Margaret Clap (died c. 1726), better known as Mother Clap, ran a coffee house – situated in Field Lane, with an arch on one side, and the Bunch O’ Grapes tavern on the other – from 1724 to 1726 in Holborn, Middlesex, a short distance from the City of London. Notable for running a molly house, an inn or tavern primarily frequented by homosexual men, she was also heavily involved in the ensuing legal battles after her premises were raided and shut down. While not much is known about her life, she was an important part of the gay subculture of early 18th-century England. At the time sodomy in England was a crime under the Buggery Act 1533, punishable by a fine, imprisonment, time in the pillory, or the death penalty. Despite this, particularly in larger cities, private homosexual activity took place. To service these actions there existed locations where men from all classes could find partners or just socialize, called molly houses, “molly” being slang for a gay man at the time. One of the most famous of these was Clap’s molly house.
At the time of the raid on Mother Clap’s, there were a number of Molly house raids going on. Frequented by homosexual men, more commonly known as Mollies, or those “abominable sodomites” – often cited that way in newspaper reports of the day – very few were actually caught “in the act”, though some evidently had their pants unbuttoned, and were trundled off to Newgate prison, or put in the pillory.
Margaret Clap ran a coffee house that served as a molly house for the underground homosexual community. Her house was popular during the two years of its existence (1724–1726), being well known within the homosexual community. She cared for her customers, and catered especially to the homosexual men who frequented it. She was known to have provided “beds in every room of the house” and commonly had “thirty or forty of such Kind of Chaps every Night, but more especially on Sunday Nights.”  Clap was present during the vast majority of the molly house’s operational hours, apparently only leaving to run across the street to a local tavern, to buy drinks for her customers. Because Clap had to leave the premises to retrieve alcohol to serve to her customers, it is likely that the molly house was hosted in her own private residence. Unlike other molly houses, it was not a brothel. Clap’s intentions may have been based more upon pleasure than profit, judging by her goodwill towards her customers. For example, one man lodged at her house for two years and she later provided false testimony to get a man acquitted of sodomy charges. Her actions during the charges later laid against her and many of the homosexual community showed her loyalty to her customers.
In February 1726, Margaret Clap’s molly house was raided by the police; around 40 of its occupants were arrested. Primarily targeted by the Society for the Reformation of Manners, the house had been under surveillance for two years.[Note 1], in particular by a Constable Samuel Stevens, who onfiltrated the house under the guise of being the “husband” of an informer and insider within Mother Clap’s. In a report made by him after a visit on Sunday, 14th November 1725 he noted “I 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.” The surveillance seems to have been instigated by a collection of vengeful mollies-turned-informants. A man named Mark Patridge was outed by his lover and was then turned as an informant for the police. He led policemen into molly houses, introducing each of them as his “husband” so that they could investigate more thoroughly.[Note 2] Patridge was not tried in court for sodomy. Another notable informant was Thomas Newton, who frequently used entrapment to allow constables to arrest men in the act of instigating sodomy.. It was not just the molly houses that were targeted, but also public spaces such as Moorfield Park, referred to as “the Sodomite’s Walk”. Newton’s testimony regarding entrapment of a William Brown ‘I was no stranger to the Methods they used in picking one another up. So I takes a Turn that way, and leans over the Wall. In a little Time a Gentleman passes by, and looks hard at me, and at a small distance from me, stands up against the Wall, as if he was going to make Water. Then by Degrees he sidles nearer and nearer to where I stood, ’till at last he comes close to me. – ’Tis a very fine Night, says he. Aye, says I, and so it is. Then he takes me by the Hand, and after squeezing and playing with it a little (to which I showed no dislike), he conveys it to his Breeches, and puts [his penis] into it. I took fast hold, and call’d out to Willis and Stevenson, who coming up to my Assistance, we carried him to the Watch house.’
