Behind Closed Doors: Off-Street Commercial Sex in the Interwar Years
On 6 November 1916, police officers from D Division were keeping observation on a collection of European cafés that had recently sprung up in the side streets around Tottenham Court Road and Goodge Street. With names like ‘Restaurant Francais’, ‘Au Drapeau Belge’ and ‘Roumainian Kosher Restaurant’, these businesses were owned by a collection of French, Belgian, Russian, Italian and Romanian men (and a few women), and were opened into the early hours of the morning. During the first years of the war, the sound of their electric pianos and raucous crowds spilled out into the streets, and in their vicinity could be found a suspiciously large number of drunken soldiers, long after the hour had passed when the new licensing laws determined alcohol must not be served. Police suspected that at least twenty of the twenty-seven cafés allowed prostitutes to frequent the premises and to use them as a space in which to solicit soldiers; quite a few, meanwhile, were thought to be ‘brothels’, renting rooms to these women and their soldier clients above the bar.1 Sex was also for sale in the streets surrounding them: on the very same night that Superintendent Billings wrote his report about his men’s observations on the cafés, he also penned his first of many reports on the arrest of Nellie Johnson.2
KeywordsPolice Officer Taxi Driver Ordinary Citizen Police Commissioner Massage Parlour
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