Sunday, 23 July 2017

Jenny Piano: Nymph and Brothel Keeper

The mark of Jenny Piano in 1853.
For those new to this blog it follows the lives of the inhabitants of two streets in Victorian Cardiff. Charlotte Street is now under the Marriott hotel by Cardiff central library and Whitmore Lane is now Custom House Street- turn right out of Cardiff central train station (where the Golden Cross pub still stands).

Jenny Piano was the nickname of Jane Roberts, a prostitute who worked in Cardiff and Merthyr, during the 1850's and 1860's. She's one woman that hasn't made it into my book 'Notorious' in full but her life story is typical of the Victorian sex-workers that spent most of their working lives on Charlotte Street and Whitmore Lane. The background to these streets can be found here.

Jenny's own story starts in the China slum of Merthyr. China was already a well established area for brothels by the 1850's, a 'sink hole of iniquity'. On the 1851 census she is a 'dress-maker' and living with her 14 year old sister Sarah and a boatman. One of the oft-ignored aspects of the history of the Glamorganshire Canal, which ran direct from China to Whitmore Lane, was the habit of the boatmen to also be pimps, or bullies.
Jenny had already been working China for two years, in 1848 she takes a mark for five shillings after meeting him in a notorious pub:
She got off this charge but was caught again in 1850 stealing handkerchiefs with her bully Oliver. He got seven years transportation but Jenny was lucky and only got a month in prison.
It didn't put her off stealing from clients however as in August she was back in court:
Jenny moved to Charlotte Street in Cardiff after 1851 and was working in very notorious beerhouse and brothel 'The Cornish Arms' when she was picked up drunk and incapable by the gas works at the end of Whitmore Lane in March 1853.
She was working in The Cornish Arms when the landlady and madam Mrs Barnes died in June 1853, she was probably at her bedside when she died as she recorded her death. Jenny then moved to another brothel on Charlotte Street in the next few months where she charged a fellow prostitute with stealing her shawl from a chair.
She continued to work on Charlotte Street keeping her nose clean until she got into a fight with another prostitute Ann Moore alias 'Carrots' in June 1857:

Jenny wasn't long out of that month stretch before she was picked up for robbing a watch from a mark in August 1857.
Then it starts getting confusing as another prostitute, five years younger and also called Jane Roberts, alias 'Kitty', started to work on the Lane too. It could be either of these two Jane's that was picked up for fighting with fellow prostitutes in January and August 1858, I've got a feeling it was the younger Jane.
In October 1858 Jenny Piano was definitely running the brothel next door to The Ship Hotel at the canal end of Charlotte Street where she assisted in stripping a client of his watch and cash:
Jane Shoreland and the men were released but poor Jenny got nine months for her part in the robbery, the first two days of each month in solitary confinement.
Luckily (for me as a researcher) while Jenny is in gaol for this the other Jane Roberts got sent down for four years for a Charlotte Street brothel theft herself so she's out of the picture!
Jenny Piano didn't get reformed by her stay in gaol and in July 1860 she's up for another robbery again with John Maloney. John was one of the men involved in the 1858 robbery and her bully:
The 1861 census sees Jenny running a brothel at 16 Whitmore Lane, three doors down from Mary the Cripple's beerhouse. She'd obviously buried the hatchet with Carrots as Ann Moore is working in her brothel:

Jenny's brothel next to The Ship Hotel marked in blue, 16 Whitmore Lane marked in yellow, GRO
On the census Jenny has a one-eyed bully, William Williams, living with them. William was a boatman from Merthyr with a long history on Charlotte Street and Whitmore Lane.
Her girls, Hannah Davies and Ann Moore, were experienced prostitutes. Hannah had been working on Charlotte Street and the Lane since 1853 and like Jenny was from Merthyr:
1855 October 13th CMG p.5.
Ann Moore alias 'Carrots' had been working on Charlotte Street since 1854 and was very active as these two reports from 1856 show:

1856 February 2nd Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, p.6.

1856 November 15th CMG p.8.
In fact Ann Moore had only been out of gaol for a fortnight when the census was taken as she'd been send down for a month on the 22nd March 1861 for assaulting a man:
1861 March 2nd CMG p.8.
Jenny Piano's brothel, with three women and a bully, was typical of the set up on Whitmore Lane at this time.
And guess who is living next door to Jane Roberts' brothel at 15 Whitmore Lane? John Maloney. He's running a lodging house and has a two year old 'daughter' listed with him called Elizabeth Davies, he's either romantically linked with Hannah Davies or is just looking after her child.
After 1861 Jenny Piano was put into the brothel at 31 Charlotte Street by Irish Meg in January 1863- see my previous blog post about 31 Charlotte Street.
1863 January 31t CMG p.6.
A little while later Jenny Piano marries John Maloney in March 1863 and after this there's no mention of her.
Jenny dies at the start of 1870 aged 36 and by 1871 John Maloney is living at 15 Charlotte Street with a new girl Ellen. I should order the certificates for these for more information but as I've got 30 others to get at £10 each for the book that'll have to wait!

What we can infer from these records is that Jenny was an experienced working girl who was generally sober- it's these women that were successful at running the brothels on Charlotte Street and The Lane.
Her main crime is of theft from her customers, which was a perk of the job, and she was obviously quite good at this having avoided any long prison sentences throughout her fifteen years of active work.

Why was Jane Roberts called Jenny Piano? There's the obvious need to differentiate herself from the other Jane 'Kitty' Roberts and perhaps she could play the piano well in the beerhouses of Charlotte Street (many employed fiddlers and even harpists). Alternatively perhaps she had gapped or rotten teeth that looked like piano keys? Some things we'll never know...


1848 November 11th Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian p.3.
1849 January 5th The Principality p.5.
1850 February 23rd CMG p.3.
1850 August 17th CMG p.3.
Census: HO107/2459 p.51.
1853 March 19th CMG p.4.
1853 June Cardiff 11a 160 Mrs Barnes Death
1853 September 10th CMG p.3.
1853 October 22nd CMG  p.3.
1857 August 29th CMG p.8.
1858 January 9th CMG p.6.
1858 January 16th CMG p.8.
1858 August 28th CMG p.6.
1858 August 28th Monmouthshire Merlin p.2.
1858 October 9th CMG p.4. & p.5.
1858 October 16th CMG p.6.
1858 October 23rd Cardiff Times p.3.
1860 July 14th CMG p.6.
1861 Census 9/4033 F89 p.63
1870 Mar Cardiff 11a177 Death.

Hannah Davies:
1853 July 30th CMG p.3.
1854 January 28th CMG p.4.
1857 April 11th CMG p.8.
1857 July 18th CMG p.6.
1858 March 27th CMG p.8.
1858 December 25th CMG p.5.
1860 October 6th CMG p.6.
Ann Moore:
1854 February 18th p.4.
1854 June 9th CMG p.3.
1854 November 3rd CMG p.4.
1856 November 15th CMG p.8.
1858 March 6th CMG p.6.
1858 April 10th Monmouthshire Merlin p.8.
1859 February 2nd CMG p.6.
1859 September 24th CMG p.6.
1859 October 8th CMG p.6.

Newspaper images are all courtesy of the excellent Wales Newspapers Online site run by the National Library of Wales. This article in its current form is copyright Anthony Rhys 2017. 

No comments:

Post a Comment