The whole raid, and all the curcumstances surrounding it reads more like something out of a modern gay enclave! That so many homosexuals frequented the molly houses, the goings-on within them, the gossip and innuendo, the pimps and prostitutes, and the undercover work by the local police is quite something that one would not have expected from life in the 18-century London. The main victims, other than Margaret Clap herself, who were arrested, charged and sentenced consist of William Brown – who went to trial after entrapment; William Griffin; George Kedger – who was accused of buggering Edward “Ned” Courtney in 1725; Gabriel Lawrence; Martin MacKintosh; George Whittle (Whitle); and Thomas Wright – who kept a molly house in Beech Lane, and has been covered in another Gay History article on my blog https://timalderman.com/?s=Thomas+wright. Other protagonists involved with charges or trial are Mark Partridge, the embittered homosexual informer, who quarreled with lover, Mr Harrington. “So by late 1725, Partrdige was leading various constables to all of the London molly houses that he knew of, and introducing one or the other of them as his ‘husband’ so they could be admitted as bona fide members of each group. On Wednesday, 17 November for example, Partridge took constables Joseph Sellers and William Davison to another molly house, one kept by Thomas Wright in Beech Lane, where there was a very big row because the others had heard that they had been informed upon. They called Partridge a ‘Treacherous, blowing-up, mollying-Bitch’, and threatened to kill anyone who would betray them. Partridge, however, was able to mollify them by arguing that it was Harrington who let out the secret in the first place. So they forgave him and kissed him – and kissed the constables too, little suspecting who they were, and little knowing how treacherous Partridge indeed was.”; Edward (Ned) Courtney – hustler & informer‘I was no stranger to the Methods they used in picking one another up. So I takes a Turn that way, and leans over the Wall. In a little Time a Gentleman passes by, and looks hard at me, and at a small distance from me, stands up against the Wall, as if he was going to make Water. Then by Degrees he sidles nearer and nearer to where I stood, ’till at last he comes close to me. – ’Tis a very fine Night, says he. Aye, says I, and so it is. Then he takes me by the Hand, and after squeezing and playing with it a little (to which I showed no dislike), he conveys it to his Breeches, and puts [his penis] into it. I took fast hold, and call’d out to Willis and Stevenson, who coming up to my Assistance, we carried him to the Watch house.’ Prostitute at Yorkshire Grey tavern in Bloomsbury Market. He lived with silk dyer Thomas Orme at Red Lion in Crown Court in Knave’s Acre. By the time of the raids he was a bondservant to George Whittle (or Whitle), who was charged with keeping a molly house at the Royal Oak alehouse at the corner of St James’s Square in Pall Mall. Ned was an habitual rabble-rouser. He had already been sent to Bridewell Prison on three occasions: once for drunkenly hitting an old woman when he was an alehouse boy at the Curdigan’s Head at Charing Cross (he was sacked, since the woman was the tavern-keeper’s mother); a second time for stealing goods from Whittle’s establishment; and a third time for disturbing the peace at an unnamed molly house in Covent Garden. Ned apparently turned informer as a means to spite Whittle, who had caused him to be arrested for theft. The jury’s realisation that this may have been the motive behind his testimony, eventually led to Whittle’s acquittal; and Thomas Newton – hustler & informer. 30yo & employed by Thomas Wright, first at his home in Christopher’s Alley in Moorfields, later at his own molly house in Beech Lane. (See Lawrence’s trial). So, one can see how they were all tied in. There were a number of the Constabulary involved in the raids and arrests, including the already mentioned Samuel Stevens, Joseph Sellers, William Davison, and Constables Willis & Williams.
Margaret Clap’s Old Bailey Trial
Margaret Clap was indicted for keeping a disorderly house in which she procured and encouraged persons to commit sodomy. Her house in the City of London had been under surveillance since 10 December 1725, and was raided in February 1726 (“1725” in the old-style calendar, in which the new year did not begin until March) — an incident which forms the central chapter of my book Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830. She can perhaps be characterized as the first “fag hag” to be documented in British history. She seems to have run her molly house more for pleasure than for profit. It was one of the most popular molly houses in London, and had existed at least since autumn 1724. In so far as Mother Clap went out to fetch liquor (probably from the Bunch o’Grapes next door), her house — which bore no specific name — was probably a private residence rather than a public inn or tavern. Hints that it may have been specifically organized as a house of prostitution are very slim, and it is likely that she provided for herself simply by letting out rooms, by taking a percentage on the spirits she procured, and perhaps by accepting the occasional gift from a grateful guest. One man, Thomas Phillips, had lived at her house for two years, and he disappeared after the raid. All in all, Margaret Clap seems to have enjoyed her clientele — who dubbed her “Mother Clap” — and to have taken an active interest in the gay subculture. She was found guilty as charged and was sentenced to stand in the pillory in Smithfield market, to pay a fine of 20 marks, and to two years’ imprisonment. During her punishment, she fell off the pillory once and fainted several times. It is not known what became of her, if indeed she survived prison.
