Author Talk and Book Launch: Prostitution in Victorian Colchester

Wednesday 7th March. 6.30 pm

The decision to build a new army camp in Colchester in 1856 helped to stimulate the local economy. Before long the Colchester garrison was one of the largest in the country and the town experienced an economic upturn. But there was a downside: some of the soldiers’ behaviour was highly disruptive and, since very few private soldiers were allowed to marry, prostitution flourished.

Having compiled a database of nearly 350 of Colchester’s nineteenth-century prostitutes, the authors examine how they lived and operated and who their customers were. What were the routes into and out of prostitution and what was life like as a prostitute? Was it even seen by some as an acceptable way for girls and young women to boost inadequate earnings from more respectable work? How did prostitution intersect with the social life of the town, especially as this was played out in local beer houses? This is also an investigation of how authority in its many guises – from policeman and solicitor to magistrate and lady reformer – dealt with prostitution and the many problems associated with it, bringing a great many vested interests into conflict with each other.

Bringing to bear considerations of class and gender, urban development, health and welfare, religion and moral reform, this is a wide-ranging, detailed and original study. As well as providing a vivid portrait of nineteenth-century Colchester, it will appeal to all those interested in the history of women’s work, policing and society more widely.

Published by University of Hereford Press, large format paperback, £18.99.