by Yvonne Sinclair
Queen Victoria was still wearing widow's weeds for her lost Consort, but only she was now in mourning. The lively society that moved out and about were discovering the new Music Halls, and the Theatres which formed the new Mecca; drawing the populace to the West End to enjoy their new-found freedoms in the world of entertainment. In the early evening of April 28th, 1870, the cabs that drew up outside the Strand Theatre deposited young blades and their pretty escorts in shimmering gowns of silk and satin, alighting with squeals of laughter and cries of greeting to friends already there. Little did these people who had come to-enjoy the night's performance realise that they were about to become the astonished players in a real life performance
In the Strand Theatre bar the sound of clinking glasses mingled with the hubbub of voices, as friend toasted friend; the tinkling laughter of excited women and the rustle of silken clothes as they moved from group to group.
The air was heavy with smoke that hung in a cloud, wafting in banks at the swish of the fans which the ladies used to cool themselves. The air in the bar was heavy and sticky on this cool spring evening, the gas mantles flickering as the doors swung open to admit new arrivals. The waiters darted back and forth bringing buckets with champagne and trays laden with foaming beer.
Near the bar at a table already awash with drinks sat two ladies dressed in fashionable evening wear, elegantly sipping wine from crystal glasses. One wore a flounced red satin skirt which, as she deftly smoothed it, revealed the hem of scalloped lace edging on her white satin petticoat. She touched her jewelled throat delicately with her lacegloved fingertips as she softly laughed at her friend's comments. Her hair was swept back in a cascade of thick ringlets, its lustre enhanced with red ribbons to match the skirt. Her organza blouse caught the light with myriads of tiny flashes.
Her companion was dressed in a heavy cream velvet skirt with a sash of satin tied in a large bow above the bustle. Her sheer chiffon blouse revealed the outline of her white chemise, with its froth of lace, following the line of her bosom. Her hair was swept up in plaits, decorated with small silken flowers which set off her red lips and almost white skin of her delicate face.
She now swept the fullness of her skirt back from the passage between the tables as the room filled with the revellers, giving a tantalising glimpse of tiered petticoats of white satin with hems of coffee lace and piping that ran around from ruffle to ruffle to finish in a lovers' knot.
Their escorts, in white tie and tails, smiling, bent low to catch the murmured "Thank you" as the glasse9,'wef again refilled; turning to each otherwith knowing smiles at their good fortune; hosts to these two beauties who attracted the eye of every man in the bar.
By now the bar was filled with people awaiting the bell to signal the overture, but just before it was sounded the bar doors swung open again. The usher stepped back in surprise as two uniformed policemen entered, stopped, and surveyed the room, looking intently into the faces of the occupants of the bar.
Those closest to the two policemen stopped talking, and as more of the audience noticed the officers the noise fell from a confused babble of voices to a hushed silence. A girl's laughter broke in mid-point to fall into embarassed silence.
Now the two policemen had sighted their quarry and began to move forward across the crowded room, those in their path falling back to either side as they progressed, turning to stare at their broad backs after they had passed. The officers halted in front of the table at which sat the two young ladies and their handsome escorts. The two young men looked at each other, and then one leaned forward to speak, but was silenced by the stern look on the face of the elder of the two policemen, wearing the chevrons of a sergeant. In a voice louder than was necessary the sergeant spoke.
"Mr. Ernest Boulton? Mr. Frederick Park? It is my duty to inform you that you are under arrest!" Gasps of horror filled the air as the sergeant continued, "I should warn you that anything you say will be taken down in writing, and may be used in evidence against you I "
One of the young men stood up, gasping with astonishment. "Surely you are mistaken, officer? We are not Mr. Em . . .
"I was not talking to you sir, but to the persons sitting there" said the sergeant. The other gentleman now rose, and with a hint of anger in his voice began, "How dare you, sirl These ladies are with . . . ."