SAMUEL STEVENS: On Sunday Night, the 14th of November last, I went to the Prisoner’s House in Field-lane in Holbourn [in the City of London], where I found between 40 and 50 Men making Love to one another, as they call’d it. Sometimes they would sit in one anothers Laps, kissing in a leud Manner, and using their Hand[s] indecently. Then they would get up, Dance and make Curtsies, and mimick the Voices of Women. O, Fire, Sir! — Pray Sir. — Dear Sir. — Lord, how can you serve me so? — I swear I’ll cry out. — Your’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. The Door of that Room was kept by —— Eccleston, who used to stand pimp for ’em to prevent any Body from disturbing them in their Diversions. When they came out, they used to brag, in plain Terms, of what they had been doing. As for the Prisoner, she was present all the Time, except when she went out to fetch Liquors. There was among them Will Griffin, who has been since hang’d for Sodomy; and —— Derwin, who had been carried before Sir George Mertins* for Sodomitical Practices with a Link-Boy [boy who carries a torch before gentleman to light their way in the streets at night]. Derwin brag’d how he had baffled the Link-boy’s Evidence; and the Prisoner at the same Time boasted that what she had sworn before Sir George in Derwin’s Behalf, was a great Means of bringing him off [i.e. getting him acquitted]. I went to the same House on two or three Sunday Nights following, and found much the same Practices as before. The Company talk’d all manner of gross and vile Obscenity in the Prisoner’s hearing, and she appear’d to be wonderfully pleas’d with it.
[Constable JOSEPH SELLERS confirmed this testimony, and noted that 40 mollies were arrested and imprisoned following the raid on Mother Clap’s.]
MARGARET CLAP: As for Derwin’s being carried before Sir George Mertins,* it was only for a Quarrel. I hope it will be consider’d that I am a Woman, and therefore it cannot be thought that I would ever be concern’d in such Practices.
[ * Sir George Mertins was Lord Mayor in the previous year. On 23 October 1725 Mist’s Weekly Journal reported: “Yesterday the Common-Council voted Sir George Merttins [sic] the Thanks of that Court for his just Administration in the Office of Lord Mayor.” ]
Clap was found guilty as charged and was sentenced to stand in the pillory in Smithfield Market, to pay a fine of 20 marks, and to two years’ imprisonment. During her punishment, she fell off the pillory once and fainted several times. It is not known what became of her, if indeed she survived prison.
William Brown’s Old Bailey Trial – July 1726
THOMAS NEWTON: Willis and Stevenson the Constables, having a Warrant to apprehend Sodomites, I went with them to an alehouse in Moore-fields, where we agreed that I should go and pick one up, and that they should wait at a convenient Distance. There’s a walk in the Upper- Moorfields, by the side of the Wall that parts the Upper-field from the Middle-field. I knew that this Walk was frequented by sodomites, and was no stranger to the methods they used in picking one another up. So I takes a Turn that way, and leans over the Wall. In a little Time the Prisoner passes by; and looks hard at me, and at a small Distance from me, stands up against the Wall, as if he was going to make Water. Then by Degrees he sidles nearer and nearer to where I stood, ’till at last he comes close to me. — ‘Tis a very fine Night, says he. Aye, says I, and so it is. Then he takes me by the Hand, and after squeezing and playing with it a little (to which I showed no dislike) he conveys it to his Breeches, and puts —— into it. I took fast hold and call’d out to Willis and Stevenson, who coming up to my assistance, we carried him to the Watch house. I have seen him before at the house of Thomas Wright.
WILLIS: We asked the Prisoner why he took such indecent Liberties with Newton, and he was not ashamed to answer, I did it because I thought I knew him, and I think there is no Crime in making what use I please of my own Body.
