‘Her instruments of torture were more numerous than those of any other governess in London.’
Theresa Berkley ran a high-class flagellation brothel at 28 Charlotte Street, London. She was a ‘governess’ and specialised in chastisement and whipping.
Whoever visited her with plenty of money, could be birched, whipped, scourged, needle-pricked, half-hung, holly-brushed, furze-brushed, butcher-brushed, stinging-nettled, and tortured till they’d had enough.
Theresa’s career spanned 49 years, ending only upon her death in 1836. She began by turning the White House, a mansion in Soho Square, into a haven of sadomasochism by installing various torture instruments.
Her instruments of torture were more numerous than those of any other governess. Her supply of birch was extensive. They included whip-thongs, cats-o’-nine-tails studded with needle points, supple switches, thin leather straps, ox hide straps studded with nails and green nettles.
It was a time of extravagance and debauchery which thrived beneath a veneer of high morality and ideals. The service she supplied was not unique; flagellation played a fairly prominent role in English sex work from about 1700 onwards. She was merely clever and intuitive in how she reacted to and serviced her clientele.
She had all the right stuff, but maybe her most significant contribution to the submissive arts was an apparatus that strapped customers in for an easier spanking. Invented in 1828 and later billed the ‘Berkley Horse,’ the machine was essentially a padded ladder with holes for face and genitals. The apparatus earned her a fortune from flogging wealthy men and women of the time.
The contraption was so successful customers begged for time on it. One wrote her a desperate letter, offering ‘a pound sterling for the first blood drawn, two pounds sterling if the blood runs down to my heels, three pounds sterling if my heels are bathed in blood, four pounds sterling if the blood reaches the floor, and five pounds sterling if you make me lose consciousness.’
An expert with all torture instruments, her talents became highly sought after by the nobility of the day. She was a master of the art of inflicting pain for pleasure and practised absolute privacy to protect her clientele. Her clients were said to have been both men and women of wealth, and her career was financially lucrative.
One writer said of her: ‘She possessed the first requisite of a courtesan, viz, lewdness; for without a woman is positively lecherous she cannot keep up the affectation of it, and it will soon be perceived that she moves her hands or her buttocks to the tune of pounds, shillings, and pence.’
Mrs Berkley also had a hook and pulley attached to the ceiling, by which she could draw a man up by his hands. She enjoyed a certain amount of torture inflicted on her by her clients, given that they were willing to pay her price, but she also employed several women for that task if indeed her clients wished to inflict more pain than she was willing to take herself.
Many of Berkley’s customers were high born. She entertained aristocrats, businessmen, and even royalty. Though Berkley was known for her staunch privacy, George IV reportedly visited a fellow whipper, Mrs Collett.
After Theresa died in 1836, her brother, who had been a missionary for 30 years in Australia, arrived in England. When he learned the source from which the property she had left him had been derived, he renounced all claim, and immediately went back to Australia.
Her medical attendant and executor, Dr Vance refused to administer the estate, and the crown inherited the whole estate, valued at £100,000. Dr Vance came into possession of her correspondence, several boxes, which was said to have contained letters from the highest aristocracy, both male and female, in the land. The letters were later destroyed.
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