Gay History: Three Molly-House Sodomites – 1726

May 9th, 1726.

Nine men and one notorious women died at Tyburn on this date in 1726 at a more than usually raucous execution-day.“At the Place of Execution, Map got himself loose, threw himself out of the Halter, and jump’d 3 or 4 Yards from the Cart, upon the Heads of the numerous Crowd of People, but the Officers following after him, wounded him with their Pikes, and the Executioner and some others soon brought him back again,” the Ordinary’s account remarked. “Vigous got himself free of the Halter also, which was immediately observ’d: Gillingham was the more desirous of Prayers, having the Night before taken Poyson, and conscious of his Guilt.”

And that’s just what was happening under the nooses.

Out in the audience,

Just before the Execution, a Scaffold that had been built near Tyburn, and had about 150 People upon it, fell down. A Snuff Box Maker in Castle-Street, and a Gentleman then not known, were, as ’tis believed, mortally Wounded; and about 12 other Men and Women, Maimed and Wounded in a most cruel Manner: Some having their Legs, others their Arms, &c. broke.

Some part of the Scaffold being left standing, the Mob gathered upon it again in Numbers; and in about Half an Hour more, that also fell down, and several were hurt. Soon after another Scaffold broke down, with about 100 Persons upon it; but the People that were damaged by it, being immediately carried off on Mens Backs, and in Coaches, we must defer the Particulars of that Mischief … (Daily Journal, May 10, 1726)

We will leave for a future May 9th the notorious fate of the woman, Catherine Hayes, and focus for this post on the fate of the notorious men: sodomites Gabriel Lawrence, William Griffin, and Thomas Wright.

A mere three months before, this trio had been among dozens of men rounded up in a raid on London’s thriving “molly house”.

These establishments catered to what we might anachronistically call the gay scene of Georgian London — or the molly scene, if you like, from the slang term for effeminate, cross-dressing, or homosexual men encompassing a panoply of alternate sexual identities and preferences. What these behaviors “among Christians not to be named” had in common, of course, was the opprobrium of the surrounding world.

Rictor Norton, who keeps the voluminous Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century Enland site and wrote a book about Mother Clap’s Molly House, records a 1726 letter to the editor demanding an exemplary punishment to check the misuse of genitalia.

It being too notorious, that there are vile Clubs of Miscreants in and about this City, who meet to Practise and Propagate the detestable Sin of Sodomy, a Crime which drew down the flaming Vengeance of God upon the City of Sodom, in a Day when they had not that Light which we are bless’d with now, ’tis humbly propos’d that the following Method may not only destroy the Practice, but blot out the Names of the monstrous Wretches from under Heaven, viz. when any are Detected, Prosecuted and Convicted, that after Sentence Pronounc’d, the Common Hangman tie him Hand and Foot before the Judge’s Face in open Court, that a Skilful Surgeon be provided immediately to take out his Testicles, and that then the Hangman sear up his Scrotum with an hot Iron, as in Cases of burning in the Hand.

Old Blighty was never favored with courtroom scrotum-searings, but connoisseurs of same-sex love “must risque our necks for” it well into the next century.

But what pleasures welcomed the man who was ready to wager his life! An informant reported from that same Mother Clap’s that he

found between 40 and 50 Men making Love to one another, as they call’d it. Sometimes they would sit on one another’s Laps, kissing in a lewd Manner, and using their Hands indecently. Then they would get up, Dance and make Curtsies, and mimick the voices of Women. O, Fie, Sir! – Pray, Sir. – Dear Sir. Lord, how can you serve me so? – I swear I’ll cry out. – You’re a wicked Devil. – And you’re a bold Face. – Eh ye little dear Toad! Come, buss! – Then they’d hug, and play, and toy, and go out by Couples into another Room on the same Floor, to be marry’d, as they call’d it.

Several such informers were stalking the city’s molly-houses in the 1720s, goaded (or forced) by both police and private bluenoses. One of the resulting court records notes that “[t]he discovering of the Molly Houses, was chiefly owing to a Quarrel betwixt Mark Partridge and – Harrington: For upon this Quarrel Partridge to be revenged on Harrington, had blab’d something of the Secret, and afterwards gave a large Information of a great many others.”
Many lives hung on this lover’s spat. Mother Clap’s was raided in February 1726, but it was just the most famous of a whole series that forced into public awareness “a new, distinct molly ‘sodomite’ identity.”

The saving grace for the twoscore arrestees at Mother Clap’s was that even in Bloody Code England, a fairly high bar was required to execute for same-sex sodomy: “penetratio, that is res in re“ (“thing in thing”)* — often quite difficult to prove.** As nobody had actually been caught in flagrante delicto, most of those initially arrested were simply released un-charged.

But the informants raise their scaly heads once more here: as they were themselves habitues of the molly circuit, they could provide firsthand eyewitness testimony about the acts of buggery several men had committed with them.

