The male only brothel o r “Molly House” had only been trading for about six months at the White Swan, Vere Street, Clare Market when it was raided by the Bow Street patrole on Sunday July 8th 1810.
The Bow Street law enforcers had done a thorough job. They had visited the public house on the Sunday previously and the Saturday before, and on both occasions had witnessed monstrous and unmentionable practices which, true to their word, remade unmentioned in the newspapers. From their base at the St Clements Danes Watch House they pulled up at the public house with three coaches. In their raid they arrested 23 men and tried to escort them to the Watch House. However the roads around the areas were very busy and the men were placed first in the Brown Bear Pub in Bow Street.
Some of the men arrested were of a distinct lower class; William Thomson, Phillip Kett, James Spittle, James Griffiths, and Michael Hays were all servants, some out of place –unemployed. Of the others Matthew Saunders, James Done, William Barrow, John Reeves, Bernard Hove, none of them were gentlemen.
Some were to be released almost immediately, due to lack of evidence. However, there was a growing mob outside who were less interested in judicial rules. The crowd pelted the men with the usual ammunition as they tried to escape. Those who were to be charged could not go out of the front door of the Brown Bear and had to be smuggled out of the back. The mob did not disperse until early evening.
The trial of those who were actual present at the White Swan began on September 22nd. It was during a period of massive moral panic about gay men. The 7 men on trial were called “The Monsters” even before conviction. Their mistreatment at every opportunity was commented on with grim satisfaction by the press.
Despite the hugely prejudicial atmosphere, the law still applied. A conviction for sodomy needed a witness who could confirm both penetration and ejaculation. This was impossible in the context of a crowded chaotic set of rooms in the pub. However, they could and were accused of encouraging sodomitical behaviour and on that basis, William Amos was given three years imprisonment and a session at the pillory. Cooke, Kett ( or Illet), Thomson, Francis and Done received two years and the pillory, and Aspinall one year and no pillory. As was quite common with Georgian juries, they did not adjourn but decided their verdict with a discussion that took about a minute.
Amos commented “you may as well take away my life as put me in the pillory” as they were led away to Cold Bath Fields Prison. They were attacked by the mob and the 40 constables were not enough to protect them. The best that the Bow Street Patrole could do was to block the road behind the men, as they ran, in chains, towards the prison. The experience in the pillory is described here.
During the summer two more people were captured. On July 26th a man called Rivett of the Bow Street patrole went to Newport Barracks to arrest Ensign John Newball Hepburn, aged about 42, for buggery. Hepburn and a 16 year old drummer boy Thomas White were accused of sodomy and were accommodated in the Tower of London before their trial.
At their trial on December 1811 both were accused of sodomy by a James Mann, almost certainly a government spy in the White Swan. Mann had witnessed the sex acts at the White Swan and probably knew that White was an experienced prostitute and may have introduced him to Hepburn. The fatal mixture of a witness to the act and the defendants’ willingness to confess meant that they were sent to the gallows on March 7th 1811. As the Hampshire Chronicle noted with some satisfaction. “Hepburn called several witnesses to speak to his character, but they did not appear”
The whole of 1810 saw a raging moral panic and just plain panic. Many other gay men were pilloried and every incident was said to have been perpetrated by a unapprehended member of the gang In December 1810, a Thomas Strachan, who accosted a guardsman was one of the monsters; Thomas Carter, who tried to picked up a man called Purdy in St James Park was escorted to the Watch House by a mob of 5000, who the constables did not even try to control.
The large crowd at the execution of Hepburn and White included members of the aristocracy who may have been customers of the White Swan Molly house, who may not have been present at the time and probably would not have been arrested if they had been.
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