Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, published from 1757 to 1795, was an annual directory of prostitutes then working in Georgian London. A small, attractive pocketbook, it was printed and published in Covent Garden, and sold for two shillings and sixpence.
A contemporary report of 1791 estimates that it sold about 8,000 copies annually.
Each edition contains entries which describe the physical appearance and sexual specialities of about 120–190 prostitutes who worked in and around Covent Garden.
Through their erotic prose, the lists’ entries review some of these women in lurid detail. While most compliment their subjects, some are critical of bad habits, and a few women are even treated as pariahs, perhaps having fallen out of favour with the lists’ authors, who are never revealed.
Samuel Derrick is the man normally credited for the design of Harris’s List, possibly having been inspired by the activities of a Covent Garden pimp, Jack Harris.
A Grub Street hack, Derrick may have written the lists from 1757 until his death in 1769; thereafter, the annual’s authors are unknown.
Throughout its print run it was published pseudonymously by H. Ranger, although from the late 1780s it was actually printed by three men, John and James Roach, and John Aitkin.
As the public’s opinion began to turn against London’s sex trade, and with reformers petitioning the authorities to take action, those involved in the release of Harris’s List were in 1795 fined and imprisoned.
That year’s edition was therefore the last to be published, although by then its content was less euphemistic, lacking the originality of earlier editions. Modern writers tend to view Harris’s List as erotica; in the words of one author, it was designed for “solitary sexual enjoyment”.