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Gentle Readers, Frequent contributor Tony Grant has supplied us with yet another treat: a post about door knockers. After you have read it, you will want to hop on over to his blog, London Calling, in which he describes his trip to Venice. 

The quintessential door knocker in Georgian architecture is the brass lion head with a large brass ring gripped in its mouth. It has been used as a symbol of Great Britain for centuries. Trafalgar Square has four enormous bronze lions positioned on great granite plinths at the four corners of the base of Nelson’s Column. They are made from the melted down bronze from canons captured from French ships at The Battle of Trafalgar.

Lions at the base of Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square. Image @The Illustrated London News

All coats of arms relating to the monarchy have lions as a prominent feature of their design, usually rampant. Lions have been used symbolically since the Paleolithic period.

Egyptian lion sculpture carved out of limestone, Louvre

The Egyptians carved sphinxes, half man, half lion. They symbolise power and strength, courage and fortitude.

Heraldic lion

You can go to any part of London and you will come across Victorian or Georgian housing still with their original door furniture. Very often the door furniture will include a brass lion head door knocker. This could be a sign of Victorian and Georgian confidence. A sign for people of the greatest and largest empire the world has ever known. For the visitor it is their first contact with the house and a way of communicating their arrival by lifting the knocker and rapping it smartly against its back plate. The back plate to a lion head knocker is the lion’s head.

Lion door knocker. Image @Tony Grant

Knocking on a door does two things. First it makes the visitor take hold of the house. The hand grips the knocker. It is a like a handshake; a very English form of greeting. Secondly, through the sound of the knock it communicates to the occupants that somebody is visiting. The way the door is knocked can express other things too like haste, frustration, timidity or confidence.

Front door with lion knocker. Image @Tony Grant

The fact that many Georgian houses have door knockers that are the originals means that we today in the 21st century, who are still using these door knockers to gain entrance, have a palpable, physical connection to people from past generations and from all classes of a past society.

Downstairs to the servant's quarters, Bath. Image @Tony Grant

The servants belonging to the Georgian household would not have used the doorknocker of their own house. They would have slipped down the flight of stone steps near the front gate, to the servant’s quarters in the basement. However a footman or servant sent with a message or communication from another household would have used the front door knocker. The owners of the house would have knocked to alert their footman to open the door to them and their friends would have knocked to gain entrance too.

Door knocker made of brass. Image @Ruby Lane

A lot of door knockers are made from brass. Some are iron. Brass is a very special metal. It has a golden lustre when polished and expresses wealth, a friendly glow and a welcoming feel. Iron on the other hand can be aggressive and harsh. Iron against iron can cause a spark. It can rust and have unfriendly qualities. Brass on the other hand is benign. It is a malleable metal and has acoustic properties. In fact the brass door knocker on a Georgian front door can almost be regarded as a percussion instrument. The solid wooden door is the drum skin and the entrance hall behind it is the chamber within which the sound resonates and vibrates.

J. L. Settle door knocker at Portsmouth

Brass is used for many purposes, including bullet cases, artillery shell casings, horse accoutrements, locks, bearings, gears, musical instruments, horns and bells. It does not create a spark. It is low friction.

Brass is an alloy, which almost makes it a magical thing. It is an alloy of copper and zinc. The proportions can vary between the two metals to create different qualities in the brass. It is a substitutional alloy. This means that when the copper and zinc are melted together they replace some of each other’s atoms with their own atoms. Brass has been made since Roman times. You can imagine in the middle ages or earlier and perhaps even up to Georgian times people regarded blacksmiths and workers of metals almost as magicians being able to smelt ores and extract pure metals from their furnaces to make the most magical things. Brass is a difficult alloy to make, even more so than other alloys. Copper can be smelted easily but zinc cannot be smelted from it’s ore. Brass has to be created through what is called a cementation process. This is when smelted copper is mixed with the unsmelted zinc ore. This means that many impurities are included and the slag that is created has to be carefully separated during the alloy creating process. Zinc comes from rocks called hemimorphite and smithsonite. Lead is something that is also added to some brass alloys to create a different quality. However, sometimes, the lead leaches from the finished brass. Imagine that rubbing onto some unsuspecting visitors hands. Particles of lead unseen on the hands and transferred to the mouth and the digestive system.


That thought lends new credence to the famous scene in Charles Dickens a Christmas Carol when Scrooge returns home on a cold misty winters night,

Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large.  It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery.  Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon.  And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face.

Marley’s face.  It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.  It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead.  The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.  That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

Another form of door knocker - that of a Roman god wearing a laurel wreath, Bath. Image@Tony Grant

As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.

