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 THE PINK PAST
Pre 1914 
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The Pink Past. 
Pre 1914
THE CLEVELAND STREET SCANDAL OF 1889
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY SCENE

A BOOK YOU MAY ENJOY

THE 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.

This amendment 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.

Unfortunately, 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 !

The participants 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 
The Cleveland Street Affair 
by Colin Simpson, Lewis Chester and Davis Leitel 
ISBN 0-316-79244-6 
published first in 1976



THE 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 low.

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 laws. 

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
STRANGERS
Homosexual love in the nineteenth century
By GRAHAM ROBB
PUBLISHED BY PICADOR 2003
ISBN 0 330 48223 8
£18.99
Stradivarius would be pleased to have information about gay life in the nineteenth century in the form of articles or books.( We doubt if there are any living witnesses, even in the Quebec !) Contact us using the E:Mail link below
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Our Pink History 
A series of articles about our past (Other pages in this section)
.
London in the eighties
A trip around some long gone venues

The Seventies
Three years on and things start to move

1967 and all that
The law changes but attitudes don't

Drag Queens
.

Tarzan
Only a loin cloth covered his working parts

Between the wars and after
Now you see it, now you don't

Hankie Pankie
The coloured hankie craze.

Pin Ups
Pictures from the past

 

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Material copyright Stradivarius 2006.