Saturday, October 15, 2011

An 18th century drag ball in London

Richard Norton's Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook includes lots of fascinating material, not least in relation to 'Molly Houses' and other places where gay men socialized in that period. The following account from 1718 alludes to a Ball in Holborn, in the vicinity of which a number of men were arrested and imprisoned.

The context is interesting as the arrests were ordered by Charles Hitchin, Under City Marshal and a member of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, which campaigned against 'immorality'. Hitchin though was accused of being no stranger to 'He-Whores' himself, as claimed here in the words Jonathan Wild, the famous thief-catcher/crook whose capture Hitchin had secured:

'As he was going out of the House he said, he supposed they would have the Impudence to make a Ball. The Man desiring him to explain what he meant by that, he answer'd, that there was a noted House in Holborn, to which such sort of Persons used to repair, and dress themselves up in Woman's Apparel; and dance and romp about, and make such a hellish Noise, that a Man would swear they were a Parcel of Cats a Catter-wauling. — But, says he, I'll be reveng'd of these smock-fac'd young Dogs. I'll Watch their Waters, and secure 'em, and send 'em to the Compter.

Accordingly the Marshal knowing their usual Hours, and customary Walks, placed himself with a Constable in Fleet-street, and dispatch'd his Man, with another to assist him, to the Old-Bailey. At the expected Time several of the sporting Youngsters were seized in Women's Apparel, and convey'd to the Compter. Next Morning they were carried before the Lord-Mayor in the same Dress they were taken in. Some were compleatly rigg'd in Gowns, Petticoats, Head-cloths, fine lac'd Shoes, furbelow'd Scarves and Marks; some had Riding-hoods; some were dressed like Milk-Maids, others like Shepheardesses with green Hats, Waistcoats and Petticoats; and others had their Faces patch'd and painted, and wore very extensive Hoop-petticoats, which had been very lately introduced. His Lordship having examin'd them, committed them to the Work-house, there to continue at hard labour during Pleasure. And, as Part of their Punishment, order'd them to be publickly conducted thro' the Streets in their Female Habits. Pursuant to which order the young Tribe was carried in Pomp to the Work-house, and remain'd there a considerable Time, till at last, one of them threaten'd the Marshal with the same Punishment for former Adventures, and he thereupon apply'd to my Lord-Mayor, and procured their Discharge. This Commitment was so mortifying to one of the young Gentlemen, that he died in a few Days after his Release. — Any that want to be acquainted with the Sodomitish Academy, may be inform'd where it is, and be graciously introduced by the accomplish'd Mr. Hitchin'.

SOURCE: Richard Norton (ed.), Jonathan Wild Exposes Charles Hitchin, 1718, based on 'Select Trials at the Sessions-House in the Old-Bailey, From the Year 1720, to this Time', 1742.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The old london very beautiful