Passports, Parliamentarians, and Fanny Hill

Petty France cropThe  Moonwalk London 2014 route goes through Westminster and so today we look at Petty France. The name is fairly straightforward: from petit – little – France, because of French settlers there as early as the 15th century. Nestling close to Parliament Square and the seat of government, it was, for many years, the home of the London passport office; the office relocated in 2002. Jeremy Bentham plaqueFamous residents of the street included Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and William Hazlitt. John Milton also had a “pretty garden house” there, from 1652, when he was secretary to Oliver Cromwell and starting work on Paradise Lost, to the Restoration of 1660. At that time, as a supporter of the Parliamentarians, he had to make himself scarce from the re-established monarchy in the form of Charles II, whose father Cromwell had beheaded.

Fanny Hill
An early edition of Fanny Hill

The most colourful and infamous resident was the novelist John Cleland (1709-17899, who died there, in obscurity, at the age of 82. Cleland, who is said to have spent a fair amount of time in debtors’ prisons, made his mark and his money in 1750 when his Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (better known as Fanny Hill) was published. The book (of “pernicious tendency”) was a bestseller and brought the publishers £10,000 (according to some calculations, as much as £15,000,000 today) in profits. Cleland himself earned 20 guineas, or around £80,000).

Fanny Hill whips
An illustration from the book: Fanny Hill whips Mr Barville

Money notwithstanding, the privy council was not amused and summoned Cleland to explain himself. He pleaded poverty as his excuse for the scandalously indecent book, and the president of the council granted him an annuity of £100 (around £20,000) on the condition that he never again wrote that kind of book. If you want to support Walk the Walk and its efforts on behalf of breast cancer charities, you can sponsor me by visiting my fundraising page here.

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