Militarism and poverty created it.
It grew during and after the famine.
Victorian England was about self improvement but really the causes seemed to be veneral disease at epic levels causing 30 to 40% of soldiers not being fit enough for battle.
Another factor was a shortage of girls who wanted to work as domestic servants .
So - it was affecting upper class comfort and the empire.
See also: Victorian morality and Women in the Victorian era
Beginning in the late 1840s, major news organizations, clergymen, and single women became increasingly concerned about prostitution, which came to be known as "The Great Social Evil". Although estimates of the number of prostitutes in London by the 1850s vary widely (in his landmark study, Prostitution, William Acton reported that the police estimated there were 8,600 in London alone in 1857), it is enough to say that the number of women working the streets became increasingly difficult to ignore. When the United Kingdom Census 1851 publicly revealed a 4% demographic imbalance in favour of women (i.e., 4% more women than men), the problem of prostitution began to shift from a moral/religious cause to a socio-economic one. The 1851 census showed that the population of Great Britain was roughly 18 million; this meant that roughly 750,000 women would remain unmarried simply because there were not enough men. These women came to be referred to as "superfluous women" or "redundant women", and many essays were published discussing what, precisely, ought to be done with them.
While the Magdalene Asylums had been "reforming" prostitutes since the mid-18th century, the years between 1848 and 1870 saw a veritable explosion in the number of institutions working to "reclaim" these "fallen women" from the streets and retrain them for entry into respectable society — usually for work as domestic servants. The theme of prostitution and the "fallen woman" (an umbrella term used to describe any women who had sexual intercourse out of wedlock) became a staple feature of mid-Victorian literature and politics. In the writings of Henry Mayhew, Charles Booth, and others, prostitution began to be seen as a social problem.
When Parliament passed the first of the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1864 (which allowed the local constabulary to force any woman suspected of venereal disease to submit to its inspection), Josephine Butler's crusade to repeal the CD Acts yoked the anti-prostitution cause with the emergent feminist movement. Butler attacked the long-established double standard of sexual morality.
Victorian England and Dublin were sophisticated with a great emphasis on improvement
I am trying to find figures for actual levels of prostitution.
Veneral disease such a syphilis which is now treatable was a real public health issue.
The gritty glamour and agony of Ireland's first Leeson Street lady
Sunday April 03 2005
IRELAND'S first brothel madam was a member of the aristocracy who was led into a life of prostitution after years of domestic abuse.The secret and often tragic life of 18th-Century prostitute Margaret Leeson - alias Pimping Peg - is unlocked in a radio series this week by history post-graduate student Lisa-Marie Griffith.
Ms Griffith explains how Margaret was the first woman to provide a house in Dublin where upper-class men could go and pay for sex.
She accommodated a mixture of characters throughout her career - from lawyers to bank governors, down to conmen and petty villains.
After 30 years in the business, she decided to reform and became penniless, ending up in prison, and she was forced to write her memoirs in a bid to raise some cash.
She died at the age of 70, predictably enough from venereal disease, broken and alone.
Margaret Leeson's life began in 1727, in Killough, Co Westmeath, the daughter of a wealthy Catholic landowner who was related to the Earl of Cavan.
But her idyllic rural childhood was shattered when her mother and eldest brother died and Margaret's father passed control of his estates to his cruel son Christopher.
Christopher took complete control of Margaret, frequently beating her to the point that she once attempted to elope to escape his violence.
On one occasion, he beat her so badly with a horsewhip that she vomited blood and was confined to bed for three months. Margaret eventually escaped to Dublin, where she met a man called Dardis who turned her on to a life of prostitution.
Dardis proposed to her, but they did not have the money to wed, so she let him sleep with her as often as he wished - and so Margaret was introduced to a succession of men who were willing to pay her for sex.
Enter two characters, only known as Mr Lawless and Mr Leeson, a wealthy English merchant from whom she took her assumed name.
Mr Leeson fell for Margaret's charms and put her up in a house in Ranelagh, Dublin; but while Leeson was away she would sneak in her other lover, Mr Lawless.
Leeson finally found out and, on discovering her infidelity, left her penniless.
Lawson went on to become her longest client and partner and they lived together for five years, having five children together.
But as ever, tragedy struck; their money eventually ran out, the children died oneby one and Lawless left for America, leaving Margaret heartbroken.
She returned to a life of prostitution and found that many wealthy men were willing to entertain her and pay her way.
She soon regained her position in high society and bought a house in Dublin's old Pitt Street, which became her most luxurious brothel, fitted out with every comfort and boasting prostitutes hand-picked by Margaret herself.
It became a well-known establishment amongst well-bred men and her clients included a lord lieutenant who insisted on sleeping only with Margaret, swearing he would pay his fortune if only his wife was as good in bed as she was.
But things were not so jolly for so long and Margaret fell into a depression and attempted suicide - an act that led her to give up the game completely.
She built a retirement home in Blackrock and hoped to retire on her IOUs, a plan that backfired when none of the owing clients paid up.
After being arrested by an ex-client for a debt of £15, she was thrown into jail, where she decided to write her memoirs to earn some much-needed money.
Three volumes of The Memoirs of Mrs Leeson, Madam, were published in 1794, and she vowed to name and shame all her clients in the fourth volume.
But before that time came, she was attacked and viciously gang-raped and contracted a venereal disease, which became advanced.
She died at the age of 70 and was buried in St James's churchyard.
Her story - Pimping Peg; Profit and Penance - will be told as part of Anna Livia's 'Delving Into Dublin's Past' series on Tuesday at 4pm.
Another was Darkey Kelly
Was Darkey Kelly Ireland's First Serial Killer?
For generations Darkey Kelly was knows in Dublin’s folk memory as the woman who was burned at the stake for witchcraft after she accused the Sheriff of Dublin, Luttrell, of fathering her baby. However, new research has revealed that she could have been Ireland’s first serial killer and the story of witchcraft is completely false.
Darkey Kelly was executed for the murder of at least five men. Their bodies were found in a brothel she owned in Dublin.
It had been thought that she was executed for witchcraft in 1746 but new research has shown that she was executed in public on January 7, 1761. This week marks the 250thh anniversary of her public burning at the stake. She was partially hanged and then publicly burnt alive on Baggot Street, in Dublin city center.
The producer of “No Smoke Without Hellfire” a community radio show on Dublin’s South 93.9 FM plans to tell the story on his show today. He told the Evening Herald newspaper that he and fellow research Phil O’Grady had made these new discoveries having read contemporary newspapers in the National Archives.
He said “This series debunks the tale, passed on down the centuries, that Simon Luttrell, known as Lord Carhampton, was the principle cause of her execution."
Location of Darkey's Execution
The old story goes that Darkey Kelly (whose name was Dorcas Kelly) ran the Maiden Tower brothel, in Copper Alley, off Fishamble Street. She became pregnant with the child of Dublin’s Sheriff Simon Luttrell, a member of the Hellfire Club. She demanded financial support from him.
Until now the story told was that he had responded by accusing her of witchcraft and killed her baby in a satanic ritual. The body was never found. Darkey was then burnt at the stake.
Contemporary newspapers revealed that Dorcas Kelly was accused of killing shoemaker John Dowling. Investigators then found the bodies of five men hidden in the vaults of her brothel. After her execution prostitutes rioted on Copper Alley.
McLoughlin said “Women in 18th-century Ireland were second class citizens and the execution of prisoners reflected that blatant sexism.
"Men found guilty of murder were just hanged, whereas women were throttled first, then burnt alive.