William Brown was found guilty of the misdemeanour of an attempt to commit sodomy, and sentenced to stand in the pillory in Moorfields, London, to pay a fine of 10 marks, and to go to prison for two months
The other Day passing by Moorfields whilst Brown, the Sodomite, stood in the Pillory, I could not help making some Reflections on the Shower of rotten Eggs, dead Cats and Turnip Tops that the Gentlemen of the Mob were pleas’d to compliment him with on that Occasion: This brought to my Mind Mr. Humphry Wagstaff’s lively Description of A City Shower; and imagining that if a Gentleman of his Genius, who could draw so beautiful an Entertainment from so mean a Subject had ever thought it worth his while to give us the Representation of a Shower at the Pillory, it might have been a Present no less agreeable to the Publick. But as we have not often the Advantage of such Hands to adorn our publick Papers, I hope this faint Resemblance will not be unacceptable from
When faithless Men perversely tempt the Gods,
To send a Pill’ry Shower, we see the Odds
Betwixt descending Rains, t’ increase the Seed,
And thundring Storms t’ avenge some filthy Deed.
The sentence pass’d, the Clouds begin to rise,
And threaten Tempests from the distant Skies.
Black Welkin’s Frown foretells the Storm must light
On perjur’d Villain, Baud, or Sodomite.
The Caitiff rais’d, the Shower comes tumbling down,
Compos’d of Exhalations from the Town.
Shrink in thy Head vile Wretch! hang down thy Chops,
It rains both addled Eggs, and Turnip Tops,
Young Puppies, Kittens, in the Dirt besmear’d,
Must be a Lather for thy wretched Beard.
For thy vile Sins, poor Spot, the Lap-dog, dies,
And Mrs. Evans’s made a Sacrifice.
The storm continues, and the zealous Croud
With their promiscuous Offerings swell the Cloud.
Dirt, Rags, and Stubble, Bunters sh[itte]n Clouts,
Pour on thy Head as fierce as lofty Spouts;
So fast the Tempest on the Wretch is hurl’d,
It apes the Deluge of the former World;
But not so clean nor long, for in an Hour,
As by Decree, the Ministers of Power
Disperse the Croud and dissipate the Shower.
William Griffin’s Old Bailey Trial
WILLIAM GRIFFIN, alias GRIFFITH, was indicted for committing Sodomy with Thomas Newton on May 20, 1725.
THOMAS NEWTON: The Prisoner and Thomas Phillips, who is since absconded, were both Lodgers, near two Years in Clap’s House. I went up Stairs while the Prisoner was a Bed, and there he ——.
SAM. STEVENS: On Sunday, the 14th of November,  I went to Clap’s House, and found about a Dozen Mollies there; but, before I came away, the Number encreased to near Forty. Several of them went out by Pairs into another Room, and, when they came back, they said they had been married together. I went again the next Sunday Night, and then, among others, I found the Prisoner there. He kiss’d all the Company round, and me among the rest. He threw his Arms about my Neck, and hugg’d and squeez’d me, and would have put his Hands into my Breeches. And, afterwards, he went out with one of the Company to be married. — Every Night, when I came from thence, I took Memorandums of what I had observed, that I might not be mistaken in the Dates.
PRISONER [i.e. GRIFFIN]: I lodg’d at Clap’s a Year and three Quarters, but I know nothing of what these Fellows have sworn against me. As for Newton, it’s well known he’s a Rogue, and a Tool to those Informers, Willis and Williams.
The Jury found the Prisoner 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.
George Kedger’s Old Bailey Trial
GEORGE KEDGER, alias Keger, was indicted for committing Sodomy with Edward Courtney, aged 18 Years, July 15 .
EDWARD COURTNEY. I have known the Prisoner about a Year. I first became acquainted with him when I lived a Servant at the Yorkshire-Grey in Bloomsbury-market. I went from thence to live at a Cook’s Shop in St. Martin’s-lane, and there the Prisoner follow’d me. One Day in July last, he came there to dine, and sat in a back Room in the Yard. When I went to fetch away the foul [i.e. dirty] Plates, he squeez’d my Hand, and kiss’d me, and took me in his Arms and asked me to let him ——, to which I consented, and he put —— and ——. [i.e. performed anal intercourse]
I went afterwards to live with Thomas Orme, a Silk-Dyer, at the Red-Lyon, in Crown-Court in Knaves-Acre. He kept a Molly-house and sold Drink in private back Rooms to such sort of Company; and there the Prisoner often came after me upon the same Account.
