The last of the great courtesan of Victorian London.
Catherine Skittles Walters Help was offered to Victorian fallen women, or prostitutes, but today we peek at the opposite end of the scale in this trade, at a woman who needed no help or support at all.
Of the estimated 80,000 prostitutes plying their trade in London in the middle of the nineteenth century, perhaps the most famous was Catherine Walters. Known by the nickname of Skittles possibly because she worked at a bowling alley near Park Lane she was, it has to be said, more than just an average prostitute.
She was born in Toxteth, Liverpool in 1839, the third of five children, and grew up in Merseyside but moved to London around the age of eighteen or nineteen.
Being a beautiful girl, she found no difficulty in making money on the streets in an era when a glass of gin and a few pence or even sometimes a glass of gin or a few pence could secure the services of average prostitutes, or ladybirds, or troopers as they were often known. The better looking girls, such as Catherine, were able to attract higher class customers, known to them as toffs.
Catherine’s looks meant she was able to charge higher fees that most, and she quickly became a successful ‘trooper’,.
She was not only beautiful, successful and in-demand with high-class men, meaning she was becoming financially comfortable, but also excellent at riding a horse. In the 1860s the sight of Catherine riding through Hyde Park along Rotten Row drew huge crowds, and aristocratic ladies copied the fashion of her perfectly fitting and skin tight riding habits, (worn without underwear). So, not only did she enjoy a successful career as a courtesan, but she was also a trendsetter and fashion icon too.
She certainly became a famous London character, and even more so in 1862 when she rather glamorously eloped to America with a married man and then to Paris with a Marquess, who paid her £2000 per year (a large sum of money at that time, and almost £90,000 in today’s money) to remain as his mistress.
In the 1890’s, when she was in her fifties and therefore probably not quite as appealing as in her younger days she retired from ‘society’ a wealthy woman. At the time of her death in 1920 her estate was worth £2,764. This included a home in Mayfair she had owned from 1872. She died of a cerebral haemorrhage at her home at 15 South Street, Mayfair, and was buried in the graveyard of.
A naughty thought is a terrible thing to waste.
Her memory still lives on
Kristina J xx