch as it was important to ascertain whether the parties who had been in the habit of using the house had been girls of a tender age, or whether young girls lived therein, it was necessary that some evidence should be laid before them with a view to a proper apportionment of punishment. Mr. PAYNE then call two of the police force, who stated that the house was one of ill-fame; that it was situated in Bull-court, Goswell-street, in the parish of St. Luke; that they had seen as many as 20 or 30 couples go there in the course of a night; that the females were of ages from 16 to 30; that they had frequently heard the most disgusting language used therein; and that many of the persons who had recourse to the house they knew to be common thieves, several of whom had before and since been convicted of various offences. The CHAIRMAN - What ages do you say these girls were. 
    Witness - Perhaps from the ages of 15 and 16, but not younger.
    The CHAIRMAN - Were there any of more tender years - 10, 11 or 12? 
    Witness - No; I should think there were not any younger than 14.
    The CHAIRMAN - It is necessary that the Court should ascertain this fact, as they will be guided very much in reference to it in the judgment they may pass upon these defendants.  . . . . if it had been proved that young girls of a tender age had been permitted by them to come to their house, the defendants would have been made to pay a penalty of a least four times the extent of that with which they were about to be visited . . . . The commission of that crime, however, did not appear to attach to the defendants who were then before them, and the Court consequently had modified their sentence, which was, that the defendants should be imprisoned in the House of Correction and be kept to hard labour for the space of four months. 

The Times, April 6, 1837

see also Sinks of London Laid Open - click here

Houses in which Prostitutes Lodge. - I must now briefly notice the domiciliary arrangements of the various classes of independent prostitutes. These are so influenced - like our own homes - by the resources and taste of the individual, have so little local colour, and are besides so exceedingly well understood among men, that accurate pictures at any length would be as superfluous as fancy sketches would be out of place.
    If we enter the house, or apartment, in a suburban neighbourhood - where, perhaps, the occupier of the shop below is non-resident - of the first-class prostitute, we find it neat or slovenly, plain or elegant, according to its mistress's income, the manners and tastes of her admirers, and her tendency to sobriety or the reverse. We have cheap and respectable lodgings, in reputable quarters of the town, wherein young and pleasing women of unambitious temperament will reside for years, receiving no visitors at home, anxiously guarding their characters there, and from choice involving themselves in no more sin than will serve to eke out their modest earnings, or provide a slender maintenance which they may have been precluded from earning in their normal walk of life by the first false step. This numerous band, who, keenly alive to their painful position, willing to do better, unwilling - even for the sake of those wondrous magnets, dress and admiration - to join the ranks of the flashy and dissipated, are the proper objects of sympathy. London holds hundreds of them, not too far gone for true, permanent reform; and success would richly reward a far larger expenditure than can be expected at the hands of private charity.
    These present us with the least degraded aspect of prostitution, but both in the western and eastern districts, especially in the latter, are to be found a great number of lodging-houses crowded together, in certain neighbourhoods of no fair fame, and called generically, in police reports, notorious brothels', devoted especially to the reception of prostitutes. They are clean or dirty - comparatively well or ill-furnished, according to the capital embarked in them. From houses in St John's Wood, Brompton, and Pimlico, to the atrocious slums of Blackfriars and Whitechapel, there are, of course, many steps, and with the rent at which the proprietors offer their apartments varies, of course, the style of the sub-tenants. In point of morality, there is, naturally, no difference; and in the general internal propriety, little enough. The most decently-minded woman who takes up her quarters in a circle of prostitutes, and, though she has a private apartment in which to receive visitors, betakes herself for society and distraction (as do always the inmates of such houses) to the common kitchen, must speedily fall to the common level. She finds that modesty and propriety are considered offensive hypocrisy. Liquor, in the intervals of business, is insisted upon by her companions and by the landlady, who makes a profit on the supply. Her company is sought for novelty's sake when she is a newcomer, and her absence or reserve is considered insulting when she is fairly settled; so, if she had any previous idea of keeping herself to herself, it is very soon dissipated. She finds, when she has no male visitors, a sort of communism established in her rooms, which she can only avoid by resorting to the common hall in the dirty kitchen. There is no making head against this practice in lodging-houses generally, and hence the remarkable uniformity in the habits, manners, dress, and demeanour of the three or four sub-sections of their inhabitants.
    They are usually during the day, unless called upon by their followers, or employed in dressing, to be found, dishevelled, dirty, slipshod and dressing-gowned, in this kitchen, where the mistress keeps her table-d'hôte. Stupid from beer, or fractious from gin, they swear and chatter brainless stuff all day, about men and millinery, their own schemes and adventures, and the faults of others of the sisterhood. As a heap of rubbish will ferment, so surely will a number of unvirtuous women thus collected deteriorate, whatever their antecedents or good qualities previously to their being herded under the semi-tyranny of this kind of lodging-house. In such a household, all decency, modesty, propriety, and conscience must, to preserve harmony and republican equality, be planed down, and the woman hammered out, not by the practice of her profession or the company of men, but by association with her own sex and class, to the dead level of harlotry.
    From such houses issue the greater number of the dressy females with whom the public are familiar as the frequenters of the Hay- market and the night-houses. Here they seem to rally, the last thing, from other parts of the town, when general society, and the most decent as well as lowest classes of prostitutes, are alike housed for the night. Here they throw the last allures of fascination to the prowler and the drunkard - hence wander to their lairs, disgusted and weary if alone - noisy and high-spirited if chance has lent them company.
    To form an idea of the sort of life these women lead, we must listen to the evidence given at police courts. I extract the following from a leader in The Times for April 10, 1858, on evidence taken at the trial of an Italian, Giovanni Lani, who murdered one of these women for the sake of her jewelry:

