The Price of Prostitution

It’s often bandied about by writers, historians and amateur sleuths that the going rate for a prostitute on the streets of Jack the Ripper’s East End was 4d. Indeed, the term “a fourpenny knee trembler” has passed into the parlance of Jack the Ripper Tour guiding and is trotted out with alarming regularity, despite the fact it is, quite simply, untrue.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there weren’t prostitutes who charged 4d for their services, I’m just saying that the price wasn’t, as is often portrayed, set in stone.

We’re not talking a regulated or unionised industry here. We’re talking about a group of unfortunate women whose very survival depended upon them prostituting themselves ¬†on the streets of Spitalfields and Whitechapel.

In those circumstances the price would, no doubt, be open to negotiation, and their clients would have known that.

No doubt there was a consensus amongst the prostitutes as to what constituted and ideal rate. But, at 2 o’clock in the morning, hungry, cold and desperately in need of a bed in a local doss house they would probably have charged whatever the client was willing to pay, sometimes more than 4d, sometimes the exact amount and, at other times less.