Description

Swell’s Night Guides were guidebooks for the fashionable man-about-town, and probably published in the 1830s and early 1840s. The books described the clubs, pubs and bars in which prostitutes were to be found. One lists theatres, noting their advantages and drawbacks for a man of pleasure: those in which the doormen would let men behind the scenes to meet the dancing-girls, those that had boxes with locks on the doors, and so on.  

There were also addresses for ‘Introducing Houses’, where women waited for clients. Some were just the upstairs rooms of pubs, while others masqueraded as respectable businesses, with a brass plaque – the sign of the professional middle-classes – on the doors claiming the house was a doctor’s, or a milliner’s, or a dressmaker’s. The Guides were horrifyingly blunt about what was to be found there, and about the ways in which men regarded the women. At Mme Matileau’s establishments, in Soho and Kensington,

nothing is allowed to get stale ... you may have your meat dressed to your own liking ... her flock is in prime condition, and always ready for sticking; when any of them are fried, they are turned out to grass ... consequently the rot, bots, glanders, and other diseases incidental to cattle, are not generally known here. 

The publisher’s address is in the heart of the pornography-printing district, and W West, the printer of one (one other has a fake name, and the third is missing that page), was long-established there. The books are extraordinarily rare today – there appear to be just five surviving in the world. 

The guides followed a tradition of such books. In the early 18th century Ned Ward’s The Secret History of London Clubs contained information on a ‘Bawds’ Initiating Club’, and the notorious Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies was published for at least three decades between 1764 and 1788, giving names, addresses, prices and descriptions of prostitutes. In the more decorous 19th century, this type of book became rarer – rarer, but it never quite vanished.

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