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They are a set of remarkable little guidebooks. Each one contains the names of women who lived in London and worked as prostitutes in the second half of the eighteenth-century. Unlike with other biographically-based histories, there were no caches of correspondence, no diaries, no autobiographies and no living relations to interview. Ultimately, the idea was to create a narrative which not only told the story of the Lists , but more importantly, which plunged the reader into the eighteenth-century world from which the Lists emerged.
When I started reading the entries I was struck by the extraordinary intimacy of these tragic, emotive, fascinating and sometimes bizarre accounts of what it was like to have been an ordinary woman who just happened to have found herself in prostitution — sometimes by choice, sometimes not.
During the course of my research I had the privilege of reading over 1, entries — each one, a different story, each one, a person with a name and a life that had been lost to us.
Each woman had been someone history had never thought to record and it felt like a beautiful accident to stumble across these individuals and to commune with them, however briefly. However, I also thought it was worth making an exploration of their lives central to my narrative. Charlotte was born the daughter of a brothel keeper, Mrs Ward and grew up to be a harlot, like her mother. Together, Charlotte and Dennis managed to scale the heights of the sex trade, opening a series of up-scale brothels.
The Covent Garden Ladies is about their experiences. It is about how prosaic prostitution was, about how there were no red-light districts, how prostitutes lived cheek-by-jowl with everyone else in their neighbourhoods. As I say in my final chapter, prostitution was the only way in the eighteenth-century a woman born into poverty could scale the heights and potentially even marry a man of title.