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History of Escorting in London

Not the usual blog post – we’re going to start covering the deep rich history of escorting in the UK and London. The history is complex – spanning several centuries and reflects broader changes in attitudes towards sex work, legal frameworks, and societal norms in the UK.

Early History

The practice of escorting in London can be traced back to medieval times. During this era, sex work was commonly found in certain areas, such as Southwark, which was known for its brothels. These establishments, often run by local bishops, were a significant part of the city’s economy.

The Tudor period saw the first major legislative efforts to control sex work. Henry VIII’s rule brought about the closure of brothels and the expulsion of sex workers from Southwark. However, these measures were more about moral posturing than effective regulation.

17th to 19th Century: Moral Panic and Regulation

By the 17th century, the moral landscape had shifted. The Reformation and Puritan influence led to a more stringent view of morality, impacting the perception and treatment of sex workers. The Vagrancy Act of 1824, for instance, criminalised many aspects of sex work, pushing it underground.

Despite legal constraints, escorting persisted and even thrived in certain quarters of London. During the 18th and 19th centuries, areas like Covent Garden and Soho became known for their sex work activity. Notably, Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, a directory of London prostitutes, was published annually between 1757 and 1795, indicating the demand and normalisation of these services.

Victorian Era: Hypocrisy and Hidden Vices

The Victorian era is often characterised by its prudishness and strict moral codes. Yet, this period also saw a booming underground sex industry in London. The infamous Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s, which aimed to control venereal diseases in military towns by forcing suspected prostitutes to undergo medical examinations, ironically highlighted the widespread nature of sex work.

This period also witnessed the rise of “escort” as a euphemism. Wealthy men, under the guise of seeking companionship, would engage the services of women who provided sexual services discreetly. This trend reflected the era’s hypocritical stance: a public façade of morality masking private indulgences.

20th Century: Changing Attitudes and Modernisation

The 20th century ushered in significant changes. The two World Wars, followed by the social revolutions of the 1960s, altered public attitudes towards sex and morality. The Sexual Offences Act 1967, which decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men aged 21 or over, was a landmark in this liberalisation process.

In the latter half of the century, the focus shifted from criminalising sex work to addressing the safety and rights of sex workers. The 1959 Street Offences Act made it illegal to solicit in public but allowed sex work in private.

The Internet Era and Contemporary Scene

The advent of the internet has dramatically transformed the escorting landscape in London. Online platforms have enabled sex workers to advertise their services more discreetly and safely, moving away from the traditional street-based trade. This digital shift has also diversified the nature of escorting, with different services catering to a wide range of clientele.

However, the legal framework surrounding sex work in the UK remains complex. While selling sex is legal, activities like brothel-keeping and soliciting in a public place are illegal. This legal ambiguity often puts sex workers in precarious situations.

The history of escorting in London is not just a narrative about sex work; it’s a lens through which we can view broader societal shifts. From the medieval brothels to the digital age, escorting has continually adapted to the changing cultural, economic, and legal landscapes of the city. This history underscores the dynamic interplay between societal norms, law, and the human desire for companionship and intimacy.

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