    The house appears to have been well tenanted, and was, no doubt, a lucrative investment for Madame Levi's capital. Three or four women lodged in the house. They provided their own dresses and jewelry.' Madame Silvestre was one of these lodgers. She was not a femme galante, but still had a habit of walking the streets late at night. She lived in the front room of the second floor with her friend M. Théophile Mouton, by whose commercial profits she was supported. Madame Silvestre returned home on the night in question at one o'clock, and Héloise Thaubin, leaving the prisoner in her room, came down and had supper with her friend in the room where M. Mouton was in bed. About half-past two o'clock she went back to her own room, and at this seasonable hour Madame Silvestre, wishing for amusement, went up and borrowed a book from Héloise, which the prisoner, in his shirt, handed out at the door. I then,' she says, went to bed, got up the next morning about twelve, and had breakfast at one.' Madame Silvestre, though not a femme galante, not only walked the streets, but was visited by male friends. When this occurred M. Mouton was generally out at his work.' This work M. Théophile Mouton tells us was the business of a commission agent. My business consists of selling every article that is intrusted to me. I have no offices, and never receive any business letters, because I am only a clerk, and have no business on my own account. I formerly used to deal in jewelry. The articles I sold were gilt or false jewelry.' Such is the account M. Mouton gives of his own professional pursuits. Besides these persons another man named Disher lived in the house. He carried on the business of a tailor. A woman lived with him who was called Mrs Disher'. Mr. and Mrs. Disher quarrelled on the night of the 23rd of February, and it was in consequence of the latter leaving her room and sitting on the stairs all night that she was able to hear the deceased's groans, and to recognize Lani as he came down laden with the murdered woman's spoils.
    We have given this brief sketch of the house and its inmates, because No. 8, Arundel Court, was probably only a specimen of scores of other houses tenanted by this class of foreign adventuresses. They all seemed to have lived together with as little decency as brute animals. The last vestige of modesty which belongs even to the fallen seems to have been erased from the character of these cold, hard, money-grasping prostitutes and their paramours. They are well off, they wear their watches and chains and four rings on two fingers', they are proud of showing their jewelry', and they refuse 10 francs with disdain. The gentlemen lead an easy life. When the deceased's bedroom was broken open and her corpse found M. Théophile Mouton had not long returned home. 'He had been out for a walk with Mr Disher during the day, and he brought home something for dinner.' In short, we are introduced to a community which is existing in the most self-complacent manner on the wages of infamy, and in which each individual has the air of considering that he or she is doing nothing in the world to be ashamed of.

