Greater Soho

Submitted by edpope on

Introduction to a dataset (formerly called Red Light District). I started out researching the names and addresses in Harris's Lists of Covent Garden Ladies and found that the addresses were concentrated in certain streets in Soho and even more in the areas to the north of Soho around the Middlesex Hospital. These were prostitutes of a middle range, neither common street walkers nor the mistresses of lords, though some may have gone up and/or down that scale. But I found myself extending the research to all the inhabitants of the areas where these sex workers lived, where lodgers who rented a room or a floor of a house were a central part of the economy of the householders who were mostly small tradespeople, and the area had a certain fashionable edge as artists and foreigners congregated there too. In the late eighteenth century Covent Garden was no longer the main area for the "Covent Garden Ladies" and though the more disreputable parts of St Giles in the Fields and St Martins in the Fields had prosecutions for "disorderly houses" the Ladies in Harris's List were not to be found there.

The Morning Post of 18.8.1796 commented "It has been remarked that NEWMAN-STREET is inhabited by our best Artists at one side, and the Paphian Sisterhood on the other; but it is not mentioned whether the Ladies have followed the Gentlemen, or the Gentlemen the Ladies." (Paphian referred to the place Paphos sacred to Venus or Aphrodite in classical times). It is indeed still a valid question. Perhaps both groups found the area congenial for different reasons. In 1799 the artists James Heath and Thomas Stothard commenced a prosecution against William Jobson of Newman Street for keeping a disorderly house, so not all the artists were happy with their neighbours. And in fact it wasn't so much the two sides of Newman Street as that the brothels were at the north end of the street and on some side streets, with solid blocks of houses in the main part of the street that all featured in Boyle's Court Guides.

Reasonable guesses can be made that particular individuals were living off immoral earnings, or that they just turned a blind eye to their tenants' activities. But in most cases we can't know what the involvement of each householder in the sex trade was, or their attitude towards it. In two prosecutions in the Kings Bench Court in 1800, both concerning Queen Ann Street East,  Henry Bristow was acquitted of keeping a disorderly house as he was an absent landlord and claimed to have no control over his tenants, while John Ewer was found guilty of the same offence as he lived on the premises. Seems unjust to me. Many of the small tradesmen might have just happened to be sandwiched between two brothels. The prostitutes themselves are hard to identify, many may have taken the name of a man whose mistress they had been, or of their "protector", others may have adopted aristocratic sounding aliases to improve business, and just a few of them were the rate paying householders of their addresses in Harris's Lists, but that does confirm that the lists were genuine advertisements and not just titillation. The Lists can be read on Gale's Eighteenth Century Online, and you can probably get a cheap remaindered modern reprint of some. I find the descriptions of the ladies mildly nauseating, you might find them mildly erotic or amusing.

My present plan is to have entries in the London Addresses dataset for blocks of houses with an overview of the inhabitants. I began with Castle Street East 1 to 15, have now completed Poland Street in four sections and I've started on Newman Street. There are entries in the Greater Soho dataset for individual inhabitants, marked in the London Addresses entries with a (QV*). These datasets are my most ambitious project towards what I call the "total mapping of the past" which one day could be linked to 3D drawings of the houses which you can walk down as in a computer game, year by year and day by day. Of course this could be applied to any street, any town, any year, and prostitution was one of many trades which congregated in particular areas. Anyone with greater tech skills and interests than myself who wants to work with me on this please get in touch, see bottom of About This Site page for my contact details. (I do all this for love not money).