The Phoenix of Sodom
The White Swan Raid | July 8, 1810
Vere Street/Clare Market, London
The White Swan had been open for fewer than six months when it was raided by constables on Sunday, 8 July 1810. Roughly 23 – 27 individuals were arrested though most were released from lack of evidence.
Seven of those arrested, including the landlord [James Cook], were tried and sentenced to the pillory, and imprisonment ranging 1 to 3 years. Weeks after the raid, Thomas White, age 16, and John Hepburn, age ~42, were tried and hanged for sodomy on the testimony of one man — a fellow Regiment soldier ( and patron though not charged ).
Lawyer Robert Holloway accounts many details of the establishment of the White Swan, the raid and consequences for its patrons in The Phoenix of Sodom, or The Vere Street Coterie [ London, 1813 ].
White, being an universal favourite, was very deep in the secrets of the fashionable part of the coterie; of which he had made a most ample confession in writing, immediately previous to his execution; the truth of which he averred, even to his last moments.
That the reader may form some idea of the incontrollable rage of this dreadful passion, Cook states that a person in a respectable house in the city, frequently came to his pub, and stayed several days and nights together; during which time he generally amused himself with eight, ten, and sometimes a dozen different boys and men!
Sunday was the general, and grand day of rendezvous; and to render their excuse the more entangled and doubtful, some of the parties came a great distance, even so much as thirty miles, to join the festivity and elegant amusements of grenadiers, footmen, waiters, drummers.
Dead Cats at the Pillory
Events surrounding the pillory were well documented in newspapers at the time:
Upwards of fifty women were permitted to stand in the ring [in front of the pillory], who assailed them incessantly with mud, dead cats, rotten eggs, potatoes, and buckets filled with blood, offal, and dung, which were brought by a number of butchers’ men from St James’s Market. These criminals were very roughly handled…
…the wretches were so thickly covered with filth, that a vestige of the human figure was scarcely discernible. They were chained, and placed in such a manner that they could not lie down in the cart, and could only hide and shelter their heads from the storm by stooping. This, however, could afford but little protection. Some of them were cut in the head with brick-bats, and bled profusely. The streets, as they passed, resounded with the universal shouts and execrations of the populace.
The Rope for Miserable Wretches
White was convicted of buggery, and Hepburn was convicted of, first, “consenting & permitting Thomas White to Commite the crime of Buggery with him”, and, second, “for committing the crime of Buggery with each other.”
…on the morning of Thursday 7 March 1811, “White came out first; he seemed perfectly indifferent to his awful fate, and continued adjusting the frill of his shirt while he was viewing the surrounding populace.” Hepburn came out two minutes later, accompanied by the clergyman, his servant, the hangman, the ordinary, and other functionaries. The executioner put a cap over his face.
White fixed his eyes upon Hepburn. “After a few minutes prayer, the miserable wretches were launched into eternity. A vast concourse of people attended to witness the awful scene. The Duke of Cumberland, Lord Sefton, Lord Yarmouth, and several other noblemen were in the press-yard.”
Holloway notes this aristocratic presence, implying that these noblemen had availed themselves of White’s friendship in the Swan.