Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Mother Clap’s Molly House

Margaret Clap owned the most notorious of the molly houses, in Field Lane, Holborn. Sunday evenings were often its busiest night, with close to 50 customers. The men often dressed in women's clothing, took on female personae and affected effeminate mannerisms and speech. In at least some of the molly houses, male couples would go through mock wedding ceremonies.
In February 1726, Margaret Clap's molly house was raided and more than 40 people were arrested. This house and others like it had been under surveillance by agents from the Societies for the Reformation of Manners, an organisation formed to rid London of sodomites, prostitutes and breakers of the Sabbath. The arrests led to a series of trials for sodomy, leading to several hangings.
At a trial in July of 1726, Samuel Stevens, a Society agent who had spent a number of Sunday evenings at Clap's house, described the sexual activities that took place there: “I found between 40 and 50 men making love to one another, as they called it. Sometimes they would sit in one another's laps, kissing in lewd manner and using their hands indecently. Then they would get up, dance and make curtsies, and mimic the voices of women ... Then they would hug, and play, and toy, and go out by couples into another room on the same floor to be married, as they called it.”
Margaret Clap was ordered to stand in the Pillory in Smith Field, pay a fine of 20 Marks* and imprisoned for 2 years.
Public feeling against acts of sodomy was quite strong at the time and Clap was physically assaulted by angry citizens throughout her sentence. It is speculated that soon after her release from the stocks she died from the injuries she sustained, though no historical records document this.
Mother Clap’s Molly House was later destroyed by the construction of Holborn Viaduct (1863-9).

* The ‘mark’ was originally a measure of weight for gold and silver, commonly used throughout western Europe and often equivalent to 8 ounces. In England, the mark never appeared as a coin, but was a money of account only and apparently came into use in the 10th century through the Danes. According to 19th century sources, it first equalled 100 pence, but after the Norman Conquest equalled 160 pence (2/3 of the Pound Sterling) or 13 shillings and 4 pence.

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