Berkley Horse

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Drawing of the Berkley Horse.

The Berkley Horse (also spelled Berkeley Horse) is an item of spanking furniture used for corporal punishment. Resembling a folding ladder - capable of being opened to a considerable extent – this contraption allowed delinquents to be tied up spreadeagled and to bring their body to a desirable angle.[1]

This equipment was donated in Spring 1828 to Theresa Berkley, who until her death in 1836 had been the “governess” of London’s best known flagellatory brothel at the famous “White House” at 28 Charlotte Street (today: Hallam Street) [2] The handicraft was done by her patron George Cannon - trained in the law and learned in philosophy, literature and languages, a well known publisher of erotic work and member of the Victorian “Society for the Promotion of the Arts, Manufacture and Commerce at the Adelphi” – was in intimate of Theresa. He probably saw the Berk(e)ley Horse[3] as an advertisement for his own wares as well as a contribution to useful knowledge[4].

Revelations about the Berk(e)ley Horse were issued in a letter from a customer setting out terms and anticipated delights in a visit to Theresa Berkley's brothel: "1) To be well secured to the horse with the chains I bring. 2) One pound for the first drawn blood. 3) Two pounds if the blood runs down to the heels. 4) Three pounds if it reaches the heels. 5) Four pounds if it flows on the floor. 6) Five pounds if you cause me to faint away." [5]

Berkley Horse variant[edit]

The following illustration is also said to show the "Berkley Horse", but this is clearly a different item in the style known as birching horse. Whether the drawing is based on different sources or a misunderstanding is not known.

Popular culture[edit]

The horse makes an appearance in the 2000-2001 BBC television miniseries Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes. Theresa Berkley is briefly portrayed in one scene in episode three, "The Photographer's Chair".

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 are used when available during the summer. The story, set in the 1880s, ignores the fact that Berkley herself passed away in 1836.


  1. Henry Spencer Ashbee, also known as "Pisanus Fraxi", Index of Forbidden Books (written 1880s as Index Librorum Prohibitorum), London: Sphere, 1969, p 147-151
  2. In an age of very restrictive sexual practices, Berkley went 'outside the box' to provide a wide range of services, especially those aimed at masochists. She was one of the few people in Europe to make extensive use of nettles. Berkley was very successful in her profession and amassed a considerable fortune, discreetly servicing prominent politicians and public figures as well as wealthy businessmen and nobles. After her death, her notebook of clients was discovered but destroyed after examination. She willed her entire estate to her brother's monastery but he, knowing the source of the money, refused it.
  3. The original is now owned by the Royal Society of Arts, London.
  4. Iain McCalman, “Unrespectable Radicalism: Infidels and Pornography in Early Nineteenth-Century London”, Past and Present, No. 104 (Aug., 1984), pp. 74-110
  5. Venus School-Mistress Or, Birchen Sports...with a Preface by Mary Wilson, containing some account of the late Mrs. Berkley. London: George Cannon, 1830

See also[edit]