The Belles

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Sly Kate worked as a pickpocket and escort around the theatres and music halls and pubs of 1870s Chatham.   Her likeness has been constructed from the equivalent of the Yellow Pages at the time for the local businesses, and excerpts from Dickens, who lived in exactly this part of Chatham as a boy. Rumour has it that her ghost haunts a back room of a well-known High Street optician close to Slickett’s Hill, formerly known as ‘Sly Kate Hill’. Although the variety palaces and theatres and many of the pubs are gone, the names and business interests live on.

The best-known Chatham prostitute of the 1860s was Eliza O’Malley, nicknamed Flying Isaac. “Heroine of a Hundred Charges” headed the account of one of her court appearances in 1867 in the Police Court column of the Chatham News. This collage of coal and timber yards, secondhand clothes dealers, pawnshops, dressmakers, and hatters, places that would have been familiar to her depicts her flamboyant and fearless lifestyle. The maritime businesses located in Chatham Intra, the place names and surnames are still found hereabouts.

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‘There is no difficulty in guessing the occupation of the dashing ‘equestrienne’ who salutes half-a-dozen men at once with a whip or a wink’

 …taken from the Pall Mall Gazette, 1898, describing the beautiful women who rode side-saddle through Hyde Park seeking suitable clients. The stereotyping attributed to well dressed prostitutes at this time would have been appropriate in Old Brompton, close by the extensive army barracks and Royal Dockyard. Mary Stagpole was known as a prostitute and thief in this place. The names, occupations and businesses particularly relating to HM forces and prison services at this time are collected in her clothing and her fairground horse.

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This girl is a symbolic characterisation of the prostitutes in the City of Rochester in the 1880’s.  It was a prosperous place, but not without a dark underbelly of criminality. This image references the painting by Fragonard entitled ‘The Swing’. The names, places and businesses are found billowing up through her underskirts . Many are still thriving in Rochester today, together with the legacy of Dean Hole’s beautiful roses in the Cathedral Precinct area.