    The keepers of the old dress houses were mostly females of extreme avarice, and often ferocious manners - the former sharpened by the unprincipled atmosphere in which they lived, and the latter by the necessity of preserving discipline among their tenants and dependents. They were ordinarily persons who had been bred to the business from youth, as relatives or old servants of their predecessors. Such an establishment was considered to be too lucrative to permit the idea of its dispersion upon the death or retirement of a proprietor; and as a matter of fact, the lease, goodwill, and stock-in- trade of a brothel were, in such an event, disposed of like those of any other lodging-house. Women who had been themselves kept or frequented by men of property were sometimes able to found or purchase one or more of them. A large share of their tenants' earnings passed through their hands, and a liberal portion always remained there. They were highly paid for liquors and eatables they procured on account of male visitors; and several instances are well authenticated of their having left ample means behind them, or having retired wealthy into private life. Things are, doubtless, changed.
    It is to be feared, however, as we see, that there still exists a system analogous to that of woman farming, and resembling it only too closely, and that the dress house has merely given place to an institution too similar, viz., the dress lodging. Still the difference, though at first sight it may appear but one of name, is really one of degree. The dress girl was, as we have seen, the serf - the white slave of her proprietor, dependent on the latter for food and clothes and shelter, having no property of her own, or power over her own actions, but forced to fulfil the evil will of another by whom the fruits of her infamy were received. No property, no rights, no will, no hope - not one attribute, in short, of independent existence; the right alone remained to suffer and decay, while wretches more vile even than herself grew rich by her ruin. The dress lodger, like the dress girl, receives from the owner of the house in which she resides, clothes, and board and lodging, but the wages of her guilt are paid to herself. She obtains from the man whom she has enticed to the house as much money as she can, and the proprietor's interest in the booty amounts either to a part or the whole, according as her skill in extortion is small or great. Like the dress girl, she is exposed to the tender mercies of a brutal tyrant, who expects the surrender to herself of the gains of her corruption, but to her is, at least, conceded the acknowledgment of separate rights and independent existence.
    Introducing Houses.
- The establishments of certain procuresses vulgarly called 'introducing houses', ... are worth notice as the leading centres of the more select circles of prostitution here. Unobtrusive, and dependent upon great exterior decency for a good connexion, they concern us as little from a sanitary as from a police point of view, but are not without an influence upon the morals of the highest society. Their existence depends upon the co-operation and discretion of various subordinate accomplices, and on the patronage of some of the many wealthy, indolent, sensual men of London, who will pay any premium for assurance against social discredit and sanitary damage. Disease is therefore rarely traceable to such a source, and notoriety and scandal almost as seldom; although impolitic economy on the gentleman's part, or indiscreet bearing towards any of the characters among whom he cannot be a hero, will induce them occasionally to hunt him and his follies into daylight, as a warning to others, not against the lusts of the flesh, but against sentiments which horse-leeches might consider illiberal. He usually obtains for his money security, comfort, and a superior class of prostitute, who is, according to his knowledge of the world or desires, presented to him as maid, wife, or widow - British, or imported direct from foreign parts. The female obtains fairly liberal terms, either directly from the paramour, or from the entrepreneuse (who, of course, takes good care of herself), the company of gentlemen, and, when this is an object with her, unquestionable privacy. A number of the first-class prostitutes have relations with these houses, and are sent for as occasion and demand may arise. I have heard of one establishment at which no female is welcome who has not some particular accomplishment, as music or singing. I am told these establishments are much more common in New York than in London.
    A stranger might be long in London. . . without hearing of, and still longer without gaining access to, this aristocracy of brothels. Their frequenters are often elderly, sometimes married, and generally men of exclusive sets, upon whom it would not be to the proprietor's interest to impose even unseen association with the stranger or the roturier [commoner]. The leading persons in this line of business, who keep up regular relations with certain men of fashion, and sometimes means, make known to their clients their novel and attractive wares, one might almost say, by circular. A. finds a note at his club, telling him that a charming arrival, de la plus grande fraicheur [in the absolute bloom of youth], is on view at Madame de L.'s. If he has no vacancy for a connexion, he may answer that a mutual friend, C., a very proper man, will call on such and such a day in --- road, or that Madame --- may drive the object round to his rooms at such another time; but that he has no great fancy at present for anything but a thoroughly warranted - in fact, an all-but modest - person. All parties handle the affair with mock refinement. Sometimes money passes direct, as third persons have to be arranged with; at others, the broker, or procuress, ventures her capital, and leaves recompense to the honour of her friends - some of whom, of course, fleece her, others do what is considered fair, and now and then may be so generous that she is, on the whole, perhaps, better off than if she traded on strict cash principles only. The pungent anecdotes which occur to me respecting such houses and their frequenters, would, if properly disguised, go little way in proof of their existence - which, by the way, must be patent enough to those who habitually read law reports - and as their unvarnished recital here would give my pages an air of levity quite foreign to my intentions, I must suppress them, and request the reader to take for granted, for the purpose of this survey, the existence of these superior haunts of London prostitution.
    Accommodation Houses.
- Accommodation houses for casual use only, the maisons de passe [houses of call] of London, wherein permanent lodgers are not received, are diffused throughout the capital; neither its wealth nor poverty exempting a district from their presence. I have not, and I believe that no other person has, any guide to their numbers or classification. I have seen various numerical estimates of these and other houses in print, some of them professing to be from public sources; but I attach in this respect little value to even those I have obtained from the police, as their framers seem neither to have settled for themselves or for the public the precise meanings of terms they employ. In the restricted sense in which I have employed the words accommodation house', I believe their number is limited. Few persons to whom I have spoken are now aware of more than four or five within two or three west end parishes, and as they almost invariably name the same, I am strengthened in my opinion that these lupanaria are few. It were more desirable, indeed, that they should multiply than either class of the brothel proper above described; or that clandestine prostitution should be largely carried on in houses devoted to legitimate trades, and inhabited presumedly by modest females. The thorough elasticity of prostitution is shown in this as well as other ways; that there being a demand for more numerous and dispersed places of transient accommodation than at present exists, within the last few years numerous coffee-houses and legitimate taverns, at which in former days no casual lodgers would have been admitted, without scrutiny, now give accommodation of the kind, for the part openly, or when not exactly so, on exhibition of a slight apology for travelling baggage. This appears very clearly from the return for 1868, in which, for the first time, these houses are noticed, and in which they reach the important figure of 229. In addition to these coffee-shops, there are many restaurants at which people can obtain private rooms by ordering refreshments. Many abandoned women also are occupiers of houses, and though they do not receive lodgers, will, for a consideration and by arrangement, permit their rooms to be made use of by other women for immoral purposes. They naturally have a large acquaintance among prostitutes of their own class, so that it may be reasonably supposed that a large amount of illicit intercourse is in this way carried on; at the same time these houses are so quietly kept, that police supervision is, as regards them, impossible. The number of houses in the occupation of prostitutes has, it is true, materially decreased of late years, but is still considerable, Pimlico being the chief centre around which these women congregate. Formerly accommodation houses abounded, and were to be found in all parts of the town, some streets being entirely filled with them. Among others, I may mention Oxendon Street, close to the Hay- market; the front doors of the houses in this street were habitually left half open. King's Court was another locale in which several houses had existed from time immemorial; the narrow thoroughfare of Wych Street had also acquired an evil notoriety, the houses in this street, though ostensibly shops, being in reality all used for purposes of prostitution. Parish prosecutions have achieved the closing of most of these dens of iniquity, and the police returns show that the number of such houses throughout the metropolis has decreased to 132, against 649 in 1857, and 848 in 1841.
    The few accommodation houses of London are generally thronged with custom, and their proprietors are of the same order as, and perhaps make even more money than, those of the lodging-houses. Their tariffs are various, and the accommodation afforded ranges between luxury and the squalor of those ambiguous dens, half brothel and half lodging-house, whose inhabitants pay their twopences nightly. I believe that disorder is rarely encountered or courted by any casual frequenters of such places, and that in all of them but the vilest of the vile, the proprietors would be for their own sakes the last to countenance it, and the first to call in the aid of the law. This prosecution by parishes has had the effect of increasing the expense of using such of these houses as still exist. At the date of the introduction of the former edition of this work, the average sum charged for the hire of a room was about five shillings, but now the sum exacted for similar accommodation is never less than ten shillings, in the West End of London. In the East End and over the water, the numbers and the tariff remain as small as they were twelve years ago.

