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In the 18th and early 19th centuries Molly House was the name given to taverns, pubs and coffeehouses that catered to gay men. Sometimes operating out of private homes, these were social clubs and meeting places where patrons were able to relax the facade and explore their true selves. Homosexual activity had been made illegal in 1533, and remained a capital offence in Britian until 1861, and Molly Houses served as the underground refuge of Britain’s gay community. It was not without risk, however. Most of the documentary evidence we have about Molly Houses comes from court testimonies and pamphlets, and several raids were made on Molly Houses throughout the late 18th century.

But no matter how hard the authorities tried to suppress Molly Houses, their community and its allies prevailed. In a Molly House gay men found a new family, often adopting nicknames and ‘maiden-names’, for example Pomegranate Molly, Garter Mary, Pretty Criss, Hanover Kate and Old Fish Hannah, to name but a few. These names might be gained with a mock baptism; in a Molly House on Tottenham Court Road kept by Julius Cesar Taylor, ‘When any Member enter’d into their Society, he was christned by a female Name, and had a Quartern of Geneva [i.e. a glass of gin] thrown in his Face’. Weddings and Mock-births were enacted as well, along with masquerade parties, songs and dances. Private rooms were often available for sexual liaisons, but this was by no means the main appeal of the Molly House. Even on more sober occasions, Molly Houses provided a respite from the strict gender-roles of Georgian society, and men who were encouraged not to show affection in their day-to-day lives could be seen ‘calling one another my Dear, and hugging, kissing, and tickling each other’

Explore more about the LGBTQ+ Community in York

Anne Lister ‘The First Modern Lesbian’
Anne Lister in York
John Brown / Barbra Hill
Homosexuality in the Medieval Period
Gender Roles in Viking Culture
John / Eleanor Rykener