Little Details

A Fact-Checking Community for Writers

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Male Prostitutes in Victorian England--Price
doyle, bookworm
tears_of_nienna wrote in little_details
So I have this male prostitute, living in Whitechapel during the time of the Jack the Ripper murders (late 1888). He's in his mid- to late twenties, healthy, and relatively handsome. He's just spent the evening in the company of a young man from Scotland Yard, who, being inexperienced in the hiring of prostitutes, now has no idea what to pay him. Unfortunately, neither do I.

The idea is for the flustered punter to ridiculously overpay him, and for the prostitute to gently point out what the going rate is. Below the cut are a couple of questions concerning prices.

I've heard female prostitutes of the era referred to as "shilling whores." I don't know if that's just an insult, or if it's a realistic price.

Am I right in supposing that a male prostitute, considering the illegality of his encounters, would make a bit more than his female counterparts, as a sort of insurance of discretion?

Does anyone have a ballpark figure for how much he might make for an encounter? Would oral sex cost less than anal?

Googled terms: Many variations on 1880s, England, male prostitution, and price/cost/rate. I found a really informative article on male prostitution in a 1980s volume of the Journal of Homosexuality, but it didn't discuss what they might charge.

I'd be very grateful for any input. Thanks!

I have no idea about male prostitutes, but as far as I can tell, with female prostitutes the price could vary hugely, depending on the girl, the client, what the client wanted, and where they went. A client might well get a hand job or quick grope in an alley or in a cab for a shilling. Full sex might be a couple of crowns plus the cost of a room to do it in if they went to a knocking shop, or a pound or so if shewas in a brothel. If he wanted something "kinky", it could be negotiated.

This may well help; it's the right period, and he talks extensively about his use of prostitutes, including, in some cases, how much he spent on them. I think there is a bit where he hires a man, but he's a workman down on his luck rather than a prostitute, so that may not help.

Oh, wow, I had no idea that My Secret Life was available online! It kept being mentioned in the articles I read, and I was disappointed to find that no library in the state had a copy. Then again, with the note on how small the print run was, I can see why. Thank you!

About a hundred years early, but IIRC, ten pounds was towards the high end in Harris' List of Covent Garden Ladies. I doubt the price would have fallen since then, though I have no idea of the relativities between male and female prostitutes (that would depend on a lot of different factors). If you can find some information on cost of living at the time and figure out how much work he gets, you might be able to estimate a plausible price from that.

That said, I suspect most prostitutes would happily take the money without bothering to tell him he'd made a mistake. 1880s Whitechapel wasn't the sort of place that encouraged scruples and fair play.

this is what i was thinking. unlikely that a real-life prostitute would bother to tell him.

of course, this is fiction :)

if he overpaid him a ridiculous amount, say, twenty pounds or something, he might protest just to keep from being mugged for the money.

also, i may be wrong here, but i'm thinking the act itself would be very important. if we're talking oral sex or a handjob, probably not much different from a female prostitute, but if we're talking anal sex, i would think it would be pretty expensive, considering the mores of the era.

Apparently after 1885 everything homosexual was illegal and punishable by hard labor. Even mutual masturbation between men. But yeah, I figure anal sex would be quite a bit more expensive.

And yeah, I know he'd be unlikely to correct the mistake, but he's met the client before, in a different capacity, and that's the justification I'm making. ;)

And it only came down in 1885 because the Criminal Law Amendment Act pretty much sat in limbo for four whole years before they got around to actually passing it.

Thank you! The link should definitely be helpful.

I know that it's possibly unrealistic for him to point out the client's mistake, but the two of them have met before, in slightly different circumstances, and I'm using that as my excuse. ;)

Fair enough, as long as there's a reason for it :-)

I have no idea (though I could give you the figures for Ancient Rome *snerk*), but I have to say that based on the question and the icon, I am suddenly very intrigued by what the resulting writing might be. :)

I certainly do not know what you are talking about! :D But if I did, it might involve that mini-challenge going on at the Safehouse...


