BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page was last updated in February 2004We've left it here for reference.More information

13 July 2014
Accessibility help
Text only
Legacies - Southampton

BBC Homepage
 Legacies
 UK Index
 Southampton
 Article
Listings
Your stories
 Archive
 Site Info
 BBC History
 Where I Live

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

 
Work
Two prostitutes
© Mary Evans Picture Library
"The oldest trade in the world"

In the mid-Victorian period, the bustling commercial port of Southampton boasted another thriving, but less image-friendly “trade” – prostitution. A common feature of urban life generally, prostitution was particularly prevalent in ports and seaside resorts, where soldiers and sailors on leave provided a ready clientele. Local police from dock towns often reported large increases in the number of prostitutes on the streets after the arrival of a new ship in port.

Streetwalkers and sailors’ women

A Southampton street, 1882
Prostitution was the darker side to life in a dock town
© Southampton City Council
Before the Contagious Diseases Acts, prostitutes in Southampton tended to be in their early twenties. Many of them were migrants from the surrounding countryside, and the research of Judith Walkowitz has shown that a large number came from disrupted families, or were orphans. The absence of a strong parental figure may have made these women less submissive than their peers, who grew up under pressure to become “angels of the hearth” - the Victorian ideal of womanhood. Certainly many locals commented on the wilful independence and impulsive character of streetwalkers.

Southampton prostitutes lived in a narrowly defined neighbourhood, mainly concentrated in Simnel and Cross Streets – both “low” streets, notorious for being unsanitary, and repeatedly denounced in the local press as full of brothels, (when in reality, the inhabitants of these streets would have been much more diverse). Prostitutes often lived together in groups of three or four, and contemporaries noted the support and aid they gave one another in times of need and distress.

Other women formed more permanent relationships with sailors, living with them when they were in port, and drawing their half pay when they were at sea. These women provided social as well as sexual services to sailors in port, argues Walkowitz - they housed them, held their money, and prevented them from being exploited by unprincipled lodging-house keepers in their absence.


Pages: [ 1, 2, 3, 4 ] Next


Your comments




Print this page
Archive
Look back into the past using the Legacies' archives. Find nearly 200 tales from around the country in our collection.

Read more >
Internet Links
Showcase: Southampton history on the web
Southampton local studies
Josephine Butler
Women's work
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Web sites.
Gloucestershire
Those who can’t, teach: Dorothea Beale & Cheltenham Ladies' College
Related Stories
Policing the frontier: Middlesbrough c.1830s to 1860s
Treading the boards with Sarah Siddons
Brum's hidden jewel




About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy