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18 September 2012

Druids’ Hall, 26 July 1854

The hall, owned by the Ancient Order of Druids, was let over a period of 18 months during the Crimean War to a Mr Harris.  On the night of 26 July 1854, the event was a bal masqué.

Joseph Brundell of the city police had been on duty over the 18 months near Druids’ Hall and had noticed men attending in female attire.  He reported this to his sergeant, and was told not to interfere unless he saw ‘disgusting conduct’ in the public street.

Inspector Teague reported the next day:
From information I received relative to the frequent congregation of certain persons for immoral practices at the Druids'-hall, I proceeded thither in company with Sergeant Goodeve about 2 o'clock this morning. I saw a great many persons dancing there, and among the number were the prisoners, who rendered themselves very conspicuous by their disgusting and filthy conduct. I suspected that the prisoners and several others who were present in female attire were of the male sex, and I left the room for the purpose of obtaining further assistance, so as to secure the whole of the parties, but when we got outside Campbell came out after us, and, taking us by the arms, was about to speak, when I exclaimed, "That is a man," upon which he turned round and ran back immediately to the Druids'-hall. I returned and took Campbell into custody and observing Challis, whom I have frequently seen there before, behaving with two men as if he were a common prostitute, I took charge of him also.
John Challis, 60, wearing 'the pastoral garb of a shepherdess of the golden age', and George Campbell, 35, a lawyer, “completely equipped in female attire of the present day”, were arrested with on the charge of disguising themselves as women with the purpose of exciting others to commit an unnatural offence.

Madeleine Vincent said, she attended to the refreshment department in the ballroom, and saw the prisoners there, but saw nothing disgusting in their conduct, and never told the police that she had. She had said their conduct was disgraceful because they made such a noise, but that was the only impropriety she saw or complained of.

The landladies of all the different lodgings occupied by Challis during the last 12 months came forward and stated that they always considered his character irreproachable; but that he had a sort of mania for masquerades.
Sir R.W.Carden [magistrate] -  I was informed by your own bail that your object in visiting Druids'-hall was to see vice in all its enormity, in order that you might correct it from the pulplit, and he said that was the excuse you made for going to such places.

Campbell - It is a quite a mistake. I certainly did wish to see a little of London life without mixing with its abominations.

Sir R.W.CARDEN - And you thought that dressing yourself in women's attire was the best way of avoiding those abominations? I must say it was a very imprudent course . . . . I certainly hope you now see the folly of indulging in such extraordinary freaks, as you term them, and that you deeply feel how degrading it is to a man of education . . . to be placed in such a position. . . . However, under the circumstances, I am willing to believe it was nothing more than an act of the grossest folly, and that you now sincerely repent your imprudent conduct.
  • The Times, 27 July, 1 August, 2 August.  1854.  Online at:
  • Thomas Boyle. Black Swine In The Sewers Of Hampstead: Beneath The Surface Of Victorian Sensationalism. London: Hodder & Stoughton 1989. New York: Viking 1989: 11.
  • H. G. Cocks. Nameless Offences Speaking of Male Homosexual Desire in Nineteenth-Century England. London: I.B. Tauris, 2003: 69-70.

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