To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue.  But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, walked in, and lighted his candle.”

Was it lead poisoning that was rotting Scrooges brain or just tiredness, misery, the cold and mist and darkness playing tricks with his imagination and senses?

Filing a door knocker. Image @History.org Foundation Journal

To make a lion head door knocker a few technical and difficult processes have to be carried out. A mould has to be made. A carver carves a lion head pattern out of wood. A mould maker uses a box filled with a mixture of sand and clay to make a fire-proof  mould. The wooden pattern is pressed into the sand and clay composite and a lion head knocker mould is thus created. The molten alloy of copper and zinc that creates the brass is then poured into the mould and left to cool and solidify. When cold the brass knocker can be extracted and filed and sanded down to get rid of any rough surfaces. In this process, craftsmen, metal workers geologists and miners would form a trail of work and economy. Finally the finished  door knocker would have been sold to a carpenter making a door to then be sold to a builder who would fix the door in the house he made for a new purchaser.

Door knocker at the Brighton dome at the Brighton Pavilion, early 19th c.

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This 1808 image of an old vendor woman selling salop in London seems simple at first glance. Created by William H Pyne for The Costumes of Great Britain (one of 60 beautifully produced hand-colored drawings), the image shows the vendor surrounded by customers waiting for a warm drink, which she pours fresh and hot into white bowls from a samovar (still). One wonders if the sight was common enough for Jane Austen to have observed it during her visits to her brother Henry in London, or if she purchased the drink or had tasted it. This description shows how even a whiff of  salop caused the writer to wax eloquently about the drink, which he had liked long ago:

Suddenly we came upon a still, whence arose the steam of Early Purl, or Salop, flattering our senses. Ye Gods ! what a breakfast ! In vain a cautious scepticism suggests that the liquid was one which my palate would now shudderingly reject; perhaps so; I did not reject it then; and in memory the flavour is beatified. I feel its diffusive warmth stealing through me. I taste its unaccustomed and exquisite flavour. Tea is great, coffee greater ; chocolate, properly made, is for epicures; but these are thin and characterless compared with the salop swallowed in 1826. That was nectar, and the Hebe who poured it out was not a blear-eyed old woman, though to vulgar vision she may have presented some such aspect. – Unctuous Memories, The Cornhill Magazine, 1863 p. 613-617

The problem is not with the drawing; it is with the definition of salop, which is variously spelled salop, salep, saloop, and even sahlib. Experts have offered several explanations and recipes of the drink. I examined three sources, all of which offer different ingredients. Even dictionaries from the 19th century cannot agree with the precise meaning of the drink that was commonly served in coffee houses and stalls and on the streets of London. We can, however, agree on a few observations. A night watchman stands behind the vendor and her mobile table. Thus, salop was a typical nightly drink of Londoners.

Sold between midnight and 6-7 o’clock in the morning for some it was the probate cure of a hang-over while the early birds drank it for invigoration and warming up. (Luder H. Niemeyer)

Detail of the chimney sweep drinking salop

Salop was definitely popular during the first part of the 19th century.

Charles Lamb, in his essay upon Chimney Sweeps, mentions the public house of Mr. Reed, on Fleet street in London, as a place where Sassafras tea (and Salop) were still served daily to customers in his time, about 1823.

The hot mixture was affordable even for the lowly chimney sweep, who is seen drinking from a bowl. But how was the drink made? The Hobson-Jobson: The Anglo-Indian Dictionary, first published in 1886,  says that salop was derived from the tubers of various species of orchis found around Europe. It had the reputation of being a restorative and highly nutritious, and a decoction of the substance, spiced and sweetened, was thought to make an agreeable drink for invalids. – p. 784.

The tea woman sitting behind her street booth – a mobile table with samovar – amidst varied customers, just filling another cup of her much demanded herb-tea. Aquatint printed in color and colored by hand for William Miller in London. 1805.

Hobson-Jobson went on to say that in 1889 a correspondent wrote that the term could also be applied to an infusion of the sassafras bark or wood. Sassafras was imported from the colonies; it did not grow in Europe.

There is also the question of what time of day people preferred to drink salop.  In 1850, a source stated that sassafras tea, flavoured with milk and sugar, was sold at daybreak in the streets of London as saloop. In 1882, The St. James’s Gazette said:

Here we knock against an ambulant salep-shop (a kind of tea that people drink on winter mornings); there against roaming oil, salt, or water-vendors, bakers carrying brown bread on wooden trays, pedlars with cakes, fellows offering dainty little bits of meat to the knowing purchaser.”

