Archival Search Terms

The descriptions in archive catalogues will often use historical terms.  To find material it can helpful to use and understand these search terms. Some key terms are described here. Please be aware that these terms reflect historical attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people and are potentially offensive.  


Buggery was first legally defined in 1533 as “unnatural sexual acts against the will of god and man”; courts defined this as anal penetration and bestiality. 


Cottaging is a slang term for meeting in public places (often lavatories) for anonymous or semi-anonymous sex. 

Deviant & Deviancy

Negative societal attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people and behaviours meant they were sometimes labelled deviant i.e. different from the norm. 

Disorderly house

Following the 1751 Disorderly Houses Act a “disorderly house” was one that caused a public nuisance or where its occupants gather for the purposes of crime or immorality.

Gross Indecency

Gross indecency is a legal term that refers any sexual acts between men that aren’t sodomy. It was introduced in the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act which is often known as the Labouchere Amendment.


The term ‘homosexuality’ was coined in the second half of the 19th century by German-Hungarian Károly Mária Kertbeny when writing in opposition of anti-sodomy laws. 


Negative societal attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people and behaviours meant they were sometimes labelled indecent.  


Molly an 18th Century English slang term for a gay man.

Molly House

In the 18th century a molly house was a venue where gay men would meet to socialise and meet sexual partners.

Sexual Offence

The criminalisation of sex between men means that it was classed as a sexual offence.  


Since 1533 sodomy was a criminal offence and is broadly defined as any “unnatural sex act”. Specifically, it refers to anal sex or bestiality.


A Transvestite or transvestitism is used describe a person wearing clothes usually associated with another gender.


Same sex attraction and sex has been described as unnatural.

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