The Ghost from the Molly House
Here is the introductory chapter from this book, I hope you'll check it out on Amazon, there are links below.
My name is Jasper Claxton; I was born in 1706 in London, England. I can remember some things about my life from that time but not everything, although there are many things I don’t want to remember. The past is the past, and for me, that is where it belongs, but it can teach us many lessons, that is of course if we’re willing to listen and learn. But memories can feel like a burden, and I don’t remember ever having had any hopes, dreams, or aspirations.
I never knew my parents, and I don’t know if I ever had any brothers, sisters, aunts, or uncles, but I do remember being one of many who was in the orphanages of the period, and the cruelty, hardship, and all the injustices of that time. It was a world full of ignorance, difficulty, and fear, although I know that for many the world still is today, yet the solutions to me seem simple. Surely most people would spend their lives in joyful service, working towards building a healthy loving world if due care and consideration, food, shelter, and a modest standard of living was provided. But I guess someone somewhere will always want the last fish in the sea.
For me, everything stopped in 1726; I remember being very cold, glacially cold; everything was so bleak and austere. The biting winter winds were howling, my body was weak, my legs were frozen, and I couldn’t move my limbs, my breathing became shallow, I slowly closed my eyes and the harsh world I knew faded forever into darkness.
So now I’m gone from your physical world, and although I’m in a much better place, I find I’m unable to describe it to you, I have a thousand questions that I can’t ever seem to answer. All I can say is that I feel safe, at great peace and very contented, not happy or sad, and I drift between the past and your present when you call me. Although you won’t know that you’ve called me, in fact, some of you won’t even remember me after I’ve gone, but I hope I leave you in a better place during your time in this world.
When I was born, I was put in a parish house or orphanage for the relief of the poor; this represented an important parish building, and as such came to serve as the focus for many parish activities beyond just the comfort of the poor. I was lucky because for a time I was provided with the necessary food, some primary education, rudimentary health care, and clean clothing, although many children were brutally treated and the death rate amongst children was very high.
When I was around eight, I was apprenticed to a weaver for textile labour, and worked 12-hour shifts, and slept in a small barracks attached to the factory in beds just vacated by other children about to start the next shift.
As an orphan, the workhouse, as they became known, was a given and never a choice for me, but in the harsh economic poverty of the time, many people were reluctant to enter workhouses and resorted instead to begging on the streets. The early eighteenth century was an era of unusually severe and cruel punishment; beggars were a familiar feature of most towns and cities in my day. They would be found around shops, markets and other busy places, which where smelly, noisy, and chaotic, all aspects of life could be seen. But begging was a hazardous activity; vagrancy remained illegal throughout the century and beggars were regularly whipped and imprisoned in ‘Houses of Correction’.
Most criminal cases during the 1700s went before local magistrates, who dealt with crimes without the benefit of a jury. Magistrates were unpaid officials from the ranks of the wealthy who defended English law as amateurs. As a result, many magistrates could be corrupted, some people even saying, ‘the greatest criminals in the town were the officers of justice.’
More severe crimes such as murder were referred to Crown courts, like the Old Bailey in London. The Courtrooms were sprinkled with herbs and scented flowers to mask the stench and smell of unwashed prisoners, and much of the courts’ business was conducted in Latin. Witnesses were usually examined by the judge and members of the jury.
The 18th-century criminal justice system relied heavily on the existence of the ‘bloody code’; this was a list of crimes that were all punishable by death and would grow to include over 200 separate capital offences. Guilty verdicts in cases of murder, rape, and treason and lesser crimes such as poaching, burglary, shoplifting, and criminal damage like chopping down trees for firewood could all end in a trip to the gallows.
Many felons were transported to the American colonies (and later to those in Australia), where they served out their sentences in hard labour.
Criminals convicted of lesser crimes were fined, branded, or shamed in front of the public by being whipped, or being set in the pillory (a wooden framework with holes for the head and hands, in which offenders were formerly imprisoned and exposed to public abuse and pelted with rotten eggs and vegetables). Long-term prison sentences in ‘Houses of Correction’ were also imposed.
Prostitution was another highly visible alternative to pauperdom. Many vulnerable young girls and boys were forced or tricked into prostitution through their failure or inability to secure work. In London, scores of streetwalkers openly plied their trade not only on the streets but in the theatres and taverns of the capital. Dozens of infamous and dangerous bawdy-houses could be found up narrow alleyways, and down side streets, sexual activity was a very public affair in the London of the 1700s.
There were other ‘beggarly trades’ that provided more ‘respectable’ incomes: as costermongers (a person who sells goods, especially fruit and vegetables, from a handcart in the street), shoe blacks, crossing sweepers, and market porters, but these were often objectionable and very physical jobs. However, they offered the poor an independent and honest way of making a living.
I finally escaped the workhouse on the Lords day, a church Sunday in 1720 and was lucky to find work as a scullion (a menial servant) with Master Taylor at The Silver Cross Tavern in Whitehall, London, which was a prominent meeting place, a place for socialising and business where people gathered to drink alcoholic beverages and be served food. It was hard work, but it offered some occasional respite from the misery and grind of daily life.
It was in 1724 while working for Master Taylor that I met Mistress Margaret Clap who ran a coffee house at her private residence in Holborn, London. She felt that I seemed “agreeable” and offered me regular employment as a scullion along with simple board and lodgings.
