a middle aged woman ‘of prepossessing countenance’

In the course of research for my first book on the summary courts of the City of London  I found that the eighteenth-century City justices spent a considerable amount of their time dealing with streetwalkers brought in by one over zealous parish constable named Thomas Paine. Paine was a God fearing Protestant who abhorred whores almost as much as he detested Catholics. One more than one occasion Paine brought the magistracy a cart load of prostitutes for them to admonish, fine or send to Bridewell.

Prostitution continued to be a problem in the 1800s and periodically the authorities determined to clamp down on it. In May 1823 upwards of 60 women were cleared from the streets of the capital and the worst offenders committed to gaol. The encounter between the presiding magistrate at Bow Street, Sir Richard Birnie, and one of the nymphs of the Pave’ was recorded by the papers for the amusement of their readers.

Anne Reeves, a middle aged woman ‘of prepossessing countenance, and delicate manner’ appeared and Sir Richard expressed his astonishment that a person such as herself should be at the bar like this; what had brought her to this? Anne begged his lordship’s pardon and said she was going to Bath ‘but she had a had a few things that were…’

…and ‘here the Lady set up a ha! ha! ha! and exclaimed – You know what I mean Sir Richard!’

‘Indeed I do not’, the justice replied, ‘but I suppose you mean pawned’.

Anne admitted that was indeed her problem. Sir Richard said he was inclined to believe her ‘plausible story’ and let her off with a warning and an instruction to go to Bath where she would be a problem for someone else.

[from The Morning Post , Tuesday, May 27, 1823]

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