City of Sin: London and Its Vices by Catharine Arnold - review by Christopher Hart

Christopher Hart

The Drunken Member

City of Sin: London and Its Vices


Simon & Schuster 373pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

We like to think we are a liberal-minded lot nowadays, but Catharine Arnold’s colourful and richly entertaining gallop through the history of our capital’s sex life suggests otherwise. In fact, we seem more strait-laced than at almost any period since the brief aberration of the Commonwealth. Our leaders and MPs are excoriated in the popular press for having mistresses, engaging in unwholesome rendezvous on Clapham Common, or setting fire to hotel curtains, like the unfortunate Labour peer Mike Watson. But this is pretty tame stuff compared to how we used to be.

In Samuel Pepys’s day, Sir Charles Sedley MP once put on an impressive display on the balcony of ‘Oxford Kate’s’, a celebrated whorehouse in Bow Street. Pepys describes him appearing naked in broad daylight, perhaps a little tired and emotional, ‘acting all the postures of lust and buggery

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