Molly Houses – 18th Century Subculture

Molly:  term for an 18th century gay man, usually effeminate, and especially one who frequented Molly Houses, private establishments where homosexuals and cross-dressing men could meet likeminded partners.  

Since sodomy remained a capital offense in England until 1828, Molly Houses sprang up all over large cities, a subculture in their own right when homosexuality was widely considered an unnatural act against God and man.  Here, gay men could gather, unmolested by the harsh opinions of a moralistic society, to express their sexuality, to sing and dance or merely find a partner.  Gatherings like these flourished in 18th century London,  with the most famous, Margaret (Mother) Clap’s Molly House in Holborn, London, reportedly entertaining around 40-50 men per night. A story concerning Mother Clap’s Molly House has also been made into the eponymous play by Mark Ravenhill.  The 2001 play was billed as a “black comedy with songs, is a celebration of the diversity of human sexuality, an exploration of our need to form families, and a fascinating insight into a hidden chapter in London’s history.”  I couldn’t find a recording of it, which is a bit disappointing, but you can buy the play on amazon.

Interested in learning more? Sodomite’s Walk – A cruising lane in Moorfield (see map here)

Rictor Norton’s book Mother Clap’s Molly House.    He also has a pretty exhaustive body of work on Gay History and Literature that is worth checking out.

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