"Hush, now; Sir! " said the constable, but the young man took another pace forward. "Do you know who l am, sir? I have . . ."But the sergeant stopped him, "No, Sir, I do not know who you are, neither do I wish to. I would advise you to keep quiet or you may find yourself charged with obstructing the law!" He looked down at the two ladies with a slight smile, and in a softer voice said, "But we know each other, don't we girls? Come along_ Stella, and Fanny; No fuss, lads, \let's go and see the inspector now" They rose, and Fanny turned to speak. "I'm so sorry, Roger, and Paul!" Then, turning to Stella, she placed a silken shawl over her head and shoulders and turned to go.
The first escort turned to the policeman. "But surely there must be some mistake? You spoke of a Mr. Bolton; and a Mr. Park. These are two ladies that we-" "Sir, these two ladies are not what
they seem, but are in fact two men, whom we know quite well. Now, if you please, Sir, we shall be on our way, Sir!"
"MEN!" "MEN I"-the words flew around the room as some craned their necks to see. The two gentlemen looked aghast at each other; others now gaped at the women, looking at each other in disbelief. "They're MEN?", as if to question the evidence of their own eyes, staring at each other in silent questioning. "Are you a woman, or are you a male?"
The two women/men now gracefully moved forward with the police towards the door, and those who had pressed forward to see now found other stepping back on their toes to make a pathway for the swishing skirts, which were lifted daintily to clear the floor, bringing involuntary murmurs of admiration from the women in the room.
"Mother!" cried a young woman, "They are wearing petticoats, and look, they are surely wearing . . . " "Why, I am sure they are wearing stays, too! Look at those waists! Do you think they are wearing drawe . . "
A male voice cut short the chatter, "Be quiet, Mary! Remember where you are! " "But Robert! To think they are men! Why, they look so feminine; and their dresses, well, they must have come from Bond Street, so very elegant! "
A male snort of disgust, "I say they need horsewhipping, I mean, it's disgusting! " "John, darling" said a young lady, "Are theythose men that, well, you know . . . ?" "What, Vicky? Ohl Now where did you hear that from? You women should have better things to talk aboutl What will you ask next I wonder?" "But John, didn't you have a friend that was
like that? You remember; that sweet young man that Auntie Sophie said was sure would make a better girl than a boy in that game of charades we played at cousin Paul's last Christmas? The one that you tried to kiss under the mistle
toe? You must remember, Johnl, as we all had such a laugh after we told you I OH! John! You're hurting my arm! Anyway, the curtain hasn't gone up yet and I heard that Miss Vesta Tilley is on tonight, so it should be a good show. Yes, I know, Alice, she dresses up as a sailor boy! How lovely, don't you agree, John?"
The two gentlemen escorts now attracted the curious gaze of everyone in the room after the police had left, flushing scarlet as the murmuring and stares grew. They looked down at their shoes and hurried to the cloakroom to retrieve their hats and canes. "But Roger - I had no more idea than you when we met them at the Hunt Ball! You said yourself that they wore the prettiest dresses you had ever seen, and that we were damned lucky to meet them again at
the party which your cousins had at their country place last week!"
"For Heaven's sake be quiet. Paul" said Roger, "and let's get away from here!"
The reporter was about to pose another question but, finding himself alone on the pavement, shrugged, and went into the theatre to see if he could find more about the incident.
IS ITA MURDER?
Outside a small crowd had been drawn by the sight of the Black Maria, and excited voices were asking, "What's up?" "Is it a murder?" As the police told them to 'move along there, please', one small urchin asked, "What's up, mister?" The policeman smiled at the lad, saying, "Come on, son, or I'll have to run you in as well I "
Just then the theatre entrance doors opened and the two ladies stepped out, escorted by the sergeant and constable who had made the arrest.
"Hey, look!" shouted a bystander, "It's Stella and Fannyl They're bein' run inl"
"Wotcherl" cried one young man, "It's Stella the fellerl", grinning hugely at his own cleverness.
