Mother Jane Douglas – The last of the great bawds of Covent Garden

Jane, or Mother Douglas as she was known, kept a bawdy house or brothel, in the Piazza, Covent Garden, entertaining a more upmarket clientele, until her death in 1761.

It was, as is often the case, that whilst looking for something completely different I came across her name recently in E.J Burford’s book, ‘Wits, Wenchers and Wantons’. Having also read her entry on Wikipedia I noticed a line which is always designed to send me scurrying off down a proverbial rabbit hole – ‘She had three sisters and at least one brother, but nothing more is known of the family’. Was that really true?

Mother Douglas portrayed at the bottom right window
Mother Douglas portrayed at the bottom right window

According to her memoirs published  just after her death in 1761, her family were said to have hailed from Aberdeen. If her memoirs are to be believed, then her father was a John Douglas a ‘n___ by complexion, though born in these kingdoms’, and her mother was simply named Susanna.

John, it would was a drummer in the army. The couple apparently had a tempestuous and somewhat violent relationship, with infidelity and drink being to blame for much of this. Jane, it states, was:

born in Aberdeen, although they would lay no claim to her being one of its daughters.

Being raised in an environment of drink and violence, history, it is said, repeated itself with Jane enjoying a drop or two of drink. Incest was also said to have been involved in her early years, but how much truth there was in that remains unknown.

When Jane’s father died, she and her mother moved to London, where her mother, short of funds was said to have found herself on trial at the Old Bailey, and transported for 14 years, and never heard of again.

At the age of 19, Jane somehow found herself back in Aberdeen, tending to the needs of the young men there, but then fled to Edinburgh to avoid prosecution for stealing from the young men.

Whilst in Edinburgh, she took up with a Captain Hunter for a while, until she gave him the gift of a sexually transmitted disease and he kicked her out. Whilst finding herself in the situation of being on the street she stole a watch and wallet from a parson, containing ten guineas and was now wealthy and managed to get herself cured and continued to ply her trade, stealing as she went along.

She moved in with a ‘Mother R___’ where she proved to be an asset helping to run the house, whilst continuing to ensure her own purse was full, but things began to unravel for Jane and ultimately, she had to leave Edinburgh and headed back to London hoping to make her fortune.

Sure enough, the streets of London weren’t paved with gold, as she had hoped, and she took a room in an ale house in Drury Lane to recover and decide what she was going to do with her life. Again, she found herself as a street walker, but struggled to earn any money, her dinners being described as a slice of bread and cheese, and a pint of porter.

She accidently met up with a girl, Suky, who had also worked for Mother, R___, and who, like Jane had fled to London, but was now living in house of Moll J___ under the Piazza, Covent Garden, a place to which eventually Jane moved, and her life began to improve. The house was frequented by noblemen and gentlemen and Jane could visualise her life on the up, until an altercation with Moll J___, at which point Jane found herself back out on the street, she was, it seems incapable of holding her temper.

To cut a long story short though eventually Jane managed to acquire her own house in the perfect location in Convent Garden meaning plenty of customers and ‘would be’ actresses who could earn some extra money whilst waiting to land their star role.

‘Her house was calculated for the superior ranks of debauchees. Princes and peers frequented in, and she fleeced them in proportion to their dignity. She had a piece of plate which she constantly exhibited on her sideboard and which she called ‘Billy’s Bread basket’, it being a present from a certain Prince of that name who often visited her’.

It is said that she moved location in 1741 to the opposite side of the road, to the even more impressive building, the former King’s Head. Money was rolling in and Jane had improvements carried out to enhance the premises, but the working life of the girls remained the same, continuing to attract the wealthy clients.

Gin Lane.
Gin Lane. Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Within a few years though all began to turn sour, the elite stopped visiting and she found her girls catering for a different clientele.  The full ‘genuine’ account of her life can be found in the link below and is well worth reading.

However, as if often the case, some of may have been a case stretching the truth somewhat. Many accounts of her life confirm that she died June 1761, with her memoirs stating

The fatal hour last arrived, and the illustrious mother D____s paid the debt to nature on the second of June 1761. She was the same night carried privately out of her welling house to the undertaker’s. This measure was very prudent, as there was reason to apprehend, that the mob might rise, and some mischief ensue on the occasion. So, she was buried privately in the night time on the eight of the month in Paddington church yard. She died a true penitent, in the seventy-fourth year of her age, but very little lamented.

