Scandal at Sculcoates Workhouse May 1896


Sculcoates Workhouse in the !890s
The Workhouse was built in 1843-4 on Beverley Road in Hull. It housed 500 destitute people and had an infirmary attached. Male and female residents–even married ones–were strictly segregated. On the setting up of the NHS in 1948 it became the Western General Hospital until its demolition in 2002 when the site was used for the ill-fated Endeavour High School
The Hull Daily Mail of 1896 was, in most respects , a very different newspaper from that of today. It was the main source—-apart from gossip—of local news. It was a broadsheet——often of only 4 pages .There were two editions a day so that the second actually contained some of todays rather than yesterdays news. The front page was given over to small ads—-and the print was VERY small.In one respect ,however, it was remarkably similar to todays paper—much of it was given over to cases—-especially the more scandalous ones—that had come before the local courts.Then as now there was assumed to be an insatiable appetite for scandal—–provided of course that it was other people who were involved! Therefore although the following report in the second edition of 5th May only appeared in small print on an inside page it would doubtless have attracted the attention of many local people.It read as follows

Gross Indecency at Sculcoates Workhouse
“At the Hull Police Court this morning Robert Peacock .a young man, and William Joseph Tomlinson. a youth, were charged with gross indecency at the Sculcoates Workhouse. Deputy Chief Constable Jones prosecuted.
The defendants were inmates of the workhouse and were seen together committing the offence with which they are charged.
Yesterday the Master [of the workhouse] was informed of what had taken place ,hence the prisoners arrest. Remanded eight days.

It is interesting to note that the blushes of the readers were spared by not going into more detail. In a similar case in Grimsby the year before hen three young shipping apprentices had been accused of the same offence the court had been ordered cleared of all females before the details of the charges were givenOne might also reflect that ,given the fact that even married couples were segregated it was perhaps surprising that more such incidents had not taken place!

Helen Smith, of Lincoln University, in her recent study “Masculinity ,Class and Same Sex Desires in Industrial England 1895-1959” observed that ‘men in the north seemed to come before judge and jury due to misfortune or stupidity’ Surely Robert and William must be counted among the unfortunate. Where else were they to make love?

There does appear, however, to be no evidence that the local police went on any of the organised persecutions of the 1950’s for example. Of course there were no ‘gay’ bars—-indeed even the word was not in use in the modern sense. But that did not mean that many men did not know where to go to meet other men in the hope of sex. There would have been the insulubrious public urinals and other places—-but also there would have been the public houses where some men went to look for women and others for other men. In a major port such as Hull there would have been no lack of such pubs.It was when they were trying to find some private place that there was likely to be difficulty—and danger!
It was almost exactly a year after Oscar Wilde had been sentenced to two years hard labour and the judge had bemoaned the fact that he could not hand down a harsher sentence. Oscar Wilde made his famous comment about ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ Meanwhile ,on the Derbyshire moors , Socialist and LGBt pioneer Edward Carpenter had set up his love nest with another man—-and was very willing to speak its name—-even if the word ‘homosexual’ had not yet been coined.

Sex, Liberty and Socialism at Millthorpe

---In A Free Society
—In A Free Society

Edward Carpenter [1844-1929] was a pioneer not only of the English Socialist movement but of sexual freedom and the fight against the subjection of women and colonial peoples. To Carpenter [most of whose works are sadly out of print] he argued that personal liberty, including same sex love was an integral part of socialism. Homogenic or Urania or the love between comrades , was innate and could not and should not be suppressed. Socialism without liberty was no socialism worthy of the name.Carpenter had bought Milthorpe with money inherited from his father in 1890. He had already been living openly with another man and in 1898 George Merrill—a young man from the Sheffield slums moved in with him and stayed together until Merrills death in 1928—-although not entirely monogomosly. Millthorpe became a centre or visiting young men from Sheffield, travelling socialists and literati. There is a story told by closet homosexual novelist E.M. Forster that he was so delighted at having his backside fondled by Merrill on a visit to Millthorpe in 1912 that he was inspired to pen one of the very earliest ‘gay’ novels—‘Maurice’ the following year. Typically though it was not published until after his death in 1970.
But there is no doubt whatsoever that George was the love of Edwards life. And he did not hide it. Or refrain from advocating it for others —as part pf a wider socialist liberationmerrill

Carpenter and Merrill at Millthorpe

This is not the place to write a detailed account of Carpenters contribution to the Socialist and Labour movement.In brief as early as 1880 he had set up the Sheffield Socialist Society, in 1893 he was a founder member of the ILP [see poster below] In 1896 he penned the once famous socialist anthem ‘England Arise’In 1924 he was honoured on the occasion of his 80th.birthday by the TUC -meeting in Hull- for the huge contribution that he had made to socialist thought and the labour movement

Poster from 1893 for meeting in Atterciffe , Sheffield to set up a branch of the ILP . The subject of his lecture—the future of labour-has a decidedly topical ring to it

Sex and Socialism in Poetry and Song

Finally—-to give an idea of the breadth of Carpenters achievements his homoerotic poem Summer Love and a very relevant verse from ‘England Arise’

Summer Heat by Edward Carpenter [extract]

Sun burning down on back and loins,penetrating the
skin,bathing their flanks in sweat,
Where they lie naked on the warm ground,and the
ferns arch over them,
Out in the woods, and the sweet scent of fir needles
Blends with the fragrant nearness of their bodies;

In-armed together ,murmuring,talking
Drunk with wine of Eros’ lips
Hourlong,while the great wind rushes in the branches,
And the blue above lies deep beyond the fern-fronds
and fir-tips;
Till,with the midday sun,fierce scorching,smiting
Up from their woodland lair they leap,and smite.
And strike with wands,and wrestle,and bruise each other,
In savage play and amorous despite

And from ‘England Arise’


“Across Your Face a Web of Lies is Woven
Laws that are falsehoods pin you to the ground
Labour is mocked—its just reward is stolen
On its bent back sits idleness encrowned
How long while you sleep
Your harvest shall it reap?
Arise, oh England—for the day is hear”

There can be little doubt that some of the lies and laws that are falsehoods that Carpenter was referring to were those on sexuality. There can be little doubt either that—-to an extent–in this respect England has indeed arise. But we still have a way to go. And many ,in an age of neo-liberalism-and ever increasing inequality–would recognise our just rewards being stolen.
Edward Carpenter wanted a society in which EVERYONE —regardless of gender,race or sexuality lived and worked together in Freedom ,Liberty and Equality. Some of Carpenters language may appear archaic but the essential message of no freedom without socialism and no socialism without freedom is absolutely bang up to date


Colin Livett Feb. 2016

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