Search

Teenage Victorian prostitutes buried in unmarked Highgate Cemetery grave named for first time

07:00 05 June 2014

Rowan Lennon and Sam Perrin, who made the discovery public, outside the gates of Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Polly Hancock

Rowan Lennon and Sam Perrin, who made the discovery public, outside the gates of Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

Blink and you would miss it – but beneath an ivy-covered patch of grass between two gravestones in Highgate Cemetery lies a dark and troubled history.

The unmarked grave where 10 prostitutes were laid to rest, the youngest only 12. Picture: Rowan LennonThe unmarked grave where 10 prostitutes were laid to rest, the youngest only 12. Picture: Rowan Lennon

The spot is the final resting place of 10 prostitutes, including a 12-year-old girl, who have been identified for the first time.

The Victorian women, seven of whom were aged 20 or under, were all residents at a correctional 
facility for prostitutes known as the Highgate Penitentiary, in North Hill, Highgate.

They had lain forgotten in Highgate West Cemetery for more than a century, but two of the graveyard’s volunteer tour guides, Rowan Lesson and Sam Perrin, made the discovery public for the first time this week.

“The age of some of these girls was a shock,” said Mrs Lennon, of Southwood Lane, Highgate. “Their grave is about a foot wide and there’s nothing there to recognise them.”

On why she chose to look into the penitentiary’s shadowy past, Mrs Lennon added: “Local history has always been one of my passions.

“I had never heard of the Highgate Penitentiary and thought it was a shame that these women were given no account.

“And of course, underage prostitution is still so relevant today.”

Emma Jones was only 10-years-old when she was first listed as living at the Highgate Penitentiary in 1861 and she died just two years later aged 12.

The last woman to be buried in the unmarked grave was Agnes Ellis in 1909, the second eldest of the unfortunate group at the age of 29.

It is not yet known what caused the women’s deaths.

Prostitutes who were sent to the penitentiary, which stood on the site of the current Hillcrest housing estate, were taught religion and domestic skills such as cooking and sewing in an attempt by clergymen to save the women’s souls.

The Romantic poet Christina Rossetti, who is also buried in Highgate Cemetery, often worked at the penitentiary to help the women secure employment before they left.

It is thought her relationships with the facility’s residents deeply influenced her poetry.

Ms Perrin, 38, of Palmerston Road, Bounds Green, said: “It’s a very important slice into Victorian social history. As a woman, I don’t think I realised how different it was to live as a woman 100 years ago.”

Latest Hampstead & Highgate News Stories

Yesterday, 14:06
Yasmin Farah

Police are appealing for the public’s help to find two sixteen-year-old girls who have gone missing from Camden.

Yesterday, 09:07
Mary Langan with her 23-year-old son, James

Carers of adults with demential and disabilities are demanding change after a report revealed there is a “breakdown of trust” on the Haringey boards designed to represent them.

Thu, 17:14
Nina Martynchyk with her foster mother, Nina B

A young woman who overcame anorexia is organising a conference with the Royal Free Hospital to draw attention to how the condition affects children and teenagers

Thu, 16:01
Highgate School

Students and staff at Highgate school were reflecting on a very impressive set of GCSE results today, with 88.2 percent of exams receiving a grade of A* or A.

Thu, 12:41
Hampstead School is in Westbere Road (Pic credit: Google streetview)

The Hampstead School has once again seen its GCSE results improve today, with nearly a quarter of all grades receiving an A* or A grade.

Thu, 11:53
Hornsey School for Girls

Girls at Hornsey School for Girls were today collecting some stellar GCSE results.

Thu, 11:44
Sam White has praised William Ellis pupils

The headteacher of William Ellis school, Sam White, was full of praise for his students today after a promising set of GCSE results.

Thu, 10:56
UCS school

University College School was today celebrating the second best set of GCSE results in its history, with a remarkable 88.6 percent of exams achieving either an A* or A grade.

PROMOTED CONTENT

The showroom is located in Hayes

After 25 years as a trade-only business, family-run door manufacturers Composite Door Master are set to open their first public showroom in Hayes this weekend.

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Most read Hampstead & Highgate news

HOT JOBS

Show Job Lists

Property Newsletter Sign-up

Get the latest North London property news and features straight to your inbox with our regular newsletter

I am also happy to receive other emails...
Fields marked with a * are mandatory
Email Marketing by e-shot

Competitions

You could win £15,000 to spend on either their mortgage or a deposit towards the home of their dreams

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a period of time when you simply don’t have to worry about finding the money each month to pay your mortgage? When you don’t have to put money aside from your monthly income, or worry about having to afford other essential outgoings?

Which book character do you share cleaning habits with?

Whether you have more in common with put-upon Cinderella, emotionally turbulent Jane Eyre, or easily distracted Mole, you’re sure to appreciate that one lucky winner will receive four sessions of free cleaning. Enter our quiz for your chance to win. All runners up will get £10 off their first clean when making a repeat booking.

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Hampstead & Highgate Express
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now