From the archive
Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies (1757 – 1795) was a directory of prostitutes in Georgian London. It provided biographical details of the prostitutes, described their appearance and personality, and listed their sexual specialities. Priced at two shillings and sixpence, it sold over a quarter of a million copies over 38 years, a remarkable number for any book at that time.
Despite the name Harris, it was actually written by Samuel Derrick, an impoverished Irish poet, who worked from the list of available women carried by the notorious Jack Harris (aka John Harrison) who had christened himself the “Pimp General of All England”. The success of the work helped to free Derrick from debtor’s prison, although he was dismissed by James Boswell as a “little blackguard pimping dog”. Derrick later went on to become the second Master of Ceremonies at Bath after the death of Beau Nash. Jack Harris was arrested and imprisoned in Newgate Prison in 1758. Harris gave Derrick permission to use his name. Derrick secretly continued to edit the List until his death, when he passed the proceeds of his final edition to his former mistress, the courtesan and brothel-keeper, Charlotte Hayes (aka Kelly or O’Kelly). The authors of the List after 1769 are unknown: the publisher’s name H. Ranger represents John and James Roach and John Aitkin.