Also, as I keep running into you all over LJ, would you like to be friends? :)

Oh, this seems to be a fairly obscure topic! I had a hard time finding any books about specifically Victorian-era male prostitution; most of the scholarly works on male prostitution seem to examine much later eras (such as the 1980s to present). That being said, here's what I found out:

During the 1880s, there were three major works of erotica, all written and published anonymously, on the subject of male prostitution. They were My Secret Life; Sins of the Cities of the Plain, or Confessions of a Mary-Anne; and Teleny: The Reverse of the Medal (frequently attributed to Oscar Wilde). Although all three are fictionalized, they're considered fairly authentic representations of life for male prostitutes of the time period. My Secret Life and Sins of the Cities of the Plains were all reprinted in the 1990s; Teleny's most recent reprinting seems to have been in the 1960s. previews of these books are available on Google Books. Sins of the Cities is the only one I could find that had a mention of price; in Chapter XI, a teenage 'mary-ann' named Winston relates that while 'little boys only get 5 or 10 shillings after its all over' he gets paid at least 'five pounds and sometimes more'. Another hustler, George Brown, describes getting a 'tenner' for performing oral sex on a wealthy man, becoming enraged and demanding 'a cool hundred' quid, and threatening to blackmail the man unless he got it. There's also a brief mention of a Frenchwoman offering an English girl ten shilling "to be allowed to kiss her cunt", the only female/female reference I've come across.

Male prostitutes are also obliquely referred to in a couple of Sherlock Holmes stories, most notably when Holmes adopts a teenage 'telegraph boy', a slang term for a young male hustler, as his valet.

John Saul, a professional 'mary-ann' or male prostitute, was arrested for his liaison with Lord Euston in 1889. According to his statements, "I picked [Euston] up, just as I might have picked any other gentleman up [on the street in Piccadilly]... he laughed at me and I winked at him." Saul related that the pair took a hansom cab to Cleveland St., but said that Euston was not "an actual sodomite. He likes to play with you and then 'spend' on your belly."


Disorder in the Court: Trials and Sexual Conflict at the Turn of the Century (1999), ed. by George Robb and Nancy Erber.

Incidentally, I'm unsure how widely that particular slang term would've been appropriate before 1889-1890, when the Cleveland Street scandal came into the open. (Since it was the one that specifically involved telegraph boys.)

One thing to keep in mind is the value of money at the time. 10 quid in the 1880s was a really significant amount of money -- more than a month's pay for the vast majority of people. Yes, a wealthy man could easily throw that around, but that is really a function of the enormous wealth gap between the rich and the poor. A young fellow from Scotland Yard probably made less than 100 quid a year! Unless he is independently wealthy, I would find anything over a pound or two way too much.

Further research shows that in 1890 a London constable made twenty-four to a maximum of thirty-four shillings a week. So even at the maximum a constable made well under 2 pounds a week which works out to less than 8 pounds a month. If your guy is a detective, he would make more, but realistically, not that much more and if he starts throwing ten and twenty pound notes around it would be pretty much the modern equivalent of throwing around hundreds, if not thousands of pounds.

By the by, looking at some of the amounts from the accounts above, I would consider a lot of the prices with a serious grain of salt. It's like the amount a high-priced Eliot Spitzer call girl charges vs. the amount of the Patty the day time hooker: the lowest amounts are going to be a lot closer to reality for most prostitutes, especially I would think in a place like Whitechapel. I mean, where would the prostitute keep that kind of money without being killed for it?

Yeah, I'm kind of at a double disadvantage as far as money goes. I have enough trouble figuring out non-decimalized British currency anyway, and then adjusting it to 1888 makes my head spin. ;) Thanks for putting the money into perspective!

Although he was writing in the 1930s, I think George Orwell's book "The Road to Wigan Pier" could be very helpful in pinning down some of the money issues. For the working class and the shabby middle class Orwell came from, wages and salaries had hardly changed much from Victorian days, even forty years later. One the one hand it is shocking how little working class people made, but on the other, it is amazing how much a shilling could buy considering it was 1/20 the amount of a pound.

I'd love to see the real wage statistics, actually, simply to see if that's the case. The decades from 1880 to 1930 see several cycles of boom and bust, of course, so wages rise and fall several times during the time period. (The Great War, and the Great Depression, and all that jazz put their own spin into the numbers.)

According to Ward and Devereux, food and alcohol prices would've gone down to a level comparable to the USA "by 1905" in no small part because of reduced transport costs. Clothes and rents would, roughly speaking, be cheaper in the UK and a little more expensive in the USA, whereas tobacco products would naturally tend toward the opposite. (British real prices, in the mean, would tend to go down somewhat between the 1870s and 1930s.)

This relates well to the wage level. British wages would've been going up towards the equivalent American wages between 1884 and about 1905; by 1930 they've then set back down to the proportionate levels of 1884 levels again. The UK wages in comparison would generally seem to be slightly lower during this period overall.

