Was there a Love List?
I get asked this question, occasionally, after readers get a hold of The Love List-the first book in my Half Moon House series. Some are surprised or a bit squicked out to find the truth—yes, there actually was a basis to the Love List I used in the novel.
It was called The Harris List of Covent Garden Ladies. An annual publication from 1757 to 1795, it listed all of the prominent prostitutes of London. Gentlemen lined up to buy the booklet (Two shillings and sixpence!) that included descriptions of the ladies and their abbreviated names, their addresses, looks (including breast size!) and ‘specialties.’ It was sold in Covent Garden and also at booksellers in the city.
Certain men of notability were also mentioned in various editions through the years, including Charles James Fox, the Duke of York, brother to George III, George IV himself, (Prinny) and his brother, Ernest Augustus, later King of Hanover. It was written in a lively style, very tongue in cheek, but the business behind it was serious.
There is dispute about just who began the List, but there were several authors and publishers through the years. Some believe that it was begun by Jack Harris, a pimp who worked at the Shakespeare’s Head Tavern in Covent Garden, but was sold or given over to Samuel Derrick, an Irishman who moved to London to be an actor, but turned to writing when it didn’t work out. It was a successful move for Derrick, who used the funds to get himself out of debtor’s prison and eventually was proclaimed the Master of Ceremonies in Bath and Tunbridge Wells.
The List was shut down in 1795 when the Proclamation Society sued its publisher, but for the sake of my fiction, I had a horribly bad character bring it back to life—as a tool for personal revenge—and also as a sort of political grenade. It’s an act that starts the action in the Half Moon House series—I hope you’ll give a try!