A few weeks ago, my brother, his wife and I went on an organised London Walk, led by a tour guide. We all like walking, and I am interested in history, so it ticked a few boxes and was actually good fun, so I’ll be doing more of those.
Whilst on the walk, we passed the house where a woman known as Skittles used to live. Skittles, aka Catherine Walters, who was one of the last great courtesans of the Victorian Era.
Maybe it’s because I’ve met a few over the years, but I find the whole prostitution thing quite interesting. I don’t mean the ones who are sold into slavery and forced to perform, or the drug addicts that sell their bodies as a means to fund their habit. No, not them, I mean the ones, like Skittles, who made money and kept it.
Skittles herself (believed to have been given that nickname because she once worked in a bowling alley) moved to London just before she was 20. By all accounts, she was great beauty, and a skilled horsewoman – Sir Edwin Landseer’s painting The Shrew Tamed depicts her lying down with a horse.
Catherine counted among her lovers the Prince of Wales (who went on to become Edward VII), Napoleon III, the 8th Duke of Devonshire (although he didn’t have this title at the time, he was the Marquess of Huntingdon) and Achille Fould (the French Finance Minister). She was rumoured to be involved with a number of wealthy men, but she would never confirm or deny the rumours, but, because she would never confirm or deny, her “currency” as a courtesan increased.
Skittles retired from society in 1890, a wealthy woman, and she died at the grand old age of 81. Not bad for a girl who was one of five children, born in Liverpool, daughter of a customs official!
©Susan Shirley 2013