The Pink Past.
CLEVELAND STREET SCANDAL
In 1889 a male
brothel was discovered operating in Cleveland Street in the West End of
London. Most of the young men working there were also employed by the General
Post Office whose offices were nearby. The customers were mostly from the
upper classes including the possibility that these included even a member
of the Royal Family, Prince 'Eddy'.
The Cleveland Street scandal
involved both the high and the low from post boys to prince !
Four years before
the notorious section eleven had been slipped into the Criminal Law Amendment
act 1885, a bill concerned mostly about female prostitution.
introduced by the MP Henry Labouchere stated that any male person who in
public or private commits or is part to the commission of or attempts to
procure the commission by any male person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour
and punished with up to two years hard labour.
As a result all
male homosexual activity of any kind was illegal anywhere, any time.
The great and
the good panicked at the discovery, many left on extended holidays in the
country. Some of the young men were paid to emigrate.
However the publisher
of a Scandal sheet who made allegations about one of the alleged customers
of the brothel, was sued and sent to jail fo a year and the government
consisting as it did of exactly the class of customer who used this and
similar establishments catering for every possible sexual taste, hoped
that the whole thing would die a death.
Mr Labouche of the notorious section 11, did not give up and continued
to call for the investigation of all those involved alleging a cover up
at all levels of society including the very highest. He moved a motion
in the House Of Commons to do so but it was defeated by 206 to 66.
The real threat
of course came from the alleged involvement of the third in line to the
throne, Prince Edward whose father kept his out of the country as much
as he could and made desperate attempts to marry him off. Edward's possible
involvement threatened the whole future of the Monarchy .
Just before a
marriage was finally arranged, Edward was taken ill with pneumonia and
within six days died.. His brother George described it as merciful act
of providence. Some even suggested murder !
in the scandal mostly emerged unscathed although many of the young men
who serviced the gentlemen of London ended up in countries they had no
intention of emigrating to. Section 11 continued to make gay men's life
a misery until 1967 when the first sparks of reform started to bring hope
that the misery might end.
There is an excellent
book about the scandal
by Colin Simpson,
Lewis Chester and Davis Leitel
NINETEENTH CENTURY SCENE
Victorian and Edwardian queens certainly
enjoyed rather suggestive images of fine upstanding young men
The gay scene of the 1860 centred around
the streets between Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue, Leicester
Square,and along the Strand. Pubs known for their 'theatrical' clientele
included the Crown in Charing Cross and the Windsor Castle in the Strand.
There was also a club in Portland Place the Hundred Guineas Club which
catered for the well off with an annual subscription of over £100
and provided a place where the great and the good could take their young
soldiers for fun and games.
Theatres such as the Alhambra, the Criterion
and The Euston had galleries and promenade bars which provided opportunities
for gay men to socialize and make new contacts
There was well organized prostitution
of the soldiers based in the many barracks in the centre of London with
N.C.O's taking the bookings and arranging the assignations. The soldiers
were badly paid, poorly treated and any way of earning extra money was
acceptable. It is difficult to believe that the authorities were not well
aware of this but perhaps they had ulterior motives in keeping earning
Young, attractive badly paid soldiers
provided fertile hunting ground for predatory members of the upper classes,
many of whom had their wives safely tucked away in their country houses
while they maintained apartments in fashionable parts of London.
It is interesting that there was a mini
scandal involving members of the Guards regiments in the nineteen seventies
and a rent boy racket among young Airmen at RAF Northolt at the same time.
Some traditions die hard.
The East end also had it's share of
rough pubs where gentlemen could go and meet up with local rough trade.
Many of these pubs included transvestites among there customers and out
of this grew the long tradition of drag entertainment which has always
had a strong base in the East End.
The docks also provided a strong magnet
with the lonely underpaid sailors, from all over the world certainly open
to suggestions. Even during the middle of the next century sailors were
still playing the same game as George Melly records so well in his book
'Rum Bum and Coca Cola.'
For those preferring street trade, tight
trousers with endowments clearly bulging marked out the suppliers long
before the invention of 501's. These 'gay' fellows promenaded along the
Strand and other areas of central London looking for their customers, and
cheap lodging houses provided the privacy they needed unless they were
lucky enough to return to a gentleman's city apartment.
Trafalgar Square provided a 'meat rack'
for renters as did Piccadilly Circus in later years.
Hyde Park, especially around Speaker's
Corner, was a popular picking up place and with it's many bushes
providing cover for subsequent activity. It continues this function even
today although mainly around the cottages.
A popular Turkish bath in Jermyn street
was well used by gay customers from around 1838 until the nineteen seventies.
Gentlemen's' clubs often had baths staffed by attractive young men who
would massage and pamper club members. Women of course were never allowed
on the premises and this tradition continues today despite sex equality
Even in the nineteen sixties, a relative
of mine worked in one of London's top gentlemen's clubs for a short time
when he was 18 but left after constantly having to refuse to supply sexual
services to members. Of course these same members were those very people
who made the laws of the land and who refused to give the 'buggars' their
freedom. Of course their own buggary was well organized and discreet so
why change anything.
Many well off, and some not so well
of, men would always have a man servant who as often as not 'lived' in
with their unmarried master. This did not attract any attention and gave
plenty of opportunity for semi permanent relationships. The same arrangement
seems to have been carried into the next century and this,especially with
closeted pop stars with live in 'managers'.
A BOOK YOU MAY ENJOY
Homosexual love in the nineteenth century
By GRAHAM ROBB
PUBLISHED BY PICADOR 2003
ISBN 0 330 48223 8