Lifting the Fallen Women

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Highlighting the facts behind Historical Romance with Jude Knight.

In Georgian and Regency England, women who had sex out of wedlock were regarded as ‘fallen’. (Unlike men who had sex out of wedlock, who were only doing what came naturally, according to the opinions of the time.)

It’s hard to know how many of those regarded as fallen derived part or all of their income from selling their bodies. A magistrate in 1791 estimated there were 50,000 prostitutes in London alone, but he was using the term to include any who lived with a man not their husband, or had a child out of marriage, as well as those we would include in the term. Certainly, though, England had prostitutes enough to kick off many years of government and private attempts to suppress the sex trade.

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Progress of a Woman of Pleasure, by Richard Newton For the details of each picture, see

There were reasons beyond the misogyny of a society that saw sexual activity outside of marriage as deviant only for females. Those who derived most or all of their income from prostitution were also heavily involved in crime.

“In the early years of the [18th] century, the Societies for the Reformation of Manners focused upon prostitution not simply because it constituted sexual immorality, but because prostitution was an amalgam of all the social problems of the time: theft, especially pickpocketing; loose, idle and disorderly behaviour in the streets; begging and vagrancy; drunkenness and abject poverty; venereal disease. Prostitutes played key roles in the criminal underworld. They taught children how to beg and how to pick pockets; they seduced young men, persuading them to spend all their money on drink and pleasure, encouraging many to turn to theft to support them and the ‘flash’ lifestyle; they maintained safe houses for thieves; and they operated as fences for stolen goods.” []

Even so, by mid-18th century, reformers had begun to realise that a punitive approach wasn’t going to work. It made no sense to lock a woman up for a day or a month, and perhaps whip her,  for selling her body and then turn her out into the street with no recourse except to sell it again in order to eat.

“It is easy talking of being virtuous with a Coach and Six, but it is difficult, nay I may say impossible, being really so, without either Friends, Money, Character, or Subsistence . . . . They will use what God, and his Handmaiden Nature, have bestowed upon [them], in order to get Subsistence, seeing the poor women cannot starve, and I think it very unreasonable in any to imagine they should, whilst they have got any Commodity to dispose of that can bring them in a Penny.” —Particular but Melancholy Account of the Great Hardships, Difficulties and Miseries, that those unhappy and Much-to-be-pitied Creatures, the Common Women of the Town, are Plung’d into at this Juncture (1751)

The Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes, founded in the mid 18th century, was an attempt to offer an alternative. By 1769, 1500 ‘penitents; had taken refuge within those walls, which led to the building of a new Magdalen Hospital to accommodate the demand.

magdalen-thomas-rowlandson Highlighting History
Magdalen Hospital, by Thomas Rowlandson. Well-to-do visitors flocked to the Magdalen Hospital’s octagonal chapel for Sunday services. The penitents sat in the screened portion of the balcony.

The programme focused on silent introspection, hard work, and a regimented timetable.

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A Magdalen penitent “They are issued with grey shalloon gowns, all women wore the same ‘uniform’.”

The charity was privately funded, and welcomed visitors who wanted to tour the premises, marvel at the penitents, and join the Sunday worship at the non-denomination octagonal chapel to admire the choral singing. Collections at these services helped funding.

In the next 100 years, more than sixty other charities focused on rehabilitating prostitutes came and went. Most depended on their potential residents actively recognising the evil of their ways and passively accepting the residence’s requirements for rehabilitation. Some of these were unbelievably harsh, including shaving off inmate’s hair to discourage escape or disobedience.

Rescue homes tended to favour young women with no police records and no history of drunkenness, presumably figuring that they would be the easiest to rehabilitate.

Were there rescue homes such as the one I envisage in To Claim the Long-Lost Lover and To Tame the Wild Rake? Certainly, we have evidence that many people at the time thought the punitive discipline in the rescue homes was unproductive and unfair. And with 60 or more known, and quite possibly other small philanthropic associations unknown, why not a country training school where women are treated with dignity and given a chance to learn a skill that will give them options for the future?



My hero, the Marquis of Aldridge, has fled London after being rejected by the heroine and is working under another name at a rescue home known as The Theodora Foundation.

Gardening did not exercise the same muscles as riding, boxing, or fencing. Aldridge exulted in the hot bath in the scullery in the gardener’s cottage, where he had a small room in the attic. One that would fit into his dressing room at any of the Haverford estates with room left over.

The bath, too was only half the size of the smallest he’d ever bathed in, and he’d had to bucket in every drop of water from the well to the kettle, and then from the kettle to the scullery. It was hot, though, and soothed the aches.

Harris, the gardener, treated his temporary apprentice with a mix of the deference due to a gentleman and the scorn of a master for the incompetent who didn’t even understand the words used to describe a craft’s tasks, let alone carry them out.

Mrs Harris called Aldridge ‘dearie’, fussed over him like an indulgent mother with one precious chick, and seemed determined to fatten him like a Michaelmas goose.

He was having dinner tonight with the vicar of St Chad’s, who was also head of the Theodora Foundation training school. He had met Arthur Beauclair several times in the four days of his stay.