From the description, one gets the true flavor of an early morning street scene – its sights, smells, and sounds . One also gains the sense that salop was sold much like coffee today – that there was a preferred time to drink it, but that it could be obtained at all hours. But what about the recipe? Was it made with Sassafras bark or with orchis root?

Gourmet Britain says it was made with orchis root, and provides the reader with a history and recipe.  Soupabooks mentions that it was made of dried sassafras bark and offers this recipe:

To make Salop

Put a Tea spoonfull of  Salop to a Pint of Water, with 3 or 4 Blades of Mace, & some Lemmon Peel cut very thin. Boyl it, & Mill it as you do Chocolate, Sweeten it to your Taste; add some grated Nutmeg, & juice of Lemon to make it Palateable. — Mrs. B.P. Benet, Lathrop Lodge, Swindon, Wilts. From her Book of Recipes from about 1796.

Note that Mrs. B.P. Benet does not describe the Salop, but simply assumes that the reader will know what ingredient to purchase. The salop made with sassafras bark would have a slight taste of licorice.

Early American settlers learned from American Indians how to brew sassafras tea from the root bark and drank it has an herbal remedy. Later they made sassafras the original root in root beer and used it as an important ingredient in Sasparilla, a different but related beverage. Those first Sassafras supporters didn’t know how or why it tasted so good, but a few hundred years later, we do. Sassafras root contains an essential oil called safrole which imparts that characteristic licorice flavor.

Charles Lamb. Image @NNDB

Charles Lamb in his essay about Chimney Sweeps corroborates the sassafras root ingredient:

There is a composition, the groundwork of which I have understood to be the sweet wood yclept sassafras. This wood boiled down to a kind of tea, and tempered with an infusion of milk and sugar, hath to some tastes a delicacy beyond the China luxury. I know not how thy palate may relish it, I have never ventured to dip my own particular lip in a basin, a cautious premonition to the olfactories constantly whispering to me, that my stomach must infallibly, with all due courtesy, decline it. Yet I have seen palates otherwise not uninstructed in dietetical elegancies, sup it up with avidity. This is salop—the precocious herbwoman’s darling—the delight of the early gardener who transports his smoking cabbages from Hammersmith to Covent Garden’s famed piazzas—the delight, and oh ! I fear too often the envy of the unpennied sweep.” – Unctuous Memories, The Cornhill Magazine, 1863 p. 613-617

To complicate matters even more, I found this description of salop:  “The tea produced from the male root of the Ragged Robin, so-called salop, was the typical nightly drink of Londoners.” (Luder H. Niemeyer) Ragged Robin seems to be the common name for the cuckooflower lychnis, which is a perennial that has very hardy, fibrous roots. Since Ragged Robin was not mentioned in other encyclopedias, descriptions, or dictionaries that I consulted, I will discount this ingredient from the discussion.

Sassafras root bark. Image @ Vermont Fiddle Heads

The following is a sampling of definitions of Salop, Salep, or Saloop from various dictionaries:

  • an aromatic drink prepared from sassafras bark and other ingredients. – Online Encyclopedia
  •  salop (or saloop, a hot starchy drink made with an infusion of dried salep, or orchid tubers) – Science and Society Picture Library
  • An aromatic drink prepared from sassafras bark and other ingredients , at one time much used in London . – – J . Smith ( Dict . Econ . “Saloop” is a common misspelling or typo for: Salop. – Webster’s Online Dictionary
  • saloop/seuh loohp”/, n.: a hot drink prepared originally from salep but later from sassafras, together with milk and sugar. [1705-15; var. of SALEP] – Collaborative International Dictionary
  • Salep, sal′ep, n. the dried tubers of Orchis mascula: the food prepared from it.—Also Sal′op. [Ar.Salep from Arabic: سحلب saḥlab‎, is a flour made from grinding the dried tubers of the orchid genus Orchis (including species Orchis mascula and Orchis militaris). These tubers contain a nutritious starch-like polysaccharide called glucomannan. Salep flour is consumed today in beverages and desserts, in places that were formerly part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The term salep may also refer to any beverage made with the salep flour. – Wikipedia

So which ingredient did Pyne’s old female vendor use to make her salop? Orchis tubers, which were found in Europe, or dried Sassafras bark,which had to be imported? In any case, one shudders at the thought of the bowls that the vendor used to pour the drink in for her customers. I see no water jug near at hand to rinse the bowls after each use. Heaven knows how many germs were spread around via these used dishes, which could not be tossed aside or washed easily.

