Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Other Duchess

The White Swan may sound like a pure sot of establishment but anyone who would have walked into it in the late 18th and early 19th centuries would probably know that was not the case. It seems as though the tavern had a reputation as a seedy motel where one could conduct an illicit affair, away from prying eyes. The White Swan offered more services than just a rendezvous point, though. If you didn’t have a prearranged partner to meet up with, there were plenty of males mulling about on the second floor to entertain you...for a price.

While male prostitution isn’t so wholly unusual in this place and time, the names these men picked for themselves is. Like our modern-day strippers with names like “Sapphire,” the White Swan prostitutes went by names that their mothers obviously did not give them: Miss Selina, Harriet, and even Kitty Fisher (a nod to the original, perhaps) could be found loitering about the tavern looking for customers. But perhaps the most grandiose of these gay prostitutes was one man who must have been pretty confident in his abilities for he went by the name, the Duchess of Devonshire.

Perhaps the most delightful bit of this juicy gossip is that these colorful tavern workers only took this role by night. If you needed to find the Duchess of Devonshire before the sun set, you could find her (or him) at her day job as a blacksmith.


  1. Have you read 'Mother Clap's Molly House' by Rictor Norton? It's very interesting about this stuff.

  2. It's been on my reading list forever! I've haven't been able to get my paws on it yet.