The Trial of William Brown



In 1726 William Brown was found guilty of the misdemeanour of an attempt to commit sodomy, and sentenced to stand in the pillory in Moorfields, London, to pay a fine of 10 marks, and to go to prison for two months. The case is interesting for revealing a man who, though perhaps not "gay and proud" in the modern sense, nevertheless declared to the authorities that he was not ashamed of his behaviour and that he felt that how he used his body was his own business — a strikingly modern conception.

Moorfields was just north of London City Wall. By the early eighteenth century, a path in the Upper- Moorfields, by the side of the Wall that separated the Upper- field from the Middle-field, acquired the name "The Sodomites' Walk". The wall itself was torn down in 1752, but the path survives today as the south side of Finsbury Square. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, notorious as the author of Sodom, or The Quintessence of Debauchery (1684), was called "the Moor-Fields Author, fit for Bawds to quote". Moorfields was identified as a molly Market (i.e. a gay cruising ground) in an editorial in the London Journal, and was obviously well known to all — Richard Rustead the extortioner was recognized by a serving boy in 1724 as a frequent user of "the Sodomites' Walk in Moorfields". On the east side of Moorfields, Thomas Wright kept a molly house at his home in Christopher Alley (now Christopher Street). Thomas Newton was a 30-year-old a hustler in the employment of Thomas Wright, first at his home in Christopher's Alley in Moorfields, later at his own molly house in Beech Lane. According to Newton, Wright "has often fetch'd me to oblige Company in that way". Newton had been arrested in 1725, but he agreed to act as an agent provocateur in order to escape prosecution.

Rictor Norton

Testimony at the Trial
July 1726

THOMAS NEWTON: Willis and Stevenson the Constables, having a Warrant to apprehend Sodomites, I went with them to an alehouse in Moore-fields, where we agreed that I should go and pick one up, and that they should wait at a convenient Distance. There's a walk in the Upper- Moorfields, by the side of the Wall that parts the Upper-field from the Middle-field. I knew that this Walk was frequented by sodomites, and was no stranger to the methods they used in picking one another up. So I takes a Turn that way, and leans over the Wall. In a little Time the Prisoner passes by; and looks hard at me, and at a small Distance from me, stands up against the Wall, as if he was going to make Water. Then by Degrees he sidles nearer and nearer to where I stood, 'till at last he comes close to me. — 'Tis a very fine Night, says he. Aye, says I, and so it is. Then he takes me by the Hand, and after squeezing and playing with it a little (to which I showed no dislike) he conveys it to his Breeches, and puts —— into it. I took fast hold and call'd out to Willis and Stevenson, who coming up to my assistance, we carried him to the Watch house. I have seen him before at the house of Thomas Wright.

WILLIS: We asked the Prisoner why he took such indecent Liberties with Newton, and he was not ashamed to answer, I did it because I thought I knew him, and I think there is no Crime in making what use I please of my own Body.

SOURCE: Select Trials, 1742, 2nd ed., vol. 3, pp. 39-40.

Satire on William Brown

A satirical commentary and poem was sent to a newspaper shortly after Brown stood in the pillory:

The other Day passing by Moorfields whilst Brown, the Sodomite, stood in the Pillory, I could not help making some Reflections on the Shower of rotten Eggs, dead Cats and Turnip Tops that the Gentlemen of the Mob were pleas'd to compliment him with on that Occasion: This brought to my Mind Mr. Humphry Wagstaff's lively Description of A City Shower; and imagining that if a Gentleman of his Genius, who could draw so beautiful an Entertainment from so mean a Subject had ever thought it worth his while to give us the Representation of a Shower at the Pillory, it might have been a Present no less agreeable to the Publick. But as we have not often the Advantage of such Hands to adorn our publick Papers, I hope this faint Resemblance will not be unacceptable from

Yours, &c.

     When faithless Men perversely tempt the Gods,
To send a Pill'ry Shower, we see the Odds
Betwixt descending Rains, t' increase the Seed,
And thundring Storms t' avenge some filthy Deed.
     The sentence pass'd, the Clouds begin to rise,
And threaten Tempests from the distant Skies.
Black Welkin's Frown foretells the Storm must light
On perjur'd Villain, Baud, or Sodomite.
The Caitiff rais'd, the Shower comes tumbling down,
Compos'd of Exhalations from the Town.
Shrink in thy Head vile Wretch! hang down thy Chops,
It rains both addled Eggs, and Turnip Tops,
Young Puppies, Kittens, in the Dirt besmear'd,
Must be a Lather for thy wretched Beard.
For thy vile Sins, poor Spot, the Lap-dog, dies,
And Mrs. Evans's made a Sacrifice.
The storm continues, and the zealous Croud
With their promiscuous Offerings swell the Cloud.
Dirt, Rags, and Stubble, Bunters sh[itte]n Clouts,
Pour on thy Head as fierce as lofty Spouts;
So fast the Tempest on the Wretch is hurl'd,
It apes the Deluge of the former World;
But not so clean nor long, for in an Hour,
As by Decree, the Ministers of Power
Disperse the Croud and dissipate the Shower.

(SOURCE: The Weekly Journal: or, The British Gazetteer, 1 August 1726. I am very grateful to Philip Mcleod for sharing his discovery of this verse with me.)

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Trial of William Brown, 1726", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 22 April 2000, updated 20 June 2008 <>.

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