Edited at 2009-06-24 11:35 am (UTC)

I don't want to derail the conversation too much, but the stats Orwell gives for the gross weekly wages of an employed Yorkshire miner in 1936 are £2 15s. 2d., but he points out that the pay stubs he is doing his calculations from are from the winter and miners could normally expect to be laid off for several weeks each year. He also says that the miner's net wages after stoppages are taken out is closer to £2 11s. 4d. and obviously considers that 4s. is a pretty significant sum. He considers that an average miner probably takes home about £105 a year if they are lucky.

He goes into a lot of detail about housing and rent, with specific examples ranging from 3s. 2d. on the low (and horrible) side to around 9 or 10s. on the high side. And there you can see that the 4s. the miner loses in stoppages could well be the difference between living in a place you wouldn't keep your dog and living in a half-way decent house.

I would recommend finding the book, since he goes a lot more in the amounts people actual spent on things vs. the amounts busy-bodies told them to spend, and because he absolutely considers tobacco a staple and always includes it in the weekly budgets to the tune of at least a shilling.

I might well look into the book simply because it's Orwell's handiwork, but that kind of info is certainly an extra bonus. I'm going to have to pick up real wage figures for both the 1930s and the 1890s along with it, though. (Because, of course, how well-off workers comparatively are in the two decades isn't just many shillings you make, but what kinds of things they can get with the money.)

I love Orwell's non-fiction work. Even though he did have something of an axe to grind, and this book was commissioned by the Left Book Club so clearly some bias there -- on the other hand though, conditions were that awful and just because you come at something from a particular point of view, doesn't mean you aren't right. Especially in a time when the establishment didn't give a toss about what was going on with poor people in general and poor people up North in particular. Plus he does tend to cite his sources which is always a plus.

But getting back to your point about what you could get for your money, I very strongly suspect a Londoner in the 1880s was in a much better position than a Northern miner of the 1930s. Even if it was just in terms of access to food, since London has always had the big markets, plus any number of cheap places for workers to eat. Plus there was so much less processed food. The Northern diet on the 1930s was appalling and people tended to live almost exclusively on tea with loads of sugar and tinned milk and the ubiquitous "marg and two slices" (and cigarettes) which was both expensive relative to the nutrition derived from it (i.e. none) and just the worst thing possible in terms of health.

Tea has always at least had the benefit of meaning you're drinking lots of boiled water, thus lowering the risk of waterborne diseases.

This might help, then! From 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher OR The Murder At Road Hill House' by Kate Summerscale:

In 1860 £1 had the purchasing power of £65 in todays money. A shilling was worth a twentieth of £1 and had the purchasing power of £3.25 today. A penny (d) was worth a twelfth of a shilling and had the purchasing power of about 25 modern pence....When assessing income of £100 in 1860 is the equivalent of about £60,000 today

It also recommends as a useful site, which translates historical costs into approximate modern amounts.

I apologize for being some random guy commenting on your livejournal, but I ran across this post while looking up the same subject. I too am writing something that involves male prostitutes in the 19th century and it so freakin’ hard to find anything on the subject! Granted, my story is already taking significant liberties with history so I don’t have to have hard facts, but some basis in reality would be nice. Please let me know if you find anything worth looking at.

Hey, no problem. I haven't found much beyond what people have sent me in the comments, but the comments themselves have been very helpful. The links are great, even though the basic points that I get are "it varies" and "there's not enough research on male prostitutes, and that's sad."

Hey there. Im working towards my Ph.D. in history and am actually knocking around the idea of writing a dissertation on same-sex prostitution from 1870 or so to 1945. This message link is great! And it's wonderful (as a scholar) to see that the topic is so poorly researched!

Ooh! Good luck! You would make things so much easier for a future generation of historical slashers. :D

I am researching sex tourism and male prostitution. I have come up with a rough guide to prices of male prostitution worldwide by comparing local army pay rates. Roughly I hour in-call is the equal of two days pay for a soldier currently in London. A Relatively junior soldier will earn £50 a day, about £60 with about 5 years seniority. The going price per hour for a male escort as shown by the 500 or more available on Gaydar is £120. In 1888 a soldier earned about 1 shilling a day (5p). A male prostitute would thus be 2 shillings at that time. This would make sense of the shilling women - a lesser lot.


Log in