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

The Mollies Club



Ned Ward was an investigative journalist, who no doubt embellished his facts to make them more sensational than they already were. But he did not wholly invent his material. The most striking part of his description of the molly houses — the mock lying-in ceremony during which a man pretended to be a woman giving birth to a baby — is confirmed by other sources including testimony given at trials, and in fact this gay folk ritual is sporadically described throughout the century. In the 1810s several men were arrested in the act of performing this mock-birth. We should be careful not to conclude that the mollies were habitual transvestites. The cross-dressing and lying-in rituals that Ward describes took place at specific times called "Festival Nights", which other sources indicate took place towards the end of December. They were virtually always associated with masquerade festivals, and quite possibly represent some kind of survival of folk rituals that still take place today during Mardi Gras carnivals. The Festival Nights in other words were a kind of masquerade ball, with gay trimmings. The camp mimicking of women, however, was a regular feature of molly house gatherings.

Ward's description of the molly houses was first published in 1709, though no copy of that edition survives. He refers to the trial of 1709 at which nine gay men were arrested at a brandy shop (owned by a gay man) where they met regularly. This chapter in Ward's book is two large blocks of text, which I have subdivided for easier reading.

Rictor Norton

Of the  M O L L I E S  Club.

There are a particular Gang of Sodomitical Wretches, in this Town, who call themselves the Mollies, and are so far degenerated from all masculine Deportment, or manly Exercises, that they rather fancy themselves Women, imitating all the little Vanities that Custom has reconcil'd to the Female Sex, affecting to Speak, Walk, Tattle, Cursy [i.e. curtsey], Cry, Scold, and to mimick all Manner of Effeminacy, that ever has fallen within their several Observations; not omitting the Indecencies of Lewd Women, that they may tempt one another by such immodest Freedoms to commit those odious Bestialities, that ought for ever to be without a Name.

At a certain Tavern in the City, whose Sign I shall not mention, because I am unwilling to fix an Odium upon the House; where they have settl'd a constant Meeting every Evening in the Week, that they may have the better Opportunity of drawing unwary Youth into the like Corruption. When they are met together, it is their usual Practice to mimick a Female Gossipping, and fall into all the impertinent Tittle Tattle, that a merry Society of good Wives can be subject to, when they have laid aside their modesty for the Delights of the Bottle.

Not long since, upon one of their Festival Nights, they had cusheon'd up the Belly of one of their Sodomitical Brethren, or rather Sisters, as they commonly call'd themselves, disguising him in a Womans Night-Gown, Sarsnet-Hood, and Nightrale, who, when the Company were met, was to mimick the wry Faces of a groaning Woman, to be deliver'd of a joynted Babie they had provided for that Purpose, and to undergo all the Formalities of a Lying in. The Wooden Off-spring to be afterwards Christen'd, and the holy Sacrament of Baptism to be impudently Prophan'd, for the Diversion of the Profligates, who, when their infamous Society were assembl'd in a Body, put their wicked Contrivance accordingly into practice.

One in a high Crown'd Hat, and an old Beldams Pinner representing a Country Midwife, another busy Ape, dizen'd up in a Hussife's Coif, taking upon himself the Duty of a very officious Nurse, and the rest, as Gossips, apply'd themselves to the Travelling Woman, according to the Midwife's Direction, all being as intent upon the Business in hand, as if they had been Women, the Occasion real, and their Attendance necessary. After Abundance of Bussle and that they had ridiculously counterfeited all the Difficulties that they fancy'd were accustomary in such Cases, their Buffoonary Maukin was at length Disburthen'd of her little Jointed Bastard, and then putting their Shotten Impostor to Bed upon a double Row of Chairs; the Baby was drest by the midwife; the Father brought to Compliment his New-born Son; the Parson sent for; the Gossips appointed; the Child Christen'd, and then the Cloth was spread; the Table furnish'd with cold Tongues and Chickens; the Guests Invited to sit down, and much Joy express'd that my Gammar Molly had brought her honest Gaffer a Son and Heir to Town, so very like him, that as soon as Born, had the eyes, Nose, and Mouth of its own credulous Daddy.