PRISONER [i.e. KEDGER]. Ned Courtney asked me to do it, when he liv’d at the Cooks, but I told him I would not. What, says he, am not I handsome enough for ye? That’s not the Case, says I, but I have got an Injury. That’s only a Pretence, says he, but, if you don’t like me, I have got a pretty younger Brother, and I’ll fetch him to oblige ye. — As for my going to Tom Orme’s, he was my School-fellow, and sold a Pot of good Drink; and there likewise Ned solicited me to do the Story, and would fain have had me to have gone into the Necessary-House [i.e. toilet] with him, for he said, he could not rest till he had enjoy’d me. And afterwards, when he was turn’d out of his Place, I met him by chance in a very poor and ragged Condition, and he told me, that he had nothing to subsist upon, but what he got by such Things. I advised him to leave off that wicked Course of Life; but he said, he wanted Money, and Money he would have, by hook or by crook; and, if I would not help him to some, he would swear my Life away.
FRANCES CROUCH. I always found the Prisoner to be a very civil Man, and I believe he loved a Girl too well to be concern’d in other Affairs.Another Woman deposed to the same Purpose.The Jury found him guilty, and he receiv’d Sentence of Death, but was afterwards reprieved.
Gabriel Lawrence’s Old Bailey Trial
GABRIEL LAWRENCE was indicted for committing, with Thomas Newton, aged thirty Years, the heinous and detestable Sin of Sodomy, not to be named among Christians, July 20, 1725.
THOMAS NEWTON: About the end of June, or the beginning of July, one Peter Bavidge, who is not yet taken [captured], and —— Eccleston, who died last Week in Newgate, carried me to the House of Margaret Clap, who is now in the Compter, and there I first became acquainted with the Prisoner. Mother Clap’s House bore the publick Character of a Place of Rendezvous for Sodomites. — For the more convenient Entertainment of her Customers she had provided Beds in every Room in the house. She had commonly thirty or forty of such Kind of Chaps every Night, but more especially on Sunday Nights. I was conducted to a Bed up one Pair of Stairs, where, by the Persuasion of Bavidge, who was present all the while, I suffered the Prisoner to ——. He, and one Daniel, have attempted the same since that Time, but I refus’d, though they buss’d [kissed] me, and stroked me over the Face, and said I was a very pretty Fellow. — When Mother Clap was taken up [arrested] in February last, I went to put in Bail for her; at which Time Mr. Williams and Mr. Willis [two Reforming Constables] told me they believed I could give Information; which I promised to do; but at the End of the same Month I was taken up myself.
—— WILLIS. In March, Newton was set at Liberty, but he came the next Day, and made a voluntary Information.
—— WILLIAMS. He [Newton] informed against several of the Sodomites at that Time, but did not discover [inform against] the Prisoner till the 2d of this Month, and then I took his Information at Sir John Fryer’s.
SAMUEL STEVENS. Mother Clap’s House was in Field-lane, in Holbourn. It was next to the Bunch of Grapes on one Side, and join’d to an Arch on the other Side. It was notorious for being a Molly-house. I have been there several Times, in order to detect those who frequented it: I have seen 20 or 30 of them together, kissing and hugging, and making Love (as they called it) in a very indecent Manner. Then they used to go out by Couples into another Room, and when they came back, they would tell what they had been doing, which, in their Dialect, they called Marrying.
JOSEPH SELLERS. I have been twice at that House, and seen the same Practices.
The Prisoner’s Defence.
PRISONER [i.e. LAWRENCE]. I own I have been several Times at Mrs. Clap’s House to drink, as any other Person might do; but I never knew that it was a Resort for People that followed such Sort of Practices.
HENRY YOXAN. I am a Cow-keeper, and the Prisoner is a Milk-man. I have kept him Company, and served him with Milk these eighteen Years. I have been with him at the Oxfordshire-Feast, where we have both got drunk, and then come Home together in a Coach, and yet he never offered any such Indecencies to me.
SAMUEL PULLEN. I am a Cow-keeper too, and have served him with Milk these several Years, but never heard any such Thing of him before.
