Francesca Beauman’s new book, a thoroughly original history of lonely hearts adverts, is elegant, witty, wise and utterly delightful. It offers hours of NSA adult fun, and most definitely has a GSOH.
The first ad of which we have evidence appeared in 1695, in a pamphlet published at the Golden Fleece on the corner of Gracechurch Street and Eastcheap. Among the offers of an Arabian stallion and a second-hand bed, there was also a gentleman of thirty years of age looking for ‘a young Gentlewoman that has a fortune of 3000l.’ Multiply this by at least 100, perhaps 1,000, and you can see this young man had ambition.
Almost immediately, spoof versions appeared. In fact they can be traced back earlier than the genuine article. For instance in 1660 there appeared a pun-stuffed appeal from a widow, ‘plump, fresh, free and willing’, on the lookout for any man who will ‘present the true picture of his