View Full Version : How much were Victorian prostitutes paid?

01-26-2014, 04:19 AM
Setting: Victorian London, December 1900. Two sixteen-year-old girls, living in fairly horrible conditions in Whitechapel. Prostitutes to a variety of men, still reasonably attractive for girls who've had hard lives in those times. One of them is a Slovakian prostitute, and the other is English.

How much would it realistically cost them to rent half a bed (they sleep two to a bed) in a brothel, and how much could they realistically charge per, um, sexual encounter in old money?

I can find various things on prostitution or paedophilia in the Victorian age, but they all seem like rather large estimates (twenty Victorian pounds per sexual encounter? No way, right?)

01-26-2014, 04:44 AM
Not sure of its credentials, but this article seems reasonably informative. It mentions 6p, and for some reason that's what first sprung to my mind when I first read your post...I'm sure I've read that figure somewhere else.


01-26-2014, 06:39 PM
I can find various things on prostitution or paedophilia in the Victorian age, but they all seem like rather large estimates (twenty Victorian pounds per sexual encounter? No way, right?)

I could buy that it if they were "call-girls" to the wealthy and not Whitechapel unfortunates.
I think you'd be better off in your research if you look at Jack the Ripper's victims and their lives, since they were Whitechapel unfortunates (polite contemporary term for prostitutes) and died all of 2 years before you're writing. Conditions didn't change much in that time, especially not the doss houses. Doss houses charged from 4-6 pence a night, and not all allowed people to share beds and only a few allowed a man and woman to share a bed.

Per this article (http://www.casebook.org/victims/polly.html) on Polly Nichols (Jack's first canonical victim)

At the time, the services of a destitute prostitute like Polly Nichols could be had for 2 or 3 pence or a stale loaf of bread. 3 pence was the going rate as that was the price of a large glass of gin.

The characters you're describing have things in common with Liz Stride (a foreign prostitute come to Whitechapel) and Mary Kelly (the youngest and most comely of Jack's victims), so you might find some inspiration there.

Hope that helps.

01-26-2014, 06:41 PM
I believe the term a 'Tuppeny Upright' comes from that period - refers to sex with a prostitute performed standing up in an ally for two old pence. That may be a good starting point - compare that with the equivalent in modern money then look at the difference between that and what a modern prostitute will charge and you may get a vague idea... 6p sounds about right, though.

In one of the early Sandman comics, Neil Gaiman also has a prostitute of that period offer a gentleman sex with the euphemism 'buy a lady a drain of pale' which I cannot find any other reference for on the internet so cannot say if it is something real he researched elsewhere or something he made up... but that to me implies the proposed cost was 'the price of a pale ale' (and a possible way to avoid arrest for soliciting as you could argue a difference between a gentleman buying a woman a drink and her 'happening to have sex with him' and him paying her for sex... not that I am sure the police would have seen it that way :) ). But as I say this is speculation.

To be honest, I think there is enough variety for anything that is not too over the top to be charged...

01-26-2014, 06:52 PM
If you write sixpence as a figure, remember that it was written as 6d not 6p.

01-26-2014, 07:28 PM
I've been reading Fiona Rule's The Worst Street in London, which covers your setting and time frame and contains a lot of nuts-and-bolts about how people lived and what things cost then. It may not have the exact figure you're looking for, but it's got a lot of info which may be useful.

01-26-2014, 07:30 PM
Mayhew's Characters or his London Labour and London Poor would probably tell you.

01-26-2014, 08:55 PM
Also note that Slovakia didn't exist as a separate country before 1993. It was part of Czechoslovakia from 1918 and at the time of your story was part of Austria-Hungary.