This scandal has lost a lot of its fame due to another homosexual scandal that emerged a year or so later, about a certain Irish poet and a peer of the realm...
But in 1889, there existed a male brothel in Cleveland Street, London. It was a higher class of brothel, set in Fitzrovia, Central London, and attracted a higher range of clients. It was likely that the brothel would have continued unimpeded, for it's very probable that the constabulary were well aware of its existence had it not been for a spate of thefts at the Central Telegraph Office.
Whilst investigating these thefts, Police Constable Luke Hanks was interviewing and searching the staff. Telegraph boys were forbidden to carry personal money on them, as they had to handle money in the course of their business, and Hanks found one young man having the sum of fourteen shillings on him. A sum that was, in that time, the equivalent of many weeks work at the Telegraph Office and one that is worth around £400 in today's money.
When pressed, the telegraph boy, one Charles Thomas Swinscow, admitted that he hadn't stolen it, but had earned it as a prostitute at 19 Cleveland Street, employed by a man called Charles Hammond. He said he'd been introduced to Hammond by others in the Telegraph Office. It transpired that several young men worked for Hammond and statements were taken from them all.
Hanks realised that this matter needed to go further up the chain of command and the case was delegated to Detective Inspector Frederick Abberline. Abberline went to arrest Hammond but he'd fled--one of the young men, Henry Newlove, had tipped him off, but Newlove himself hadn't been able to get away and was taken to the police station. Once in custody, he named names--notable names--and the scandal began to leak out.
He named Henry FitzRoy, Earl of Euston, (who later successfully sued the newspapers for naming him as a client of Cleveland Street), Colonel Henry Jervois, and worst of all Lord Arthur Somerset, Equerry to the Prince of Wales. The police and government were reluctant to act due to the sensitive nature of the business and the high profile accused clients. They continued to search for other clients of the brothel, which of course had been closed down.
Then in August they went to arrest George Veck--a man who posed as a clergyman (an offence in itself) and a close friend of Hammond. A rentboy found in Veck's rooms told the police where to find him, and upon his arrest he was found to be holding incriminating letters from one Algernon Allies. When questioned, Allies said that he'd been working at Cleveland Street--and he confirmed that he'd been in a relationship with Somerset, and had been receiving money for sexual favours. After the police interviewed him, Somerset left the country for Germany.
Shortly afterward, Veck and Henry Newlove went to trial. But guess who their lawyer was? None other than Lord Somerset's own solicitor, Arthur Newton! And guess who paid the legal fees? Yep. Lord Somerset. As you can imagine, the press was having a field day by this point. NOBS NOB RENT BOYS!!! would be the headlines in the press today. The press were vitriolic about the aristocracy indulging in vice.
Due to the fact that Newlove and Veck both pled guilty to indecency, their sentences were "lenient." They were sentenced to four and nine months' hard labour. Other telegraph boys also caught up in the trial were dealt with leniently. Hammond was never extradited and the charges were eventually dropped.
As for Somerset himself--his life was never the same. He attempted several times to return to England, but risk of arrest kept him having to leave again. He eventually spent his life in France.
The trial, with its intermittent flare ups thereafter in the press, which reinforced negative attitudes about homosexuality as an aristocratic vice, kept homosexuality high in the public eye. Details had been available to the public in a way it never had been before. This didn't help Oscar Wilde when, a few years later, he was tried for gross indecency.
Despite the fact that Prince Albert Victor (pictured) had never been mentioned in the press (this was not allowed as he had not been brought into the trial--oh, HOW things have changed, eh?), speculation rumbles on from that day to this as to whether the second-in-line to the throne had ever been a customer of the notorious 19 Cleveland Street. The American press certainly seemed to have no such scruples on the matter: