In my previous post on pornographic addresses in Victorian London, I focused on one publisher called, among other names, William Lazenby. In this post, I am going to share a few photos of places associated with him, to be certain, but more so with happenings not directly involving him.
1. 19 Cleveland Street
This is perhaps one of the most notorious of all Victorian addresses. In 1889 a male brothel operated out of 19 Cleveland Street that was at the centre of a scandal that involved at least one Member of Parliament and, maybe, English royalty. Sadly, because of the scandal number 19 no longer officially exists and, it turns out, the place I was looking was likely way off the mark. Geographical anomalies aside, the scandal at Cleveland Street was notable for a number of reasons, not least of which was the involvement of someone calling himself Jack Saul at the trial that ensued. On the witness stand for the prosecution, Saul admitted to being a “professional sodomite” and living an “immoral life”, yet he was never charged with any crime, even though he surely incriminated himself while on the stand. For a bit more on Cleveland Street’s history, I recommend this.
2. Haxell’s Hotel
Haxell’s Hotel features in The Sins of the City of the Plain as the place which Jack Saul meets up with Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, all three dressed as women. In the memoir Saul, the narrator, describes lasciviously what transpires between Boulton and Lord Arthur Clinton. For those of you who’ve been paying attention in Victorian scandal class, Boulton and Park were real life persons who had been arrested for dressing up as women in London’s west end in 1870 and charged with the ‘conspiracy to commit a felony’ (felony = sodomy = anal sex with men). Here is the relevant passage from Sins:
You remember the Boulton and Park case? Well, I was present at the ball given at Haxell’s Hotel in the Strand. No doubt the proprietor was quite innocent of any idea what our fun really was; but there were two or three dressing-rooms into which the company could retire at pleasure…[looking through a keyhole] Lord Arthur and Boulton, whom he addressed as Laura, were standing before a large mirror. He had his arm around her waist, and every now and then drew Laura’s lips to his for a long luscious kiss. His inamorata was not idle; for I could see her unbuttoning his trousers, and soon she let out a beautiful specimen of the arbor vitae, at least nine inches long and very thick… pp. 96 – 98, Vol. I
And so it goes on. It is unclear whether the memoir was indeed authentic, but it is a testament nevertheless to the widespread nature of the Boulton and Park affair and it is not the only time that it invokes actual London locations which may give clues as to the identities of those involved in the Victorian pornography trade.
3. Lisle Street, Leicester Square
Another address given in Sins is Jack Saul’s own. In the opening pages of the book, the young Saul is pursued by a Mr. Cambon for the purposes of some fun behind closed doors and Saul introduces himself as “Saul, Jack Saul, sir, of Lisle Street, Leicester Square, and ready for a lark with a free gentleman at any time” (p. 12, vol. I). While no exact address is given, I have included a photograph of a hotel on Lisle Street to give some fodder for the imagination as to what kinds of places someone like Saul (or Boulton and Park) could have taken clients. I was largely deflated when I saw Lisle street and Leicester Square, expecting it to be a bustling place full of weird and wonderful theatre people, and all I found were overpriced tourist attractions and the tourists willing to pay.
4. The Alhambra Theatre
The Alhambra Theatre, now an Odeon Cinema complex, was one of Boulton and Park’s regular haunts. They were ejected from there on several occasions. The real action went down at the Strand Theatre, though (see below).
5. The Strand Theatre
Remember a minute ago when I said that Boulton and Park were arrested for ‘conspiracy to commit a felony’? Yeah, the Strand is where that went down. This is not too far from Haxell’s Hotel, as you can see, as well as Leicester Square and the other theatres in the west end. As an added bonus on the 1897 map, you can see the former location of Holywell Street which was known as Booksellers’ Row, which was demolished at the turn of the twentieth century. This place was hugely important for the pornography trade since, “by one estimate in the mid-1830s, there were fifty-seven bookshops dealing in pornography across London” (Sigel 21) and the majority of them would’ve been right here in Holywell Street, mere blocks away from where some major pornographic stuff went down.
Conclusion: thank you for joining me on this experiment in visual blogging. The words have been sparse throughout these posts in the hope that the photos would be able to say quite a bit on their own. As I’ve said before, you are looking at a piece of work that is in progress and really not even half-formed. I may never do anything with the geography or topography of the pornographic book trade in Victorian London; there are so many other things to examine and dissect that this one, at the moment, is a bit of a guilty pleasure. I do believe, however, that this is potentially important work that, to my knowledge, has not been done thoroughly as of yet. If you or someone you know has done more work on this topic I would love to hear about it.
As always, please leave comments and questions below…even if they’re dumb. I probably am too polite to tell you that your question or comment is dumb and just answer it like the excellent and professional educator that I am. Even dumb questions can lead you in intriguing directions so, have at it. Please also ask smart questions if you have those.
Sigel, Lisa. Governing Pleasures: Pornography and Social Change in England, 1815-1914. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2002. Print.
The Sins of the Cities of the Plain or the Recollections of a Mary-Ann with short essays on Sodomy and Tribadism. 2 vols. London: Privately printed, 1881. Microfilm. (available unabridged from Valancourt Books)