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Check out David Lawrence's fabulous novel – Blue Billy's Rogue Lexicon #HistoricalFiction #BlogTour #CoffeePotBookClub @cathiedunn

Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon

by David Lawrence

Publication Date: February 21st, 2023
Publisher: Broadbound Publishing
Pages: 245
Genre: Historical Fiction / Queer Fiction / Romantic Comedy

“Uproarious… racy humor, rich atmosphere, and vivid characterization.”
– BookLife Reviews

“A gritty and emotional tale of a complex young protagonist… a satisfying and moving novel.”
– Kirkus Reviews

William Dempsey was a wonder among wonders.

By 18, he had risen from a gang of London street rogues to be the personal plaything of the Marquess of Argyll. Maintained in splendour, celebrated at masquerades – with everything he could wish for.

Now all has come crashing down. He is put out in the rain without patronage, his West End apartment, or a place among the ton.

So on a stormy night, he arrives at a house in Southwark. Marathon Moll’s in the Mint – the bawdyhouse he worked in during his ascent and where he earned the name Blue Billy.

But is Marathon Moll’s a place from which to rise again? For there is one in the crowd, who catches his eye. Who takes his hand and promises something better.

Or does Moll’s signify a return to his roots? For one day, a second and very different young man raps on the door. Takes his hand and asks him to return to his past.

To the cat language of vagabonds. The canting dialect of thieves.

To the schemes, and the dreams, of his youth.

People are loving Blue Billy:

“a beautifully written novel… a deep, poignant book with a moving storyline and complex characters. It was a wonderful read!”
– The Historical Fiction Company

“An Odd, Surprising Cluster” 
by David Lawrence

William Hogarth, A Rake’s Progress – The Tavern Scene, or The Rake at the Rose Tavern
Public domain image -

Bawdyhouse has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? It conjures up something a bit wild, a bit naughty. Hogarth’s “The Rake at the Rose Tavern” comes to mind. 

Lamps lighting in bowed tavern windows. Laughter. Shouting. Propositions. Pickpockets.

The term bawdy-house dates from the 1550s – scarcely different from a brothel but seemingly constrained in its potential of ever being something elevated. The terms high-end, exclusive etc are found only in conjunction with brothel.

Perhaps that is why I like bawdyhouse so much more. As a writer of 18th century fiction, I find bawdyhouse both captures the era (at least a modern view of the era) while at the same time reminds us that not much changes over the years. We may dress differently today, we may have different views, but the need to lose oneself occasionally, the temptation to vice, are, for good or ill, universal and eternal.

And so, for me, those colourful souls working and rioting in that scene by Hogarth are really just you and I. But who were they, exactly? 

The Rose Tavern was a famous (read notorious) bawdyhouse in Covent Garden, and it seems to have been open to all sorts - all ranks, all walks of life. There is a wonderful contemporary comment on the brothels and bawdyhouses of 18th century Covent Garden in which a visitor describes what he found there as containing “an odd, surprising cluster (of people and classes).” Earls and tradesmen alike were known to frequent places like Bedford Coffeehouse, and it appears to have been the same in the bawdyhouses of the time. The pursuit of pleasure, it seems, even in Georgian England, was society’s great leveller. 

Nevertheless, there were high-end brothels, patronised exclusively by Nobility and the very wealthy, such as the so-called nunnery of King’s Place. These houses often had only two or three working women, all well-educated in languages and music, all wonderful conversationalists, and often with illustrious pedigrees. The ultimate aim of these women was usually to be placed in high keeping by a single, wealthy benefactor – high keeping meaning an apartment in the West End, a coach, a generous allowance etc. Another option was to turn bawd, as was the case with the proprietor the King’s Place nunnery, herself a former higher-end prostitute named Charlotte Hayes.

Then there were the fleshpots of the city, often found in and around Covent Garden. Establishments like Weatherby’s, which seem more in keeping with Hogarth – places well-stocked with employees and patrons. Here were usually found a gaming parlour and tavern, which offered every variety of crudely-produced libation and entertainment, and, conveniently, rooms for hire just above the party.

