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This article uses a variety of archival material to produce the first critical study of the lives of prostitutes in interwar London. The first section examines the social characteristics that linked many of the women involved in prostitution in the West End. As will be seen, prostitution was, in most cases, a conscious choice by working-class women to improve their lot.
Section two builds upon the labour history framework, and explores the social world of the prostitute. The final section investigates employment conditions involved in prostitution. A version of this paper was presented to the Social History Society conference, Rotterdam, 29 March Any errors in fact or interpretation are entirely my own. A gruesome sight greeted the police: Smith had been strangled with a length of copper insulated wire. Severe head wounds had also been inflicted with the use of a rusty flat iron; that her skull was fractured was obvious by the visible brain matter.
She had been killed at her most vulnerable: lying on her back with her clothes arranged for the purpose of sexual intercourse. There was no sign of a struggle.
First, a murder offers the rare opportunity to trace the life history of a prostitute. Smith was born in , the illegitimate daughter of Kathleen Hind in East Ham. She married Robert Smith in , though the union was not a success. She earned the first of eight convictions for soliciting prostitution on 28 March at the tender age of 18 years. Internally, she was healthy too; neither was there any sign of venereal disease, nor was any reference to alcohol consumption made 2.
While for James Morton, these crimes signalled the end of French control of prostitution in Soho; the five Messina brothers stepped in to fill the power vacuum 5. Even at the pinnacle of their influence, the Messinas had not much more than 20 prostitutes under their control 9. Indeed, the police believed the murders to be an unconnected series of curious coincidences There was nothing remotely salacious about the murder of Constance Smith; she was simply the victim of a brutal robbery, an extreme example in a sequence of all-to-common violent assaults committed against numerous prostitutes in the sixteen months prior to her murder Contrary to media concern, foreigners constituted only a minority of women involved in prostitution Yet any attempt to construct a history of prostitutes is constrained by the source material.