Life Below Stairs: Increase in the White-Slave Traffic

strangers M00009 53

The Stranger’s Guide, or Frauds of London Detected, 1808, London, George Andrewes.

Back in March, I spoke of the Fallen Female Servant, those young (often innocent) girls who were seduced or conquered by their masters. Today, I wish to speak of what the future held if the mistress of the house drove them from their positions without a character. These girls were always at great risk of joining the ranks of those populating London’s brothels. The proper Regency or Victorian lady may have found the young girls at fault for “enticing” the men of the household, but what of the woman’s responsibility to the girls? Where was her humanity? Often the threat of dismal was used as “incentive” to get the female servants to perform without complaint. Many young servant girls had no choice but to enter prostitution. These unsuspecting girls filled the disreputable registry offices. 

Some of these offices were run by legitimate charities that provided these girls with cheap accommodations while the girls waited for new employment. The girls would share space two others, but they would be safe and not on the street. 

Then there were those fringe registry groups, which were tracked by the National Vigilance Association and local police offices (during the Victorian era). These fringe registry groups recruited girls for the brothels. They used adverts claiming high wages and little work to draw in the unsuspecting. Like modern day scam operations, the owners of these false agencies would open up another outlet as quickly as another was shut down by the police. A name change and a new address and they were back in business. 


Prostitution – The British Library Touch for Touch: satirical print depicting a prostitute

Frank Huggett in Life Below Stairs (pages 124-125) says, “It was often difficult for the police to accumulate sufficient evidence to bring charges. The owner of one agency in Bishops Road, London, was ultimately convicted of obtaining half a crown by false pretences from an 18-year-old who had been induced to leave a good situation in Worcester in the hope of obtaining an even better job as a lady’s maid in the capital. Another office in Park Street, London, was closed by the proprietor before any charges could be made, after the police had begun to investigate complaints by girls from many different parts of the country. One London brothel employed a procuress at ‘a considerable salary’ to go out into the country to hire young girls, often with their parents’ consent, for some fictitious situation in the capital: on arrival, they were taken direct to the brothel, where ‘their ruin was effected.’ One London brothel keeper, a Mrs Harris, set up a fake servants’ agency on Slough-Windsor road and employed her sister, Mrs Barnett, to recruit good-looking local girls for service. After they had engaged, they were sent first to Mrs Harris’s highest-class establishment in Great Titchfield Street, in the heart of London, and then relegated in uneasy stages to the five other lower-class bordellos she owned in the capital.”

The servant industry increased the white slave trade on cross-Channel steamers in Victorian times. Girls from throughout the Continent were lured to London for better working conditions. Meanwhile, English girls, who knew the reality of domestic service, were lured to the Continent, where they expected to be swept up in silk and know fame and fortune. In truth, brothels on both sides of the Channel knew the influx of “foreign” girls. Girls less than age 21 were provided birth certificates to satisfy the official inspectors of Continental brothels. They were examined (usually by the procuress) prior to boarding ship to make certain they did not have some form of venereal disease. They were inspected a second time by a doctor upon their arrival. 

Cassatt_S2_1941-71.ashx While Cassatt celebrated bourgeois mothers and children, her male contemporaries turned their gaze to “public women,” the actresses, dancers and prostitutes of the entertainment class of fin-de-siècle Paris. Mary Cassatt

Huggett (page 127-129) says, “In the 1870s two of the biggest white slave traffickers were a couple who went under the name of Mr and Mrs Klyberg; they helped to stock the Dutch brothels in the Hague, Amersterdam and Rotterdam with fresh English girls at £12 a time. Many other girls were shipped off to Belgium. One sixteen-year-old housemaid from Brixton ‘with an open honest face, and a bright clear complexion, and healthy-looking, like an English cottage girl’ was procured in England in 1878. She was taken to Brussels where she was found two years later, by a British official, in a manson de débauche under a false name and sent back, not unharmed, to her parents in Chepstow, Monmouthshire.

“Estimates of the number of full-time prostitutes in London in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign varied wildly from a modest eight thousand to ten thousand (by Richard Mayne, one of the Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police) to twenty thousand, fifty thousand, eighty thousand or even more. With such a clandestine and unregulated trade, there could be no certainty about numbers as new foreign and native recruits were being added daily to replace those decimated by death or disease. It is equally difficult to state precisely how many of them had once been domestic servants, though it appears that the proportion was very high. The London Female Dormitory admitted 711 women between 1850 and 1856. Of the 157 women and girls with known occupations, 130 had been servants; two governesses; and another two, charwomen: in all about 85 per cent. Another London rescue organisation found that about three-quarters of its clients had been domestic servants. (It should be remembered that the proportion of servants in the female working population was also extremely high.) Most of the prostitutes were young. Many in Superintendent Dunlap’s division were only twelve to fifteen years of age; of the first thousand patients admitted to Edinburgh Lock Hospital, 662 were aged from fifteen to twenty, and another 42 were under fifteen.” 

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in British history, Great Britain, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, servant life, Victorian era, William IV and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Life Below Stairs: Increase in the White-Slave Traffic

  1. Tough reading, Regina but well don’t. Thanks.

  2. ksbeth says:

    this is horrendous and sounds exactly what continues on today. appalling that other women were willing to be a part of it, for profit, or to keep their men happy, also interesting the ‘public women’ – prostitutes, actresses and dancers –

Comments are closed.