The literature indicates that both clients and workers in London bawdyhouses were often newcomers to the city. Workers were frequently recruited from the Registry Office, the agency connecting potential employers with manual laborers, domestic help, and the like. The office was often the first stop for newcomers from the country, so here were to be found a near endless stream of youthful faces, innocent in the ways of London and likely free of those disfiguring diseases rampant in the metropolis. 

One reads of brothel madams haunting the Registry Office under the pretence of hiring young women for light domestic duties or as barmaids. Once hired, they would front their new employees clothing and even jewellery, the cost of which to be repaid once they were more established. This day, of course, never came, as the girls quickly became used to fine things and good living, and so quickly ran up large debts. At which point the madams would introduce them to their real business which was usually the only means of paying them back.

Young men fresh to the metropolis also fell victim to bawdyhouses. The prostitutes of the house often worked in tandem with a hector to fleece innocent young men in every way imaginable. A hector, also called a trapan, was a bawdyhouse’s resident porter, pimp, and card sharper. A colourful passage in The English Rogue of 1665 describes him this way: “He is well skilled in Cards and Dice, which help him to cheat young Gulls newly come to Town; and the reason he usually gives for it, is, A Woodcock must be pluckt ere he be drest. If there be not ready money to answer expectation, a Bond of considerable value shall serve turn, attested by two shall swear any thing for half a Crown.” 

Then there were those bawdyhouses which were my particular interest, and about which the least is known. These were the houses offering men companionship with youths and young men, known by turns as brothels, bawdyhouses, and molly houses. Molly house is one of the more obscure terms in the literature, specific to a meeting house for queer men, but unspecific in terms of what it entailed. Molly houses of the era seem as likely to have been places to gather, dress up, and have drinking parties as to contain an actual brothel. Criminal records are the main source of information on these, describing places like Mother Clap’s Molly House in Holborn, in which 40 were arrested in 1725/6 for infamous doings. The sexual activity itself was the crime, so it was often left unsaid if paid services were part of the assembly or not. 

As for who these men were little is known, beyond their house names. Men who visited male bawdyhouses seem always to have used special house names, usually something flamboyant which referenced their professions. We have Miss Irons (presumably a blacksmith), Tub Nan (maker of wooden wash tubs), Dip-Candle Mary (a tallow chandler). Little else is know about these men, or about the keepers of such houses, such as the above-mentioned Mother Clap. And nothing at all, to my knowledge, is known about any such houses for women wishing to meet women.

As a writer researching the topic, I saw many sides of the bawdyhouse. In Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon, my primarily aim was to give a humorous slant to the antics. The bawdyhouse in my book is for queer men, so I wanted to celebrate a place in which one could be free and open rather than condemn it. Yet there are one or two scenes of a darker hue which I felt were important to include in the story, and which I hope are a fitting reminder of the darker side of such houses. 

After all, if you look a bit closer at those young women in Hogarth’s party scene you will discern something a bit sobering. Those fetching black beauty marks they are wearing were actually there to conceal syphilitic sores.

Books I found particularly informative, and entertaining, on the subject are as follows:

The Covent Garden Ladies by Hallie Rubenhold
The First Bohemians by Vic Gatrell
Mother Clap’s Molly House by Rictor Morton

David Lawrence

David Lawrence is the author of two queer historical novels – ‘Hugh: A Hero without a Novel’ and ‘Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon’. As a writer, he loves taking a deep dive into the politics, social norms, and events of 18th century England while presenting humorous and unique coming-of-age tales.

A native of the American Southwest, David has spent much of his life in Great Britain, France, and Finland.  He now lives in the American Northwest – Helena, Montana – with his Finnish partner.

By day he loves hiking under the Big Sky of his beautiful adopted state.

By night, however, he prefers wandering the byways of 18th century London…

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