Bawds, Pockified Whores, Smell Smocks & Damaris Page

Just been enjoying Jessica Cale’s piece about the Poor-Whores Petition & The Shrove Tuesday Riots of 1668 ( )

The regular and often extreme, criminal behaviour of London apprentices is legendary, and in this particular episode, so well recounted by Jessica, whereby apprentices assaulted prostitutes and demolished brothels as some kind of salve to their consciences for indulging in whore-house pleasures, is a classic topsy-turvy example of an hypocrisy that continues to be associated with the use and abuse of women plying this trade today.

 Also, as shrewdly observed by reader Jude Knight, when you actually study The Poor-Whores Petition – this wonderfully worded ‘Petition of the Undone’ –  asking the (royally) well-connected aristocrat of prostitution ‘The Countess of Caslemaine’, politely, that their sisters be assisted in their preservation of Honour, Freedom and Safety – it’s the stuff of a contemporary, “….late Saturday night comedy sketch,” says Jude.

In some senses, the comedy sketch continues the following year in a wonderful marinade of poignancy, satirical revenge and generosity, the like of which would not normally be associated with the oldest profession and one of their most highly experienced, high-ranking practitioners – Damaris Page.

You will note from Jessica’s piece, that Damaris was a signatory to the petition alongside Madam Cresswell, and left as a tantalising footnote hinting at her extraordinary reputation for ‘persuading’ men to join the naval wars. A sort of bawdy, one-woman, press-gang.

Sir Edward Spragge famously told Samuel Pepys, in passing, that forty new seaman had joined his ship Revenge just as he was sailing for the Mediterranean after he had paid a visit to her bawdy house and let it slip he was in need of more men. He told Pepys he would not lack such ‘recruits’ as long as Damaris Page lived. Whatever arrangement Damaris had with sea-crew recruitment remains undocumented. Pepys famously conferred on her the title, ‘The Great Bawd of the Seamen.’

I came across Damaris (sometimes known as Damarose) as part of my criminological research looking at the Old Bailey Sessions of Goal delivery from the Middlesex County Records (1625 to 1667), studying the arraignment and trials of women for witchcraft, eg: Joan Peterson ‘for murdering Mary Lady Powell by witchcraft,’ and ‘for wasting the body of Christofer Wilson by witchcraft.’ Other women (never men) were there ‘for invocating evil spirits to the hurt of others.’ Yet more women were on trial,  ‘for being incontinent.’

I should hasten to explain that for incontinent,  the law meant a mixture of lewd and licentious –  promiscuity really, although I quite like ‘interlarded’ which occasionally showed its wanton and wild head.

Which is where Damaris Page comes in.

Her married name was Dry and her unmarried name was Aderson sometimes Addersell – no-one seems to know why she adopted Page, but the reason for her being among the so-called witches and invocators of evil in 1665 was firstly a trumped-up accusation of bigamy for which she was found ‘Not Guilty.’  This false charge by a certain William Baker of Stepney, was probably  connected to the fact that she was one of the most successful ‘bawds’ in London’s East End serving an eager seafaring population and was known to be making good money.

However it was the second charge of the murder of Eleanor Pooley that grouped her with this collection of women likely to be hanged if found guilty.

Damaris had claimed midwifery skills – for which read, abortionist – and had wantonly tried to abort the child by thrusting a fork into Eleanor’s stomach killing both mother and baby.

Damaris had a plan – she confessed to manslaughter – was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

She then revealed to the court that she was pregnant, knowing this would avoid a death sentence. A panel of matrons confirmed she was telling the truth and the death penalty became three years in Newgate Prison where she gave birth to a still born child. Husband, James Dry died and on release, Damaris returned to her bawdy-house ways with a vengeance.

The Ratcliffe Highway address on that famous petition were her houses especially built for her trade, alongside certain premises in Dog and Bitch Yard. Consequently, the 1668 Petition was also an important cry to let her lucrative trade continue,  undisturbed by deviant apprentices and the like.

I said the ‘comedy sketch’ continues the following year in a wonderful marinade of poignancy, satirical revenge and generosity but ironically not in her bawdy trading adventures but in the context of her death.


A five page publication in her honour, immediately after her death by one of her close printer companions is a work of poetic and bawdy art concerning her life and times but more than this it contains her own… ‘legacies, which she bestowed by word of mouth a little before her departure.’

It is in these legacies that I see her generosity, feel her poignancy and sense her wicked comedic satirical revenge.  These are her legacies as written:

Item: To all the sisterhood in Nightingale Lane, Well-clife, Ratcliffe-High-way, and those pretty places of Trading, two pence a piece, to buy thread to mend their stockings.

Item: I give all those who, having Handsome Wives of their own, yet follow whores, the sum of four pence a piece to buy them a book called, Greens groatsworth of wit.

Item: I give to all the Dammee Hectorian Blades about the town, the sum of thirteen pence half-penny a piece, to pay the successor of Squire Dun, his wages when they shall have need of him.

Item: I give to all Thieves, Cut-purses and Pickpockets good counsel to leave off their damnable Trade, or they will fall Gallows ripe into the Hang-man’s budget.

Item: To all rotten pockified Whores (of which there is a great many) I give four pence a piece, to buy them sweet powder, to keep them from stinking alive.

Item: I bequeath to all young Smell Smocks that intend to follow Whores, this counsel before hand that they provide Money for the Apothecary and Chyrugion.

Item: I give to the Officers belonging to Fumblers Hall, o.o.o.o.

Item: I bequeath to him that shall write my Life and Death, the sum of ten shillings to be paid him by the book seller.


I will leave you to enjoy researching aspects of Damaris’s Items that are not immediately clear to the modern eye, but suffice it to note that apprentices were duly acknowledged with their traditional bawd title of ‘Smell Smocks’ and their hypocrisy duly acknowledged by Damaris who certainly had the last word.

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