Now for the further promotion of their unbecoming Mirth, every one was to Tattle about their Husbands and Children: And to use no other dialect but what Gossips are wont to do upon such Loquacitous Occasions. One would up with a Story of her Little Tommy, to shew the promising Genious of so witty a Child, that if he let but a Fizzle, would presently cry out, Mammy how I tink. Another would be extolling the Vertues of her Husband, and declare he was a Man of that Affable, Kind, and easie Temper, and so avers'd to Jealousie, that she believ'd, were he to see another Man in Bed with her he would be so far from thinking her an ill Woman, that no-body should perswade him they had been Naught together. A Third would be telling what a forward Baggage her Daughter Nancy was; for tho' she was but just turn'd of her Seventh Year, yet the young Jade had the Confidence to task her Father Where Girls carry'd their Maidenheads that they were so apt to loose 'em? A Fourth would be wishing no Woman to Marry a Drunken Husband, for her sake; for all the Satisfaction she found in Bed with him, was to creep as close to the Wall as she could to avoid his Tobacco Breath and usavory Belches, Swearing that his Son Roger was just like him, for that the Guzling Rogue would drink a pint of Strong-Ale at a Draught before he was Three Years Old, and would cry, Mam, more Ale. A Fifth would sit Sighing at her ill-Fortune, and wishing her Husband would follow the Steps of his Journeyman; for that was as careful a young Fellow as ever came into a Family. A Sixth would express hiself sorrowfully under the Character of a Widow; saying, Alas, you have all Husbands, and ought to pray heartily that you never know the miss of 'em; for tho' I had but a sorry one, when I was in your Condition, yet, God help me, I have cause enough to repent my Loss; for I am sure, both Day and Night, I find the want of him. Thus every one, in his turn, would make a Scoff and a Banter of the little Effeminate Weaknesses which Women are subject to when Gossiping, o'er their Cups, on purpose to extinguish that Natural Affection which is due to the Fair Sex, and to turn their Juvenile Desires towards preternatural Polutions.

No sooner had they ended their Feast, and run thro' all the Ceremonies of their Theatrical way of Gossiping, but, having wash'd away, with Wine, all fear of Shame, as well as the Checks of Modesty, then they began to enter upon their Beastly Oscenities, and to take those infamous Liberties with one another, that no Man, who is not sunk into a State of Devilism, can think on without Blushing, or mention without a Christian Abhorrence of all such Heathenish Brutalities.

Thus, without detection, they continu'd their odious Society for some Years, till their Sodomitical Practices were happily discover'd by the cunning Management of some of the Under-Agents to the Reforming-Society; so that several were brought to open shame and punishment; others flying from Justice to escape the Ignominy, that by this means the Diabolical Society were forc'd to put a period to their filthy scandalous Revels.

'Tis strange that in a Country where
Our Ladies are so Kind and Fair,
So Gay, and Lovely, to the Sight,
So full of Beauty and Delight;
That Men should on each other doat,
And quit the charming Petticoat.
Sure the curs'd Father of this Race,
That does both Sexes thus disgrace,
Must be a Monster, Mad, or Drunk,
Who, bedding some prepostrous Punk,
Mistook the downy Seat of Love,
And got them in the Sink above;
So that, at first, a T[oa]d and They
Were born the very self same Way, [i.e. from the anus according to folklore]
From whence they draw this cursed Itch,
Not to the Belly, but the Breech;
Else who could Woman's Charms refuse,
To such a beastly Practice use?
'Tis true, that Swine on Dunghills bred,
Nurs'd up in Filth, with Offel fed,
Have oft the Flow'ry Meads forsook,
To wallow Belly deep in Muck;
But Men who chuse this backward Way,
Are fifty Times worse Swine than they:
For the less Savage four-leg'd Creature,
Lives but acording to his Nature:
But the Bug[ge]ranto two leg'd Brute,
Pursues his Lust contary to't;
The brawny Boar will love his Sow;
The Horse his Mare; the Bull his Cow;
But Sodomites their Wives forsake,
Unmanly Liberties to take,
And fall in Love with one another,
As if no Woman was their Mother:
For he that is of Woman born,
Will to her Arms again return;
And surely never chuse to play
His Lustful Game, the backward Way.
But since it has appear'd too plain,
There are such Brutes that pass for Men;
May he that on the Rump so doats,
Be Damn'd as deep as Doctor Oates,[Titus Oates]
That Scandal unto all black Coats.

SOURCE: "Of the Mollies Club," Chapter XXV of Edward Ward's Satyrical Reflections on Clubs. By the Author of the London-Spy. Vol. V. London, Printed for J. Phillips, at the Black Bull in Cornhill, 1710.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton, Ed., "The Mollies Club, 1709-10", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 1 Dec. 1999, updated 16 June 2008 <>.

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