After introducing the reader to some of “the tricks and artifices which the old hag taught” her malleable young girl prostitutes, Reynolds described the physical and moral deprivations of their lives previous to coming under her influence, the chiefest of which is that they were “born of parents who never took the trouble to inculcate a single moral lesson, even if they knew any, [so that] those poor creatures had actually remained ignorant of the meaning of right and wrong.” Reynolds devotes most of the next few pages describing in detail children's lives of deprivation in the slums. — George P. Landow

Most of the girls whom the old hag had enlisted in her service, had been born and reared in that dirty warren which constitutes Golden Lane, Upper Whitecross Street, Playhouse Yard, Swan Street, and all their innumerable courts, alleys, and obscure nooks, swarming with a ragged and degraded population. Sometimes in their infancy they creeped out from their loathsome burrows, and even ventured into Old Street, Barbican, or Beech Street. But those excursions were not frequent. During their childhood they rolled half-naked in the gutters,—eating the turnip-parings and cabbage-stalks which were tossed out into the street with other offal,—poking about in the kennels to find lost halfpence,—or even plundering the cat's-meat-man and the tripe-shop for the means of satisfying their hunger! This mode of life was but little varied;—unless, indeed, it were by the more agreeable recreations of particular days in the year. Thus, for instance, November was welcomed as the time for making a Guy-Fawkes, and carrying it round in procession amidst the pestilential mazes of the warren; August gave them "oyster day," to be signalised by the building of shell-grottoes, which were an excuse for importuning passengers for alms; and the December season had its "boxing-day," on which occasion the poor ragged creatures would be seen thronging the doors of the oil-shops to beg for Christmas-candles!

These had been the only holidays which characterised the childhood of those unfortunate, lost, degraded girls whose lot we are describing. Sunday was not marked by cleanlier apparel, nor better food: if it were singled out at all from the other days of the week, the distinguishing sign was merely the extra drunkenness of the fathers of the families. Good Friday brought the little victims no hot-cross buns, nor Christmas Day its festivities, nor Shrove Tuesday its pancakes:—they had no knowledge of holy periods nor sacred ceremonies;—no seasonable luxury reminded them of the anniversaries of the birth, the death, or the resurrection of a Redeemer.

No—in physical privations and moral blindness had they passed their infancy:—and thus, having gone through a complete initiation into the miseries and sufferings of life, they were prepared at the age of ten to commence an apprenticeship of crime. And the old hag was an excellent mistress: were there an University devoted to graduates in Wickedness, this horrible wretch would have taken first-class Degrees in its schools.

Thus, be it understood, up to the age of ten or eleven, when those poor girls were transferred by their unfeeling parents (who were glad to get rid of them) to the care of the old woman, they had scarcely ever been out of the warren where they were born. Now a new world, as it were, dawned upon them. They laid aside their fetid rags, and put on garments which appeared queenly robes in their eyes. They were sent into streets lined with splendid shops, and beheld gay carriages and equipages of all kinds. Hitherto the principal gin-shop in their rookery had appeared the most gorgeous palace in the world in their eyes, with its revolving burners, its fine windows, and its meretriciously-dressed bar-girls:—now they could feast their gaze with the splendours of the linen-drapers' and jewellers' establishments on Ludgate Hill. Their existence seemed to be suddenly invested with charms that they had never before dreamt of; and they adored the old hag as the authoress of their good fortune. Thus she established a sovereign dominion over her poor ignorant victims through the medium of their mistaken gratitude; and when she told them to sin, they sinned—sinned, too, before they even knew the meaning of virtue!

Such was the history—not of one only—but of all the young girls whom this atrocious old hag had bought from their parents!

To many—to most of our readers, the details of this description may seem improbable,—nay, impossible.

The picture is, alas! too true.

Related material


Reynolds, George W. M. The Mysteries of London. vol 1. Project Gutenberg EBook #47312 produced by Chuck Greif and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team from images available at Google Books. Web. 2 August 2016.

Last modified 25 October 2016