Secret History Of Georgian London
How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital
Date of publication: September 2010
Publisher: Random House
Georgian London evokes images of elegant buildings and fine art, but it was also a city where prostitution was rife, houses of ill repute widespread, and many tens of thousands of people dependent in some way or other on the wages of sin. The sex industry was, in fact, a very powerful force indeed, and in The Secret History of Georgian London, Dan Cruickshank compellingly shows how it came to affect almost every aspect of life and culture in the capital.
His approach is an ambitiously wide-ranging one. He examines the nature of the sex trade and the sort of people who became involved in it. He looks at the ways in which it shaped the building of Georgian London, from the smart new streets that sprang up in Marylebone to the squalid alleys around Charing Cross, and from the coffee houses where many prostitutes operated to the popular bathhouses, or bagnios, now known to us often only from fleeting references and tantalising archaeological remains. He examines the impact of prostitution on the arts and, in particular, on such artists as William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds. And he discusses the very varied attitudes of contemporaries – those who sympathised (the writer Richard Steele, for example), those who indulged (including the notorious Sir Francis Dashwood), and those who condemned (not least Saunders Welch, author of A Proposal to Render Effectual a Plan to Remove the Nuisance of Common Prostitutes from the Streets of This Metropolis). Finally, he draws on memoirs, newspaper accounts and court records to give us vivid portraits of some of the women who became involved in the world of prostitution. As Dan Cruickshank powerfully argues, these women, and many thousands like them, shaped eighteenth-century London, and they also helped determine its future development.