About The Costumes of Great Britain: Between 1800 and 1818, London publishers William Miller, T. M’Lean, and William Bulmer published a series of color plate books, including one that featured 60 color plates of Britain’s working classes just as the Industrial Revolution began to take off.  William H Pyne (1769-1843) was commissioned to write and illustrate the book by the publisher, William Miller. The first edition was printed in 1804, but the edition from which this coloured plate was taken was published in 1808. – Science and Society

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Back in Jane Austen’s day travel was so difficult and laborious over poorly constructed roads that the majority of the people who lived in that century traveled no farther than 14 miles from where they lived. Most walked, and even so they had to contend with muddy roads that were almost impassible after heavy rains or breathe in choking dust during times of drought. (In cities, dusty streets would be watered down by merchants early in the morning.)

Diana Sperling, a party walking to dinner along muddy roads.

Travel at night was dangerous. Without a widespread means of lighting roads or an organized police force, night travelers were at the mercy of highwaymen. In cities, link boys were paid a half pence to carry a light in front of pedestrians, or for those on horseback and in carriages.

Georgian cast iron light fixtures, Landsdowne Crescent in Bath. Note the cones, which extinguished the light.

Lanterns hung in front of city doors or were carried. In the country, torches hung from trees lining a lane that led up to a house. Balls and parties were planned during the full moon, although a rainy or cloudy night would spoil these well-laid plans.

A link boy lights the way in the city, 1827.

The situation would not change until the Industrial Revolution brought about such life altering inventions as gas lights, macadam roads (whose hard surface facilitated smoother travel), the steamboat, and rail travel.

The perils of overcrowding, 1812

The following descriptions of poor road conditions from Old Country Life, a book published in 1892, describes a time just after Jane Austen’s death, but one that her longer lived siblings would have known. While people’s memories of distant events are often faulty, the emotions they felt tend to stay with them. Here then are some eye witness accounts retold many decades later:

What a time people took formerly in travelling over old roads! There is a house just two miles distant from mine, by the new unmapped road. Before 1837, when that road was made, it was reached in so circuitous a manner, and by such bad lanes, and across an unbridged river, that my grandfather and his family when they dined with our neighbours, two miles off, always spent the night at their house.

Negotiating a muddy road. Image @Roads in the 18th Century

In 1762, a rich gentleman, who had lived in a house of business in Lisbon, and had made his fortune, returned to England, and resolved to revisit his paternal home in Norfolk. His wish was further stimulated by the circumstance that his sister and sole surviving relative dwelt beside one of the great broads, where he thought he might combine some shooting with the pleasure of renewing his friendships of childhood. From London to Norwich his way was tolerably smooth and prosperous, and by the aid of a mail coach he performed the journey in three days. But now commenced his difficulties. Between the capital and his sister’s dwelling lay twenty miles of country roads. He ordered a coach and six, and set forth on his fraternal quest. The six hired horses, although of strong Flanders breed, were soon engulfed in a black miry pool, his coach followed, and the merchant was dragged out of the window by two cowherds, and mounted on one of the wheelers; he was brought back to Norwich, and nothing could ever induce him to resume the search for his sister, and to revisit his ancestral home.

Pack horses. Image @The Rolle Canal Company

Roads were in such a poor condition that transportation over rivers and canals was preferred. If waterways were not nearby, pack horses and carrier wagons carried heavy and fragile items into areas were roads were near to impassible. Carrier wagons were sturdy wagons pulled by oxen and covered with canvas cloth.

Items had to be safely packed before they could be transported. Paper was expensive and cardboard boxes had yet to be invented. Goods were carried in cloth sacks, metal canisters, leather baskets, wood barrels, sturdy trunks, or wooden crates. Additional containers were made of cloth, woven straw, crockery, glass, and tin.

18th century coopers making barrels. Image@Instructional Resources Corporation.

The safe preservation of foods in metal containers was finally realized in France in the early 1800s. In 1809, General Napoleon Bonaparte offered 12,000 francs to anyone who could preserve food for his army. Nicholas Appert, a Parisian chef and confectioner, found that food sealed in tin containers and sterilized by boiling could be preserved for long periods. A year later (1810), Peter Durand of Britain  received a patent for tinplate after devising the sealed cylindrical can. – A brief history of packaging

Fragile items like glass and china received extra protection and were wrapped in cloth or straw. Considering the poor road conditions,  it is a wonder that any of these items survived their long journeys intact. View an image and explanation of a stage wagon in this link.

Reliable forms of old-fashioned transportation still exist in this world. Image@Washington Post

Below is a description of a carrier and his wagon.  (click here to see examples):

It is a marvel to us how the old china and glass travelled in those days; but the packer was a man of infinite care and skill in the management of fragile wares.

