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Street-walking as defined by the OED, is a term "with reference to prostitutes : the action of seeking clients on the street ; the occupation of being a streetwalker", thus we can understand that it is a term encapsulating the practice of what was and still is considered a vice. The practice of street-walking can not only be seen as an act of sin in the the 18th century, but it can also be construed as a way of maintaining the existing patriarchal domination in society - as long as there were some females engaged in this practice, men could almost always capitalise and use this to elevate themselves above women. 


Google's Ngram viewer is a useful way of documenting the usage of a certain word or phrase in literature, and the chart for the term "street-walking" speaks volumes about its literary significance. 



The sudden rise in the occurrence of the term "street-walking" in the literature of 1700-1800 perhaps reflects the increase of practice in 18th century society. Coverage of street-walking in literary texts not only illuminate the dangerous and bawdy conditions of society but also highlight some key issues regarding the assignment of gender roles and the establishment of patriarchal attitudes, which to a certain extent are still pertinent in modern society. 



Despite its meteoric rise to prevalence between 1700 and 1900, the practice of street-walking has been described as "the world's oldest profession" (Keegan, Anne (1974). "World's oldest profession has the night off," Chicago Tribune, July 10). The practice dates back as far as the 18th century BC in its most primitive and unrefined form simply as prostitution, where it was only the rich and the powerful that could make use of the service. 


Image 1 - Wikimedia Commons


As seen from this Roman painting, the overall enjoyment of extra-marital sex was encouraged in moderation in order to avoid excess lust and desire. Prostitutes of those times were not regarded as objects of male sexual desire[1] and it was in fact completely normal for males to be prostitutes too, thus signifying the lack of specific gender assignment to the practice.


As time progressed however, societal views on prostitution became increasingly strict, perhaps due to the increase in sexually transmitted diseases. Associations were made between plague, disease and prostitutes and it was the start of this societal condemnation of prostitution that lead to its evolution into street-walking. Street-walkers added a deeper, more meticulous dimension to prostitution as they often operated in packs who pick-pocketed and robbed men, sometimes without even having sex with them[2]. Thus a transition can be seen from the purely sexual nature of earlier forms of prostitution to  more wily and economic variants of both male and female extortion and the movement from female passivity to an emergence of real sexual aggression. 



Distinction between Street-walking and Prostitution

According to the OED[3] the term "streetwalking" doesn't seem to appear until the 18th century, but the term "streetwalker" is first used as a term for a variation of a prostitute in 1591. Yet the OED definition for a prostitute[4] reads as "A woman who engages in sexual activity in return for payment, esp. as a means of livelihood; (formerly also) any promiscuous woman, a harlot". This shows that street-walking was more of an aggressive and practice than prostitution as streetwalkers actively had to walk the streets of impoverished and often dangerous areas. 



Image 2 - Hogarth's Plate 7: The Idle ‘Prentice return’d from Sea, & in a Garret with a common Prostitute'  forms the 7th instalment of another of his well known moral artworks which here shows the relatively protected existence of the common prostitute in relation to the streetwalker.



The streetwalker is seen to go out into the impoverished parts of cities and actively target men to either seduce or rob - the streetwalker does not possess a fixed location, she is nomadic and aggressive in her approach. The prostitute on the other hand operates from a fixed location, like the house in which Fanny Hill shortly resides in. 


"You may be sure the good opinion of my place was not lessen’d by the appearance of a very handsome back parlour, into which I was led and which seemed to me magnificently furnished, who had never seen better rooms than the ordinary ones in inns upon the road. There were two gilt pierglasses, and a buffet, on which a few pieces of plates, set out to the most shew, dazzled, and altogether persuaded me that I must be got into a very reputable family" Fanny Hill (Cleland 10)  


Fanny is introduced into a lavish home and that is established as her base - she is comforted by the quality of the furnishings and the food she receives. This provides a stark contrast to the life of a street-walker, who had little of the comforts possessed by prostitutes housed by "Mothers". 



Street-walking and Gender 

Street-walking in literature is also interesting regarding the concepts of gender in the books studied on the course. Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress documents the arrival of a young, naive girl in London - a harsh environment which eventually forces her into a life of debauchery and immorality. 


