Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies: A Guide to 18th Century England’s Prostitutes

Before the “Adult” section on Craigslist or hookup sites, there was Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies. Printed annually between 1757 and 1795, this pocket-sized guidebook acted as a directory to Georgian London’s prostitutes.
a
Harris's_List
Title page of a 1773 edition of Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
a
Each issue featured 120-190 prostitutes who worked in or near Covent Gardens, often giving erotic details and reviews on the woman’s appearance and sexual prowess. The entries would provide the woman’s age, sexual fortes, and physical appearance. In describing a woman’s looks, sometimes breast size would be included.
a
Sidenote: How was that determined? Did the authors, all male, compare a lady’s breasts to apples or cantaloupes? I could almost hear that description spoken in my head in an overly-stuffy aristocratic voice: “And by placing thy hands on Kitty’s snowy white orbs, thou shall find her as voluptuous as a juicy, ruby-red apple.”
a
Other details included whether or not a prostitute could sing, play an instrument, or gave witty conversation. Addresses and rates were included in the entries. Oftentime not all the praise was flowery. There were prostitutes who received scathing reviews from the authors of Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies for disgusting habits, indifference, or wearing too much makeup.
a
A_woman_of_all_trades_from_covent_garden
Example of a Covent Garden prostitute. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
a
The authors of Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies is questionable. The forerunner was a poor writer named Samuel Derrick. He sought to make a name for himself as a writer but lived in poor conditions with an actress named Jane Lessingham.
a
It’s been put forward by British historian Hallie Rubenhold that a man named John Harrison, also known as Jack Harris, assisted in putting together the first list. Jack Harris was a pimp—dubbing himself the “Pimp General of All England—who worked as the head waiter in Shakespear’s Head Tavern in Covent Gardens.
a
Harris arranged prostitutes for the tavern’s clientele. He kept a list of all the prostitutes he pimped, rooms he rented for his client’s, and properties he owned. Samuel Derrick also had connections to Shakespear’s Head Tavern. It’s assumed these two had some sort of relationship, but who first thought of writing Harris’s List is unknown. However, it’s likely Derrick accepted a payment to have his name applied to the publication.
a
Harris's_list;_or,_Cupid's_London_directory_LCCN2003675460
Captioned: “Harris’s List; or, Cupid’s London Directory.” Pictures a man holding his copy of Harris’s List in front of a brothel. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
a
After Harris died in 1769, the guidebook continued to be published by unknown authors. By the late 1780s it’s theorized a John Roach, James Roach and John Aitkin published the guide but its uncertain if these are pseudonyms or not.
a
Publication ended in 1795 as the authors were fined and charged with libel. Harris’s List had been very popular, selling an estimated 8,000 copies a year at between two and three shillings. It’s estimated 250,000 copies were sold during the guidebook’s entire run. If interested, existing copies have been digitized and included in online collections. Click here for a directory of digitized editions.
a
Further Readings:
a
Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies Archive, Maintained by the University of Pennsylvania
a
Harris’s List by Ben Johnson
a
a
a
a
a
The Covent Garden Ladies by Hallie Rubenhold (Book)

10 thoughts on “Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies: A Guide to 18th Century England’s Prostitutes

Add yours

  1. I don’t know if that guide is where the expression “Hot off the press” originated, but HARRIS’s LIST obviously kept London’s “MAN of PLEASURE” a-breast of Georgian London’s prostitutes. Seriously, though….sorry, I can’t think of anything serious to say.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: