or, Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies
By The Court Jester
As you tour London you will undoubtedly run into one of their distinctive red telephone booths. Clearly, in this age of cell phones, they are there as part of London’s ambiance carefully cultivated for the tourist’s delight. They also serve another function. Inside, as Bob’s your uncle, you’ll find the ubiquitous stacks of postcard size advertisements by women, and sometimes men, offering a variety of services of a sexual nature.
Printed with a picture, suggesting the type of service, on the glossy side and additional pertinent information on the back, I bet you a shilling you can create a collection within an hour, like baseball cards, that would be the envy of your pervy friends at home.
However, this may be too much for you and can send you scurrying into the British Museum. There you can feel relieved and erudite at the same time. But as you wander through the exhibits you may stumble across a copy of Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies among their collection of eighteenth-century manuscripts.
Basically, it was a directory of interesting and entertaining women published annually between the years 1757 and 1795. For a couple of shillings, you could purchase this listing of “prostitutes” listing their preferences and appearances. It put the adult services section of the Boston Phoenix to shame.
The charges of these services could run the equivalent of a lowly civil servant’s year’s wages, but a Miss Corbett had a novel approach: “She always measures a man’s maypole by a standard of nine inches and expects a guinea for every inch it is short of the full measure.” That would leave me more than several pounds short.
Dan Cruikshank in his book London’s Sinful Secret: The Bawdy History and Very Public Passions of London’s Georgian Age refers to a Mrs. Dodd of 6 Hind Court, Fleet Street who “after giving you a whole night’s entertainment is perfectly satisfied, and will give you a comfortable cup of tea in the morning, for one guinea.” How sweet. May I have another, Mistress?
The names of the providers of these various services often suggested their specialties such as Miss Birch, Jenny Speedyhand and Polly Nimblewrist. Often, the guide listed the obvious pseudonyms of clientele who, nonetheless, were readily identifiable among those in the know. It was a polite and surreptitious way of providing a verifiable reference.
Below is a brief reading list. Of particular note is Rubenhold’s Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies: Sex in the City in Georgian Britain. It provides selected highlights from various editions of the guide that you may find hilarious. Cheers!
London’s Sinful Secret: The Bawdy History and Very Public Passions of London’s Georgian Age
by Dan Cruickshank
The Covent Garden Ladies : Pimp General Jack and the Extraordinary Story of Harris’s List
by: Hallie Rubenhold
Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies: Sex in the City in Georgian Britain
by Hallie Rubenhold