Image 3 - The first plate of A Harlot's Progress


The first of Hogarth's plates shows Moll being approached by a procuress who is acting on behalf of the aristocratic nobleman, immediately portraying the idea that the naive and innocent girl is corrupted by the needs of a patriarchal society and is essentially malleable to male will. This also highlights the importance of the eighteenth century social hierarchy - as the upper class male figure is effectively taking ownership of the lower class female. Throughout her journey into vice-filled depths of London, Hogarth conveys a decline in her aesthetic value - her appearance becomes more and more misshapen and is reflective of the corrupt environment around her. As she lays dying, the chaos and disorder around her mirror the brutal nature of society in its treatment of her - being forced to street-walk has made her a passive victim of circumstance and is shown to have reinforced the eighteenth century stereotype regarding the weakness of women. 


However, other literature seems to portray a subversion of assigned gender roles. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's poem sees a stark contrast in the portrayal of the street-walker than that of Hogarth: 


His gold she takes (such proofs as these 

Convince most unbelieving shes)

And in her trunk rose up to lock it

(Too wise to trust it in her pocket) (25-28)


The street-walker in this text is portrayed as wily and far smarter than the Doctor gives her credit for (perhaps an overall criticism of male attitudes towards women) and thus the reader can see an inversion of the typical dynamics of society. Here, the prostitute is dominating and extorting the man, ensuring that she controls the mood and pace of the action. The street-walker is used by Montagu to flip the "gender coin" as it were - the reader is shown something that completely opposes the existing social practice. Her outright defiance shows her impassivity, further providing a stark contrast to the character Moll:


She answered short, "I'm glad you'll write,

You'll furnish paper when I shite!"  (88-89)


The appropriation of Swift's satire by Montagu shows that women can be equally as good at writing than men and this attempt at equality is shown in the street-walker, as she can be just as clever, strong and resourceful as the Doctor, perhaps even more so. The satirising of male impotence shows desperation in an attempt to please the prostitute, which highlights the hypocrisy of male attitudes as they condemn prostitutes as creatures of base desires. The street-walker in literature has an extremely polarising representation, that seems to coincide with the problematic assignment of gender roles that were starting to be questioned and unpicked in the 18th century. Although it is a fundamentally sinful practice, street-walking in the literature analysed so far not only illuminates female flaws but also male flaws, and the hypocrisies of a male dominated society. 


Street-Walking in Other Primary Sources 

A Word to a Streetwalker 


John Wesley's A Word to a Street-walker[6] is a scathing condemnation of the practice. He regards the body as a sacred temple, a gift from God yet the street-walker violates this gift and desecrates the metaphorical temple. The blunt and repeated questioning of the street-walker's fate gives an idea of streetwalkers were perceived by religious believers.




Streetwalking is described in Wesley's text as having serious consequences regarding religion and the nature of the afterlife. The invocation of the "Holy Ghost" and frequent references to God show the unwavering condemnation of streetwalking in the 18th century and the perpetrators, in going directly against the will and teachings of God, are subsequently denounced. The representation of streetwalking in literature of the 18th century is evidently and quite obviously negative, and is portrayed as a sin. The direct address to the street-walker is a clear and firm denunciation of the practice. 


The Town Mistress, or Street-Walker[7]


This poem was published in a collection of works detailing various aspects of 18th century life. The authors involved in the composition of these texts are not named.


THE TOWN MISTRESS: O R, Street-Walker.


IN Drury Lane you still may find Girls which live by their Tails; All Females who're to Sport inclin'd, When best of Trading fails. Here 'tis the Mistress of the Town, will turn up for your fair Half-Crown.



 Here, Young and Old in Streets attend, At ev'ry Corner ply;. The handsome and the ugly blend, Their Fortunes for to try. And ev'ry Mistress of the Town, Will turn up for the fair Half-Crown,.



The Servant-Maid, and Madam fine, In Fleet street, and the Strand All Youths do stop to drink some Wine, 'Tis Wine that makes 'em stand. And here the Mistress of the Town Will turn up for Half a Crown.



To Tavern got, near Ten a Clock Says Sally what shall I do? She kisses, then pulls up her Smock And feels her Gallant too. For fill the Mistress of the Town, Will all things do for Half a Crown.



The Ware is now no sooner seen And rais'd on Chair or Table, Madam lays down, and puts it in; He does what Man is able. And this with Mistress of the Town, The Rake enjoys for Half a Crown



But he salutes her sirs all o'er, Her Lips, her Breasts, and Eyes; Behind he bulges, and Before, Her Breech-and then her Thighs For here the Mistress of the Town, Her Breech turns up for fair Half Crown.



As if she were an Angel, he Calls her my Life and Dear; But cool and backward frill is The Until his Pence appear. And then the Mistress of the Town, Will do all for your fair Half Crown.



In the fame Place he has his Sport, Where Thousands were before; It wants not Juice, you pay dear for't, And Thousands will do more. This you've with Miftreft of the Town Who turns up all for Half a Crown.



The flipp'ry Bliss then over and done, His Pockets he pulls out; But empty they; his Mistress' gone; A Clap he has to boot. So ends with Mistress of the Town, Alas! Who shoves for Half a Crowrn



Thus dearly all our Youths do pay For their imagin'd Pleasure; Thus vicious pass their Lives away, And susser beyond Measure. For with the Mistress of the Town, The Pox they buy for Half a Crown



The repetition of "Half a Crown" emphasises the financial dimension to street-walking. This text however shows that it is the female street-walker who is the victim of exploitation, as opposed to other texts which portray them as predatory. The interaction between the street-walker and the client is efficient and emotionless - "but cool and backward frill is The Until his Pence appear", the natural and loving dimension of sex is replaced by an emphasis on a twisted consumer culture which became prevalent in the 18th century. The 18th century sees the rise of street-walking and extra-marital sex as a business opportunity for women, rather than just another source of pleasure for the male. This runs parallel to the growing mercantile culture as a whole in the 18th century as the rise of capitalism and and the emergence of a bourgeoisie middle class created a further and more ruthless sense of inequality between the upper and lower classes. Capitalism at the time of its rise was seen on the whole as positive, and it wasn't until society gained some hindsight that the negative effects were considered. Dorothy Atkinson writes that "every bourgeois wife is a prostitute, different from the streetwalker only because she is hired for life rather than a few hours"[8]. This conveys the idea that the exploitative culture of capitalism directly correlates to the exploitation of not only prostitutes and street-walkers, but women in general, and that social relations are a product of a capitalist society. 



 Street-walking in the Public Eye


The representation of street-walkers in the press was also far from favourable. 

This article printed from theWeekly Journal or British Gazetteer[9] (London, England, Saturday, January 7, 1727; Issue 87) shows the notoriety of streetwalkers not only as beacons of illicit trade but also as symbols for violence, theft and extortion. The article describes a gold watch being stolen, and if we take the value of the Chronometer as any kind of example, it is easy to see that streetwalking was conducive not only to illegal sources of extra-marital sex but to a wide variety of crimes and transgressions from the law. A recurring pattern is present within many of the public documents regarding streetwalking in the 18th century is the relationship between streetwalking and material objects, showing once again that streetwalking was a more aggressive and exploitative form of prostitution. 







The punishment for street-walkers was varying in method and overall severity. The 18th century saw the introduction of imprisonment with hard labour, which was common for street-walkers who committed petty crimes alongside their illicit sexual activities. In the case of Eleanor Evans[10]however, she was subjected to a far more humiliating public whipping (for more information on Whipping in the 18th century, please consult Whipping). Although the public whipping of women was abolished in 1817[11}  - perhaps due to the idea that female criminality was perceived as less dangerous than male criminality, Evans was clearly more than just a mere vendor of sex. The manner in which she attempted to stab Police Constable William Wotton shows the violence that was synonymous with the practice of street-walking. 



Walking on the Wrong Side of the Law


The Ordinary of Newgate's accounts, the sister publication of the Old Bailey Proceedings conveys the extent to which streetwalkers were negatively perceived in 18th century society. 




The circumstances of John Mattocks, who was convicted of capital offences and sentenced to death, are described below:


"John Mattocks (22 Years of Age) has honest Parents, in the Parish of St. Giles's, Cripplegate, who gave him good Education, in order to instruct him in the Principles of Christianity, and to fit him for Business When of Age, he chose to go to Sea , and was employed in that way of Business for six or seven Years the appear'd more candid and ingenuous than Mr. Sells, and to be a young Man of a smooth and easy Temper. I ask'd him, if Sells had seduced him to the practice of HighwayRobbery? he answer'd by Silence, which made me suspect it the more; but at another Time he denied that it was by Sells Perswasions, out of his own Inclination, that he had joyn'd him in such villainous Enterprises, which Sells also affected, referring the truth of it to Mattocks himself, who indeed (although his Friends alledged Sells to have been his Ruin) took the whole blame upon himself. He confect himself to have been a great Sinner, in too much neglecting the Worship of God, in breaking the Lord's-Day, in disobeying his Parents, who had been very dutiful to him, in giving him good Instruction, and good example of Virtue and Honesty, which he imitated not. The immediate Cause of his Ruin was, that after he came last home from Sea, he had the misfortune to marry a naughty Woman, who had been Mistress to one Campbel that was hang'd last Year, for Robbery on the Highway, near Islington, for whom see had greater respect than for Mattocks. With this young Woman he took an Alehouse near Newgate, but she being acquainted with a Gang of Thieves and Whores, by means of her deceas'd Lover, they flock'd constantly to their House, and the Woman heeding nothing but Drinking and Idleness, they eat and drank all up, so that in two Months time, Mattocks having nothing left, was put to his Shifts. He did not blame his Wife for giving him bad Advice to betake himself to wicked Courses, but only complain'd that she had turn’d a common Street Walker (as he was inform'd) upon which account, he had not cohabited with, nor own'd her, for some time past. I advis'd him to be at peace with her, before he left the World, which he willingly consented to since, suppose that she was once his Wife, it was not proper that any one of 'm should die, having the least Grudge at the other, and he being to die, it was fit he should give her good Counsel for the welfare of her Soul accordingly, after the Dead Warrant, no more hopes of Life remaining, she sometimes waited on him at Chappel, where he spoke to her, and at he affirm'd said nothing, but advis’d her to a godly and holy Life, and to give up her naughty and wicked Practices, which if persisted in, might probably bring her to the like Misfortunes, as he was now justly suffering He express'd a willingness to die for his Crimes, and acknowledg'd his Sentence to be most just. He denied himself to have been extreamly wicked in the precceding course of his Life, and was in good esteem in the Neighbourhood where he livi’d, but that after his unhappy Marriage, falling into an intimate familiarity with Mr. Sells, and their Circumstances at that time being low, they agreed together to ride out, in order to rob Noblemen or Gentlemen upon the Highway, none of them accusing the other, as first proposer or adviser, but each of them taking all the Guilt upon himself, as voluntarily, of his own free accord, and without the least constrain, so much as by persiasion of his Partner, following such a most wicked Course of Life; which (as they said) was only for a Month or two, and during that time they committed seventeen or eighteen Robberies, in different Counties in Middlesex, one in Essex, and some few in Hertfordshir. &c and that they took above sixty, or about eighty Pounds but did not know the Value exactly. Mattocks declar'd, that he died in Peace with all the World, freely forgiving all Men who had offended him, as he expected Forgiveness at then Hand of God, and an unworthy Member of this Church" 


Although Mattocks is directly responsible for his crimes, the street-walker is implicated as a key component in his ruin. The street-walker has a corrupting influence, using her sexuality as a tool to bend Mattocks to her will. Again we can see the a transition from passive female action to a type of opportunist mindset - women were denied the same rights and opportunities in terms of work and education as men so they were forced to find a way to make a living. 



Moon-walker and the Street-Walker

     Video 1 - Michael Jackson - Streetwalker



It seems that even the King of Pop had his own, slightly more casual, take on the street-walker..... 



Annotated Bibliography




Anon. The Town Mistress, Or, Street-Walker. Published for A.More, London, 1726. Historical Texts. Web. 16 Jan. 2015.


     A very interesting piece, which is one of the more poetic texts that I came across regarding the practice of Street-walking. There is a strong link between street-walking and capitalism, showing the degenerative nature of money and extortion and their effects upon society. Relevant to the texts studied in the second half of the year which deal with the potential problems of the growing material culture of the 18th century. Text reinforces the fact that street-walkers were far more mobile and active than the normal prostitute. 


Cleland, John, and Peter Sabor. Fanny Hill, Or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. United Kingdom: Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1999, Print


     This novel was really useful in clarifying the distinction between street-walkers and prostitutes, which on the surface may not seem like a major detail but in reality the two practices are very different. As described in Fanny Hill, the time she spends as a prostitute in the almost luxurious house of Mrs Brown provides a complete contrast to the time spent by street-walkers on the streets of the most destitute and often dangerous cities. Furthers the idea that street-walkers were more than just prostitutes - often gang members and robbers. 


Old Bailey Proceedings Online. (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0 3rd February 2015) 













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