Theresa Berkley

Theresa Berkley (17??- 1836) was a famous 19th century English dominatrix. She ran a high class flagellatory brothel in 28 Charlotte Street, near Portland Place, London, that was equipped with all kinds of flogging implements to be used on her paying clients. Theresa Berkley was a "governess"; i.e., she specialized in chastisement, whipping, flagellation, and the like. Since 1828 she had a special whipping frame in her studio, a kind of padded folding ladder, that became known as the Berkley Horse.

Drawing of the Berkley Horse.

Theresa Berkley's business ran well. Her clients are said to have been both men and women of wealth from the aristocracy of the day. Thus Mrs Berkley became a financially successful and well-known pioneer in commercial BDSM services, long before the terms "sadism" and "masochism" were coined by Krafft-Ebing. There are no artworks depicting what Theresa Berkley looked like, short of occasional descriptions usually depicting that she was attractive, with a strong disposition.

Theresa Berkley died in 1836. She willed her entire estate to her brother, who had been a missionary for 30 years in Australia, but when he arrived in England and learned the source from which the property she had left him had been derived, he renounced all claim, and immediately went back to Australia. In default, the property was bequeathed to Dr Vance, her medical attendant and executor; but he refused to administer, and the whole was escheated to the crown. [1]

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 eventually destroyed. Today there is a gallery in 28 Charlotte Street.


A wide-sprayed birch.
Stinging nettle.

For all we know, the kind of whippings requested by her clients, which she was willing to deliver, were on the very harsh side by modern standards.

Her instruments of torture were more numerous than those of any other governess. Her supply of birch was extensive, and kept in water, so that it was always green and pliant: she had shafts with a dozen whip thongs on each of them; a dozen different sizes of cat-o'-nine-tails, some with needle points worked into them; various kinds of thin bending canes; leather straps like coach traces; battledoors, made of thick sole-leather, with inch nails run through to docket, and currycomb tough hides rendered callous by many years flagellation. Holly brushes, furze brushes; a prickly evergreen, called butcher's bush; and during the summer, a glass and China vases, filled with a constant supply of green nettles, with which she often restored the dead to life. Thus, at her shop, whoever went with plenty of money, could be birched, whipped, fustigated, scourged, needle-pricked, half-hung, holly-brushed, furze-brushed, butcher-brushed, stinging-nettled, curry-combed, phletbotomized, and tortured till he had a belly full.
  — Unnamed source quoted by Henry Spencer Ashbee
  • Furze brush is another name for gorse. The bushes have extremely nasty spikes instead of leaves, and yellow flowers.
  • Phlebotomy is the removal of blood as a therapeutic treatment, also called venesection.
Mrs Berkley has also in her second floor, a hook and pulley attached to the ceiling, by which she could draw a man up by his hands. This operation is also represented in her memoirs.
  — Unnamed source quoted by Henry Spencer Ashbee. [2]

She enjoyed a certain amount of flogging inflicted on her by her clients, given that they were willing to pay her price, but she also employed a number of women for that task if indeed her clients wished to inflict more pain than she was willing to take herself. As reflected in the below quote:

For those whose lech it was to flog a woman, she would herself submit to a certain extent; but if they were gluttons at it, she had women in attendance who would take any number of lashes the flogger pleased, provided he forked out an ad valorem duty. Among these were Miss Ring, Hannah Jones, Sally Taylor, One-eyed Peg, Bauld-cunted Poll, and a black girl, called Ebony Bet.
  — Unknown source

Portrayal on televisonEdit

In the 2000-2001 BBC miniseries Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes, Theresa Berkley appears briefly in episode three, "The Photographer's Chair".

In this story, a murder victim found with whip lacerations on his back leads to a visit to Berkley's brothel where she shows off her famous Berkley horse. The victim had been a frequent patron who received birchings at her establishment. She also mentions that stinging nettles were used when available during the summer. The story, set in the 1880s, ignores the fact that Berkley herself passed away in 1836.


See alsoEdit


  This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Theresa Berkley. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with Spanking Art, the text of Wikipedia is available under a copyleft license, the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license.