We’ve met London’s small ‘army’ of flower girls before in this blog. The young women that sold flowers at Covent Garden or St Paul’s were not considered ‘respectable’ and that may well have been the reason Professor Higgins chose one of their number for his experiment in elocution. For his ‘Eliza Doolittle’ we have – in January 1886 – three girls all of whom were prosecuted at the Guildhall Police court for obstructing the streets of the City of London.
Kate Moore, Julia Moore (presumably her sister) and Anne Smith were summoned to the City magistrate court for ‘exposing flowers for sale on the footway’ and thereby causing an obstruction to passers-by. The girls were selling flowers on Paternoster Row, near Cheapside, and they’d caught the attention of police constable Francis of the City force.
He seemed to have made it his mission to move them on and told the alderman magistrate that he’d received ‘a great number of complaints’ from ‘ladies of being’ that the girls had been selling their wares aggressively on the street. I suspect that PC Francis was also fairly convinced that the flowers were not only thing the women were offering for sale.
The association of flowers girls with prostitution was well established in the 1800s as was the location of St Paul’s and Covent Garden. As Kate protested in court that they’d been doing nothing wrong and merely trying to support themselves and their families the alderman (Sir Andrew Lusk) interrupted her:
‘You talk so fast, you flower girls; I don’t know whether you are fast yourselves, but you talk very fast’.
His implication was that the young women were immoral at best; morally corrupt at worst and, either way, in the wrong. The City chief police inspector, Tillock, added that the women had chosen a particularly poor place to trade, especially as they stood together. To them this may have represented strength in numbers, to the police it looked intimidating and for the public it created an obstruction.
Sir Andrew (right) was clearly enjoying the opportunity to show off his comedic side to the watching public and press:
‘You think you make a nice bunch of flowers, I suppose’ he told them before fining them 2s costs and warning them that a sliding scale of penalties awaited them if they didn’t heed this warning. Next time they would pay a fine of 2s 6d, rising to 5s (with costs of 2s each time to be added). He probably thought that be letting them off a fine on this occasion he was being lenient but it mattered little to the trio of young women as they had no money anyway.
Kate told the court that they had not earned 2 shillings in the whole week. Sir Andrew was unmoved, ‘pay the money, or go to prison’ he warned them.
[from The Standard, Monday, January 11, 1886]