The Oldest Profession (and others)

The Alhambra

Ferret No. 2 This cover picture so outraged public sensibilities when it appeared that newsboys and their supplier, bookseller Charles Grieves, were arrested. Grieves was sentenced to one year of hard labour, according to Donald Thomas' The Victorian Underword.

The Ferret was not only sold by newsboys, coffee shops and booksellers, it was also on display at railway stations where modest ladies could not avoid its presence.

In addition to Sadleir's roles as bibliographer, translator, publisher and collector of Victoriana, he was the author of the fiction Fanny By Gaslight. The inspiration he drew from the fast literature here is evident in his description of a visit to the Alhambra.

The Ballet...concludes the first half and is followed by a long - a very long - interval. The interval is one of the main features of the show...You wander down [to the music hall canteen] after the ballet, pick up a couple of dancers and buy them champagne.

They are cheerful young women still wearing their scanty ballet costumes and with plenty to say for themselves. Nearly an hour passes...It is now nearly time for the notorious Can-Can, and you prepare to return to your seats.

The ladies wish to say thank you for their wine, and each, with an arm round your neck...puts unmistakable provocation into her kiss. She probably ventures other familiarities, and certainly asks softly if you will be near the stage-door when the show is over...


Can-Can at the Alhambra
The Days' Doings October 8, 1870
"The Last New Can-Can.--Mdlle Colonna and Her Parisian Troupe at the Royal Alhambra Palace"

The Can-Can mentioned in Sadleir's quote above created a greater scandal than The Ferret cover.

The Alhambra featured Mlle. Colonna (aka Amelia Newman, first dancer from the right) and her "Parisian" Can-Can show for five weeks.

Two officers of the law saw Mlle. Sara (Sara Wright, second from right) kick her leg over her head while facing the audience.

The Alhambra lost its dance license due to this outrage. The Colonna troupe's transgressions also included Newman and another dancer (as shown here) appearing as men in knickers.
Closing the Argyll Rooms
The Argyll Rooms

All music halls required licenses, and one way in which local governing councils attempted to control vice was through these licenses.

The decade of the 1860s was considered too licentious and was followed by attempts to shut down music halls to deny men access to prostitutes in the 1870s.

However, when music halls were denied licenses, West Enders complained about the street walkers in their neighborhoods. Therefore, licenses went through phrases of withdrawals and renewals. The Argyll Rooms finally closed as a music hall in 1878, a moment this broadsheet illustrates.

An American in London, Daniel J. Kirwan, related in 1870 that he:

...paid a shilling to enter the Argyle Rooms, and received a tin check, which was given up at the door, as in the Alhambra. The Argyle has not such high architectural pretensions as the Alhambra, but the class of visitors are better in the sense of dress and position. I entered through a side door, and found myself in a carpeted room, handsomely and tastefully furnished and decorated.

...Women, dressed in costly silks and satins and velvets, the majority of them wearing rich jewels and gold ornaments, are lounging on the plush sofas in a free and easy way, conversing with men whose dress betoken that they are in respectable society. A number of these are in full evening dress, wearing their overcoats, and a few of them have come from the clubs, a few from dinner parties, and a greater number from the theatres or opera.


Ferret No. 4

Bracebridge Hemming, in one of many exposÚs during this era, estimated the number of females working as prostitutes at more than 80,000. This figure, Thomas notes, no doubt also included "casual" and part-time prostitutes, for women often drifted in and out of prostitution as their familial and financial situations changed.

In addition to the Argyll Rooms and The Alhambra, The Cremorne Gardens was another recognized evening locale to practice "the oldest profession." However, as Judith Walkowitz reveals in her study of Victorian street harassment, any female, woman or child, who was brazen or naive enough to walk alone in the West End London shopping district was more likely than not to be solicited.

This cover of The Ferret, titled "A Weird Meeting," employs "street language" with little or no subtlety. The position of the two figures, the placement of shadows, the predatory animal and the physical language of both fear and submission go far beyond the bounds of the relative decorum of "A Music Hall Canteen."
Madame Rachel Beautiful Forever

Madame Rachel was so notorious in her time that she was the role model for characters in a variety of works, including Lady Auderley's Lover by Mary Braddock and Armadale by Wilkie Collins. She appeared as "Madame Sara" in The Sorceress of the Strand by L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace. Arthur Machen, a late Victorian "decadent" writer, featured Madame Rachel in Dreads and Drolls, his recollections of a variety of "fast literature" scandals.

Madame Rachel opened a shop called "Beautiful Forever" where she sold exotic potions and subjected clients to various beauty treatments. The shop linked to Madame Rachel's Arabian Baths. Madame Rachel was also involved in prostitution and solicited actresses to work for her. However, her most successful work involved bribery.

In 1868, Madame Rachel ran a successful con on Mary Tucker Borradaile, a widow who came to the shop for beauty treatments. Rachel convinced Borradaile that an aristocratic bachelor had fallen in love after he spied the widow in the baths. Madame Rachel forged letters from the Lord "who needed a bit of cash to tide him over until he received his inheritance." By this ruse, Borradaile gave "the Lord" what amounted to her monetary estate.

Borradaile, contrary to most women in her situation and of her station, took Madame Rachel to court. The con artist was sentenced to prison. When she was released, she went back to business as usual.

This penny magazine portrait of Madame Rachel seems to evoke the notion of a vermin by the placement of the bow in her hair. Such was her reputation when she was tried for a second time for the theft of a client's jewelry.

In testimony within the penny magazine, the client, Cecilia Marie Perce, is cross-examined about the beauty treatments she received, specifically "enameling." This practice involved the use of lead-based powder emulsified in liquid and applied to the face and chest and, if necessary, over putty that filled wrinkles. (John Singer Sargent's Madame X is enameled, as is noticeable compared to the natural color of her ears.)

Perce claimed she had never been enameled by Madame Rachel. Perce did note that Madame Rachel requested letters from her addressed to "Dearest Friend," another set up for blackmail. Madame Rachel was sentenced to five years in prison. She lived for only two years of this sentence. Her death was attributed to lead poisoning from the beauty treatments she provided.


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