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Harris's List - Introduction

Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies
Introduction to the Ex-Classics Edition

            The coarseness of the Georgian era in Britain contrasts with the strait-lacedness of the Victorian era which followed it. Great poverty and suffering contrasted with great wealth; drunkenness and debauchery were commonplace among all ranks of society. In the engravings of Hogarth, Gillray and Rowlandson we can see this clearly. There is one in particular Morning by Hogarth shows an early morning scene in Covent Garden. There is a brawl in a coffee-house, the destitute homeless scavenging discarded vegetables, beggars, respectable citizens on their way to church, and prostitutes with their clients. Prostitution was very widespread and shamelessly practised in Georgian London. The morality of the time allowed women no other status than virgin, wife or whore. Once a girl had been "ruined" (often by rape) there were very few other ways she could make a living than by selling her body, and there were very many who stood to benefit by taking their cut of her earnings; so much so that the entrapment of young girls was an important part of their profession.

            For the clients, there was a very wide choice; from high-class girls in their own houses to wretched street-walkers ready to perform in an alleyway for sixpence. Turnover was high; drink, imprisonment and venereal diseases took a rapid toll. Hogarth's Moll Hackabout was entrapped into prostitution at seventeen and was dead of syphilis at twenty-four. Every year there would be the arrival of new faces and the departure of old ones. There was thus a gap in the market for a guidebook for the use of clients, and Harris's List first appeared in 1756 and was published yearly until 1795, when it was suppressed by the authorities. Pocket size, and costing half a crown, it sold about 8,000 copies of each edition and at first listed upwards of a hundred and fifty women at different levels and prices. Later editions tended more towards the upper end of the market: price half a guinea and upwards.

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