Monstrous evil

The new trackbed for the Horndean Light Railway looking south across the bridge over Southwick Hill Road, Cosham, about 1903.

NOSTALGIA: Ready and waiting, the shiny new tracks climbing Portsdown Hill

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On this day in 1864 a letter appeared in the Hampshire Telegraph drawing attention to ‘the monstrous evil which has been permitted to exist for a considerable time past without any effectual attempt being made to check it’.

The writer was referring to the nightly assembly on the main roads crossing Southsea Common of prostitutes of ‘the most vile and abandoned character’ who ‘assail every passenger, even in the hearing of the guardian policeman, with their filthy invitations, couched in language the most revolting and obscene’.

The power of the pen appears to have had some effect.

The following week the newspaper reported that ‘we understand that the authorities have given instructions to the police to remove these creatures from all places where they are a nuisance to passengers and more particularly from Southsea Common’.

In the country’s major naval ports and garrison towns, a blind eye was normally turned to such activities.

What appears to have provoked concern and prompt action in this case was that it was happening in Southsea which had aspirations of being a respectable and high-class seaside resort, rather than the slummy back streets of Portsea – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.