Five men were put on trial for their lives in April on the strength of accusations made by informants Mark Partridge, Thomas Newton, and Edward Courtney. The cases are described in some detail at Norton’s site: Gabriel Lawrence and William Griffin, both 43-year-old married men, were Mother Clap regulars who implausibly claimed to have no idea it was a molly house. (The place was a coffee shop/tavern.) Griffin actually lived there. Both these men were easily condemned but refused to the end to admit their proclivities to the Newgate Ordinary, and insisted that they had been framed.

Thomas Wright, seller of ale, had gone so far to set up his own molly house where he both slept with Newton, and procured Newton for his other customers. Wright, who “inclin’d to the Anabaptist-Way,” also said that Newton had perjured himself; nevertheless, he “could not deny his following this abominable Courses, only he refus’d to make particular Confessions.”

A third informant keyed two additional capital trials that didn’t end at Tyburn. George Kedger (Keger) and George Whittle (Whytle) both mounted much stronger defenses casting much greater doubt on the circumstances of their entrapment.

Charged with taking Courtney into his bed, Kedger contended that he had in fact resisted Courtney’s advances until the latter threatened to “swear my Life away”. Kedger was condemned, but pardoned. Whittle did still better by forcing his accuser to admit that he was a convict three times over and insinuating that rumors about his buggery were started by a disgruntled lodger. With a parade of character witnesses at his back, Whittle was acquitted outright.

* This was also the standard for same-sex rape; we’ve seen in these pages a man’s life hang on a question of just the tip.

** Attempted buggery — a charge which could result from making a sexual advance on another man that he rejected, or as a judicial punt when same-sex activity was afoot but no penetration could be proven — might land one a fine and a trip to the pillory. This was no mean sentence; the pillory could be quite a dangerous (sometimes lethal) ordeal for homosexuals or for anyone else.

Mother Clap herself, whose molly house we have referred to throughout this post, was also pilloried, not executed. Her eventual fate is not known; a marker in Holborn notes the former site of her famous establishment.

Gabriel Lawrence’s Old Bailey Sodomy Trial 20th April 1726

Gabriel Lawrence , was indicted for feloniously committing with Thomas Newton , aged 30 Years, the heinous and detestable Sin of Sodomy . Thomas Newton thus depos’d. At the End of last June, one Peter Bavidge (who is not yet taken) and – Eccleston (who dy’d last Week in Newgate) carry’d me to the House of Margaret Clap (who is now in the Compter) and there I first became acquainted with the Prisoner. Mrs. Clap’s House was next to the Bunch of Grapes in Field-lane, Holbourn . It bore the publick Character of a Place of Entertainment for Sodomites, and for the better Conveniency of her Customers, she had provided Beds in every Room in her House. She usually had 30 or 40 of such Persons there every Night, but more especially on a Sunday. I was conducted up one pair of Stairs, and by the Perswasions of Bavidge (who was present all the Time) I suffer’d the Prisoner to commit the said Crime. He has attempted the same since that Time, but I never would permit him any more. When Mrs. Clap was taken up, in February last, I went to put in Bail for her; at which Time, Mr. Williams, and Mr. Willis told me, they believ’d I could give Information, which I promis’d to do, and I went next Day, and gave Information accordingly. – Samuel Stephens thus depos’d. Mrs. Clap’s House was notorious for being a Molly-House. – In order to detect some that frequented it, I have been there several Times, and seen 20 or 30 of ’em together, making Love, as they call’d it, in a very indecent Manner. Then they used to go out by Pairs, into another Room, and at their return, they would tell what they had been doing together, which they call’d marrying. The Prisoner acknowledg’d, that he had been several Times at Clap’s House, but never knew that it was a Rendesvouz for such Persons. – He call’d several to his Character. Henry Hoxan thus depos’d. I have kept the Prisoner Company, and served him with Milk these 18 Years, for he is a Milk Man , and I am a Cow-Keeper, I have been with him at the Oxfordshire Feast, and there we have both got drink, and come Home together in a Coach, and yet he never offer’d any such thing to me. Thomas Fuller thus depos’d. The Prisoner married my Daughter, 18 Years ago; She has been dead these 7 Years, and he has a Girl by her, that is 13 Years old. – Several others deposd, that he was a very sober Man, and that they had often been in his Company when he was drunk; but never found him inclinable to such Practices. Guilty . Death . He was a 2d. Time indicted, for committing Sodomy with Mark Partridge , Nov. 10 . But being Convicted of the Former, he was not Try’d for this.

“The Ordinary’s Account of Gabriel Lawrence.

