21st July 2008: The 1751 Disorderly House Act Took a Long Time Dying.
The Disorderly Houses Act 1751 was: ‘For the better prevention of Thefts and Robberies, and for the Regulation of Places of Publick(sic) Entertainment, and Punishing Persons keeping Disorderly Houses’.(1)
It was Today in 2008 that Section 8, the last of the 18th century Act was repealed which wording stated: ‘…by reason of the many subtle and crafty contrivances of persons keeping bawdy-houses,…or other disorderly houses, it is difficult to prove who is the original owner…’
The original Act was introduced at a time, between 1700 and 1800 when London’s population doubled to over a million, as people were drained from the countryside. Many were girls drawn to a city which was flourishing as never before, only to end up as victims to the many predators keen to attract girls into prostitution.
It was this seedy part of 18th century London life caught by William Hogarth in his satirical and allegorical, Harlot’s Progress where Moll Hackabout arrives from the country (in Plate 1) and steps off the coach, with a pincushion and scissors dangling from her wrist suggesting she is a seamstress.
However she is soon in the clutches of a pox-ridden ‘keeper of a disorderly house’ or brothel and her fate is now settled. The pictures in sequence show Moll’s inevitable decline into prostitution, disease, imprisonment and death
Moll Hackabout was probably named after either the heroine of Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders or Kate Hackabout a notorious prostitute and sister of the highwayman Francis Hackabout who was hanged in.1730.
Both the Daily Post and Grub Street Journal reported that Kate was known in the ‘hundreds’ of Drury Lane for being a ‘termagant and a terror in the neighbourhood, by frequently fighting and noisy swearing in the street at night’.
Kate was convicted of keeping a Disorderly House in August and arrested by City of Westminster Magistrate Sir John Gonson JP (Justice of the Peace), and Chairman of the Quarter Sessions, a supporter of the Society for the Reform of Manners, which aimed to reduce crime and debauchery and noted for his raid on brothels.
Gonson in 1728 directed his magistrates and constables to focus on ‘all houses of common lewdness and gaming… is shown twice the Harlot’s Progress in Plate 3 he is leading three armed bailiffs into Moll’s boudoir before she is sentenced in 1730 to Hard Labour at Bridewell Prison, London, for keeping a Disorderly House.(2)
By Plate 6 Moll is dead aged 23 from effects of prison, syphilis and abject poverty, another life destroyed and certainly not the first or last to meet such an end, not just in London, but throughout the country.(3)
(1) 25 Geo 2 c 36 Act of Great Britain. Most of the Act had been repealed by the mid 20th century, Section 8 related to the difficulty of establish ownership of disorderly house so the person in charge was prosecuted.
(2) Gonson and Hogarth were the leading lights behind the London Foundling Hospital where many of the children of prostitutes were sent. Gonson is mentioned twice in Pope’s Essays on Man.
(3) Plate 6 of the Harlot’s Progress shows her age from the coffin-plate: ‘M Hackabout Died Sepr 2d 1731 Aged 23’.
The original paintings of the Harlot’s Progress were destroyed in a fire, but luckily the plates were available for reproduction.
Pic Ref: wikipedia/wiki article on Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress.
Ref: rictornorton.co.uk/18th century social history of Britain.
Ref: everydayhistory.org/timeline of world history
Ref: telegraph.co.uk/travel/immerse_yourself_in_Hogarths. 17th February 2007.
Next Post looks at P.G.Wodehouse and Jeeves.