History – How to Buy a Soldier

The idea of women buying or more correctly, renting men is a strange one. Of course, transactions in the other direction have been going on for time immemorial. But to understand how this other state of affairs came about in the early 1800s, we have to take a look at two London Royal Parks – Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

    Today it is difficult to see when one of them starts and the other finishes. They basically run into each other; Hyde Park to the east and Kensington Gardens to the west. There is a dividing line and that is a road connecting Kensington Gore in the south to Bayswater Road in the north. But in the early nineteenth century, there was a strong demarcation line between the two.

    And the reason for this lies in snobbery and the class system. Kensington Palace is located in Kensington Gardens and was the favourite home of William III. However, when the king moved into residence, the Gardens around it became the place to be seen; but only if you were of the right stock. It became a private area for royalty and those who were in the right class.

    This was in sharp contrast to Hyde Park which was used by criminals and prostitutes as well as the ordinary citizens who lived in London. This meant that most people could only look on in envy at those enjoying the Gardens. However, this changed in the 1800s when the rules were relaxed a little. If you looked smart and respectable, you might just be allowed in. But this did not help many as most of the ordinary people were poor.

    Young ladies felt especially left out as they really wanted to be seen “walking out” with a smart young man at her side. But there was an answer to their problem and it was just around the corner in Knightsbridge Barracks. It was full of young single men who, dressed in their uniform, looked every bit as a member of the upper classes. Young ladies began approaching them to be escorted. Some even began to offer a little monetary reward for the privilege.

    Now the armed services always maintain that they are classless but hierarchal. This resulted in a scale of charges being produced. I’m not joking. An officer cost more to rent per hour than a common private soldier. It was popular and became a common sight in Kensington Gardens. However, these days, both parks are open to the general public, so there is no reason to bother anyone at Knightsbridge Barracks. Not unless you really want to.

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