The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Catherine Walters ('Skittles')

Catherine Walters ('Skittles')

A carte-de-visite portrait of Catherine Walters (1839-1920), one of the most celebrated courtesans of the nineteenth century.

Born in Liverpool on 13 June 1839, the daughter of a customs official, she moved to London before her twentieth birthday. Her nickname is thought to have originated from her having briefly worked at a bowling alley during her youth.

Her charms attracted a host of admirers and she was soon able to afford a fine equipage and to dress herself in perfectly cut riding habits. Her skill as a horsewoman matched her classical beauty and her daily appearances in Rotten Row drew huge crowds of sightseers. A letter written to The Times in 1862 described the fever of anticipation among the waiting admirers of a thinly-disguised Skittles:

‘Expectation is raised to its highest pitch: a handsome woman drives rapidly by in a carriage drawn by thoroughbred ponies of surpassing shape and action; the driver is attired in the pork pie hat and the Poole paletot introduced by Anonyma; but alas!, she causes no effect at all, for she is not Anonyma; she is only the Duchess of A–, the Marchioness of B–, the Countess of C–, or some other of Anonyma’s many eager imitators. The crowd, disappointed, reseat themselves, and wait. Another pony carriage succeeds – and another – with the same depressing result. At last their patience is rewarded. Anonyma and her ponies appear, and they are satisfied. She threads her way dexterously, with an unconscious air, through the throng, commented upon by the hundreds who admire and the hundreds who envy her. She pulls up her ponies to speak to an acquaintance, and her carriage is instantly surrounded by a multitude; she turns and drives back again towards Apsley-house, and then – away into the unknown world, nobody knows whither’ (The Times, 3 July 1862, pg. 12).

She counted among her lovers the Marquess of Hartington (later the eighth Duke of Devonshire), whom she pursued to New York during the American Civil War; Napoléon III; and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

Catherine Walters died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 4 August 1920 at her home at 15 South Street, Mayfair. She was buried in the graveyard of the Franciscan Monastery at Crawley.

Photographed by Levitsky of Paris.


Code: 123604
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