In 1757, a down-and-out Irish poet, the head-waiter at Shakespeare's Head Tavern in Covent Garden, and a celebrated London courtesan became bound together by the publication of a little book: Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies. This salacious publication detaling the names and 'specialities' of the capital's prostitutes eventually became one of the eighteenth century's most successful and scandalous literary works, selling 250,000 copies. During its heyday (1757-95) Harris's List was the essential accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure. Yet beyond its titillating passages lay a glimpse into the sex lives of those who lived and died by the List's profits during the Georgian era.
The Covent Garden Ladies tells the story of three unusual characters: Samuel Derrick, John Harrison (aka Jack Harris) and Charlotte Hayes, whose complicated and colourful lives were brought together by this publication. The true history of the book is a tragicomic opera motivated by poverty, passionate love, aspiration and shame. Its story plunges the reader down the dark alleys of eighteenth-century London's underworld, a realm populated by tavern owners, pimps, punters, card sharks and of course, a colourful range of prostitutes and brothel-keepers.