Urban History

Research Article

The Spinning House girls: Cambridge University's distinctive policing of prostitution, 1823–1894


a1 33 Panton Street, Cambridge, CB2 1HL, UK


This article explores the regulation of prostitution in nineteenth-century Cambridge by an appraisal of the committal books of the university prison. Each evening in term-time the university proctors arrested and imprisoned local ‘streetwalkers’ in an attempt to protect the students’ morals. This research offers insight into the ways in which Cambridge's geography and its dual system of governance influenced the policing of prostitution in the town centre. The former compelled students and townspeople to share the same crowded space and the latter enabled the university to enforce traditional patterns of class and gender to control sexuality in the town.


* I thank Professor Clive Emsley and Dr Donna Loftus of the Open University for their help and encouragement when I was writing my Ph.D. thesis, Dr Loftus and my husband Philip Oswald for their constructive comments on earlier drafts of this article and my son Christopher Oswald for creating the map.