see also Regulation of Prostitution - click here
At the corner of Jermyn Street, I ran straight into a man walking with bowed head and sunk in meditation.
He looked up at the impact - it was my friend Lionel! His expression was gloomy,
his whole attitude dejected. This unexpected meeting seemed to cause him no
'What about having a lobster?' he asked.
The oyster bars were all lit up and full of people. Lionel chose his lobster, motioned me towards a box, sat down heavily and asked for brandy. We scarcely spoke, no allusion was made to the subject of our argument, and the noisy conviviality of the parties around us, who seemed to be enjoying both their supper and the disreputable company they kept, failed to raise his spirits.
He is naturally of a cheerful disposition, so I felt some compunction at having so thoroughly upset him. As we rose to leave, a brazen-looking prostitute, flashily dressed and with dirty feathers drooping from her bonnet, asked us if she might finish our lobster and have a drink. Lionel, turning away, ordered half a pint of brandy for her and we went out.
Francis Wey, A Frenchman Sees the English in the Fifties, 1935
see also J. Ewing Ritchie in The Night Side of London - click here
see also George Sala in Twice Round the Clock - click here
About the top of this thoroughfare is diffused, every night, a very large
part of what is blackguard, ruffianly, and deeply dangerous in London.
If Piccadilly may be termed an artery of the Metropolis, most assuredly
that strip of pavement between the top of the Haymarket and the Regent
Circus is one of its ulcers. By day, the greater part of the shops and houses
betray the character of the locality. Some there are, indeed, respectable;
but they appear to have got there by chance, and must feel uncomfortable;
the questionable ones preponderate. Observe the stale, drooping lobsters,
the gaping oysters, the mummified cold fowl with its trappings of flabby
parsley, and the pale fly-spotted cigars; and then look into the chemist's
windows, and see, by the open display, in which direction his chief trade
tends. Study the character of the doubtful people you see standing in
doorways - always waiting for somebody as doubtful as themselves - and
wonder what the next plant' is to be, which they are now cogitating. It is
always an offensive place to pass, even in the daytime; but at night it is
absolutely hideous, with its sparring snobs, and flashing satins, and sporting gents, and painted cheeks, and brandy-sparkling eyes, and bad
tobacco, and hoarse horse-laughs, and loud indecency. Cross to the other
side of the way, go out into the mud, get anywhere rather than attempt to
force your passage through this mass of evil; for it will most probably
happen - as if this conglomeration of foul elements was not enough to stop
the polluted stream trying to flow on - that a brass band has formed a
regular dam before the gin-shop, so dense that nothing can disturb it,
except the tawdry bacchantes blundering about the pavement to its music.
I am not an ultramoralist. I have been long enough fighting the battles of
life upon town, to stand a great deal that is very equivocal, unflinchingly: but I do say, that this corner of the Haymarket is a cancer in the great heart
of the Metropolis, and a shame and a disgrace to the supervision of any
police. A convivial 'drunky', who inclines to harmony as he goes home at
night, when there is not a soul in his way to be annoyed, by expressing his
confidence, through all changes, in dog Tray's fidelity, has been quieted,
before this, by a knock on the head from a truncheon. A poor apple-
woman, striving to earn a wretched pittance against the birth of an infant
evidently not far off, is chased from post to pillar by any numbered letter
of the alphabet; but here, wanton wickedness riots unchecked. The edge
of the pavement is completely blockaded. If you happen to be accompanied by wife, daughter, sister, any decent woman, and to be waiting, or
not waiting for one of the omnibuses that must pass there - go anywhere,
do anything, rather than attempt to elbow through the phalanx of rogues,
and thieves, and nameless shames and horrors.
From an extensive continental experience of cities, I can take personally an example from three-quarters of the globe; but I have never anywhere witnessed such open ruffianism and wretched profligacy as rings along those Piccadilly flagstones any time after the gas is lighted.
It is during the weeks of Epsom, Ascot, and Hampton, that the disciples of Thurtell's school of pursuits hold high festival. Two or three years back, there were various betting houses here, with their traps always set open to catch their prey; but although these are abolished, something of the kind is still going on, which the police know (or pretend to know) nothing about. The swarm of low sporting ruffians hovering about here, at all times, is incredible. You know they have all figured, are figuring, or will figure, in card-cheating cases and dirty bill transactions. They have all the bandy legs and tight trousers, the freckled faces and speckled hands, and grubby, dubby nails that distinguish this fraternity. Theirs are the strong-flavoured cigar and highly-coloured brandy, the snaffle coat-links, and large breast-pin, the vulgar stock, and the hat-band - always the hat-band; is it a last clinging to respectability, to show that there was somebody belonging to them once? And when to this unsavoury locust-cloud the closing casino adds its different but equally obstructive swarm, and they all flutter about in the lamp-lights, amidst an admiring audience of pickpockets, flower-sellers, rich country fools, who think they are 'seeing life', and poor scamps who show it to them, such a witch's cauldron is seething in the public eye, and splashing in the face of decency, as is quite intolerable to this land at this date.
I entreat the intelligent magistrates in whose division ROGUES' WALK lies, to leave their dinner-tables some evening, and go and judge for themselves whether it is anybody's business to do anything towards the correction of this scene of profligacy. Why should no quiet person be able to walk upon its skirts, unmolested, and why should all modest ears and eyes be shocked and outraged in one of the greatest thoroughfares of this Metropolis?
Albert Smith, Household Words, 12th September 1857
Thursday, 2 June . . . I walked home about 4 a.m. - broad daylight. The street scenes at that hour, especially at the top of the Haymarket, were quite Hogarthian. The last stragglers were just reeling out of the 'Pic', & talking or squabbling outside: two gentlemen in evening dress, a few unwashed foreigners, several halfdrunken prostitutes, one of whom, reeling away, drops her splendid white bonnet in the gutter, & another dances across the street, showing her legs above the knee: languid waiters in shirt sleeves stand looking on from their doors: two or three cabmen doze on the box behind their dozing horses: and a ragged beggarwoman skulks along in the shadow of the houses. Beyond them all, looking out for a dignus vindice nodus, stands with dead calm face the Rhadamanthine Peeler.
Arthur Munby, Diary, 1859