“Mrs Buchan… is about twenty nine years of age, remarkably well formed, and possessing a pair of black eyes, bright enough to lead an anchorite to the path of error”.
So reads one of the many entries in an 1841 guide to the brothels and prostitutes of London that in a Hansons (20% buyer’s premium) sale of April 11, held at Bishton Hall, Staffordshire, enticed a bid of £3300.
The Swell’s Night Guide through the Metropolis, supposedly compiled by “the Hon F.L.G.”, was printed for private circulation by one Roger Funnyman of The Strand – though the first edition copy in this sale had a label for the Edwards Parisian Repository of Fleet Street pasted over that original imprint.
As well as the frontispiece and title page vignettes shown above, the work contains 17 other plates and smaller text vignettes.
'Notorious for informers'
It provides the names and residences of the ladies, or identifies the clubs, pubs and bars where they may otherwise be found. Some of those pubs and bars, like the Spotted Horse, are praised but punters are warned off others, such as Kelley’s in Bow Street – “a notorious house for informers”.
The attractions of some of the ladies are highly praised. Miss Allison has a mouth “…cast in the very mould of perfection, while her lips’ rosy tinge would lure a hermit to wish to brush their dew”, but there are those for whom a more qualified recommendation is needed.
Mrs Brougham, readers are advised, is now verging fast into “the sear and yellow leaf”, but numbers among her admirers a goodly train of sighing swains who appear to enjoy the possession of a dame “fair, fat and fifty”.
Among that number, it is hinted, is a certain amorous member of the highest class of nobility.
This scarce, 151pp work also includes a guide to contemporary London criminal slang and ‘flash’ words – ‘academy’ for brothel, for example.
Some terms are still current, ‘Bunch of Fives’ for fist, for example, but others seem more obscure today, such as ‘Bolt the Moon’, meaning to cheat the landlord.