Whipping Tom: He Makes Your Butt Cry Spanko

The legend of Whipping Tom, the so-called ‘enemy of Milk-wenches Bums’, seems to date from the 1670s. It involves women of all ages, shapes and distinctions having their buttocks smacked at random by a strange man dressed in black, occasionally accompanied by the victorious cry of ‘Spanko!’

One version of the story is found in a broadside/news-sheet published in London in 1681, titled ‘Whipping tom brought to light and exposed to view, in an account of several late adventures of the pretended whipping spirit. Giving a full relation of several maids, widows and wives etc that have been by him used in a most barbarous and shameful manner in and about the City of London, within six weeks last past, as also an account of the various reports that are spread abroad concerning him.

It’s such an entertaining read (apart from the last paragraph) that it’s worth including in full so you don’t have to go and dig it out at the British Library:

There having of late been much Discourse in this City, in relation to Whipping Tom, (a Name so much dreaded by the Female Sex) his being abroad again, of whose late Exploits (for the better satisfaction of such as are Inquisitive, and desirous to be informed) and for the benefit of such Husbands as are troubled with gadding Wives, we shall give this following Account of the places that he usually frequents and haunts: Know then, that according to common Fame, he is of the Generation of that Whipping Tom, that about Nine years since proved such an enemy to the Milk-wenches Bums, and often times occasioned the Country Dames to hire a Guard for the security of their Posteriors; whose name so overawed Joan and Ciss that they durst not stir out after Candlelight to meet their Sweet-hearts, for fear of having an Alarum beaten upon their Tobies, and that he being tired with Country Exercise, and not well brooking to take up his Lodgings in Woods and Barnes, nor to turn up any longer, Tales draged at least a quarter of a yard deep, he has thought it expedient to Exercise his Tyranny over the Backsides of the cleanly, tite City Ladies, and for some weeks past, has lurked about in Alleys and Courts in Fleet-street, Chancery-lane, Shooe-lane, Fetter-lane, the Strand, Holbourn, and other places, and at unawares seazes upon such as he can conveniently light on, and turning them up as nimble as an Eeel, makes their Butt ends cry Spanko; and then (according to the Report of those who have felt the weight of his Paws) vanished; for you must know, that having left the Country, he has not the advantage of getting Rods, and therefore is obliged to use his hands instead thereof; His first Adventure, as near as we can learn, was on a Servant Maid in New Street, who being sent out to look her Master, as she was turning a Corner, perceived a Tall black Man standing up against the wall, as if he had been making water, but she had not passed far, but with great speed and violence seized her, and in a trice, laying her cross his knee, took up her Linnen, and lay’d so hard upon her Backside, as made her cry out most piteously for help, the which he no sooner perceiving to approach (as she declares) but he vanished; and although diligent search was made, no person could be found. Another likewise tasted of the same sawce a little after in VVine-Office Court in Fleet-street.

Another time the Woman that cries hot Gray Pease about the Streets, coming up Ram Alley in Fleet-street, whilst she was bawling out her Trade, perceived a long black thing standing bolt upright a little distance from her, but not Dreaming of what after happened, came on, but was no sooner within reach, but a cold hand was lay’d upon her, and up flew her heels, and down fell the Pease Tub, when (as she has farther related) her fences was so charmed, that she lost all power of Resistance, and left him to Tyranize over her Posteriors at Pleasure, the which when he had done, he left her to scrape up her Ware as well as she could, for the use of such longing Ladies as are affected with such Diet.

A Gentlewoman some few Nights past, coming through Flowerdeluce Court, near Fetter-lane, was set upon in the like manner by a person in Black, which (as she affirmed) had Armour on to prevent any private stab with Sizers or Penknife, as is supposed; but e’re he could accomplish his designe, the Watch hearing her Shriek out, came to her assistance, and one of the Watchmen (as it is credibly reported) laid hold of him, but could not secure him, he either being too strong (or a Spirit as some will have him) might flip through his fingers. At another time its reported, a Gentlewoman coming through Fetter-Lane, (at the end which comes into Holbourn) she was set upon, and abused as the Gray Pease Woman was, and there left for some time in a Sound.

