The Flaneur – a man who saunters around observing society is considered here, as are
Charles Booth (a social researcher investigating how people lived), John Stow and Charles
Dickens. The common traits of a Flaneur being a leisured, middle class gentleman who
moved anonymously among the streets of London in this blog. But what isn’t common in
the history of walking throughout London it the possibility of a THE FLANEUSE. The term
Flaneur came from 19th Century Paris attributed to Baudelaire. The one thing we learnt
from his writings is that a Flaneuse doesn’t exist: ’As if a penis were a requisite walking
appendage, like a cane’ (Elkin,2016, p.19).
Starting from Northumberland Avenue and ending at Covent Garden, the purpose of my
Walk around London was to show that Baudelaire was mistaken, in not identifying that the
hidden sex workers of the city, were in fact walking the streets of London, knowing the
city like the back of their hand, walking not for leisure but with purpose, what I like to
call the Unknown Flaneuses. This research explores: ‘Harris’s List of Covent Garden
Ladies: or Man of pleasure’s Kalender of the year 1788’ , using a website mapping of
where the women were working, also including vignettes of women he encountered. I am
focusing on the area of Charing Cross Station and Covent Garden,where profiles of 9
prostitutes were shown (though in the original text there was 93 entries).
© copyrights, 2016 Romantic London, http://www.romanticlondon.org/harris-list-1788/
Outlined in blue are the ladies i focused on
The Route I walked
Using a printed out copy of the area’s map, and red markers to indicate the prostitute’s
locations and my phone for Google Maps, my walk began outside the Sherlock Holmes Pub
on Northumberland Street. Knowing this street all too well, from having worked at the
pub, it was a little difficult to estimate where the documented prostitutes had been
found; here once stood ‘Miss Jenny, No 33, Northumberland Street, Strand’. This almanac
seems to romanticises them, ignoring the horror involved. The description of Miss Jenny is 25 tells us: ‘what makes more disgusting, her other imperfection, is her violent attachment to drinking’ (pp.138-139 hints at her harsh reality of the job that she was undertaking. Knowing that the building where she was shown standing in 1788, but that the street was not built until 1850, it is hard to imagine why she was outside that specific address, which is now a loading depot for a building site and Waterstones. The street itself (Picture 1) is/was close enough to the busy London life but still a little hidden, perhaps she didn’t draw any attention to herself, but get the clientele she needed. Even now the street is still rather dark and out of the way.
Picture 1, Northumberland Street
Walking north onto the Strand and crossing over onto St Duncan Street, trying to find
Church Court to find where the next Lady of the Night supposedly stood, this no longer
exists, the street having being rebuilt. So roughly estimating that the entrance from
behind St Martins Church, to the street is the entrance for the London Underground, as if
she had been subsumed into the underworld.
An anonymous walker once declared that: ‘Charing Cross had little else but Concubines in
all lodgings, and nothing but lascivious Looks seen in the Chamber windows…’ lodgings
were where the poorer prostitutes took their pickups’ (Arnold, 2010, p.112). Sitting down
on a step trying to imagine the woman that Harris so delicately describes as beautiful and
genteel: “that would make a monk disregard his vowel of celibacy” (pp. 68-69), but I
found this was hard to envision
Returning to the Strand in search of Duke Street, I strolled down Villers Street (next to
Charing Cross Station), on my left I tried to find the street called Duke Street, which is
now called John Adams Street.
Down the road from the RA Building, Built during the Georgian period around 1754.
Coincidentally this was where this lady of the night was standing which happened to also be right outside the Adelphi, designed by the Adam Brothers. Also (16 Durham house -see
picture 2- was incorporated into the Adelphi as seen in the picture) which was the area
where Charles Booth and Charles Dickens ,both considered flaneurs, had lived. This was the 3rd location (Picture 3) where the ‘street walker’ must have positioned herself, what can be said is that the women knew the best places to wander and find the clientele that
could pay well. But she was only 16 years old (pp. 80-81) and probably easily coerced in to
prostitution due to desperate living conditions (Arnold, 2010, p.113).
Picture 2, Durham House Picture 3, John Adams Street
Continuing along John Adams Street, and coming out back on the Strand, I made my way
to Tavistock Street where the fourth account of the prostitute took place: ‘Miss S-tt-n, No.
31, Tavistock Street’(pp.69-70). The location seemed like all the rest, a back-alley type, it
was very quiet, even though it was 4:00pm on a pre Christmas Saturday, her job post was
roughly where the back entrance to the Jubilee market is now.
Our 5th working lady, ‘Miss-C-p-r, at a china shop, Russell Court’ (pp.70-71), no longer
would have worked at Russell Court but Tavistock Street, which remains as quiet and as
little isolated as the rest . She was one street away from the Drury Lane Theatre, ready to
lure a gentleman into her services she might have said: ‘Dear, will you give me a glass of
wine; take me under your cloak, my Soul, and how does your precious C do’ (Burford,
Lady number 6, worked on the corner of Russell Street, which would be the home the
Marquees of Anglesey Pub, which could have been the Goats Tavern, explaining the lady’s
location as lady number 7 who was on the opposite side of the road, Charles Street, now
Bow street, which is now the home to Balthazar restaurant.
Ladies 8 and 9 were to be found on Convent Garden, one would be standing outside the
Transport Museum and another at the entrance to the Jubilee market. Covent Garden was
a hot bed for prostitutes ‘walking around until they were addressed directly’ (Arnold,2010,
From looking at that map in which these women have be placed, compared to the modernday
map I can already see the differences and how much London has changed, as well how
many women were to be found in such a close proximity. What was noticeable was how
close they were too busy places, such as the Drury Lane theatre, Covent Garden market,
the Adelphi, Covent Garden theatre, Northumberland Gardens and Hungerford Market
(Now Charing Cross Station). I found it very difficult to imagine the areas during the
Georgian period, but I still got an essence of the area, as well as the difference in the city.
Can you image a prostitute standing in these parts of the city now?
- Arnold, Catharine. City of Sin: London and Its Vices. London: Simon & Schuster, 2010
- Burford, E J and Jay Wotton. Public Vices – Public Virtues: Bawdry in London from
Elizabethan Times to the Regency. London: Robert Hale, 1995
- Elkin, Lauren. Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and
London. United Kingdom: Chatto & Windus, 2016.