Wednesday, June 29, 2011

July 3, 1862 --- The Pretty Horsebreaker

The Times prints a letter from a reader, identifying himself only as "H," complaining about the commotion caused in Rotten Row by the daily rides of a certain beautiful young woman, "whom I must call Anonyma." The woman, writes H, is "prettier, better dressed, and sitting more gracefully in her carriage than any of the fine ladies who envied her her looks, her skill, or her equipage."

Now all the fashionable world knows Anonyma's identity; she is 23-year old Catherine Walters, nicknamed "Skittles," whose beauty and compliant charms had brought her far from the Liverpool slums of her birth. She is pictured left.  Outfitted by a shrewd Hyde Park stable-owner in the tightest possible riding habit and sent out in his best carriage, drawn by magnificent horses, Skittles had become the sensation of the London summer. Lady Augusta Fane reported that Skittles' costume "looked as though it was glued to the rider and showed off her slim figure to perfection."

In his letter, H simply asks that Anonyma be prevailed upon to drive in "some other portion of the Park," where she could "talk to her male acquaintances with becoming privacy." H, it turns out, is James Higgins, a wealthy young Londoner who delights in "leg-pulling" letters to the editor. If he hopes to draw more attention to Anonyma, he succeeds as the crowds grow larger prompting police efforts to keep Row traffic moving. The Daily Telegraph is outraged at its rival's gullibility, insisting that the Park is now infested by a number of "lewd women, who, being well paid by wealthy profligates for selling their miserable bodies...are enabled to dress splendidly, and drive handsome equipages. [Anonyma] is a worthless and shameful jade, and it is a scandal to have to mention her."

Though she remained "unmentionable" in most polite drawing rooms, Skittles became one of London's storied courtesans. She had a home in Mayfair, paid for by an admirer, "Harty-Tarty," the Marquis of Hartington. Her callers included the Prince of Wales and Mr. Gladstone, who took her on a guided
tour of St. Paul's. The journalist Labouchere wrote: "She must be the only whore in history to retain her heart intact."

Skittles continued to enjoy her rides in Hyde Park although, in her later years (she died in 1920), she was pushed along in a bath chair.

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