And farther its said, that he like Death, spares neither old nor young; for some Nights since, scouting about Whetstones Park, met with an old piece of Mortality, or Hegler in Haman Flesh, who taking him to be a Well timber’d Gentleman, would needs be inviting him to her House, but she had scarce made him a Curtesie e’re he turn’d up the unweildy Mass of Kitchen-stuff, and by his hard claps made her Sing to the TUne of Lacrime; Another time as we are informed, he meeting with a demure rack or Miss of the Town, (who came to accost him) he so swinged her Tail, that tis thought, she will not be capable of her Trade for some considerable time. These and many other Pranks (as we are credibly Informed) has been his late Exercise, to the great Terror of the Female Sex, insomuch that a great number dare not stir abroad after the Shops are shut up. And father it is reported of him, that altho great wait has been laid to apprehend him by Men attired in Womens habit, yet he is so Cunning, that he will not venture upon them, but passes them by, which is one main reason that induces the Lasses to believe he is a Spirit; and because they will be sure to know whether he is so or not, a great many when their Masters and Mistresses sends them on Errands late, go Armed with Penknives, sharp Bodkins, Sizzars, and the like, resolving if they meet with him to turn the Comedy into a Tragedy (if he should prove MOrtal) for a fence against which, it is reported, as we have before recited, he goes in Armour, resolving to continue at utter Enmity with the Female Sex.

Besides these Outrages, we hear that about three weeks since, he met with a Gentlewoman great with Child, who lived in Fleet-street, and so affrighted her with the suddain surprise, that notwithstanding he was prevented his usual designe, yet through the fright (as most believe) she Miscarried, and about a week after Died in Child-Bed.

This story suggests there was an earlier ‘Whipping Tom’ in around 1672. Forty years later another ‘Whipping Tom’ emerged, real name Thomas Wallis, after a campaign of buttock-punishment across east London. At his trial, Wallis is said to have declared that ‘unless woman be whipped out of their wicked pride and baseness, mankind will become women’s slaves.’ According to one report his punishment was to be whipped weekly by two women in Bridewell prison for 12 months before being forced to ‘run the gauntlet’ between 200 maids, wives and widows in Cheapside.

For more on Whipping Tom (who has his own Wikipedia page) see the long-ago blog by Lucy Inglis at georgianlondon.com.


Mary Mudge: Cross-dressing in the 19th Century

The history of cross-dressing is full of fascinating personalities: Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for heresy in 1431 because she persisted in wearing pants; Mary Read was a notorious 18th Century female pirate; Dorothy Lawrence disguised herself as a male soldier to fight in the trenches of World War One.

Others like the music hall star Vesta Tilley openly impersonated men as part of a successful theatre act.

Music Hall star Vesta Tilley, ‘in and out of drag’, photos from Wikipedia

Many of Shakespeare’s plays also feature female characters dressing up as men, although the actors playing them in his day were young men. More recently the TV comedy Little Britain featured two men wandering around town in female dress while insisting: ‘I’m a lady.’

Mary Mudge, however, never sought the limelight. Her ‘secret’ only emerged after her death, aged 85, in the market town of Tavistock, Devon, the birthplace of Sir Francis Drake.

Reynold’s Newspaper reported on March 31, 1889:


There has just died in Tavistock Workhouse an old person eighty five years of age, who was known to the authorities as Mary Mudge, and until some years ago kept a small dairy in that town. On the body being prepared for burial, it was discovered to be that of a man, although previously no suspicion had been entertained as to the sex of Miss Mudge, as deceased had long been called, and had all outward appearance of a woman. No cause has been assigned for the disguise.

Further details were given in The Bury and Norwich Post:

Not even the oldest inhabitant had any recollection of Mary’s childhood and there is no registration to be found. The earliest recollection of her in the village is a full grown young woman, when she was then noticeable for her particularly large size. ‘That girl ought to have been a boy’ seems to have ben a common saying at the time. ‘She seemed a very quiet retiring sort,’ said the old villager. ‘We never suspected anything. I was never so struck in my life as when I heard of it after her death.’ Nobody seemed to have known much about Mary. She had lived by herself since her sister’s death, shut up in her lonely house. The two or three cows supplied her bodily needs, and the village doctor does not remember ever giving her medicine; but sickness entered her house four years ago and found Mary Mudge alone in her lonely dwelling. She was recommended to the union infirmary where she entered in July 1885, and has since remained until her death.

It seems unlikely the newspapers (or the news agency supplying the story) would make it all up. And census records do show a Mary Mudge of the right age living as a dairy farmer in Milton Abbot, six miles from Tavistock, between 1851 and 1881.

In 1851 she was listed, age 48, at the Old House in Milton Abbot, an unmarried farm labourer, along with a 59 year-old lodger called Elizabeth Condon (or possibly Langdon).

Ten years later Mary, now said to be a 56 year-old farmer of nine acres, was still living there with  Elizabeth and three other boarders.

In 1871 Mary Mudge, 66, unmarried, occupation ‘formerly dairymaid’, was staying alone at Cottage No. 3 on the Duke of Bedford’s estate. Her birthplace was said to be Lamerton in Devon.

Finally in 1881 she was living at ‘Green, Milton Abbot’, aged 77, with Richard Northcott, a 31 year-old gardener, his wife and two daughters. Mary was described as an ‘aunt.’

Further confirmation is provided by the registered death of a Mary Mudge, aged 85, in the Tavistock district, between April and June 1889.

