Blog Tour: Lawless and the Flowers of Sin – Pride

We’re on a blog tour today, and celebrating publication day of Lawless and the Flowers of Sin by William Sutton. All the stops on the tour will focus on an aspect of ‘Sinful London’ – today we’re looking at Pride…

Hello, hello, I’m William Sutton, author of Lawless and the Flowers of Sin, due out in July with Titan Books. To celebrate, I’m touring blogs sharing my sinful thoughts.

London Pride: The Flash Gent’s Guide to Swinging (18)60s London

Places and books are crucial in The Flowers of Sin and Lawless & the Devil of Euston Square. Yet how much the city has changed, and how much our reading taste changes.

Who do we think of as epitomising mid-Victorian times? Dickens and Bronte. The Great Exhibition and Albert Memorial? These may be memorable, but they are like the peaks of mountains glimpsed from afar.

Those who write of London must push closer, through the mists of time, in order to clamber on to the shoulders of these giants and gaze down into the full mountain range. To discover the rookeries, the lost rivers, the old estates, the hidden histories which still shape everything from streets to stations to skyline. I listed many sources and contemporaries here, but let all bow in homage to Lee Jackson’s inimitable, Judith Flanders’ The Victorian City and Peter Fryer’s Private Case, Public Scandal.

I’ll give the briefest biog of hidden and vanished buildings; the books I’ll leave you to discover for yourself.

Five naughty night spots in Victorian London:

Argyll1. The Argyll Assembly Rooms (also Argyle).

Started with music, dancing, and drama; ended up a place to meet prostitutes.

2. Casino de Venise (The Holborn). 

“Immense mirrors, velvet-covered sofas, handsome carpets.” Music, magnificence, madams, mistresses.

3. Kate Hamilton’s.

The non-pareil brothel. Under Leicester Square, ruled by Kate, twenty stone, quaffing champagne constantly. (London in the Sixties, 1908)
4. The East End: Ratcliffe Highway: “Very little beauty abroad…but a certain innate delicacy, not the artificial refinement of the West End, but genuine womanly feeling”. Nearby Ship Alley… “is full of foreign lodging-houses”. Inscription on blind tells you which nationalities are welcomed. (London Labour & the London Poor, Henry Mayhew)

5. T***f***d Street (surely Titchfield Street?). To these rooms rented by the hour, the priapic Walter (see below) brought not only married women but girls so young that the taxi-driver overcharged him in disgust. (From 1849-65, 6.5% of female admissions to one venereal hospital were under sixteen.)

Five Rotund Attractions in Victorian London

1. Burton’s Colosseum.

Panoramas: eg the view from the top of St Paul’s, painted on the inside of a dome. 
East side of Regent’s Park, demolished 1874.

2. Park Square Diorama.
Panoramas such as Mt Etna during an eruption. “Judicious introduction of light… the acme of art.” Later a Baptist Chapel. Today part of ISH hostel. (Mogg’s Visitor’s Guide, 1844)

3. Burford’s Panorama, Leicester Sq.
Panoramas eg Moving Pictures of the Siege of Sebastopol. Today Notre Dame De France Roman Catholic Church, with Cocteau murals.

4. Wyld’s Great Globe, 1851-62, middle of Leicester Sq.
The globe inside out: climb the stairs to view the continents.

5. British Museum Reading Room, 1857.
Brilliant use of space, opening books to the wider public (approved by Principal Librarian of course).

Five sensational advances

Building Sewers1. Sewers. 
Joseph Bazalgette’s extraordinary plan ended cholera epidemics, intercepting filth flowing into the Thames and pumping it out east. Only now updated, 150 years on.

2. The Embankment. 
Bazalgette again, converting ramshackle slums into gleaming carriageways fitted with gas, hydraulics, water, sewer and District Line.

3. Metropolitan Line.
The. First. Underground. Train. 
Ever wondered why it’s so often called the Metro, from Paris to Petersburg?

4. The Crystal Palace.

A prism of light and space, celebrating international culture and commerce.

5. Broadmoor.
Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum was not a perfect solution then (as Broadmoor Hospital remains today), but it was an enlightened step toward treatment of direly damaged people.

Five sensational books

Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizabeth Braddon
The Notting Hill Mystery, Charles Warren Adams
The Female Detective, Andrew Forrester
The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
The Disclosures of a Detective, Sergeant William McLevy (1861)

See also The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, one of the great London books. Ian Rankin discovers exactly why Stevenson set it in London rather than his own Edinburgh.

Five books of slang

1. The Slang Dictionary (the Vulgar Words, Street Phrases, and “Fast” Expressions of High and Low Society), John Camden Hotten
2. The Vulgar Slang, Francis Grose
3. Passing English of the Victorian Era, J Redding Ware
4. Green’s Dictionary of Slang, Jonathon Green
5. Google ngrams can be used to check any phrase’s use through the ages

Lee Jackson’s VictorianLondon has excellent slang lists.

Five books any self-respecting erotobibliomaniac would want

1. My Secret Life, ‘Walter’
2. Lady Bumtickler’s Revels, Anonymous (John Camden Hotten?)
3. Rosa Fielding, or the Victim of Lust, Anonymous
4. Madame Birchini’s Dance, Henry Thomas Buckle (“published by Lady Termagent Flaybum”)
5. The New Ladies Tickler; or Adventures of Lady Lovesport and Audacious Harry, Edward Sellon

See also Matthew Green on Victorian erotica on Londonist, Jonathon Green and his exemplary Timelines of Slang.

Wow – lots of background reading to get stuck into there, and you all know I like to read! Huge thanks to William for this post, and happy publication day for Lawless and the Flowers of Sin. To find out more, take a look at or look William up on Twitter.

This blog tour continues to look at some more of London’s sinful past, so do check them out this week…


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