Revealing guide to Victorian London's secret brothels and prostitutes unearthed

A raunchy guide to Victorian London’s secret brothels, prostitutes and ‘most beautiful women’ has been unearthed and could fetch thousands of pounds at auction.

The rare first edition of ‘Swell’s Night Guide Through the Metropolis’ provides an eye-opening insight into the capital’s red light districts during the mid-19th century.

The salacious book describes the call girls and all the clubs, pubs, bars and theatres they could be found working in.

It rates individual women, describing one, Miss Allen, as a “perfect English beauty” and another, Mrs Smith as a “very agreeable woman” with “pouting lips”.

The historic book, written by The Hon F L G in 1841, is expected to sell for between £800- £1,200 when it goes under the hammer in Etwall, Derbys., on December 7.

Jim Spencer, books expert at Hansons Auctioneers, said: “Though the author described his book as a humorous ‘Young Man’s Best Companion’, he was obviously struck by the women’s plight.

“He also uncovers London’s secrets such as French Houses or businesses concealing ‘the hidden temple of voluptuousness’.

“For example, ‘Madame Dentiche in Bury Street, St James, conceals the nature of her calling by carrying on the business of a milliner and dressmaker’.

“One chapter is also devoted to actresses who are ‘widely known to be in greater demand amongst men of gallantry than any other class of women because of their beauty, agreeable manners, spirit and vivacity’.

“Particularly popular was Mrs Honey who had ‘turned the brains of half the young men about town’, occupied the columns of newspapers and been the subject of sonnets and songs.

“Perhaps we are not so different from our ancestors who lived in London 177 years ago.

“Beautiful actresses still have adoring followers and fill newspaper columns – and everyone loves to write reviews.

“People will be fascinated by this book because, as well as mentioning pubs and theatres that exist today, it captures a side of London that was secretive and hidden.

“And, of course, people will always be fascinated by the subject matter.”

The guide, which was printed for private circulation, describes several venues in the capital where prostitutes could be found.

One example, The Spotted Horse receives a glowing review with the author writing: “Those who like to look upon real flesh and blood women will be here delighted…we hate a living skeleton and would walk a mile to see a pretty woman”.

The Theatre Royal in Covent Garden said to be “At present under the management of Madame Vestris.

“The private boxes of this theatre have snug and secret retiring anti-rooms, with voluptuous couches and all things requisite for the comfort and convenience of the debauchee”.

The author adds: “To say that a gentleman had been to London and not visited the saloon of either Covent Garden or Drury Lane Theatres would be to betray an ignorance of which the veriest greenhorn would be ashamed”.

Individual prostitutes are described too such as: “Miss Allen…a perfect English beauty…she is in her nineteenth year; of symmetrical form…no one will regret passing an hour in her company, and drinking deep at that mystic fountain of human pleasure”.

‘Mrs Smith…a very agreeable woman…in addition to pouting lips, which would tempt an anchorite, has a knack of coaxing a customer into a purchase which is novel and delightful. We recommend a trial’.

The book also reveals the desperate plight of some of the women at the time including one named Helen Elizabeth Southey.

The author wrote: “This unfortunate girl was the youngest daughter of respectable tradespeople, at Bristol, and received good education.

“In process of time she was deemed the beauty of Bristol and received many flattering offers of marriage.

“One Lieutenant P was, however, in her esteem; and finally she eloped with this person to London, who took lodgings for her at 64 Edgeware Road. Soon after their arrival, the Lieutenant was arrested and taken to the King’s Prison Bench.

“In this dilemma she had (to the shame of the British Army) no alternative but to walk the streets or return to her mother.

“The latter course she adopted and might have been honourably married had it not been for the interference of this dishonourable person”.

By Ben Gelblum and Ed Chatterton

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