Image of two men kissingHomosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

The Trial of Thomas Wright

April 1726


Most of the trials that took place in 1726 were the result of police investigation of Mother Clap's molly house and its subsequent raid and the arrest of its patrons. Thomas Newton was a kind of hustler, who gave evidence against several of his sexual partners in return for being granted immunity from prosecution. It is interesting that Newton refers to the mollies not as "they" but as "we", that is he clearly considered himself as one of them. The testimony of one of the police informers also reveals that the discovery of the molly subculture was mainly due to a private quarrel between two mollies, who revealed the subculture to the authorities — that is, it was not part of a conspiracy of persecution on the part of society. For modern historians who believe that the mollies were falsely convicted on homosexual charges, it is worth bearing in mind that in this case Thomas Wright admitted to the Ordinary (the chaplain) after the trial that he was indeed a molly and just before his execution he also admitted this, denying only the specific charges of his accuser. So presumably we can say that he also kept a molly house (a pub for gay men), and the trial is especially interesting for describing the kind of social rather than sexual activity that took place in a molly house.

Rictor Norton

THOMAS WRIGHT was indicted for committing Buggery with Thomas Newton, Jan. 10, 1724-5.

THOMAS NEWTON. Last January was Twelvemonth, I went to the Prisoner's House in Christopher's-Alley in Moor-fields, where he ——.

PRISONER [i.e. WRIGHT]. Will you swear that I —— in ——. [i.e. that he performed anal intercourse]

NEWTON. Yes. The Prisoner is a Wool-Comber by Trade, but sold Ale to the Mollies, tho' it was privately, for he did not keep an Alehouse, but fetch'd the Drink from other Houses, and we allow'd him a Profit out of it. He removed to Beech-lane, where he likewise kept Rooms for the Entertainment of the Molly-Culls, and sold Ale as he did at his other House. He has often fetch'd me to oblige Company in that way, and especially to one Gregory Turner, who commonly chose me for his Sweet-heart.

JOSEPH SELLERS. On Wednesday the 17th of November last, I went to the Prisoner's house in Beech-Lane, and there I found a Company of Men fiddling, and dancing, and singing bawdy Songs, kissing, and using their Hands in a very unseemly Manner. I was introduced by P—— who was one of their Members; but it seems they were jealous that he had made some Discovery; for they call'd him, a Treacherous, blowing-up, mollying Bitch, and swore they'd massacre any Body that should betray them. But the prisoner taking P——'s part, the matter was made up. At going away the prisoner kiss'd me with open Mouth.

WILLIAM DAVISON. The discovering of the Molly-Houses was chiefly owing to a Quarrel betwixt P—— and —— Harrington; for upon this Quarrel P——, to be revenged on Harrington, had blabb'd something of the Secret, and afterwards gave a large Information. The Mollies had heard a little of the first Discovery, but did not imagine how far he had proceeded, and what farther Designs he had upon them. By his Means, I and Davison were introduced to the Company, at the Prisoner's Lodgings. In a large Room there we found one a fiddling, and eight more a dancing Country Dances, making vile Motions, and singing, Come let us —— finely. Then they sat in one another's Lap, talked Bawdy, and practised a great many Indcencies. There was a Door in the great Room, which opened into a little Room, where there was a Bed, and into this little Room several of the Company went; sometimes they shut the Door after them, but sometimes they left it open, and then we could see part of their Actions. The Prisoner was very fond of us, and kiss'd us all at parting in a very leud Manner.

The Prisoner's Defence:

EDWARD SANDERS. I have knkown known him for several Years, he was born and bred at Newbury, and I never heard any such Report of him before this Time.

MARY CRANTON, and MARY BOULTON deposed, That they lived in the same House with the Prisoner; that his Apartment was below, and theirs above; that indeed they had sometimes heard Musick and Merry-making; but knew nothing of any such Practices as had been sworn against him, and that he behaved himself like a sober Man, and was a very good Churchman.

The Jury found him guilty. Death.

The Ordinary's Account of Thomas Wright.

Thomas Wright, born in Newbury, aged 32 Years, was instructed in his younger Years in the Principles of Christianity, and inclin'd to the Anabaptist Way. He said also, that Newton swore falsely against him; but could not deny his following these abominable Courses, only he refused to make particular Confessions. Altho' he had been used to go to separate Meetings, yet ye said, that he loved and esteemed the Church of England, and was willing to Communicate with the Church, as soon as with Dissenters; that he always lived soberly, following his Employment, which was that of Wool-Combing. That he died in the Christian Faith, an Protestant, and believing to be saved only thro' theMerits of Jesus Christ. —

At the Place of Execution — Wright could not deny his Guilt; but reflected on Newton the Evidence, as perjur'd in some Particulars.

He was hang'd at Tyburn, on Monday, May 9, 1726.

SOURCE: Select Trials, London, 1742, vol. 2, pp. 367-9.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Trial of Thomas Wright, 1726", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 1 Dec. 1999, updated 20 June 2008 <>.

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