From: The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital. By Dan Cruickshank.

'AS MANY as one in five young women were prostitutes in 18th-century London. The Covent Garden that tourists frequent today was the centre of a vast sex trade strewn across hundreds of brothels and so-called coffee houses. Fornication in public was common and even children were routinely treated for venereal disease. A German visitor observed a nation that had overstepped all others “in immorality and addiction to debauchery”.

English society expected, even encouraged, men to pay for sex. Prejudice barred women from all but menial jobs. Prostitution at least offered financial independence: a typical harlot could earn in a month what a tradesman or clerk would earn in a year.

Thomas Coram's Foundling Hospital opened in 1741 to look after the abandoned babies of unmarried mothers, attracting support from the cream of society. By mitigating the cost and shame of unwanted pregnancy, the hospital hoped to stem the march of women into harlotry. But limited places provoked riots, and the hospital could not, as it had intended, single out the children of mothers who were not harlots.

In 1756 the government gave the hospital money to expand capacity on condition that it accept all children under two months old, with no questions asked. The results were grisly. Despairing mothers across England paid dubious businessmen to offload their unwanted babies on the state: many were lost or dead on arrival. Some three-quarters of the 15,000 babies that reached the hospital died before the government ended its support in 1760.'

Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies:

'Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies, published from 1757 to 1795, was an annual directory of prostitutes then working in Georgian London. A small, attractive pocketbook, it was printed and published in Covent Garden, and sold for two shillings and sixpence.

Each edition contains entries which describe the physical appearance and sexual specialities of about 120–190 prostitutes who worked in and around Covent Garden.' Wiki

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