"women in darkened red dresses"

In the Victorian era, prostitution became known as ‘The Great Social Evil’. From the 1840s onwards it became a major topic of discussion in newspapers and a popular theme for contemporary literature. It also invaded its way into politics, with the Brothels Suppression Bill of 1840 and the Contagious Diseases Act of 1864. Many institutions set up by religious or charitable organisations attempted to ‘reform’ prostitutes and close down brothels, but despite this it was seen for much of the century as a ‘necessary evil’ and the women involved worked quite openly. The number of prostitutes and brothels in East London was particularly high; in 1841, the Metropolitan Police estimated that in London itself there were 3325 brothels and 9409 prostitutes.