"Lewd & Obscene Entertainment" at the Lecture Hall



“Strange Proceedings at the North-Street Lecture Hall” was the heading  of an article in the Leeds Mercury Newspaper of 3rd September 1878 and described the lively activities in that establishment ….activities, which today would hardly warrant a few lines in any newspaper, but in 1878 were described as most lewd and obscene entertainment

The case was heard in Leeds against an elderly man, William Pratt, a 69 year old cloth-dresser, who was charged with selling beer without a license and managing a disorderley house, along with Edwin Bancroft, a 40 year old labourer of St Peter’s Street, who was charged with assisting in the management of a disorderly house.
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The police stated that acting on information received by them, they had cause to visit the Lecture Hall on North Street Leeds at about 12.50 in the morning, and this is how the newspaper describes the scene they were met with when they arrived!

“The door was fastened, but on making use of the password “Rachel”, the prisoner Bancroft admitted them. On proceeding upstairs to the large hall they found about a hundred persons assembled….three women, and the rest men. About twenty or thirty of the men however were dressed in female’s cloths. There were two dressing-rooms and persons were going in and out of them. Some of the men were only partly clothed, and one man who was dancing in the middle of the room, had only a cloak and girdle on. As he danced the cloak flew back and exposed his body. Whilst dancing, one of the men who was dressed as a woman purposely fell and a number of other men threw themselves upon him whilst on the ground, and indecent familiarities took place. During the dances, the dancers kissed and conducted themselves indecently towards each other. The prisoner Pratt was in the room the whole time, and Bancroft came in occasionally. A large stone bottle could be seen which would hold about six gallons of beer, and there were glasses about containing beer. There was also a box present, which contained spirits, gin and whiskey.”

The prosecution requested a remand in custody until the following week when the case was due to be heard for further evidence to be obtained, “as the particular of the case were too monstrous to admit of such a thing”, the defence solicitors requested bail on the defendants own recogniances…..both prisoners were remanded to the following week, bail being refused.

The full details of the case were heard the following week when Edwin Bancroft’s defence stated that The North Street Lecture Hall was normally let to a society known as the Secularists’ Society, who then sublet it for lectures, music and dancing etc and that some time ago some people engaged it for a dance. Bancroft was the hall-keeper engaged by the Secular Society, and his only duties were to make sure the hall was opened and then closed when a function was over. He had no power whatsoever in directing what was going on, and consequently could not have interfered. He had only been at the door a few minutes when the police arrived because Mr Pratt was away for a few minutes. Pratt had told him that he was to let no one in without a ticket or a shilling, and to let no one out without giving them a password, by which they could re-enter

More evidence was hear from various witnesses, and at the end, the Stipendiary Magistrate Mr Bruce stated that Pratt was in management of the affair, with Bancroft as his servant and  therefore both men must have known something of what was going on. He therefore ordered Pratt to be imprisoned for a month, and Bancroft be fined 60 shillings including costs. He said he did not consider Bancroft to be the main offender in this case. The main offenders were the people who let the hall for the purpose of “a most lewd and obscene entertainment” and as a consequence of this he would be recommending that the music licence for the Hall be forfeited as he was satisfied that what had taken place was sufficient to bring the room under the heading of a "disorderly house"

Edwin was the son of Joseph  and Martha Bancroft and was born around 1829 in Lightcliffe near Halifax. The census records for 1871 show Edwin living at Davenport Square in the St Pater's area of Leeds, with his wife, Mary Ann, but no children and his listed occupation at that time was 'Mechanic'. By 1881, he looks to have moved up in the world to some extend, he was now living at 48 Duke Street in a different part of Leeds and his occupation was then given as 'Rent and Debt Agent'. He then had his widowed mother, Martha, living with him and his wife.

Lecture Hall circa 1860's
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