At least two newspapers reported:

Died. 10 June. At her house in Convent Garden, London. Mrs Douglas, well known by the name of Mother Douglas.

On Tuesday night died, at her house in Covent Garden, Mrs Douglas, well known to the sorrow of many fools of both sexes.

Where this Memoir begins to fall apart is that Jane was always referred to as Mrs Douglas, now this could of course have been a courtesy title or, as is more likely, she really was married to a Mr Douglas, but who he was or what became of him, I have no idea, alternatively, the whole story about her parents was fabrication on someone’s part.

Having managed to eventually find her burial, it took place as stated at Paddington, but on 12 June 1761, but more importantly the burial names her not as Jane, but Amelia, which has been stated by Burford to have been a relative of hers who ‘died a few year later’. This can’t be the case, unless both relatives died at the same time and were buried in the same place.

It seems far more likely that Jane used a variety of names, but was, officially Amelia, but as to where the surname Douglas came from, we may never know. With this in mind, it led to her will, which was dated 31 October 1759, plus a codicil added 15 May 1761, just a few days before her death.

In her will she left bequests to her sister, Mary Ann Marin(e) of Bromley Street, St Giles in the Fields, her brother, James in Edinburgh and his daughters, Jacobina and Frances.

Trawling through newspapers it would appear that her sister returned to Edinburgh, presumably to be nearer to her brother. According to Aberdeen Press and Journal 11 March 1799:

Died, at her house in Nicolson’s street, on the 11th ult. Mrs Mary Anne Marine, sister to the late James Marine, trumpeter to the Court of Justiciary, aged 103.

According to an article in The Trumpet in Scotland from 1488-1800, by Alexander McGrattan, it transpired that there was a James Marine with a musical connection, but I still wasn’t convinced that these were Amelia aka Jane’s siblings until I found the baptism in 1738, for James’s daughter, with the unusual name of Jacobina, that it began to come together, with the added bonus of her baptism telling us that her father was one of his majesties household trumpets.

We therefore have Mary Ann Marin(e) approx. 1696-1799

James Marin (e) 1699-1786

And the youngest, Amelia, approx.1704-1761, so rather than being Mrs Jane Douglas, she was actually born Amelia Marine. Whether there were any other siblings who knows, maybe they are still waiting to be found.

There’s still a mystery surrounding the codicil to Amelia’s will, as she provides for a young girl, Elizabeth Holmes, who was living with her, but was aged below 21 when the codicil was written. It is believed this girl was her daughter, but so far, I can find nothing to support the theory that her father was Admiral Charles Holmes, who was said to have been known to Amelia.

I’m sure this still leave many unanswered questions, but equally, it clarifies some of the mysteries. If you know anything more about the family, do let me know.

Sources

London – The Wicked City: A Thousand Years of Prostitution and Vice by Fergus Linnane, Robson, 2007

Wits, Wenchers, and Wantons: London’s Low Life: Covent Garden in the Eighteenth Century by E. J. Burford, Robert Hale Ltd, 1986

Genuine Memoirs of the late celebrated Jane D*******s [i.e., Douglas]

Nocturnal Revels, or the History of King’s-Place and Other Modern Nunneries, Vol. 1 (1779)

St James, Paddington, parish register

Old Parish Registers Baptisms 685/3 80 217 Canongate, Edinburgh

Old Parish Registers 685/3 230 277 Canongate, Edinburgh

Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11; ClassPROB 11; Piece: 866

Featured Image

The March of the Guards to Finchley. Hogarth

7 thoughts on “Mother Jane Douglas – The last of the great bawds of Covent Garden

  1. Hi Sarah, Hope you are well. What an intriguing story…love it! Have you heard of the Cross Bones Graveyard in London? I was hoping to make a visit for a good storyline, but sadly there are no records or gravestones for the 15,000 ‘fallen’ women buried there. I think you would enjoy reading the info on the website! Take care and keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

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