Does the reader remember the time when all such goods were brought by carriers? How often they got broken if intrusted to the stage-coaches, how rarely if they came by the carrier.  The carrier’s waggon was securely packed, and time was of no object to the driver, he went very slowly and very carefully over bad ground. – Old Country Life, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1892

Breakdown of the Christmas stage, a Victorian illustration. Note that oxen are strapped to an empty cart, ready to take on passengers, who are still 10 miles from their destination.

As noted before, people often spent the night when they arrived as guests for dinner. Once a person made the journey to visit relatives, they tended to stay for weeks, even months. Elizabeth Bennet’s visit with Charlotte was of several weeks duration; Cassandra Austen frequently visited her brother Edward for weeks at a time, which is when Jane would write to her.

City streets were crowded and narrow. Thomas Rowlandson. The Miseries of London. 1807. Image @Lewis Walpole Library

“It is of some importance,” said Sydney Smith, “at what period a man is born. A young man alive at this period hardly knows to what improvements of human life he has been introduced; and I would bring before his notice the changes that have taken place in England since I began to breathe the breath of life—a period of seventy years. I have been nine hours sailing from Dover to Calais before the invention of steam. It took me nine hours to go from Taunton to Bath before the invention of railroads. In going from Taunton to Bath I suffered between ten thousand and twelve thousand severe contusions before stone-breaking MacAdam was born. I paid fifteen pounds in a single year for repair of carriage springs on the pavement of London, and I now glide without noise or fracture on wooden pavement. I can walk without molestation from one end of London to another; or, if tired, get into a cheap and active cab, instead of those cottages on wheels which the hackney coaches were at the beginning of my life. I forgot to add, that as the basket of the stagecoaches in which luggage was then carried had no springs, your clothes were rubbed all to pieces; and that even in the best society, one-third of the gentlemen were always drunk. I am now ashamed that I was not formerly more discontented, and am utterly surprised that all these changes and inventions did not occur two centuries ago.” – Old Country Life, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1892, p. 216

Paving a macadam road in the U.S., 1823

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Inquiring readers, I had read about the closeness of rural areas near London during Jane Austen’s day. This image of Tottenham Court Road from the 1812 edition of Ackermann’s Repository shows the countryside beyond the toll gate. One imagines that Jane Austen was accustomed to such vistas when she visited her brother Henry in London. One moment she would be traveling through the countryside, the next moment she would be entering a teeming metropolis (Click here to see map):

In the first years of the eighteenth century, pastures and open meadows began by Bloomsbury Square and Queens Square; the buildings of Lincoln’s Inn, Leicester Square and Covent Garden were surrounded by fields, while acres of pasture and meadow still survived in the northern and eastern suburbs outside the walls. Wigmore Row and Henrietta Street led directly into fields, while Brick Lane stopped abruptly in meadows.“World’s End” beside Stepney Green was a thoroughly rural spot, while Hyde Park was essentially part of the open countryside pressing upon the western areas of the city. Camden Town was well-known for its “rural lanes, hedgeside roads and lovely fields”where Londoners sought “quietude and fresh air.” – Extract from “LONDON The Biography”, by Peter Ackroyd. Published by Vintage, 2001


The contemporary description of this view of St.James Chapel is telling:

The edifice selected for the subject of our view in the metropolis, for the present number, is the chapel of ease, situated near the turnpike in Tottenham-court-road, belonging to the church of St. James, Piccadilly. It was erected after a design of the celebrated architect, Mr. James Wyatt.

The contiguous parsonage-house on one side, and a school on the other, together with the plantations in the area between the front railing and the buildings, give great additional consequence to the appearance of the whole…

The vicinity of this chapel has recently witnessed one of those transformations of fields into houses, produced in every direction around the metropolis as if by the effect of enchantment. A prodigious street has just sprung up on the left-hand side, in continuation of Tottenham-court-road; and thus London has proceeded another good stage in its progress to Kentish Town. – St. James Chapel, Tottenham Court Road, 1812, Ackermann’s Repository

Detail of the turnpike. The toll keeper is collecting money from a man on horseback. Notice the small toll house, and the rural scene beyond.

The great age of toll gates and turnpikes was the 18th Century. In the latter part of the previous century, turnpikes were established and run by trusts. They could only be set up through Acts of Parliament, the first of which was passed in 1663. The idea was that the trusts would take over responsibility from parishes to maintain major trunk roads. They would collect the tolls, manage the finances and fulfil their obligation to use those funds to maintain the roads – Toll gates and turnpikes, London Historian’s Blog

Entrance, Tottenham Court turnpike by Rowlandson. Image @ Europeana

Rowlandson’s image shows another view of the turnpike. Pedestrians continued without hindrance via the side openings (except for the obese man, who seems to be stuck), but people on horseback and vehicles slowed to pay a toll in the gated center. Note Rowlandson’s detail of an old lecherous man ogling the two milk maids.

