Priss Fotheringham: London’s Second Best Whore

May 14, 2024 1 comments

At the corner of Whitecross Street and Old Street in East London, on the walls above Jane Roe Kitchen, you’ll see a commemorative blue plaque dedicated to a certain Miss Priss Fotheringham, who has laid claim to the rather salacious title of “the second best whore in the city.” The title was awarded to her in 1660 by John Garfield in The Wandering Whore, a directory of prostitutes working in 17th century London.

Photo credit: Maggie Jones/Flickr

Born in Scotland around 1615, Priss Fotheringham later moved to London, where she worked as a prostitute. In her youth, she was described as a "cat-eyed gypsy, pleasing to the eye," but by her thirties, her face had been scarred by smallpox and worsened by quack medicines. Years of heavy gin consumption also negatively affected her appearance.

In 1652, Priss was charged with running a house of ill repute, after being discovered “sitting between two Dutchmen with her breasts naked to the waist and without stockings, drinking and singing in a very uncivil manner.” She was convicted and sent to Newgate Prison.

In 1656, Priss married Edmund Fotheringham, whose mother ran a seedy brothel on Cow Lane, Finsbury. Edmund used to bully and beat her and acted as her pimp, forcing Priss to leave her husband for a sword sharpener, taking much of her husband's money with her. In 1658, she was arrested again by Middlesex Justice of the Peace:

For being a notorious strumpet, a common field walker and one that hath undone several men by giving them the foul disease, for keeping the husband of Susan Slaughter from her ever since December last and hath utterly undone that family, and also for threatening to stab said Susan Slaughter whenever she can meet her, the woman being very civil woman, and also for several other notorious wickedness which is not fit to be named among the heathen.

When the money ran out the sword sharpener left her, and she returned to her husband who reported her for theft. Once again, Priss found herself before the judges who decided that the sooner they hanged the depraved lady, the better. But the new Lord Protector Richard Cromwell stepped in and pardoned her.

Priss spent about a year in Newgate Prison, where she met fellow brothel-keepers Damaris Page and Elizabeth Cresswell and the writer of The Wandering Whore, John Garfield. After her release, Priss established herself as the madam of The Jack-a-Newberry, a tavern located at the corner of Whitecross Street and Old Street. She later renamed the tavern to The Six Windmills, where she gained notoriety through London's burgeoning printing industry. References to the Fotheringham's brothel appear in John Garfield's The Wandering Whore (1660), and The Unparalleled Practices of Mrs Fotheringham (1660), Strange and True News from JackaNewberries (1660), the Strange and True Conference between Two Notorious Bawds (1660) and Man in the Moon (1660).

Priss’s fame partly stemmed from her popularization of a rather bizarre and kinky sex act known as ‘chucking’. This act involved Priss standing on her head, stark naked, with two men holding her legs apart. Customers in the tavern would then insert coins into her gaping vagina. According to legend, she could fit 16 half-crowns into her ‘commoditie’. Occasionally, customers would pour wine into her orifice, which greatly annoyed her as it caused a burning sensation.

Priss performed chucking several times a day, turning the tavern into a notorious venue known as Priscilla Fotheringham's Chuck Office and the Half Crown Chuck Office. The popularity of the act led Priss to teach the other girls in the tavern the delicate art of chucking. One notable student was the Dutch prostitute Mrs. Cupid. According to The Wandering Whore, Mrs. Cupid once performed a particularly memorable chucking session, inserting a bizarre collection of objects including “French dollars, a pair of Spanish pistols, and English Half-Crowns,” followed by “Rhenish wine.”

As the years went by, Priss transitioned into the managerial side of brothel running, becoming a kind of matron for the younger girls. Her physical fitness, maintained through years of performing the chucking act, began to wane as she aged and was afflicted by disease. John Garfield wrote in 1663 that she was “now overgrown with age and overworn with her former all-to-frequent embraces.”

Her husband died soon after, "rotten with syphilis," and in 1668, Priss, now in her mid-fifties, succumbed as well. Despite the hardships she faced, Priss died wealthy, leaving behind a notorious house of ill repute. Her legacy persisted through the tales of her exploits and the continued operation of her infamous establishment. The blue plaque commemorating her at the corner of Whitecross Street and Old Street serves as a reminder of her colorful and controversial life.

# Whitecross Street Part 4 – Entertainment, The Amateur Examiner
# Priss Fotheringham, Wikipedia


  1. I’m fairly curious about the impetus for and bureaucratic process of getting that sign on the building.


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