A little melody that has been floating around my head has blossomed into this, ‘Desire’ – for the souls working the corners, parks, highways and byways of London’s Old East End. This week it’s a very sad tale indeed. The plight of the East End working girl. From all backgrounds and classes and all with a story to tell.
First dates can be a minefield of problems. Where will I take her? What will I wear? How will I hide my lazy eye and, how much rohypnol is too much?
Whilst I’m sure you, the listener, have plenty of your own horror stories; missing the bus, getting lost on the way to the venue and then realising that the tramp you kicked in the back in your mad rush to arrive on time, was also your blind date. Yes I hate that too.
But instead of whinging and whining about our past experiences, we have to spare a thought for their those poor souls, the girls who would work the streets and alleyways of London’s old East End. For many of those girls this was the result of a date gone wrong.
Recorded in a book by Henry Mayhew (in which he interviewed some 2000 people on working the street, homeless or in the workhouse) are many sad accounts. One in particular, spilling from the mouths of different girls from many different backgrounds and many different walks of life.
Pretty young Victorian girl whose head is filled with romance and whose days are blissfully spent doing embroidery and swooning a lot, one day perhaps during a walk in the park or outside her own house, meets a dapper young gent who gives her a compliment. Now she’s dazzled by his charm and over time maybe they meet again and again, taking walking together, each time further and further away from home. One day her new beau takes her just a little bit further than she is comfortable, until she realises that she doesn’t know where she is any more. He says, “Don’t worry this is actually my neighbourhood. My mother lives nearby, maybe we can call-in and I’ll introduce you”. Now this naive young girl follows this gent into a house where an old lady perhaps offers a drink. Whereupon the girl is drugged, raped and wakes up in the sex trade.
Her family will never see her again and maybe think she’s run away. And you’d have a hard job finding people in those days. And so begins 10, 20, 30+ years of intimate dealings with men whose concept of high standards of personal hygiene was urinating outside the trousers, and who thought chlamydia was an exotic girls name.
This sad sad story is told time and time again via these first-hand accounts in this book, Henry Mayhew’s ‘London’s Underworld’.
So next time you’re sat across the table from someone who looks like Mel Smith and sounds like Kenneth Williams, spare thought these girls of London’s old East End.
Play London song above or view video.