Harris's List of Covent-Garden Ladies:
or Man of Pleasure's Kalendar
An Exact Description of the most celebrated Ladies of Pleasure who frequent Covent Garden, and other parts of this Metropolis. 1
The List of Covent-Garden Ladies was an annual publication that sold around 8,000 copies; first published in the 1740's it enjoyed a successful run for around half a century. It was naturally supposed for many years that the 'Harris' identified in the title as the author of the work was one John Harrison otherwise known as 'Jack Harris', the self-proclaimed 'Pimp General of All England'. It has now however been established that the true author of the work was a gentleman named Samuel Derrick, who simply licenced the use of Harris's name in return for an agreed royalty.
By now you may have gathered that the contents of this extradordinary publication was nothing more or less than a catalogue of London prostitutes, listing their names (often thinly disguised as Miss R_ss) addressess, physical characteristics, particular specialities, and of course most importantly their fees.
Here is an account of one young woman from the 1773 edition;
Miss M__tague is a well-shaped girl, about twenty-three, good-natured and said to be thoroughly experienced in the whole art and mysterie of Venus's tactics and as soon reduce a perpendicular to less than the curve of a parabola. She is rather generous and you may sometimes find your way in there free of expence.
Or from the 1780 edition, the entry for a Miss B____rn. of No. l8 Old Compton Street, Soho;
This accomplished nymph has just attained her eighteenth year, and fraught with every perfection, enters a volunteer in the field of Venus. She plays on the pianofort, sings, dances, and is mistress of every Maneuver in the amorous contest that can enhance the coming pleasure; is of the middle stature, fine auburn hair, dark eyes and very inviting countenance, which ever seems to beam delight and love. In bed she is all the heart can wish, or eyes admires every limb is symmetry, every action under cover truly amorous; her price two pounds.
The list was also not shy of alerting its readers to those women who were best avoided, and happily condemned a Pol Forestor for having "breath worse than a Welch bagpipe" and warned against the "contaminated carcase" of a certain Miss Young from the Turk's Head Bagnio.
Containing the Histories and Some Curious Anecdotes of the Most Celebrated Ladies Now on the Town 3
It is worth noting that since the average wage at the time was around a pound a week, two pounds was a fairly large sum of money. Therefore the eighty or so young ladies whose charms Jack Harris took the trouble to detail each year in his publication represented very much the top of the market.
A 'common whore' could be purchased in London for a shilling, perhaps two or three shillings would be necessary if you wanted to enjoy the luxury of enjoying her company in a reasonably comfortable bedroom set aside for the purpose in a local establishment. There were thousands of such women in the London of the eighteenth century; one estimate for 1797 put the total number at 50,000, which was around one in ten of the total female population of the city at the time. 2
Covent Garden was then simply one of the centres of the trade in London , the location of a large number of brothels. The List of Covent-Garden Ladies was by no means a complete enumeration of the available women, merely a selection targeted at those gentlemen wealthy enough to afford to purchase his publication.
The List was a product of an age that was, in many ways, far more tolerant of such things. It was almost an accepted part of life in Georgian England that wealthy gentlemen of society would frequent prostitutes; it was the age of the courtesan, when the most prominent (and most expensive) of all business women were the trend-setters of fashionable society.
But the mood turned against such open displays of 'immorality' and the end came when a certain Mr. Aitken was convicted at the Kings Bench for the offence of publishing Harris's List on the 10th November 1795 and appeared no more.
Copies have of course survived, most notably in the Private Case Collection at the British Library, which until very recently was kept under lock and key. In our more 'enlightened' age various publishers (see www.pickeringchatto.com and www.adam-matthew-publications.co.uk) are now re-printing various facimile editions of Jack Harris's notorious old list.
Should you be fortunate enough to have a copy of Jack Harris's List of Covent-Garden Ladies in your posession, look after it. A copy of the 1790 edition was sold for £5,170 at auction in March of this year.
An image of the frontespiece of the List of Covent-Garden Ladies for the year of 1793 can be found at www.orgasm-girl.com/bizarre_facts.html, amongst other things.
1 The subtitle of the 1773 edition of the List
2According to Patrick Colquhoun, in his Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis quoted in the www.jasa.net.au source
3 The subtitle of the 1793 edition of the List
- See Hallie Rubenold The Covent Garden Ladies: Pimp General Jack and the Extraordinary Story of Harris's list (Tempus, 2005)
- Lauren Mier, Sporting Ladies at http://las.alfred.edu/~egl/grove/1998/egl313/reports/laurenhistory.html
- Martin F. Downs, Naughty Georgians see www.alicubi.com/pictures/georgian_01.html
- Lusty list sells for £5,000 from http://www.eveningstandard.co.uk/entertainment/books/articles/3815060?source=Evening%20Standard
- Background information on Georgian prostitution from The Jane Austen Society of Australia Inc. website at http://www.jasa.net.au/london/prostitution.htm