MARGARET CHAPMAN. I have known him seven Years. He has often been at my House, and, if I had suspected any such Stories of him, he should never have darkened my Doors, I’ll assure ye.
WILLIAM PRESTON. I know him to be a very sober Man, and have often been in his Company when he was drunk, but never found any ill by him.
THOMAS FULLER. Nor I neither. He married my Daughter eighteen Years ago: She has been dead seven Years. He had a Child by her, which is now living, and thirteen Years old.
CHARLES BELL. He marry’d my Wife’s Sister. I never heard the like before of the Prisoner; but, as for the Evidence, Newton, I know that he bears a vile Character.
The Jury found him guilty. Death.
He was a second Time indicted for committing Sodomy with P——, November 10. But, being convicted of the former, he was not tried 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.
Martin Mackintosh’s Old Baily Trial
Joseph Sellers: P—— carried me and others to several Sodomitical Houses, in order to detect some Persons who frequented them. Among the rest he carried us to the House of ——Jones, a Tallow-Chandler, at the Tobacco-Roll and Crown, or Three Tobacco-Rolls (I forget which) in Drury Lane. As soon as we came in, Gabriel Laurence, who has since been hang’d for Sodomy, began to scold at P——, calling him a vile Dog, a blowing-up Bitch, and other vile names, because P—— had blab’d out something about one Harrington’s being concern’d with him in Sodomitical Practices. P—— excus’d himself, by affirming that Harrington first discover’d the Secret, and that what he had said was only to be even with him. Hereupon P—— and Laurence appeared to be pretty well reconciled. It was agreed beforehand, betwixt P—— and I, that I should pass for his Husband, to prevent my being too far attack’d by any of the Company. The Prisoner sold Oranges, and for that Reason he went by the Maiden Name (as they call’d it) of Orange Deb. He and Laurence were mighty fond of one another; they hug’d and kiss’d one another, and employ’d their Hands in a very vile Manner. — After which the Prisoner came to me, thrust his Hand into my Breeches, and his Tongue into my Mouth, swore that he’d go forty Miles to enjoy me, and beg’d of me to go backwards and let him. — But I refusing he pull’d down his Breeches and offer’d to sit bare in my Lap, upon which P—— snatch’d a red hot Poker out of the Fire and threatened to run it into his Arse.
[Samuel Stevens, another undercover officer, repeated Sellers’ testimony. Mackintosh called three men who said they had slept with him and had no reason to suspect such things, and that he had a wife and child. Mackintosh was found guilty and sentenced to stand in the pillory near Bloomsbury Square, to pay a fine of 10 marks, and to suffer one year’s imprisonment.]
George Whittle’s (Whitle) Old Bailey Trial
GEORGE WHITLE, alias Whittle, was indicted for committing Sodomy with Edward Courtney, December 1, 1725.
EDWARD COURTNEY. The Prisoner kept an Alehouse, the Royal-Oak, at the Corner of St. James’s-Square, in Pall Mall. He had a back Room for the Mollies to drink in, and a private Room betwixt that and the Kitchen. There is a Bed in that middle Room, for the Use of the Company when they have a Mind to go there in Couples, and be married; and for that Reason they call that Room, The Chappel. He has help’d me to two or three Husbands there. One Time indeed, he put the Bite upon me; for, Ned, says he, there’s a Country Gentleman of my Acquaintance, just come to Town, and if you’ll give him a Wedding Night, he’ll pay you very handsomely. So I staid ’till Midnight, but no Gentleman came, and then it being too late for me to go Home, the Prisoner said I should lie with him, which I did. He put his Hand upon —— and promised me a great deal of Money, if I would let him —— which I agreed to, and he did. — But in the Morning he gave me no more than Six-pence.
Mr. RIGGS. For two or three Years past it was commonly reported, that the Prisoner kept a Molly-House, and therefore the Neighbours did not care to go and drink there.
DRAKE STONEMAN. I have known the Prisoner’s House for two or three Years. I have seen Men in his back Room behave themselves sodomitically, by exposing to each other’s Sight, what they ought to have conceal’d. I have heard some of them say, Mine is the best. Yours has been Battersea’d. — I don’t know what they meant by the Expression. — There is a little private Room between the back Room and the Kitchen, — they call lit the Chappel, to which they sometimes retired, but I can’t say for what Purpose.
