Bridgewater Hall Concert … French Soccer … Molly Houses … Research on Sexual Health pre 1980


Bridgewater Hall

The Bridgewater Hall is a concert venue in Manchester city centre. It cost around £42 million to build in the 1990s, and hosts over 250 performances a year.

We were there to listen to a concert organised by the Hallé. The Hallé welcomed, for the first time, German conductor Kevin John Edusei whose career is well established on the concert platform and in opera as former Chief Conductor of the Munich Symphony Orchestra and the Bern Opera House.

He’s joined by a pianist long admired by Hallé audiences, Nelson Goerner, whom BBC Music Magazine dubbed ‘an artist of a very high order’. He plays the concerto with which Rachmaninov, as composer and virtuoso pianist, swept the world.

The second piece was by American composer Missy Mazzoli who wrote her animated Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) in ‘the shape of a solar system’, elaborating that ‘it’s a piece that churns and rolls, that inches close to the listener, only to leap away at breakneck speed’.

To conclude, the third piece of music was Dvořák’s genial, sunny Eighth Symphony, bursting with the beguiling folk tunes of Bohemia.

Thanks to The Hallé for such an enjoyable afternoon.

French Soccer Clubs Exclude Players After They Refuse to Participate in Anti-Homophobia Campaign

Players in the country’s top two divisions were asked to don rainbow-coloured numbers.

Rafael during the Ligue 1 match between Toulouse and Nantes on 14 May, 2023 in Toulouse, France.
(Photo by Loic Baratoux / FEP / Icon Sport via Getty Images)

French soccer team Toulouse did not select several players for its Ligue 1 game against Nantes on Sunday, 14 May after they refused to participate in a league-wide anti-homophobia campaign.

“Some players of the professional squad have expressed their disagreement regarding the association of their image with the rainbow colours representing the LGBT movement,” Toulouse FC said in a statement.

“Although respecting the individual choices of its players, and after numerous exchanges, the Toulouse Football Club has chosen to exclude these players from the game,” the Ligue 1 club added.

French teams playing in the country’s top two divisions were asked to don rainbow-coloured numbers and hold banners as a way of raising attention for International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

Toulouse FC did not name the players they had excluded but Moroccan international Zakaria Aboukhlal confirmed on social media that he “made the decision not to take part in the game.”

“First and foremost, I want to emphasise that I hold the highest regard for every individual regardless of their personal preferences, gender, religion or background. This is a principle that cannot be emphasised enough,” Aboukhlal said.

The “molly houses” of the Regency era were basically just sophisticated 19th century gay sex clubs

Most of us are familiar with the Regency period, the decade between 1811 and 1820 when the wealthy English aristocracy ruled. Yet in most of the modern stories set in the Regency, we see hardly any gay characters at the balls and tea parties. It makes you wonder: in the actual Regency era, where did all the gay men go? 

History’s got an answer: they went to the molly house!

Throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, molly meant a gay man. “Mollies” would meet in taverns, alehouses, or coffee-houses for discreet encounters of the racy kind. Some came to meet new prospects, others brought men they’d met elsewhere, and one could hire live-in male prostitutes at the richer establishments. All found booze, dancing, and the freedom to experiment with feminine fashion without judgment. 

We first hear of molly houses in 1700, mostly through court transcripts and the hysterical articles of investigative journalists. In the 18th century, the molly house that attracted the most attention was Mother Clap’s Molly House in the Holborn borough of London.

Though a married couple co-owned the place, it was the wife, Margaret Clap, who held court in the main room. Up to forty or fifty men gathered there, drinking, dancing and kissing. It’s all fun, indecent times until the police raid your bar, which happened to Mother Clap’s in 1725.

Secrecy was the name of the game for these molly houses. Engaging in penetrative sex between men could land you a conviction of sodomy, which meant facing enraged crowds throwing dead animals, rotten veggies, and even potatoes at you while you’re stuck in the pillory. The unluckiest ones ended up in prison or even on the gallows.

Molly houses protected themselves by posting lookouts, vetting newcomers, and demanding passwords at the door (one of them was “sister”). Sources guess that about forty molly houses existed in London alone through the early 1700s, at a time when the city’s population numbered about 630,000.

Why take the risk of opening a molly house? It could make its owner rich – or so a would-be entrepreneur named Yardley claimed in 1810, when he convinced James Cook to open a molly house with him. They opened their coffee-house on Vere Street and dubbed it the White Swan Inn. The money rolled in for six months before the police showed up, arresting over twenty patrons and staff. 

If Cook didn’t become a molly house millionaire, at least he could afford a lawyer. That legal champion, Robert Halloway, took it upon himself to publish The Phoenix of Sodom in 1813. It’s a defence of Cook’s reputation that just happens to describe the Swan’s operations in juicy detail.

Holloway uses approximately five hundred euphemisms for “gay sex”, such as “unnatural sin” or “pile of diabolism”.

The clientele seemed to include both “men of rank” and “wretches of the lowest description,” many with a taste for petticoats and bonnets. We hear assumed names like Miss Sweet Lips, Black-Eyed Lenora, the Duchess of Devonshire, and the Countess of Camomile. Holloway notes both “effeminate delicate beings” and burly coal-shovellers. 

Holloway was most interested in the Swan’s upstairs rooms. One was decorated like a lady’s dressing room with an array of perfume and makeup for customers. Another held a chapel where male-male couples would be “married” in a faux ceremony and then consummate their nuptials on one of several beds, sometimes in sight of other couples.

The Swan’s wedding ceremonies were officiated by an actual clergyman, the Reverend John Church. He was accused several times of sodomy but never convicted.

According to historian Rictor Norton, “all the evidence indicates that John Church was a sincere, perhaps even pious, man who believed that gay love was congruent with the Christian way of life.”

While the raid resulted in eight convictions and the Vere Street Coterie became the objects of loathing and hatred, times were changing. Death sentences became rarer, and the year 1835 marked the last execution for sodomy in England.

At the same time, gay men found a new gathering space: public baths. England’s first salt-water bath opened in Liverpool in 1828. By 1839, we see mentions of gay sex occurring in bathhouses. With the Baths and Washhouses Act of 1846 helping parishes build more public baths, it’s no wonder that molly houses disappear from the historical record by the mid-nineteenth century. 

Research on Sexual Health pre 1980

Dr Claire Martin is a historian at the University of Birmingham currently working on a research project that explores the history of sexual health in Britain between 1918 and 1980.

A big part of this project involves the collection of oral history interviews with people who accessed or staffed sexual health services in Britain before 1980.

As this research aims to tackle ongoing challenges and inequalities in sexual health today, we are committed to ensure that the voices and experiences of LGBT+ people are reflected in the project.

If you are interested in participating or would like more information about this project, please contact Dr Claire Martin:

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