Vere Street Gang: Homosexuals of the Early 1800s

Police received a tip about homosexuals called the “Vere Street Gang” or “The Monsters” described as “a society of miscreants of a detestable description,”[1] who met together over a six month period at the White Swan. Based on tips, police raided a public house on Sunday, 8 July 1810 that was located on Vere-street. When officers searched it, they netted 26 people, “the whole of whom, together with the landlord of the house, they apprehended, and lodged for the night in the watch-house of St. Clement’s parish.”[2]

Vere Street Sign in Westminster, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Vere Street sign in Westminster. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Among the Vere Street Gang arrested for homosexuality, sodomy, or attempted sodomy were many men of the lower classes. Arrests included numerous servants, such as James Spittle, John Clarke, Timothy Norris, Henry Toogood, James Griffiths, and Michael Hayes. Also arrested was a bricklayer named James Done (or Doan), a lodger at the White Swan named James Amos, a traveler of goods named John Reeves, a shopkeeper named Esau Haycock, and a waiter named George Beat. In addition, a number of unemployed men and numerous private soldiers of the Guards were also arrested.

Word quickly spread about the detestable deeds of the Vere Street Gang and about a raid on the molly house known as the White Swan. This resulted in many moral and upright Londoners gathering at the St. Clement’s watch house the next morning. Later, around 11am, when Bow-Street officers arrived with three coaches to transport the prisoners. It was noted that “the concourse of people was so great that the carriage could scarcely proceed.”[3] In fact, all surrounding avenues were practically impassable because of the crowds, which remained until well past 5pm.

Bow Street Runners, Bow Street Runners were London's First Professional Police Force. This is a 19th Century depiction of the Courtroom at 4 Bow Street. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Bow Street Runners were London’s first professional police force. This is a 19th century depiction of the courtroom at 4 Bow Street. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In most cases there was not enough proof to detain the individual, and for those released, they quickly realized they faced dangerous consequences because waiting for them outside were menacing crowds of angry people. Some of those arrested as homosexuals were “hunted about the neighbourhood, and, with great difficulty escaped with their lives, although every exertion was used by the Constables and patrole to prevent such dangerous proceedings.”[4] In addition, males and females “fell upon them as they came out. They were knocked down, kicked, and covered with mud … The women, particularly those of Russell Street and Covent-garden market, were most ferocious in the application of this discipline.”[5]

Police conducted an examination of each prisoner and those of the lower orders “were housed for a time at the Brown Bear, in Bow-street, until the crowd should disperse.”[6] Later, when a coach was drawn up at the Brown Bear to convey them to prison, “this afforded a fresh signal to whet the eagerness of the mob, who pressed close round the carriage, and could not be kept off by the constables. It was therefore, seen that any attempt to convey the prisoners that way … [would have] exposed them to, extreme rough handling, if not to murder.”[7]

Drawing by James Winston showing view of the Brown Bear public house in Bow Street, Covent Garden, opposite the site of the Bow Street Police Office. Courtesy of the British Museum.

 

Hoping to outsmart the crowd, police placed a coach in front of the Brown Bear. As the crowd waited for the prisoners to be brought out the front, the prisoners were secretly taken out through a rear door at half-past four. They entered into a large yard that was attached to Russel Street and then “conducted, hand-cuffed three together, to coaches, and conveyed to prison.”[8] When the crowd discovered they had been duped, there were upset.

Seven men — James Cooke (landlord of the White Swan), Philip Kett (Hett or Illett), William Thomson, Richard Francis, James Done, Robert Aspinall, and William Amos, alias Fox — were declared  members of the Vere Street Gang and were indicted for “conspiracy, in assembling together for the purpose of committing diverse vile and unnatural practices.”[9] There was also a second count that charged them individually with “having met and committed the infamous crimes alluded to [namely sodomy or homosexuality].”[10]

The same year that Napoleon Bonaparte divorced his first wife, Josephine de Beauharnais, was the same year that the trial was slated for the Vere Street Gang. The accused were brought to trial on 22 September and all the men were found guilty except Robert Apsinall, who was determined to be less culpable and sentenced to one year in prison. The other six men were imprisoned for two years and also pilloried with that sentence scheduled to occur precisely at noon on the 27th of September, and when the day came, they were greeted by a crowd of 40,000 controlled by a mere 200 soldiers.

The convicted men were chained together and placed in a cart so that they could not lie down. Further, they could not protect themselves from the universal condemnation by the populace or from the filth thrown at them as they traveled to the site of their punishment. The six men crowded close together, “joining their heads … to preserve themselves from the rage of the mob which surrounded the cart,”[11] and their only safety was the continually movement of the cart as it inched along. One newspaper wrote about the event stating:

“It is impossible for language to convey an adequate idea of the universal expressions of execration, which accompanied the monsters on their journey; it was fortunate for them that the weather was dry, had it been otherwise, they would have been smothered. From the moment the cart was in motion, the fury of the mob began to display itself in showers of mud and filth of every kind — Before the cart reached Temple-bar, the wretches were thickly covered with filth, that a vestige of human figure was scarcely discernible…[They sheltered] their heads from the storm by stooping. This however, could afford but little protection. Some … [were] cut in the head with brickbats, and bled profusely…[They were] pelted … with all sorts of filth, in such a manner, that before they reached halfway to the scene of their exposure, they were not discernible as human beings—Dead cats and dogs, offal, potatoes, turnips, [fish entrails,] & c. rebounded [them] … on every side — If they had much farther to go, the cart would have been absolutely filled over them.”[12]

Pillorying of "The Monsters" or the "Vere Street Gang," Public Domain

Pillory of the “Vere Street Gang”  or “The Monsters.” Public domain.

There was also no mercy given by newspapers for the convicted Vere Street Gang. One newspaper maintained that the accused were “not of the ordinary species of the human race”[13] and that their punishment was not “commensurate to the offences [because they were] so abhorrent, and so shocking to human nature.”[14] Moreover, the same newspaper reported that some of the prisoners might not survive their punishment, and if that was the case the papers stated:

“[T]hey will not only die unpitied, but justly execrated by every moral mind throughout the universe. How dreadful to contemplate that such a set of monsters should be generating amongst us, and how urgent the necessity for the adoption of every means to effect the destruction of so detestable and diabolical a race.”[15]

References:

  • [1] “Police,” in Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 13 July 1810, p. 3.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] “Police,” in Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 16 July 1810, p. 4.
  • [4] “Police,” in Morning Advertiser,  10 July 1810, p. 2.
  • [5] “Police,” in Kentish Weekly, p. 3.
  • [6] “London, Wednesday, July 11,” in Hampshire Chronicle, 16 July 1810, p. 2.
  • [7] “Police,” in Kentish Weekly, p. 3.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] “The Monsters,” Morning Post, 28 September 1810, p. 3.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] September 30, in Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 30 September 1810, p. 7.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] “The Monsters,” Morning Post, p. 3.
  • [14] Ibid.
  • [15] Ibid.

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2 Comments

  1. Graham Clayton on July 19, 2016 at 2:55 am

    Did the pilloring take place at the start or the end of the 2 year sentences?

    • Geri Walton on August 1, 2016 at 7:54 am

      I read that the pillory took place in 1810, so at the beginning of their sentence.

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