Beauclair appeared mild, unworldly, and a little ineffectual. But that image didn’t match with the respect paid to him by residents of the training school, servants and trainees alike. Aldridge would be able to fund the canal extension he was planning without touching the duchy’s investments if he had a pound for every time he heard someone say, Mr Beauclair would not like it, or I need to ask Mr Beauclair, or Mr Beauclair will be so pleased when I tell him.

Basingstoke, too, had said that Beauclair was both the head and the heart of the Theodora Foundation, though Basingstoke was the face, because he and his wife were comfortable with the social settings that Beauclair avoided.

What that meant for dinner, Aldridge had no idea. Dinner was at the vicarage, which was the other side of the grounds of the training school. Aldridge carried an unlit lantern, which he’d need on his way back to the gardener’s cottage.

Three more days and he’d need to return to London. He didn’t want to think about it. Instead, he occupied his mind wondering who else would be at dinner. A wasted exercise, as it turned out, since he was the only guest.

Aldridge was shown straight into the dining room, where the table had been set with two settings at one end, for ease of conversation. Beauclair did not bother with small talk. “Your days with us are more than half gone, Mr Ford. Have you found what you were looking for?”

What had he been looking for? A temporary escape, he supposed. “Yes, sir,” he replied, and found himself explaining, though he had not intended to. “I wanted a holiday, I suppose. Time away from decisions I have to make and situations I cannot change.”

“And you have found that in trimming our hedges, digging our vegetable beds, and mending our window shutters.” Beauclair’s eyes twinkled. “Not everyone’s idea of a holiday, Mr Ford, but I am glad it has suited you. Ah. Here is the soup.”

Beauclair then asked, “What are your thoughts on the situation with Napoleon,” and they discussed the worrying news from Europe through a table setting mainly comprising a tasteless soup. “The cook here produces excellent meals in the English country tradition,” Beauclair explained, “but will insist on attempting French cuisine. Leave the soup, and enjoy the roast to come.”

The roast was superlative, and was a worthy accompaniment to a robust discussion of Napoleon’s likely reactions to Murat’s defeat at the hands of the Austrians, and the capacity of the British and Prussian alliance to defeat the Corsican should it come to a pitched battle.

After that setting was removed and the next laid, Beauclair told the maid, “Leave us now, Milly. You can clear the table when we remove to the parlour. I wish to speak to Mr Ford in private.”

Aldridge’s hands froze over the apple he was peeling. Here it came. Beauclair had recognised him, and was about to touch him up for money or political support or a job for a relative or protégé. He set the apple moving again, holding the knife so it slid under the skin. I’m inclined to agree to his requests. He is a good man.

“Yes,” Beauclair said. “I do know who you are. We did not meet last year when I was in London with my cousin Lechton, but you attended Alex Blasingstoke’s wedding. And even if I had not recognised you, enough people in the training school have seen you before that your identity is an open secret.”

Aldridge raised one eyebrow as he inspected the apple to ensure he had not missed a speck of skin. “No one has said a thing.”

Beauclair shrugged. “Here, we are used to people who want to leave their past behind. No one has or will say anything, and if you wish to be Ford while you are here, Ford you will be. Harris has been amused to have a marquis, heir to a duke, at his command.”

Aldridge thought about some of Harris’s rants about lazy gentlemen’s sons who had never done a lick of a work in their lives and couldn’t resist a wry smile.

“But it is about your past and your future that I wish to speak, Ford,” Beauclair continued. “I had intended to say nothing, but… I was uncomfortable.” He picked up another of the apples, and began to turn it in his hands. “I have been praying since you arrived, and it is clear to me that I am meant to tell you about the storm breaking over your family and your lady’s.”


To Claim the Long-Lost Lover

To-Claim-the-Long-Lost-Lover-Kindle-188x300 Highlighting History The beauty known as the Winderfield Diamond hides a ruinous secret. Society’s newest viscount holds the key.

Sarah’s beloved abandoned her eight years ago, leaving her to face the anger of her family and worse. And now he is back, more compelling than ever. Sarah is even lovelier than when she was a girl, but what did she know about her father’s revenge on Nate: forcible enlistment into the navy and years of servitude?

Released 30 July

Buy Links

Jude Knight’s book page

Amazon US

Other links on Books2Read:


To Tame the Wild Rake

To-Tame-the-Wild-Rake-Generic-188x300 Highlighting History The whole world knows Aldridge is a wicked sinner. They used to be right.

The ton has labelled Charlotte a saint for her virtue and good works. They don’t know the ruinous secret she hides.

Then an implacable enemy reveals all. The past that haunts them wounds their nearest relatives and turns any hope of a future to ashes.

Must they choose between family and one another?

Released 17 September

Buy Links

Amazon US:

Other links at Books2Read:

Jude Knight’s book page 



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4 thoughts on “Lifting the Fallen Women

  1. In Ireland and Canada the Madallen hospitals is a a symbol of the Catholic Church’s evil and hatred of women. The bodies of thousands of murdered babies bear witness to the truth. Because of this, I have great difficulty accepting the premise of this story.

  2. ARGH! You left me hanging!!! Only 21 more days (not that I’m counting)!

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