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From courtesans to bunters, from St James’s to St Giles’s.

I came across this delightful image on the British Museum site here. It was published by Thomas Rowlandson in 1795 and is entitled St James’s and St Giles’s.

B Mus st giles st james

It shows the two ends  of the spectrum of Georgian floozying – the upper class courtesans at the top, and the “threepenny stand-ups” available in the rougher areas such as St Giles’s. The St James’s courtesans are fashionably dressed, enjoying each other’s company over a bowl of punch. I like the way that the girl holding the punchbowl has her face almost totally obscured by her wig to the extent that only her ear-rings and chin are visible. Her partner, the little vixen, is lecherously eyeing up the viewer, wine glass in hand.

Contrast this with the somewhat sturdily built molls in the lower picture; one, hands in pockets, the other with her arm around her friend, the other arm with her wrist turned in at the hips. Oh well, you pays your money and you takes your choice!

Definitely one for me to consider for the book I am currently writing – on sexual shenanigans in the Eighteenth Century – details to follow shortly!


P.S. one more caricature in a similar vein – also by Rowlandson and this time belonging to the Royal Collection Trust. I love the idea that the higher class whores occupied the ground floor in ‘Union Street’ while their  poorer, less elegant, cousins were hanging out of the windows in the rooms upstairs. Nice one Mr Rowlandson!

Upstairs downstairs 001



2 thoughts on “From courtesans to bunters, from St James’s to St Giles’s.”

  1. I think you will find in the last print the high class ladies are on the first floor while their downmarket sisters are on the floor above. T he first floor of the house usually in this period had the grandest rooms,
    I look forward to seeing the book, which will no doubt other recent books looking at sex and the city in Eighteenth Century London.

    I suppose the contrast today for the first two prints would be between elite escorts ‘Belle du Jour’ and those unfortunate women plying their trade on the streets.

    1. I appreciate your point – I tend to refer to the main floor, reached up a flight of steps, as “the ground floor” – as opposed to the basement where the cooking and food preparation was done. I just like the contrast in manners and appearance between the two groups.
      Yes, there are of course a plethora of other books on the same topic – I am keen to look more at how the sex trade, and scandals in high places, were viewed in the press and prints of the day, and how satire developed as the Georgian era progressed.

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