Gay History: The History of the London Clubs, or, the Citizens’ Pastime…by Edward Ward, 1667-1731 – Publication date 1896. Extract. “The Mollies Club”.

Note on Edward Ward, by Rictor Norton

Ned Ward was an investigative journalist, who no doubt embellished his facts to make them more sensational than they already were. But he did not wholly invent his material. The most striking part of his description of the molly houses — the mock lying-in ceremony during which a man pretended to be a woman giving birth to a baby — is confirmed by other sources including testimony given at trials, and in fact this gay folk ritual is sporadically described throughout the century. In the 1810s several men were arrested in the act of performing this mock-birth. We should be careful not to conclude that the mollies were habitual transvestites. The cross-dressing and lying-in rituals that Ward describes took place at specific times called “Festival Nights”, which other sources indicate took place towards the end of December. They were virtually always associated with masquerade festivals, and quite possibly represent some kind of survival of folk rituals that still take place today during Mardi Gras carnivals. The Festival Nights in other words were a kind of masquerade ball, with gay trimmings. The camp mimicking of women, however, was a regular feature of molly house gatherings.

Ward’s description of the molly houses was first published in 1709, though no copy of that edition survives. He refers to the trial of 1709 at which nine gay men were arrested at a brandy shop (owned by a gay man) where they met regularly. 

Ned Ward, 1731

THE MOLLIES’ CLUB. 
THERE are a particular Gang of Wretches in 

Town, who call themselves Mollies, & are so 

far degenerated from all Masculine Deportment or 

Manly exercises that they rather fancy themselves 

Women, imitating all the little Vanities that Custom 

has reconcil’d to the Female sex, affecting to speak, 

walk, tattle, curtsy, cry, scold, & mimick all manner 

of Effeminacy. At a certain Tavern in the City, 

whose sign I shall not mention, because I am unwilling 

to fix an Odium on the House, they have a settled & 

constant Meeting. When they are met, together, their 

usual Practice is to mimick a female Gossiping & 

fall into all the impertinent Tittle Tattle that a merry 

Society of good Wives can be subject to. Not long 

since they had cushioned up one of their Brethren, or 

rather Sisters, according to Female Dialect, disguising 

him in a Woman’s Night-Gown, Sarsanet Hood, & 

Night-rail who when the Company were men, was to 

mimick a woman, produce a jointed Baby they had 

provided, which wooden Offspring was to be after- 

wards Christened, whilst one in a High Crown’d Hat, 

I am old Beldam’s Pinner, representing[ed] a Country 

Midwife, & another dizen’d up in a Huswife’s Coif for 

a Nurse & all the rest of an impertinent Decorum of a 

Christening. 
And for the further promotion of their unbecoming 
mirth, every one was to talk of their Husbands & 

Children, one estolling the Virtues of her Husband, 

another the genius & wit of their Children ; whilst a 

Third would express himself sorrowfully under the 

character of a Widow. 
Thus every one in his turn makes scoff of the little 

Effeminacy & Weaknesses, which Women are subject 

to, when gossiping o’er their cups on purpose to extin- 

guish that Natural Affection which is due to the Fair 

Sex & to turn their Juvenile desires towards preter- 

natural polotions. They continued their practices till 

they were happily routed by the conduct of some of 

the under Agents to the Reforming Society, so that 

several of them were brought to open Punishment, 

which happily put a Period to their Scandalous Revels, 

‘Tis strange that in a Country where

Our Ladies are so Kind and Fair,

So Gay, and Lovely, to the Sight,

So full of Beauty and Delight;

That Men should on each other doat,

And quit the charming Petticoat.

Sure the curs’d Father of this Race,

That does both Sexes thus disgrace,

Must be a Monster, Mad, or Drunk,

Who, bedding some prepostrous Punk,

Mistook the downy Seat of Love,

And got them in the Sink above;

So that, at first, a T[oa]d and They

Were born the very self same Way, [i.e. from the anus according to folklore]

From whence they draw this cursed Itch,

Not to the Belly, but the Breech;

Else who could Woman’s Charms refuse,

To such a beastly Practice use?

‘Tis true, that Swine on Dunghills bred,

Nurs’d up in Filth, with Offel fed,

Have oft the Flow’ry Meads forsook,

To wallow Belly deep in Muck;

But Men who chuse this backward Way,

Are fifty Times worse Swine than they:

For the less Savage four-leg’d Creature,

Lives but acording to his Nature:

But the Bug[ge]ranto two leg’d Brute,

Pursues his Lust contary to’t;

The brawny Boar will love his Sow;

The Horse his Mare; the Bull his Cow;

But Sodomites their Wives forsake,

Unmanly Liberties to take,

And fall in Love with one another,

As if no Woman was their Mother:

For he that is of Woman born,

Will to her Arms again return;

And surely never chuse to play

His Lustful Game, the backward Way.

But since it has appear’d too plain,

There are such Brutes that pass for Men;

May he that on the Rump so doats,

Be Damn’d as deep as Doctor Oates,[Titus Oates]

That Scandal unto all black Coats.

References

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