Cleveland Street is located in Fitzrovia, central London. In 2011, the model for the workhouse in Dickens' 1837 story Oliver Twist was identified as the Strand Union Workhouse on Cleveland Street. It was peopled by the poor and it's not surprising that in 1889 a scandal erupted when a homosexual male brothel was discovered by police on Cleveland Street, however most of its clientele were far from being destitute and poor. In the White Chapel district Jack the Ripper had already started his killing rampage.
On a hot summer day in July 1889, the Metropolitan Police came to No. 19 Cleveland Street which was a four-story townhouse. Inside was an elegantly furnished brothel being operated by a pimp named Charles Hammond.
The prostitutes were all male, and this was a time when homosexual acts were illegal in England and those convicted of the crime faced a prison sentence with hard labor. Worse still was the social ostracism that went on long after the prison sentence was completed.
This was a time when girls age 12 and boys age 14 were allowed to marry with parental consent, and a child could start to work as early as age 6 to help support his family. Life expectancy for this swath of the British population was 40 to 45 years.
The brothel had been running for some years, and came to the attention of the police after they picked up a 15-year-old post office employee named Charles Swinscow for suspicion of theft. When asked about the extra money he carried on him, he admitted to being recruited to work at a house on Cleveland Street where for the sum of four shillings he would allow the client's to "have a go between my legs, and put their persons into me". He also gave the names of the other boys working at the brothel.
The "rent boys" would also pick up clients in the area of Piccadilly and bring them back to the brothel on Cleveland Street.
The pimps and prostitutes were scooped up by the police and they were grilled for the names of their clients, and one named was Lord Arthur Somerset, Equerry to the Prince of Wales. It did not take long for rumors to swirl that another client was Prince Albert Victor (also known as Prince Eddy) the eldest son of the Prince of Wales. It was never substantiated but many believed that since he was second in line to the throne the government covered it up. Prince Eddy left in September 1889 on an extended trip to British India to avoid the trial and press coverage.
Lord Somerset and Charles Hammond the brothel keeper both fled abroad before prosecution could commence. Arthur Somerset died in France in 1926.
It was found the prostitutes worked as messenger or "telegraph" boys for the post office, however since it was seen that the youth had been corrupted by rich aristocrats they were given lighter sentences. Normally a conviction of buggery could bring a sentence of penal servitude for life for any term but not less than ten years. Up until 1861 it was punishable by death.
Arthur Newton who acted as solicitor for Arthur Somerset, was convicted of obstruction for helping his client escape to France and he spent six weeks in prison. In 1895 he defended Oscar Wilde in his trial. In 1910 he was disbarred for one year for professional misconduct after falsifying letters from another client which was the murderer Dr. Crippen. In 1913 he was disbarred permanently and sentenced to three years for obtaining money under false pretences.
Due to the scandal attached to the address No. 19 was removed from the land register, and the building was then divided into three apartments.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer