[This document comes from Helena Wojtczak's English Social History: Women of Nineteenth-Century Hastings and St.Leonards. An Illustrated Historical Miscellany, which the author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web. Click on the title to obtain the original site, which has additional information.]

There is little information about prostitution in mid-nineteenth century Hastings, and none about it in St Leonards. It seems that prostitutes were left in peace until they fell foul of the law, so the only evidence available is that gleaned from Court reports, one of the earliest of which mentions Sarah Mitchell, "a prostitute who was wandering in the streets" one day in 1826. She was committed to the watch-house, then discharged the next morning. The following are all taken from Magistrates' Court reports.

IMMORAL PRACTICES IN THE BACKYARD

Paraphrased from: Hastings & St Leonards News, 26 Jan 1855

William Huggett, landlord of the Ship, [Great Bourne street, pictured] was summoned for allowing prostitutes and persons of notorious bad character to assemble upon his premises. Late at night one Saturday, Inspector Battersby was passing through Post-office passage when he heard some persons raffling in a house at the rear of the Ship public house. The room was not part of the Ship but Huggett hired the house (at 6 shillings and 2 pence a week), and had knocked a wall through to his pub. Then he saw some beer brought out of the Ship and into the room where the raffling was going on. There were twelve to fourteen men and four prostitutes, of whom two were drunk. He heard a dispute about paying for the beer "in female voices and in language not fit to be repeated".

Two days later he found a man in the yard outside the same room "in a very indecent position with a drunken prostitute." The police halted their congress, but later returned to find the same pair engaged in the same act, again outside in the yard. The police inspector said "I consider it to be a worse place than a common brothel" and his sergeant added that he had often found prostitutes in the room behind the Ship.

Huggett was fined 10 shillings and 19 shillings 6 pence costs, with a week to pay.




THE CASE OF THE BATTERED INSPECTOR

Paraphrased from Hastings & St Leonards News, 6 July 1855

Thomas and Prudence Morris, both 43, ran a shop in Post Office passage, Old Town. Late one Saturday night in July 1855, Inspector Battersby followed "two suspicious looking characters" into the Morris's house. This was a notorious place, which the police called "a complete rendezvous for thieves and prostitutes" and which had been reported already for illegally distilling. About forty men and women were carousing inside, and as the Inspector walked down the alleyway, Mr. Morris came out and bashed him repeatedly with a pint-pot, while he and his wife dragged the poor Inspector inside whereupon he was also kicked violently. He managed to escape - "I have no doubt they would have killed me had I not got away." He was, the Court saw, "dreadfully wounded" about the legs.

He returned with reinforcements, and the Morrises immediately assaulted all four of them. One managed to tie Mr. Morris up; another held Mrs. Morris while she tried to bite him. It took all four to drag the struggling pair to the lock-up, and once there they continued to assault the officers, kicking one in the arm.

In Court, the pair denied assault. As witnesses to their peaceful character they called Sarah Mann, a self-confessed prostitute, and Letilia Clayton, who gave her occupation as "boxmaker."

Mr. Morris was fined 3 or two months' imprisonment on one charge, and 2 or six weeks' imprisonment on another. Mrs. Morris was fined 1 or one month in prison. They declined to pay and were both sent to Lewes gaol accordingly.




OFFENSE AGAINST LICENSE

Paraphrased from: Hastings & St Leonards News, 19 January 1856

Richard Wood, landlord of the Privateer in Wellington mews was summoned for allowing persons of notorious bad character to assemble in his house." Sergeant Brazier went to the pub between 12 and 1am and found "fiddling and dancing" and found inside two known prostitutes "Dover Lizzy" and "Sally Bates", two other young women and several young men, "including four from the railway station". The young men claimed to be ignorant of the women's occupation, the latter being "well-dressed and well-behaved."

As Wood was a repeat offender he was fined 10 shillings plus 15 shillings and 5 pence costs.




PICKING POCKETS

Verbatim report from: Hastings & St Leonards News, 7 February 1852

Borough Bench
Magistrates' Clerk's Office, Monday 2 February 1852
Before the Mayor, Thomas Hickes, Esq.

Caroline Upton, a prostitute, was brought up in custody, charged with stealing nine shillings and sixpence from the person of Robert Phillips, a wheelwright, residing at Ore. Prosecutor deposed that between eleven and twelve o' clock on the previous evening he accosted the prisoner at the back of the King's Head, near Mr. Breeds's brewhouse. He remained some time in the prisoner's company, during which period the latter asked him if he had any money, to which prosecutor replied in the negative. While in her company, the prisoner was busying herself in feeling his pockets; and shortly after he left the prisoner he missed his money.

A short time previous to this, the prosecutor changed half-a-sovereign at the Roebuck Inn, to pay for a pot of ale, and put the change (9s. 6d.) in his watch pocket. He had other money in his pockets, but he could not tell the amount, as he was in liquor at the time (from the effects of which he had evidently not yet recovered). On finding that he had been robbed, he gave information to the police.

Police-constable Furminger deposed that be saw the parties in company about the time in question; and witnessed the prisoner take two handkerchiefs from the pockets of the prosecutor, which she returned. Witness apprehended the prisoner about three hours afterwards at a house in the Creek, and took her to the watchhouse, where, on being searched, 9s. 6d. and some coppers were found in her possession. Prisoner stated that the money found upon her was her own. She had been several times in the prosecutor's company, and had never had a similar charge brought against her before.

Prosecutor - No; because then I had nothing to lose.

The evidence not being sufficient to connect the prisoner with the robbery, the case was dismissed; and the prosecutor received a caution from the Mayor to keep better company in future.


Illustrations: Top: The Ship Inn, corner of 24 Great Bourne st & Post Office-passage. (Drawing by W H Brooke 1841). Bottom: Hastings police in 1854. The police station behind them is now the Old Town Museum, High Street, Hastings.


Gender History

Last modified 2000