Thursday, 4 August 2011

Mother Clap's Molly House

Yesterday I briefly mentioned a radio program which concentrated on homosexuality in 18th century London. The program itself heavily featured 'The Raid on Mother Clap's Molly House', and source material came from trial records of the Old Bailey. The full story can be read here:

I knew a bit about 'Molly Houses', but I didn't know how dangerous it could be to pop into one for a drink on the way home - many straight people were hanged for doing so, on the grounds of committing 'sodomy', even though the evidence to prove that any sexual act had taken place was extremely difficult to obtain.

There were bands of muggers in the 1720s who went around London parks blackmailing people for clothes and money, saying they would have them hanged as a sodomite, unless they parted with the goods.

Two of these muggers made the mistake of stealing the clothes of a famous transvestite of the day, 'Lady Seraphin', and he/she actually brought them to The Old Bailey on a charge of robbery, for which they were transported. On their return, they continued their practice of preying on gays and straights, and eventually, one was hanged at Tyburn for doing so.

Lady Seraphin was extremely popular in both the gay and straight community (like Lily Savage is - for some reason - today), which probably explains her confidence in bringing this case of robbery to trial without fear of other obvious accusations! I looked her up on the net, and you would be amazed at how many modern transvestites are called 'Lady Seraphin' - her name lives on.

Homosexuality was de-criminalised in England, in the year 1967 - about 250 years after these notorious trials.

Thanks to Rictor Norton for both the image and his great transcript of these events (linked), and congratulations on having an extremely memorable first name.


  1. Is that the origin of the word 'clap' (as in VD, STD, etc)?

  2. A sad but fascinating read tom, especially as three of the men involved were actually hanged.
    Thanks for that post

  3. You are right about that first name!
    The Molly's of transportation times made an appearance in Australia, as cohorts of Ned Kelly and his gang.
    But I think these guys were not so much the Londoner sorts, than an antipodean offshoot of the Irish rebellions ... a classic 'mythic ladies with portable roots', where rebels were sent to somewhere they couldn't bother the Brits, donned dresses and rouge to bother the troopers here. It was a subversive form of warfare against the authorities, really.

  4. Mother Clap's Molly House was actually across the street from Mother Kelly's Doorstep.

    You know, the one down Paradise Row...

  5. I have always wondered what makes people evil or mean. I know hate is handed down from parent to child, but how can you have a good life by spreading venom. However, without villians, we would have no heroes.

    I would like to think we have evolved to being more tolerant of others, then I read the newspaper.

  6. I've never actually had a villian, Maybe. Maybe I should give it a go - has to be better than an incestuous relationship with a Morris Dancer.

  7. The track. Can you people just stay on it ONCE ?!?

  8. The Pilgrim's straight and narrow is SO boring, Donna.

  9. Interesting Tom. I do vividly remember the day when homosexuality was legalised - about time too.

  10. It was a direct relation of a friend of mine who pushed the legislation through, Weaver. In a very short period of time, many closets were emptied (but not all) and 'Polari' became - like Latin - an archaic language.