When gay men fled the UK



Ferry “Compiegne” and train Fleche d’Or, Calais |  1966 |  Wilhelm Tausche  | 14992

David Boyle writes in The Guardian about one of his ancestors, a gay man, who got caught up in the furore and witch hunt which followed the Pheonix Park Murders in Dublin in 1882, when republican terrorists stabbed the Irish secretary to death. At the time, Dublin was ruled by Britain.

The murders shocked the public on both sides of the Irish Sea, and to claw back the moral high ground Irish nationalist MPs launched a campaign to identify homosexuals in the Irish government or part of the establishment in Dublin – starting with the senior detective in charge of the Phoenix Park case, James Ellis French. The campaign led to huge torchlight processions and mass demonstrations in many towns and cities of Ireland. … Most of the defendants were acquitted – the main issue at stake was whether it was physically possible to commit sodomy in a hansom cab.

The murder became the excuse a zealous anti-homosexual MP, Henry Labouchère, his chance to tag onto an unrelated Bill, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, a clause entitled “Outrages against public decency” which had the effect of making sex between consenting adult men illegal. A situation which remained until 1967.

His amendment was debated at night in a few minutes, and only one MP queried whether it was relevant to the debate.

In 1895 after the passage of the Bill, Mr Boyle’s gay relative vanished from the records. The witch hunt had started in England. He records

Contemporary letters imply the same of many others – maybe many hundreds of them. One correspondent reported that there were 600 passengers queuing for the Calais ferry the night Oscar Wilde was arrested that April.

The train and ferry to Calais was a popular escape route, but there were others. Generations of gay men who wanted to be able to live without fear of arrest found other ways to get out of the UK. There were the forces; there was the Merchamt Navy. And there may have been other surreptitious ways to leave London, which remain undocumented in gay histories.

In his book “Mr Clive and Mr Page”, published in January 1996, twenty years ago this month, which was set in the 1920s, Neil Bartlett OBE, who was Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith from 1994 to 2005, wrote of one of the characters in his novel who booked a passage through Thomas Cook’s on a tea clipper. There was a regular clipper service between Riga and Hays Wharf, now a shopping centre but then a working wharf, adjacent to Tower Bridge. It is understood there was a small community of ex-patriate British gay men in Riga throughout the 1920s and 1930s, but your Activist’s enquiries of gay organisations in Riga have failed to elicit any information regarding this community or what happened to them at the outbreak of World War II (if they were still there then.)

After World War II another expatriate community of British gay men emerged in Tunis, North Africa.

I would be delighted to hear from anyone who has any further information about the migration of gay men from the UK following the 1885 Act.






The Cleveland Street Scandal



Public domain | 14395

In the Victorian era, male homosexuality was seen as an aristocratic vice that corrupted lower-class youths. The Cleveland Street scandal reinforced that perception.

An unidentified Post Office Messenger Boy of the time | Public domain | 14396

In 1889 a homosexual brothel at 19 Cleveland Street, London was discovered by Police. Sex acts between men were illegal, and the brothel’s clients faced possible prosecution and certain social ostracism if discovered. It was rumoured that Prince Albert Victor, (Prince Eddy), the second-in-line to the British throne, was a client. Prince Eddy was sent off to India on a lengthy tour of duty. The government was accused of covering up the scandal to protect the names of aristocratic patrons.

The scandal came to light by accident when Luke Hanks, PC 718 of the General Post Office Police, stopped and interviewed a 15-year-old telegraph boy called Charles Swinscow, who worked at St Martin’s Le Grand mail office. He had been found carrying 18 shillings. This was the equivalent of two months’ wages, and he was immediately accused of stealing.

Swinscow revealed that he had earned the money by “going to bed with gentlemen” at the rate of four shillings a time at Number 19 Cleveland Street, and several other telegraph boys did the same to supplement their wages. Scotland Yard put the house under watch, and reported that “a number of men of superior bearing and apparently good position” were frequent visitors.

The house at 19 Cleveland Street was a four-storey town house furnished with velvet curtains, antique furniture, oil paintings, Dresden china, silk bedding and a grand piano. Champagne flowed. It was considered safe enough by titled aristocrats. None of the boys were coerced against their will to work there. Quite the reverse – they were sexually experienced and had experimented with each other in the basement toilets of the General Post Office!

One of the clients, Lord Arthur Somerset, was an equerry to the Prince of Wales. He and the brothel keeper, Charles Hammond, managed to flee abroad. The head boy Henry Newlove fingered three eminent patrons of Cleveland Street: Lord Arthur Somerset, the Earl of Euston and Colonel Jervois. Lord Arthur was allowed to obtain leave from his regiment and discreetly disappear to the Continent, even though he had been positively identified by some of the Post Office telegraph messenger boys found in the brothel, while none of their clients were prosecuted. Henry Newlove and George Veck, who had tried to escape dressed as a vicar, were found guilty of procurement but received light sentences of less than a year. Lord Arthur Somerset was charged in absentia with “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons”. He never returned to England to face the charges and spent the last 37 years of his life in a villa in the South of France with his companion Andrew Neale.

Henry James FitzRoy, the Earl of Euston, was named in the press as a client and successfully sued for libel.

The Cleveland Street scandal was debated in the House of Commons in 1890. Lord Salisbury’s government was accused of “a criminal conspiracy to defeat the ends of justice”. A demand for an inquiry was defeated by 206 votes to 66.

The property used as a brothel at 19 Cleveland Street still stands; it has since been renumbered on the Land Registry, and has been converted into flats.

The famed historian H Montgomery Hyde has written a book about The Cleveland Street Scandal.


Gay saunas and bathhouses



The Clone look of the 1970s | Bathhouse Addict | 14412

The growing cities of the late 1800s included growing populations of gay men. Generally, households were poor and many did not have advanced plumbing. From the 1880s public facilities for bathing were seen as desirable public amenities. A number of the bath houses in large cities where gay men were congregating and forming communities became ‘gay’. The movement for “turkish” baths with steam rooms and lounges also proved popular with gay men. After World War II a number of raids were carried out on gay premises in a number of countries, and they went underground, re-emerging after the sexual and cultural revolution of the 1960s. During the Aids scare of the 1980s there was renewed attention on closing down gay bathhouses which were seen as helping to spread the infection.

They survive.