The Prisoner’s Defence.
PRISONER [i.e. WHITTLE]. This Ned Courtney is such a scandalous Fellow that he deserves no Credit. — He has been thrice in Bridewell.
COURTNEY. ‘Tis very true, I have been three Times in Bridewell, but it was for no Harm, as you shall hear. First, when I was a Servant at the Cardigan’s-Head at Charing-Cross, I went to see the Prisoner, and he made me drunk in his Chappel, and when I came Home, I abused my Master’s Mother, for which I was sent to Bridewell, and my Master would not take me in again. Then, Sir, I went to live at a Molly-House; but my Master breaking [breaking into houses], and I helping him to carry off his Goods by Night, a Constable stopt me, and I being saucy, and refusing to tell him where the rest of the Goods were, I was carried before a Justice, and sent to Bridewell a second Time. And the third Time was only for raising a Disturbance about a Mollying-Cull in Covent-Garden.
PRISONER. As to the Report of my being a Sodomite, it was rais’d out of Spight; for I unfortunately let a Barber’s Shop to one Johnson, whose Wife was a cursed Bitch, and had been in Newgate for Perjury. Johnson owed me half a Year’s Rent, and I arrested him, for which his Wife, whenever she got drunk, used to call me Sodomite Dog, and so the Scandal begun, and was spread among my Neighbours. — I had a Wife, but she has been dead these two Years. I had two Children by Her, one of them is dead likewise, but the other is here in the Court, a Girl of 13 Years old. — I was going to marry another Woman, a Widow, just before this Misfortune broke out. — As for what Drake Stoneman says about some Things that he has seen in my back Room, there is nothing in it but this: I was acquainted with several young Surgeons, who used to leave their Injections, and Syringes at my House, and to bring their Patients, who were clapp’d [had venereal disease], in order to examine their Distempers, and apply proper Remedies. I have had them there on that Account eight or ten Times a Week.
PETER GRENAWAY. Ned Courtney was bound to my Master. He told me a Quarter of a Year ago, that one Butler, a Chairman, was the first Man that he had had to do with: And, he has told me since, that the Occasion of his quarreling with the Prisoner was, because the Prisoner refused to let him have a Pint of Beer when it was late. — The Prisoner was a Peace-Maker, he kept a creditable House, and always advised his Customers to go Home betimes to their Wives.
WILL BAYLIS and NICHOLAS CROWARD deposed. That they had lain with the Prisoner several Times when his Wife was living, and had never found any Thing in his Behaviour that might give them the least Ground to suspect him inclinable to sodomitical Practices.
—— STEWARD and ELIZ. STEWARD deposed, That the first News they heard of such a Thing was from the Wife of Johnson, to whom the Prisoner had let a Shop.
ALEXANDER HUNTER and WILLIAM BROCKET deposed, That such a Report was indeed whispered in the Neighbourhood a little before the Prisoner was taken up, but they knew not what Foundation there was for it.
Others of the Prisoner’s Neighbours deposed, That they never heard any Thing like it.
ANN WHITE. I was the Prisoner’s Servant. I know of no Room that was call’d the Chappel. The middle Room, and back Room were publick for any Company, and there was neither Locks nor Bolts to the Doors.
ANN CADLE. I have been the Prisoner’s Servant ever since the 13th of October last. I lay in the House every Night. I don’t so much as know this Ned Courtney. I never saw him at our House: And I think I should have seen him if he had lain there all Night with my Master.
- Some sources say the house had only been surveilled for a year prior to the raid.
- The idea of calling a molly’s lover their husband was based on the faux-marriages that took place at some molly houses, often with a man playing a priest, and others acting as bridesmaids.