William Acton, Prostitution, Considered in its Moral, Social and Sanitary Aspects, 2nd edition 1870

MARGARET DAY, aged 13, SUSAN DAY, aged 10, and KATE BREWER, aged 9, were brought by Mr. Stephenson of the Rescue of Young Children Reformatory and Refuge Union, under the provisions of the Industrial Schools Amendment Act, with the object of obtaining a magisterial order to remove them from immoral associations. It was shown that the children were living with their parents in a house of ill-fame in Macklin-street, Drury-lane, but it was not suggested that the parents led immoral lives. The Act, however, provided against "the lodging, living or residing" in a house occupied by women of the description mentioned. The children were removed to the workhouse pending the decision of the magistrate.

The Times, October 15, 1886

see also Henry Vigar-Harris in London at Midnight -click here

At BOW-STREET, THOMAS HOLLYMAN AND HENRIETTA HOLLYMAN, his wife, were charged, before Sir John Bridge, with keeping a disorderly house in Craven-street, Strand. Mr. Harry Wilson prosecuted on behalf of the vestry of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. Prisoners were defended by Mr. Moyses. The prisoners kept what they described as a private hotel in the street named, but according to the prosecution - and this was supported by police evidence - they allowed their rooms to be used for improper purposes. It was proved that the male prisoner was fined ?40 at Bow-street a short time ago for allowing improper practices at the same house. Evidence was also given to show that he had undergone three months imprisonment for keeping a disorderly house in the neighbourhood of King's-cross. Sir John Bridge said there could be no doubt as to the guilt of the male prisoner. The Strand was infested with prostitutes and these proceedings were quite justified. These houses were a nuisance to the public and a shame to the neighbourhood. The man was fine ?10, and ordered to find two sureties in ?100 each to be of good behaviour for 12 months; in default three months' hard labour. The woman (who is suffering from cancer) was bound over in her own recognizances to come up for judgment if called upon and did not give up the house at once.

The Times, January 19, 1894

see also 'Restaurants and Hotels' in Life in West London - click here