I soon learned that her coffee shop served as a Molly-House for the underground homosexual community also known as sodomites, today you would call it the “Gay” community. Not that it concerned me, love is like poetry, if it’s right, it’s right. Life has a clarity when you’re in danger, and I had been surrounded by thief’s, criminals, ragamuffins, drifters, vagabonds, and prostitutes and seen double standards many times from those seen as paragons of virtue within the church and the local community. I judged people on their character, honesty, and how they treated me, and others, not on their sexual proclivities. Daily survival makes you develop a sixth sense where this is concerned; you do what you must do to survive.
I can only speak as I find, and Mistress Clap or Mother Clap as she was known and her husband Master John, showed me some basic kindness and consideration. This was the first place in my life that I could ever think of as any kind of home. Mistress Clap looked after her customers, the homosexual men who frequented her premises. We would have thirty or forty chaps every night, but more on Sunday Nights.
*We had regular customers and paying guests who were friends of Mistress Clap. Of course, at that time homosexual activities were illegal and heavily prosecuted and remained capital offences until 1861 when the death penalty for sodomy or buggery was repealed. So, our customers lived in a dangerous underworld, many lived in secret, not daring to talk about love and relationships. It was dangerous to love another man, and they became the ideal target for exploiters, blackmailers, and vicious entrapments. Homophobia has a long history, and I know that even today a homosexual or “Gay” life can be a difficult one for some.
*Mistress Clap and I were always present during the Molly-House's working hours, and I would often run across the street to a local tavern the “Bunch o’Grapes”, to buy drinks for our customers.
Some thought of Mistress Clap’s house as a brothel, but she intended to provide a safe meeting place for the homosexual community where men could be true to themselves, socialise, drink, dance, and, yes, have sex with one another. Mistress Clap’s Molly-House had security at the door to ensure that the men who came in could be vouched for as sodomites.
*Over time the Molly-House developed its own “camp” culture which certainly wasn’t to everyone’s taste and included elaborate transvestitism, mock male marriages, and even simulated births, in which a Molly would deliver a wooden doll that was then baptised. Many Mollies would dress in female clothing, assume a female name and identity, and affect feminine mannerisms.
*On a Sunday night in February 1726, Mistress Clap's Molly-House was raided by a squadron of police constables, and we were all arrested and taken to Newgate prison. The police were unlike the police forces you think of today, in London, a system of paid watchmen operated across different parishes; they performed various duties on top of the detection and arrest of suspected criminals. The Molly-House had been under observation for some time.
*The surveillance was instigated by a collection of vengeful Mollies-turned-informants who led policemen into Molly-Houses, introducing each of them so that they could investigate the goings on more thoroughly. Although for some Mollies this could have backfired, and they may have found themselves forced into becoming informants to avoid prison.
However, the real driving force behind all of this was the Society for the Reformation of Manners, which was founded in London in 1691. Its aims were the suppression of profanity, immorality, and other lewd activities in general, and of brothels and prostitution.
*Mistress Clap was eventually found guilty of keeping a disorderly house, and for encouraging customers to commit sodomy. We were sentenced to stand in the pillory in Smithfield Market, to pay a fine, and two years’ imprisonment; while three customers were hanged for sodomy. I never saw Mistress Clap again.
I remember how Newgate prison was swarming with lice and vermin and full of emaciated people all with diseases expiring on the floors in cramped loathsome cells, we were lucky to get two pennyworths of bread a day. The cruelty, stench, and decay were torments; I will never forget the awful smell. I prayed and pleaded with God to help me, begging him for mercy, but he didn’t seem to hear me.
So, I spent my time trying to care for the many sick until my own demise along with numerous others, from disease, starvation, and hypothermia that same year. The average life expectancy in the 18th century was only 40, so I guess I managed to live out half of my life such as it was, which is more than many others did.
For a while after my death, I found myself drawn back to Mistress Clap’s Molly House in Holborn, it gave me some comfort. I don’t know how I ended up in my ghostly world and if there are others like me, or how long it will last, could it be forever? That I cannot answer. But in my life, I’ve met many people with blood on their hands, people who have killed, maimed, imprisoned, and tortured people. I’ve witnessed terrible cruelty, wrongdoing, and experienced awful hardship.
I’m not a vengeful ghost, but now it’s time to do the right thing. I can appear anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Oh dear, I sound like a drink’s commercial. You see, I do meddle, I’m drawn to fighting injustice, and the odd troublesome spirit, of which there are many. I now travel through time and try to work for the greater good, although it’s often complicated and rarely straightforward.
My ghostly past is always with me, it has a strange way of residing in the present and often catches me off guard because one day I’m in Paris in 1849 and the next I could be in Africa in 1410, but I always try to blend in. A rainy day in England can suddenly remind me of a thousand rainy days I’ve experienced all over the world in different time periods.
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr the 19th-century French critic, journalist, and novelist said something to me in 1849 while I was in Paris, which I have never forgotten, ‘Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.’ Meaning, ‘The more it changes, the more it's the same thing.’ Often translated as ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’
And I can relate to that because time travel has given me an eidetic memory and vast knowledge, as well an aptitude and understanding of people. I can read people, it’s hard to describe, but it’s often the little things that give people away, a nuance, a hesitation, a gesture. We stand on the people who came before us; sometimes it’s not the future that stands in our way but the past.
One must always look to the future, that’s where the obstacles await you, but you cannot face the future until you’ve conquered your past, then you will be free. Be scared, but do it anyway, sometimes you don’t always get what you want, but what you need, remember that in every ending there is a new beginning. It’s called ‘life’. There’s no perfect way of doing things, and you know, the worse that can happen is that you might learn something, and how bad is that? People often strive for what is not worth having, but the truth will set us free, remember that every age is golden.