Family Lessons 49: Favours for Sale

My 10x great grandmother, Margaret Danser, was born at Gisburn in 1636. She had raised four children to at least three different fathers, never apparently marrying any of them. Illegitimate children were reasonably common back then, but Margaret’s record made her exceptional even by the standards of her day; this was over a 15-year period, and the men in question were not locals according to the parish registers, each living some distance. She may have supplemented her modest income by offering ‘favours’ to men who attended the markets at Gisburn. That she named her son John Marsden, who is my ancestor, might indicate that the child’s father- one of her clientele, perhaps- also bore that name, much as she named another one Thomas Pettie, while two others retained the name Danser. Perhaps my lusty forbear hailed from the townships of Great or Little Marsden, what we now call Nelson, to which there is the direct road from Gisburn, from which the lane to our chapel descends. I suspect the Dansers were a family of ne’er-do-wells, barely tolerated by the more respectable denizens. Margaret's surname might have been the subject to puns and inuendo. She or her family probably lived close to Martin Top, for there is a Danser Lane in Howgill, the sign by which many of us pass each Sunday morning. 

When Cromwell's New Model Army stayed at Gisburn in August 1648, prostitutes would officially have been given short shrift by this mass of godly soldiery. I dare say some discreetly plied their trade, making a few shillings, though Granny Danser was probably too young. What drove her to a later life of prostitution is unclear (assuming the hypothesis correct); it may just have been an additional revenue stream when times were tough, and in that century, they often were. Leviticus 19:29 forbids the practice, stating:

‘Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry, and the land become full of wickedness.’

This refers to pimping rather than the doing, but the result is the same. The Bible links prostitution to idolatry, and at the time of Moses, much of it was of a sacred, cultic nature, connected to the shrines of the pagan gods. Granny Danser might not have been a strumpet of Molech, but sexual deviance usually accompanies a rejection of life’s Author, who teaches in Hebrews 13:4:

Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.