Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Devil's Own Handiwork

"I have experienced much hardship and been forced to view death on many occasions. I was therefore, not bothered by the corpse flies. Thankfully, the all-pervasive aroma of spice somewhat mitigated that of decay and corruption. All the same, I entered the room with my handkerchief at the ready. The man was frozen at the point of death upon the bed. There was much blood, all congealed and writhing with maggots. I could make out little else with the curtains shut and so I drew them open. When I turned I could hardly bear to view the putrefaction. He had died in an attitude of abject terror. His eyes were almost entirely eaten away and his mouth showed a grimace so horrific and his posture that of a supplicant forced to bend to another’s evil will, that I thought I looked upon the Devil’s own handiwork." Extract from The Surety, the second book in the Kitty Ives series. Kitty, an 18th century Covent Garden prostitute is forced to solve the murder or swing from the gallows.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

At her toilette

"La Jupe relevée" by François Boucher, 1760 - and the dog is doing what dogs do. 18th century women did not wear knickers. In fact there was no underwear as we know it until around the 1920s, when skirts started getting shorter. Even in the prim and proper Victorian days, women had bloomers that were open at the crotch.

Elegant lady

"Elegant Lady at her Toilette" by Michel Garnier

63,000 prostitutes

The number of prostitutes in London during the 18th century could have been as high as 63,000 at any given time. In this picture we can see the link boy, who was a street urchin with a burning torch who would light the way - but who would also aid a harlot in her business by robbing the gentleman or enticing him into a dangerous location

Peristaltic Persuaders

Um... constipation anyone? An 18th century remedy:
To Make Forty Peristaltic Persuaders
Turkey rhubarb, finely pulverized, two drachms
Syrup, by weight, one drachm
Oil of caraway, ten drops (minims.)
Make into pills, each of which will contain three grains of rhubarb.
Two or three to be taken according to the constitution.

Kitty's brothel now

I took this just before Christmas. It's of the exact building where Kitty Ives lived and worked as a prostitute in Covent Garden. Well, not the exact building because that burned down but this is a replacement in the style of the old building. Research has shown that this building was occupied in 1769 by, on the ground floor, John Bradley - gin distiller and shop, and a brothel upstairs. Next door on the Little Piazza was Lovejoy's bagnio, a portrait painter, and the Hummums Turkish Bath. In the corner was the Bedford Arms pub. After that came the privy passage which was gated through to Charles Street beyond. The London Transport Museum occupies the site now.

Hogarth's Covent Garden

Here our old Friend Hogarth has given us a view of Covent Garden and the Church, St Paul's. See the big building in the background to the right as you look at the pic? That's still there.


The criminal world in the 18th century had a language all it's own known as 'cant'. These were slang terms. Whilst they covered everything you can imagine, these are just a few of the terms used in the sex industry for Madams, pimps and prostitutes:
Madams were known as:
buttock brokers, Abbess, Aunt, Mother

Pimps were known as:
Beard Splitters, bulls, cockbawd

Prostitutes were known as:
covent garden nuns, drabs, doxies, casevrow, crackish, fens, bats, blowers… and my favourite quicunque vault.

Lucy Locket

The 18th century rhyme: Lucy Locket lost her pocket. Kitty Fisher found it. There was not a penny in it, only ribbon round it - refers to a 'pocket', which has two meanings - it was the purse which had a drawstring top and was tied around a woman's leg, into which she placed her money, but it was also a euphemism for her private parts.

Lead based face powder - a recipe

Here's a great recipe for lead-based powder. In the 18th century it was considered highly fashionable to whiten your face, and have sparkling eyes, made so by belladonna drops.

Recipe for Lead Powder

Several Thin Plates of Lead

A Big Pot of Vinegar

A Bed of Horse Manure


Perfume and tinting agent

Steep the lead in the pot of vinegar, and rest it in a bed of manure for at least three weeks. When the lead finally softens to the point where it can pounded into a flaky white powder (chemical reaction between vinegar and lead causes lead to turn white), grind to a fine powder. Mix with water, and let dry in the sun. After the powder is dry, mix with the appropriate amount of perfume and tinting dye.

Covent Garden stalls

In the 18th century Covent Garden stalls were often no more than baskets of vegetables. There would not have been any tables or stalls as we know them today.

The most exciting city

By the mid 18th century London was the biggest, most exciting city in the world. But it was also the dirtiest, most foul and unkempt city. Houses were often ramshackle. Raw sewage ran in the streets. Crime was endemic.


In September 1752, Great Britain changed from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar. 11 days were omitted from the calendar. The day after 2 September 1752 became 14 September 1752.

The first day of the year also changed. Prior to 1752 in England, the year began on 25 March (Lady Day).

The first year was short - it ran only from 25 March to 31 December.


In The Finish I refer on occasion to a 'macaroni' - far from being a meal, a 'macaroni' was an 18th century term for a foppish and highly fashionable young man.

The Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes

The Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes was founded in 1758 to give 'guidance to the fallen'. I was a place of respite based on silence, isolation and hard work. The18th century rich would flock to the Chapel to listen to the popular preacher William Dodd sermonise, and to observe the penitent prostitutes. In 1777 William Dodd was executed for forgery and the Magdalen Hospital fell out of favour, although something akin to it continued, in name only, until the 1950s.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Finish - what's it all about

The Finish is my new novel featuring Kitty Ives, an 18th century prostitute, who plies her trade in Covent Garden. When a man is found dead in her bed she fears she may swing from the gallows. So begins Kitty's quest to uncover the identity of the murderer. 

We are in Covent Garden in 1769. It seethes with all manner of life. It smells. It is dirty and beautiful at one and the same time. It is home to the whores and harridans, aristocrats and artisans, actors and a drunks alike.

Sedan chairs

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'.

Bread and Cheese

Seems innocent enough, save that he is paying her for more than just bread and cheese! By John Collet, 1777

Covent Garden

Here we have Covent Garden around the time of our story about Kitty Ives, an 18th century prostitute. The Little Piazza is the covered walkway and buildings at bottom right. The house in question is the one on the corner of the Little Piazza and Russell Street, to the middle of the right hand side of the square.

Playing footsie

The Finish is an episodic story set in the 18th century - insofar as I am sent it out to beta readers in sections, as I wrote it. This means something happens in each episode, which builds to the overall story. It's been exciting to write like this.

Picture by James Gillroy


Casanova blows up a condom while prostitutes look on. Condoms have been around for centuries. They were usually made from animal intestines and called (in the 18th century) cundums. They weren't so much to avoid pregnancy as to guard against disease


As many as one in five young women in London were prostitutes in the 18th century. This picture is called Connoisseurs by Thomas Rowlandson

The scene of the Crime

Covent Garden. 

The Finish is my new novel set in 18th century Covent Garden. It tells the story of Kitty Ives, a prostitute, who is forced to solve a murder when she wakes to find a dead man in her bed. If she should fail she will swing from the gallows. 

This is is almost the exact view Kitty has from the brothel where she lives on the corner of the Little Piazza and Russell Street