'Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be'
The first ‘lock hospitals’ were established in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The name derived from the ‘locks’ or dressings used to cover syphilitic ulcers. But these hospitals also had a punitive aspect. Prostitutes found to be infected would be brought forcibly to the lock hospitals, and confined until a physician judged them cured.
In 1746 a group of religious philanthropists opened a new lock hospital for ‘females suffering from disorders contracted by a vicious course of life’. Initially located in Grosvenor Place, the London Lock Hospital opened a male ward on this site in 1862. Inmates received medical treatment, but were also made to work hard, and to listen to sermons on the evils of lust.
The foundation of the London Lock Hospital reflects the rise of Soho and Covent Garden as the centre of London’s vice trade. By the eighteenth century between fifty thousand and a hundred thousand prostitutes, of both genders, were working in the city. And from 1757 visitors could purchase Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies – a guidebook which graded prostitutes by age, health and abilities.