An old crone turned to the ladies and shouted, 'You'll be orl rite where you're goin' tonight! Plenty of young men there I", baring the blackened stumps of teeth as she broke into an oscene cackle.
Fanny smiled bitterly and lifted her/his skirts high to avoid the rubbish that littered the street. She climbed into the horse-drawn vehicle provided by the law, followed by Stella, the door was slammed shut behind them, and the Black Maria drew away.
A man stopped to speak to the bystanders, scribbling their answers down in a notebook. As the crowd dwindled away, the 'fun' now being over, he turned his attention to two smartly clad young men who were leaving the theatre.
"I say, do either of you know anything about two men who were dressed as women?" he asked the two.
"Bugger off! It's none of . . ."
"Oh, come on, Rogerl Leave itl" said his companion irritably, and they stalked off down the road.
The next morning the papers made a headline case of the incident, and Londoners read at breakfast about'two men completely attired in female dress' who had been arrested the previous night at the Strand theatre.
On the street corners the paperboys yelled "Read aller-baht-it! Men dressed up as wimmin arrested!".
Outside Bow Street police station a small crowd began to gather. Errand boys dawdled on their bikes, whistling through their teeth and waiting for the chance to exercise their wit on whoever was brought out. Tradesmen stood to smile and gawp, their carts hampering the traffic, and others climbed up on to: the carts to obtain a better view of the police station door. A sandwich board man joined the throng crying "The end is nigh!" - his placard,bore the message 'Sodom and Gomorrah is with us'.
Now the Black Maria was having to force its way slowly through the throng, which was developing an air of gaiety as quips and jokes flew back and forth. The station policemen came out, forcing a passage to the waiting van, linking arms so that the crowd was held back to allow room for the 'miscreants' to pass by.'
The chatter died down to a murmur, then an expectant silence fell as all eyes were fixed on the door of the station.
The doors opened, and with one policemen on each side of them the two 'girls' stepped out, blinking in the sudden light of day. A ragged cheer greeted them. taking them by surprise, and then the cheer changed to ribald remarks, bursts of laughter and catcalls, as they daintily lifted their skirts to negotiate the flight of stairs from the door to the pavement.
One young constable was grinning -
until he caught the forbidding eye of the station sergeant, who was a kindly man who knew Fanny and Stella of old. As the two girls took dainty steps across the pavement to the cobbled road a silence fell on the crowd.
As they stepped off the kerb, Fanny stumbled on one of the rough cobbles, and a policeman's arm shot out to steady her. She turned, smiling, and thanked him; turning away quickly when she saw the embarrassment on his face at the fact that he had offered, as any gentleman would, his aid to a lady-but, then, Fanny was not a lady I
The newspaper reporters and artists missed nothing, as their pencils flew across their notebooks and sketch blocks, expertly catching in words and drawings the details and appearance of the two; their elegant gowns and calm dignity of their faces, still well-groomed and apparently unshaken by their unfortunate plight.
The crowd now seemed unsure whether to boo or cheer, seemingly amazed that the sight was somehow not odd at all. The two certainly looked female, and moved as such; could this most attractive pair really be men? Were these the two'freaks' they had come to see?
Fanny now mounted the steps of the Black Maria, and as she reached the top a few cheers began to sound-this time sympathetic rather than sarcastic. A voice called out above the cheers, "Good luck, Fannyl" and, turning towards the sound, Fanny blew a kiss towards the man who had shouted, and was now standing his ground defying anyone to make comment.
Stella followed her into the van, the door was once again slammed on them,
and it drove away to the sounds of cheers and friendly calls of good luck. The crowd began to disperse as people went about their business; only one person still stood watching the departing van; the man who had first cried good luck to Fanny.
A policeman turned towards him; the same policemen who had offered his arm to Fanny when she stumbled.
"It takes all sorts, Sirl"
The man looked quickly at the policeman, then relaxed and sighed. He spoke softly. "Yes, indeed, officer, you're right. Who are we to sit in judgement of God's own work?". He walked quietly away, and the young constable felt glad that he had offered help, because, as he mused to himself often during the day, "She was a lady, whatever others may say".