The rest of her life remains unknown. Which is perhaps what Mary Mudge would have wanted.

Sarah Brown, 19th Century Supermodel

Moulin Rouge poster from 1891 by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

Four years after the Moulin Rouge opened in Paris in 1889, it hosted an event which was so scandalous that four of the performers were prosecuted for outraging public decency.

The Bal des Quat’z-Arts featured a procession of floats, banners and models dressed as famous historical characters from Ancient Rome and Greece. The famous Cancan dancer La Gouloue (‘The Glutton’) was there in the guise of an ‘Indienne’.

But the highlight of the show was undoubtedly the artist’s model Sarah Brown as the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, held aloft by men clad only in white loincloths.

The red-haired model Sarah Brown, purportedly in the Bal des Quat’z-Arts costume

Her performance has since been described as ‘the world’s first striptease’ although descriptions of her costume vary wildly – some say she was completely naked while others describe a black velour g-string, stockings and a black shirt. Georges Montogueil, writing in Paris Dansant (1898), says:

The parade covers a long space. Here is part of the triumphal procession of Cleopatra. On a palanquin, she appears, dressed in a few rows of pearls and gold nets, the world-conquering beauty, it is the model Rochegrosse painted in the Death of Sardanapalus, the stunning redhead Sarah Brown. The people cheer. She welcomes the delirium with Oriental nonchalance.

When Sarah Brown was hauled before the court, she said she was only wearing the what she had posed in for the artist Georges Rochegrosse:

‘I had on a belt, large necklaces and sequins.’
‘Did you have on tights?’
‘No, why would I? I was dressed.’
‘Did you walk about the ball with your bust naked?’
‘I only appeared in the procession; during the entire ball I was in a loge.’
‘Who gave you the idea for that costume?’
‘Nobody, I am a model. I’m the one who posed for Rochegrosse’s Cleopatra. I naturally chose that costume.’

Sarah Brown was found guilty and fined 100 Francs or face six months in prison.

A few hours later as many as 2,000 of her student fans marched through Paris in protest wearing a symbolic fig leaf on their hats. The demonstration began peacefully but ended with street battles with the police and four days of riots.

Sarah, still only 24 years old, was celebrated as ‘one of the most notorious women in Paris’. The English painter William Rothenstein later wrote: ‘Sarah was fair, and her figure, small bosomed, had the creamy unity of a Titian’, while the author W.C. Morrow recalled: ‘She was the mistress of one great painter after another, and she lived and reigned like a queen. Impulsive, headstrong, passionate, she would do the most reckless things. But no one could resist Sarah.’

Her exploits were legendary: she asked for an audience with the poet Paul Verlaine only to faint in shock at the sight of his ‘terrifying’ face; she fell in love with a black model called Bamboulo, who claimed he could eat a whole rabbit alive, fur, bones and all; she liked to flounce out of the studio before the artist had finished his masterpiece; she changed her costumes at will and deliberately knocked down the painters’ easels for kicks; she was the model for Jules Joseph Lefebvre’s Lady Godiva and Clemence Isaure.

Clemence Isaure by Lefebvre

Lady Godiva by Lefebvre (1890)

But the Bal des Quat’z-Arts was to be the high point of her career and it is said she lost her looks and lovers as her wild life took its toll. Three years later on 12 February 1896 the Daily News in London reported her death from consumption.

Sarah Brown was once before the courts and everybody wondered at the reputation she won in the studios for in a bonnet and ladylike clothing she looked commonplace and indeed vulgar. Models generally are well-behaved girls and many live like anchorites for fear of spoiling their plastic beauty and losing the power to exact high fees. But Sarah Brown lived the life of a bacchante.


Links / Sources:

Marie Lathers, Bodies of Art: French Literary Realism and the Artist’s Model (2001), p243

Lela Felter-Kerley, The Art of Posing Nude: Models, Moralists and the 1893 Bal des Quat’z-Arts, French Historical Studies, volume 33, number 1, p69-98. Sarah Brown’s performance is said to mark a ‘shift in sexual attitudes’.

Quotations from Paris Dansant (apologies for my poor French translation) and Rothenstein’s Men and Memories. Robert Henri is quoted in His Life and Art as saying ‘Paris has two Sarahs; one is Sarah Bernhardt, the other is Sarah Brown, the model, who is one of the most notorious women in Paris.’

For more on La Goulue (and some very racy pictures of her), see The Burns Archive blog

There is another photograph, said to be of Sarah Brown, included in the book ‘Victorian Life in Photographs’. The caption describes her as a music hall dancer and says she was jailed for indecency. It seems almost certain that this is not the Sarah Brown, and most likely is someone else posing in a similar costume for her own pleasure. See my blog for The Victorianist on Sarah Brown in August 2012.