Towards the end of the nineteenth century a gentleman by the name of Charles Hammond ran a male brothel located at No 19 Cleveland Street in London. Hammond catered for a largely aristocratic clientele and for a number of years the existence of his establishment remained unknown to the authorities.
This remained the case until the 4th July 1889 when a certain Charles Swinscow was found to be in possession of the sum of eighteen shillings. The Metropolitan Police were conducting an investigation into the theft of money from the General Post Office at the time, and Mr Swinscow was employed by the Post Office as a telegraph boy. When asked by the police how he had come by such a sum of money, Swinscow admitted that he had been recruited by Charles Hammond to work at the Cleveland Street establishment where, for the sum of four shillings, he would permit the brothel's clients to "have a go between my legs" and "put their persons into me". He also identified a number of other young men who were similarly employed at Cleveland Street and this led to the apprehension of Henry Newlove, Algernon Allies and Charles Thickbroom who were also interviewed by the police.
The officer in charge of the case, Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline procured a warrant to arrest Charles Hammond on a charge of conspiracy to "to commit the abominable crime of buggery", he found that Mr Hammond had disappeared. The police subsequently made arrangements to observe the comings and goings at No 19 Cleveland Street. It was noted that a certain 'Mr Brown' called there on the 9th and 13th July 1889, following which on the 25th July both Swinscow and Thickbroom identified Mr Brown as one of the their clients and thus Mr Brown was followed back to the Knightsbridge barracks. He was soon identified as the Lord Arthur Somerset, a younger son of Henry Charles Somerset, 8th Duke of Beaufort, a major in the Royal Horse Guards and equerry to Edward, Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.
Papers were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions with a view to prosecuting the Lord Arthur on a charge of gross indecency. The Prince of Wales was incredulous when he heard of it "I won't believe it, any more than I should if they accused the Archbishop of Canterbury"1. Despite this gesture of support, Arthur placed the matter in the hands of his solicitor Arthur Newton who contacted the DPP simply to mention the fact that his client, if prosecuted, might well name the Duke of Clarence whilst he was giving evidence in court. Given that Albert, Duke of Clarence was the eldest son of the Prince of Wales and second in line to the throne, it was clear that the government would not want his name associated with the homosexual brothel at Cleveland Street. The authorities therefore appeared to have dragged their heels over the matter of actually bringing Arthur Somerset to trial, allowing him the opportunity to flee abroad, and by the 18th October he was safely in Boulogne. He remained in exile for the remainder of his life and eventually died in the French Riviera in 1926.
But whilst Arthur escaped prosecution, the same could not be said of the unfortunate 'rent boys' caught up in the investigation. Swinscow together with Henry Newlove, Algernon Allies and Charles Thickbroom were brought before the Old Bailey in September and charged with gross indecency. They were all convicted with Newlove receiving a sentence of four months with hard labour whilst the others got nine months.
This might have been the end of the story had it not been for a journalist named Ernest Park, who ran a story in 28th September edition of the North London Press, which claimed that the "heir to a duke and the younger son of a duke" had frequented Cleveland Street. On the 16th November he went so far as to name both Arthur Somerset and Henry James Fitzroy, Earl of Euston2 as the men in question and dropped a broad hint to his readers, by referring to a gentleman "more distinguished and more highly placed", that a member of the royal family was also involved. Ernest Park believed that it was safe to name the two young aristocrats as they had both fled the country. He was correct as far as Arthur was concerned, but the Earl of Euston was not, as he thought, in Peru, but rather in England, and thus in order to defend his reputation felt obliged to bring a charge for criminal libel against Edward Park.
The trial was heard at the Old Bailey on the 19th January 1890. Whilst Henry Fitzroy admitted that he had been to 19 Cleveland Street he claimed that it was all a mistake. According to his own testimony, he had only gone there in the belief that he would see a tableaux plastique, and that once he realised the true nature of the establishment, he made his excuses and left. Ernest Park however produced a witness named John Saul, who went into some detail regarding the kind of services that he had provided for Henry Fitzroy at Cleveland Street, but being a self-confessed prostitute his evidence was easily 'discredited' and so Ernest was found guilty of libel without justification and sentenced to a year's hard labour. 3
One more trial was to arise as a result of Cleveland Street in respect of the activities of Arthur Newton, defence solicitor to the aforementioned Arthur Somerset who had evaded justice. Newton was brought before the court on the 12th December 1889 charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice for allegedly interfering with witnesses and arranging their disappearance to France. He was convicted but received the relatively mild punishment of six weeks in prison. He was even allowed to resume his practice afterwards and was later to become better known for representing the author and playwright Oscar Wilde.
This was not quite the end of the matter as the MP Henry Labouchère, a noted campaigner against 'homosexual vice', who had earlier been responsible for including the offence of 'gross indecency' within the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, became convinced that some kind of 'cover-up' had been launched by the authorities. On the 28th February 1890 he tried to persuade Parliament to establish a committee to investigate the whole affair, but his motion was defeated by a vote of 204 to 66. In fact Henry felt so strongly on the matter that he became too animated during the debate in his motion and was suspended from Parliament for a week.
Thus the Cleveland Street Scandal passed into history and ceased to be a matter of contemporary significance, but from the evidence that has since become available it is now clear that the Duke of Clarence was indeed a client of the Cleveland Street brothel. It is therefore very likely that some kind of damage limitation exercise was carried out at the highest levels of the British Government.
1 Which in some ways was an unfortunate remark as, whilst this might have been true of his grace the Archbishop it was another matter for his sons
2 Henry James Fitzroy was the son and heir of the 7th Duke of Grafton and thus styled himself as the Earl of Euston. He predeceased his father and so never inherited the Grafton title.
3 Oddly enough John Saul who, logically speaking should have been prosecuted for perjury, never was.
- Brian Masters The Dukes: The Origins, Ennoblement and History of 26 Families (Blond and Briggs, 1975)
- William Donaldson Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics (Phoenix, 2004)
- Craig Kaczorowski, A Male Brothel on Cleveland Street
- H. Montgomery Hyde, The Cleveland Street Scandal. (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc, 1976)