One milkmaid recorded her daily route and the results are astonishing: 19 miles.  Milkmaids are famous for their pretty skin, and this was largely because many of them had acquired immunity to smallpox through milking duties.  As milk delivery was a daily occurrence, many milkmaids ran slates for their customers, proving they were to some extent both literate and numerate, and also hard enough to call in a debt. – The Cries of Georgian London

Milk maids provided fresh drinks to customers. This one has just passed through the toll gate and has a long day's walk and work ahead of her.

“The cry of ‘Milk’ or the rattle of the milk-pail, will never cease to be heard in our streets. There can be no reservoirs of milk, no pipes through which it flows into the houses. The more extensive the great capital becomes, the more active must be the individual exertion to carry about this article of food. The old cry was ‘Any milk here !’ and it was sometimes mingled with the sound of ‘Fresh cheese and cream;’ and it then passed into ‘Milk, maids below;’ and it was then shortened into ‘Milk below;’ and was finally corrupted into ‘Mio’ which some wag interpreted into mieau—demi-eau—half water.”  – Buying Bread and Milk in 18th and 19th Century London, Susannah Ives

Detail of cattle being driven to market. One imagine that the streets were filled with dung and the smells of the animals, most of whom must have been frightened of the big city's sights and sounds.

This detail of sheep and an oxen being driven through the streets to market was a common sight. The people in this great metropolis had to be fed. In just a few hours these hapless animals will find themselves in the noisy, tumultuous, and bewildering environment of Smithfield Market, for instance. Without refrigeration, their meat would be sold, consumed or prepared within hours of their slaughter.

Cattle were driven through the streets until the mid 19th century. In an article for Household Words in March 1851 Dickens, with characteristic sarcasm, describes the environmental impact of having live cattle markets and slaughterhouses in the city:

“In half a quarter of a mile`s length of Whitechapel, at one time, there shall be six hundred newly slaughtered oxen hanging up, and seven hundred sheep but, the more the merrier proof of prosperity. Hard by Snow Hill and Warwick Lane, you shall see the little children, inured to sights of brutality from their birth, trotting along the alleys, mingled with troops of horribly busy pigs, up to their ankles in blood but it makes the young rascals hardy.” – Dickens’ London

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Image recently added to @Wikimedia Commons

Prostitutes were regarded with mixed feelings in the 18th century. An awareness of the vulnerability of women who had few economic options for making their way in the world owed much to the sentimental view taken of prostitutes. Ladies of pleasure were generally born into poverty and had little education or work skills. The sentimental prostitute narrative, which was common at the time, rarely condemned these women. These narratives, whether in print or on canvas, tell the story of a prostitute’s career and sexual fall, and generally end their tales in two ways: happily, through her marriage or finding acceptable employment, or tragically with her death.

The Progress of a Woman of Pleasure was drawn by Richard Newton, a young artist who died at 21 in 1798, two years after making this illustration. The “Progress” formula, which Newton used for a variety of prints, is a familiar one to those who have viewed William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, Marriage a la Mode, Industry and Idleness and A Harlot’s Progress. Progress series demonstrate in a progression of satirical paintings and prints how lives were transformed by temptation, bad luck and poor choices.

A closer look at Progress of a Woman of Pleasure reveals Newton’s sentimental take of the prostitute theme, as well as details about the life of an 18th Century lady of  ill repute. For many 18th century prostitutes, their occupation was transitional, meant to economically tide them over a particularly bad hump in their lives. Many eventually married or found another occupation.

Your first step for preferment will be to a great lady in King's Place.

“A great lady in King’s Place” refers to Charlotte Hayes, who ran a high-class brothel in King’s-Place off Pall Mall. Gentlemen of the upper classes frequented this brothel located in london’s tony west end. With the use of the term ‘preferment’,  Newton makes it obvious that this woman has set her sights high. Her clothes are rather simple and plain as compared to the second scene below.

We see you now waiting in full dress for an introduction to a fine gentleman with a world of money!

London was a notorious hot bed for prostitutes. Fully one in five women in London (50,000) worked as ladies of the night. Many of them worked alone, plying their trade on the streets, in their own rooms, or in brothels. One foreign traveler was amazed at the variety of ways a man could have a woman:

…dressed, bound up, hitched up, tight-laced, loose, painted, done up or raw, scented, in silk or wool, with or without sugar. – Daily Life in 18th Century England, Kirsten Olsen, p. 49

You are now in high keeping and you accompany your Adonis to the Masquerade in the character of a Bacchante.