Gabriel Lawrence, aged 43 Years, was a Papist, and did not make any particular Confessions to me. He kept the Chapel with the rest for the most part; was always very grave,, and made frequent Responces with the rest, and said the Lord’s Prayer and Creed after me. He owned himself of the Romish Communion; but said, that he had a great Liking to the Church of England, and could communicate with them; but this I would not allow, unless he renounced his Error. He said Newton had perjured himself, and that in all his Life he had never been guilty of that detestable Sin; but that he had liv’d many Years with a Wife who had born several Children, and kept a good sober House. ——
At the Place of Execution he said, that a certain Person had injured him when he took him before a Justice of the Peace, who committed him, in swearing or affirming, that fifteen Years ago he had been taken up for that unnatural Sin, and that it cost him Twenty Pounds, to get himself free, which, he said, was utterly false; for, ’till this Time, he was never suspected.

He was hanged at Tyburn, on Monday, May 9, 1726.”

William Griffin’s Old Bailey Sodomy Trial 20th April 1726

William Griffin , was indicted for Committing Sodomy with Thomas Newton , May 10 . Thomas Newton thus depos’d. The Prisoner and Thomas Phillips , (who is since absconded,) were Lodgers for near 2 Years at Clap’s House. I went up stairs, while the Prisoner was a Bed, and there he committed the Act with me. Samuel Stevens depos’d, That he had seen the Prisoner, and his Gang at Clap’s House. Guilty . Death .

“The Ordinary’s Account of William Griffin.

William Griffin, aged forty-three Years, an Upholsterer by Trade, in Southwark; had, as he said, been a Man of good Business, but, haveing squandered away, or lost his Money, was fallen into Poverty. He denied the Fact for which he died, calling Newton, the Evidence, perjured; and saying, that the abominable Sin was always the Aversion of his Soul; for he had lived many Years with a good virtuous Wife, who had several Children, two of which, a Boy and a Girl, are living; and, he said, both of them behave mighty well, and to the Satisfaction of all concerned with them: And he hop’d that the World would not be so unjust, as to upbraid his poor Children with his unfortunate Death.
At the Place of Execution, —— Griffin would not own the Commission of that detestable Sin.

He was hanged at Tyburn, on Monday, May 9, 1726.”

Thomas Wright’s Old Bailey Sodomite Trial 20th April 1726

Thomas Wright , was indicted for committing Buggery with Thomas Newton . Jan 10 1724- 5. Thomas Newton thus depos’d. Last January 12 Month, the Prisoner had the Carnal Use of my Body at his own House, in Christophers Alley in Moor-fields : He was a Wooll-Comber by Trade, but he sold a Dram among such Company as came to his House. – He afterwards remov’d to Beech Lane, and there kept Rooms for the entertainment of Sodomites. He sold Ale, but he had it from other Ale-houses: He has often fetch’d me to oblige Company in that way, and especially to one Gregory Turner . William Davison and – Sellars thus depos’d. The discovering of the Molly Houses, was chiefly owing to a Quarrel betwixt Mark Partridge and – Harrington: For upon this Quarrel Partridge to be revenged on Herrington, had blab’d something of the Secret, and afterwards gave a large Information of a great many others. The Mollies had heard something of the first Discovery, but did not imagine how far he had proceeded, and what further Designs he had upon them. – By his means we were introduced to the Company, at the Prisoners Lodging’s. There were 8 or 9 of them in a large Room, one was playing upon a Fiddle, and others were one while dancing in obscene Postures, and other while Singing baudy Songs, and talking leudly, and Acting a great many Indecencies. – But they look’d a skew upon Mark Partridge , and call’d him a treacherous, blowing-up Mollying Bitch, and threatned that they’d Massacre any body that betray’d them . The Prisoner was very fond of us, and kist us all at parting in a most indecent manner, Edward Sanders in behalf of the Prisoner depos’d, That he never heard any such report of the Prisoner before; That he was born and bred at Newbury, and was esteem’d an honest Man, The Jury found him Guilty . Death .

May 9 – 1726 – Three Men are Publicly Hanged for Sodomy at Tyburn

The Productive Leisure Network
 Gabriel Lawrence, William Griffin, and Thomas Wright were initially arrested after a raid by authorities at a “molly house” owned by a Margaret Clap. Molly houses were gathering places for homosexual men in eighteenth century England. Since the reign of Henry VIII, homosexual sex between men, better known as “buggery” or “sodomy,” was illegal. On the other hand, its prosecution was varied, and in the early eighteenth century, after the Glorious Revolution and the Hanoverian Succession, the desire to prosecute men on sodomy charges was increased through the Society for the Reformation of Manners. The problem was the actual way to prosecute sodomy, which led to a reliance on informants, who were usually hustlers and male prostitutes who were arrested on other charges. That is how Margaret Clap’s establishment was raided and how evidence was brought against Lawrence, Griffin, and Wright. All three men tried to present some evidence that they had no idea that Clap’s house was a molly house, but the juries didn’t buy it. Thus, they were publicly hanged at Tyburn for the crime of sodomy, a public spectacle which was relatively rare in the history of Britain.

References

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