- Notes on William Brown – In 1726 William Brown was found guilty of the misdemeanour of an attempt to commit sodomy, and sentenced to stand in the pillory in Moorfields, London, to pay a fine of 10 marks, and to go to prison for two months. The case is interesting for revealing a man who, though perhaps not “gay and proud” in the modern sense, nevertheless declared to the authorities that he was not ashamed of his behaviour and that he felt that how he used his body was his own business — a strikingly modern conception. Moorfields was just north of London City Wall. By the early eighteenth century, a path in the Upper- Moorfields, by the side of the Wall that separated the Upper- field from the Middle-field, acquired the name “The Sodomites’ Walk”. The wall itself was torn down in 1752, but the path survives today as the south side of Finsbury Square. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, notorious as the author of Sodom, or The Quintessence of Debauchery (1684), was called “the Moor-Fields Author, fit for Bawds to quote”. Moorfields was identified as a molly Market (i.e. a gay cruising ground) in an editorial in the London Journal, and was obviously well known to all — Richard Rustead the extortioner was recognized by a serving boy in 1724 as a frequent user of “the Sodomites’ Walk in Moorfields”. On the east side of Moorfields, Thomas Wright kept a molly house at his home in Christopher Alley (now Christopher Street). Thomas Newton was a 30-year-old a hustler in the employment of Thomas Wright, first at his home in Christopher’s Alley in Moorfields, later at his own molly house in Beech Lane. According to Newton, Wright “has often fetch’d me to oblige Company in that way”. Newton had been arrested in 1725, but he agreed to act as an agent provocateur in order to escape prosecution.
- Notes on William Griffin – This is one of the series of trials that took place in 1726 following the raid on Mother Clap’s molly house. Although Griffin denied the charges, the jury did not believe him. One would think that Griffin must have been a gay-identified man, since he actually lived at Mother Clap’s molly house for two years; but he had also been married and had two children. He was a 43yo furniture upholsterer.
- Notes on George Whittle – This is one of the series of trials in 1726 that followed the raid on Mother Clap’s molly house. The young hustler Ned Courtney gave evidence in return for immunity from prosecution, as in other related trials. The jury evidently did not believe Courtney’s testimony that Whittle himself kept a molly house, and Whittle was acquitted. That verdict was just, because the evidence obviously was not strong enough to convict him of a capital felony. But nevertheless we can still wonder whether or not he was in fact a molly. It seems odd, for example, that no surgeons appeared to support his claim about their frequent use of his back room for merely medical pu
- a b c d e Norton, Rictor (Feb 5, 2005). “The Raid on Mother Clap’s Molly House”. Archived from the original on 2010-11-06. Retrieved Feb 11, 2010.
- ^a b Bateman, Geoffrey (Aug 18, 2005). “Margaret Clap”. glbtq.com. Archived from the original on 2010-03-04. Retrieved Feb 11, 2010. a b Norton, Rictor (June 20, 2008). “The Trial of Margaret Clap”. Retrieved Feb 11, 2010.
- ^Norton, Rictor (June 20, 2008). “The Trial of Gabriel Lawrence”. Retrieved Feb 11, 2010.
- ^a b Norton, Rictor (June 20, 2008). “The Trial of Thomas Wright”. Retrieved Feb 11, 2010.
- ^a b c d e Aldrich, Robert; Wotherspoon, Garry (2001). Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II. Routledge. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-415-15982-1.
- Rictor Norton (Ed.), “The Trial of Margaret Clap, 1726”, Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 5 June 2002, updated 20 June 2008 http://www.rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/clap.htm
- CITATION: Rictor Norton (Ed.), “The Trial of William Brown, 1726”, Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 22 April 2000, updated 20 June 2008 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/brown.htm
- The Weekly Journal: or, The British Gazetteer, 1 August 1726.
- Rictor Norton, “Mother Clap’s Molly House”, The Gay Subculture in Georgian England, 5 February 2005 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/mother.htm
- Rictor Norton (Ed.), “The Trial of William Griffin, 1726”, Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 1 Dec. 1999, updated 20 June 2008 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1726grif.htm
- Rictor Norton (Ed.), “The Trial of George Kedger, 1726”, Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 1 Dec. 1999, updated 20 June 2008 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1726kedg.htm
- Rictor Norton (Ed.), “The Trial of Gabriel Lawrence, 1726”, Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 1 Dec. 1999, updated 20 June 2008 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1726lawr.htm
- Rictor Norton (Ed.), “The Trial of Martin Macintosh, 1726”, Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 1 Dec. 1999, updated 20 June 2008 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1726mack.htm
- Rictor Norton (Ed.), “The Trial of George Whittle, 1726”, Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 1 Dec. 1999, updated 20 June 2008 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1726whit.htm
Tim Alderman 2017