The Trial of Margaret Clap
Margaret Clap was indicted for keeping a disorderly house in
which she procured and encouraged persons to commit sodomy. Her
house in the City of London had been under surveillance since 10
December 1725, and was raided in February 1726 ("1725"
in the old-style calendar, in which the new year did not begin until March) an incident which forms the
central chapter of my book Mother Clap's
Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830. She can
perhaps be characterized as the first "fag hag" to be
documented in British history. She seems to have run her molly
house more for pleasure than for profit. It was one of the most
popular molly houses in London, and had existed at least since
autumn 1724. In so far as Mother Clap went out to fetch liquor
(probably from the Bunch o'Grapes next door), her house
which bore no specific name was probably a private
residence rather than a public inn or tavern. Hints that it may
have been specifically organized as a house of prostitution are
very slim, and it is likely that she provided for herself simply
by letting out rooms, by taking a percentage on the spirits she
procured, and perhaps by accepting the occasional gift from a
grateful guest. One man, Thomas Phillips, had lived at her house
for two years, and he disappeared after the raid. All in all,
Margaret Clap seems to have enjoyed her clientele who
dubbed her "Mother Clap" and to have taken an
active interest in the gay subculture. She was found guilty as
charged and was sentenced to stand in the pillory in Smithfield
market, to pay a fine of 20 marks, and to two years'
imprisonment. During her punishment, she fell off the pillory
once and fainted several times. It is not known what became of
her, if indeed she survived prison.
Testimony at the Trial
SAMUEL STEVENS: On Sunday Night, the 14th of
November last, I went to the Prisoner's House in Field-lane in
Holbourn [in the City of London], where I found
between 40 and 50 Men making Love to one another, as they call'd
it. Sometimes they would sit in one anothers Laps, kissing in a
leud Manner, and using their Hand[s] indecently. Then they would
get up, Dance and make Curtsies, and mimick the Voices of Women.
O, Fire, Sir! Pray Sir. Dear Sir.
Lord, how can you serve me so? I swear I'll cry
out. Your're a wicked Devil, and you're a bold
Face. Eh ye little dear Toad! Come, buss!
Then they'd hug, and play, and toy, and go out by Couples
into another Room on the same Floor, to be marry'd, as they
call'd it. The Door of that Room was kept by
Eccleston, who used to stand pimp for 'em to prevent any
Body from disturbing them in their Diversions. When they came
out, they used to brag, in plain Terms, of what they had been
doing. As for the Prisoner, she was present all the Time, except
when she went out to fetch Liquors. There was among them Will
Griffin, who has been since hang'd for Sodomy; and
Derwin, who had been carried before Sir
George Mertins* for Sodomitical Practices with a Link-Boy
[boy who carries a torch before gentleman to light their way in the streets at night].
Derwin brag'd how he had baffled the Link-boy's
Evidence; and the Prisoner at the same Time boasted that what she
had sworn before Sir George in Derwin's Behalf, was a great Means
of bringing him off [i.e. getting him acquitted].
I went to the same House on two or three Sunday Nights following,
and found much the same Practices as before. The Company talk'd
all manner of gross and vile Obscenity in the Prisoner's hearing,
and she appear'd to be wonderfully pleas'd with it.
[ * Sir George Mertins was Lord Mayor in the previous year. On 23 October 1725 Mist's Weekly Journal reported: "Yesterday the Common-Council voted Sir George Merttins [sic] the Thanks of that Court for his just Administration in the Office of Lord Mayor." ]
[Constable JOSEPH SELLERS confirmed this
testimony, and noted that 40 mollies were arrested and imprisoned
following the raid on Mother Clap's.]
MARGARET CLAP: As for Derwin's being carried
before Sir George Mertins,* it was only for a Quarrel. I hope it
will be consider'd that I am a Woman, and therefore it cannot be
thought that I would ever be concern'd in such Practices.
SOURCES: Select Trials, 1742, 2nd ed., vol. 3,
pp. 37-8. Her pillorying is reported in The London
Journal, 30 July 1726.
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Trial of Margaret Clap, 1726",
Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 5 June 2002, updated 20 June 2008