Masquerades were wildly popular in 18th century London. Hidden behind masks and disguised in costumes, people from varying social classes freely intermingled at these events, where licentious behavior was common. Prostitutes attended these events in order to attract customers, or, as in this instance, were brought there by their benefactors.

Not being used to champagne and not possessing the sweetest temper in the world in liquor, you give your keeper a sample of it by flinging a glass of wine to his face.

As this courtesan finds out the hard way, she is with her companion for only as long as she is useful to him. In this instance, her outrageous behavior causes him to cast her off.  The aim of the successful prostitute/mistress/courtesan was to find a benefactor from the highest echelons of society and to make a long-lasting arrangement that created a financially fruitful association for her. For the number of women who rose in the ranks of serving as mistress to important men, there was an equal number that had no place to go but down. The idea was to extend your association for as long as possible and retire in comfort.

You are now turned off and your only consolation is that your hair dresser promised to marry you.

Newton’s prostitute must have been a pretty woman indeed if the hair dresser was willing to marry her. The attitude towards prostitutes in the 18th century was more forgiving that it would be in the 19th century, and a former courtesan could still attain a certain level of social acceptance. At this stage, Newton could have ended his sentimental “Progress” with a happy ending and shown our heroine as being reformed and leading a happy life. Note how simple and plain her dress is compared to the previous three drawings.

He loves you to distraction but he thought you'd have an annuity of 200 a year! I hear you roar out -- "You dirty rascal! I could get the smartest linen draper's man in London with that money."

Newton’s prostitute was not only a bit dim, but her huge ego stood in the way of her success. Two hundred a year was a huge sum of money for that day and age. A single gentleman in London could live very comfortably on that sum, although it would not allow him to keep a horse in Town. Nevertheless, such an amount would have been considered staggering for a prostitute and her working class husband. Newton’s contemporary audience would have understood this. Note how much more social caché a draper’s man had over a mere hair dresser! (Well, at least for a woman of her station. A lady wouldn’t have bothered to tell the difference, I’m sure.)

Our prostitute’s  pride ruins any chance of happiness she might have found as a respectable married woman. This up and down course of events is not unusual. Many prostitutes in their (generally) short careers went from rags to riches and back to rags and riches again. The cycle, in Newton’s instance, is ever downward.

You move to Marybone and exhibit yourself in the Promenade in Oxford Street.

Marylebone was once a Georgian estate in London that was developed into housing tracts. By 1792-99, Richard Horwood’s map showed that the area from Oxford Street to the Marylebone Road was covered with houses. (The Heart of Marylebone.) Prostitutes were scattered throughout London, including the “Marybone” area (as many as 30,000 in Marylebone alone by one count):

They tended to gather in areas with looser police control; when the police became stricter in the City of London in the eighteenth century, the prostitutes gravitated toward the west and east ends of the city; when police control loosened in the early nineteenth century, they returned to the City. Prostitutes also tended to congregate in areas with cheap lodging houses and lots of men. St. Giles and St. James, home to many cheap boardinghouses, were popular with prostitutes in Westminster; the Docks, where many sailors disembarked, was popular on the east side of the city. – Prostitutes in 18th-Century London

It is interesting to note that William Holland, the artist’s publisher, had his shop on 50 Oxford Street.

Having met with a Crown Customer, you tell him to go treat his Wife and Brats at Bagnigge Wells, you expected Five Guineas at least from him.

Bagnigge Wells no longer exists. It was a spa for the “middling sort”, located on the River Fleet near St. Pancras. The River Fleet is now one of London’s underground rivers. The guinea’s value was more than a pound. The coin itself was valuable, for it was made of gold and the value of a 5 guinea piece fluctuated during the 18th century. A crown was a silver coin worth five shillings, considerably less than a five guinea piece.

You take a bumper of Brandy to comfort you after the disappointment and you drink bad luck to all scaly fellows.

We already know that our prostitute does not take to drink well. She now turns to brandy. A bumper of brandy is no small amount, as you can see from the bottle in her hand. The Book of Scottish Anecdotes contains this little tale:

While Burns was at Moffat once with Clark the composer, the poet called for a bumper of brandy. “Oh, not a bumper,” said the musician. “I prefer two small glasses.”

“Two glasses?” cried Burns; “Why, you are like the lass in Kyle, who said she would rather be kissed twice bare-headed than once with her bonnet on.” – p81.

Scaly fellows were the lowest of the low. Also note the clocks (embroidery) on the prostitute’s stockings, which were quite fashionable in her day.

Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies contained a description of Miss Devonshire on Queen Anne Street. At this point, our lady of pleasure has gravitated towards a tavern on a street near Marlebone .

You wind up the evening with a boxing match and a Warrant and two Black Eyes salute you in the Morning.

Due to her inability to hold her temper, our lady’s downhill slide is guaranteed. Richard Newton was known for his drawings of bare-breasted ladies. It could not have been hard to tug a woman’s chemise down over her bosom in those days.

You are now over head and ears in debt in Marybone Parish and I see you shifting and removing your little wardrobe to Covent Garden.

Our lady of pleasure has moved from the West End to Covent Garden.

By the middle of the 18th century Covent Garden was full of seedy lodging houses and an astonishing number of Turkish baths, many of which were brothels.

Sir John Fielding, the magistrate, called Covent Garden ‘the great square of Venus’. He said, ‘One would imagine that all the prostitutes in the kingdom had picked upon the rendezvous’. – Prostitution in Maritime London

You are glad of a half-crown customer now, in a Prentice Boy who has just robbed his master's till.

And so our prostitute has fallen further. She is attracting customers of a lower sort, such as an apprentice who has taken to thievery to afford her wares. It is obvious that she no longer holds herself out for the highest bidder.

You are now the mistress of a Player, who principally lives by Gambling; you ride out with him, cut a dash, and run him in debt; and to give him a sample of your spirit before you part you exercise a Horsewhip on his shoulders.

Our lady of pleasure is on a slight uptick again, having become the mistress to a gambler. Riding outfits, made by tailors, were quite expensive. To cut a dash was to make a fine figure and to look quite smart. One assumes that the gambler took his mistress horse back riding in London’s Hyde Park, which meant that he kept her in fancy digs until his luck ran out. Once again, our lady of the night shows poor judgment and gives him a physical memory of her temper, flogging him with her riding whip.

You are now in a Sponging House, heart sick at disappointment from all your Friends, and you stupefy yourself with Gin.

One can only imagine that this prostitute is reaping what she sowed, and that she made quite a few enemies when her luck ran high. Now that she is in debt herself, she has no one to turn to.

The normal process was for the debtor to be arrested by a bailiff or sheriff’s officer, and then taken to what was called a sponging-house, usually the officer’s own house. There, the debtor would be persuaded that they should pay their debts, otherwise, they faced a court appearance, and a debtors’ prison. – The Real Little Dorrit

Gin was also known as blue ruin. Before 1734 it was the drink of choice for poor people.

Along with promiscuous and adulterous behavior, gin became associated with prostitution, an issue that ranked high on the agenda of moral reformers. The association between gin and prostitution came about because gin-shops were public places that brought prostitute and customer together. It is important to note however that gin-shops were simply places where ordinary people gathered in a city where there were few other social spaces. As such, gin-shops were perhaps unfairly associated with prostitution in the sense that prostitution occurs where people happen to frequently gather. – The Gin Craze

Having in two years been the mistress of a Two Highwaymen, a Qui Tam Attorney, Two Shopmen who were Transported, I now see you at your last shift, pawning your silver thimble for a groat to purchase your breakfast.

Our whore is so down on her luck, she’ll take any man as a customer, even criminals. Her two shopmen have been transported, to Australia no doubt.  She’s most likely working in back alleys and near the ports of London. Her jewelry is gone and her clothes are old-fashioned rags. Selling her thimble, an important item for sewing, for food means that she has no resources left.  I know little about ‘qui tam’ attorneys except to say that their practice had fallen into disrepute in England by the 19th century.

A groat was worth only four pence in the 1700s.

Your sun is now setting very fast, and I see you the servant of a woman who was formerly your Servant, you live on Board Wages, which seldom affords you more than a Bunch of Radishes and a Pint of Porter for your dinner.

Board wages mean that our prostitute worked very hard to earn enough money for her room, but had barely enough left over for food. Porter during this time was a strong dark beer. It was a good thing that she could afford alcohol, for I imagine that the wells in her neighborhood were contaminated with fecal matter. Water was a dangerous substance in the poorer sections of London. This prostitute’s narrative provides a cautionary tale for viewers. Her actions caused her downfall; her inability to hold her temper or her drink led to her ruin.

Our “heroine” falls sick and dies outdoors, to be buried in a potter’s field. Nothing could have been said more clearly about this unfortunate woman’s social worthlessness than her degrading end: No one, not even her former servant, now mistress, is willing to put up a single pence for her funeral.

You take sick in the service of this female monster and she turns you out of doors fearing your Funeral expenses should fall upon her.

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