BOW STREET COURT
At Bow Street Court again the pavement was crowded with onlookers. It even seemed to be the same faces, for all crowds look alike. As the Black Maria halted a cheer rose. The doors were opened, and a policeman entered the dark area inside. The crowd fell silent; suddenly the air grew tense, even threatening as the door remained open. "What's UP then?" queried voices, "Why don't they bring 'em out?"
A louder voice rang above the others, "Here, Stellal Wot yer doin' with that young bobbie in there? Popes you're not playin' wiv his truncheon l"
Laughter broke the chill as more ribald remarks sailed through the air, and the policeman emerged from the van doorway. Handcuffed to his wrist was Fanny, and he pulled her roughly after him, glaring at the crowd in anger. .
"Does yer muvver know abaht yergirlfriend, then?"
Too late, the policemen realised that he was now the butt of the crowd's jokes, and that in treating Fanny roughly he had let his temper rule his head.
The crowd were now cheering the'in
famous' two girls, and the police were the villains I
Stella and Fanny, realising the change in the mood of the crowd, played up to them beautifully, smiling and waving as the police tried to hurry them into the Court. The crowd were delighted as they over-acted the roles they were dressed in, but the distance was short, and too soon they disappeared from view.
Stella and Fanny now had to face their trial, the charges laid being that "They did conspire to commit a felony"
The courtroom was filled with learned counsel, the public gallerywas crowded, and there was muich to-ing and fro-ing, hushed whispers and muted giggles.
The press benches were also filled, with latecomers pushing the others together in order to get in.
Lawyers in their black gowns and wigs stood in groups, muttering and opening books of law; riffling through the pages to point out this passage or that. Some nodded in agreement, others stood with hands on hip and head as they listened to older members who quietly made the gestures of those who know the law backwards.
The Clerk of the Court made his way to the Judge's dais, placed some papers on the desk, and fell into quiet conversation with the recorder, who was cleaning his nails with a quill with a bored air of 'I've seen it all before'. '
The door of the Judge's room opened slightly and then closed again, lawyers quickly moved to their allotted places and sat down, the hubbub died down and stilled, and the Usher walked in briskly.
"Be upstanding for his Lordship. . ." The Court rose as one as the Judges walked in to their seats and sat down, looking round with faint amusement at such a large gathering. They looked at the papers set before them, glancing up only to see if counsel was ready. His Lordship gave a brief nod to one, who
rose. gave another nod, and sat down again. The public shuffled and snorted, wondering when something was going to happen.
"Silence in Courtl"
The Clerk stood up and read the charge, ". . . conspiracy to commit a felony on the 28th day of April 1870 at the.... "
. . . witness for the prosecution P.C.154, Trout . . . "
"Bring up the prisoners . . "
The door of the dock opened and a policeman marched up the steps followed by Fanny and Stella. The public craned forward to get a better view as all eyes turned to the dock.
The Judge also leaned forward, smiling faintly as he spoke. "I believe you stated MR. Ernest Boulton, and MR. Frederick Parks? We seem to have the wrong prisonesl . . from the manner of their dress . . . ?"
"No, you Lordship; these two ladies, er, I mean gentlemen, are dressed in female attire, sir, and were doing so when arrested, er, as stated in the charge"
The Judge sat back, allowing the humour to be savoured to the full, and spoke again, "You're quite sure? One would not like to judge the wrong prisoners by mistake I"
"Quite sure, my Lord"
"Thank you I Please continue; how do they plead?"
"Not guilty, my Lord"
The Usher called for silence as counsel stood up and called the first witness. P.C. Higgins took the stand.
"Do you . . . "
. . . then asked the person if they knew that they were in fact men, and he replied, 'What do you mean, they are men? . . . . and during the search of Mr. Parks room, letters were found which state quite clearly . . . in the letter a Mr. John Stafford, the American Consul for Leith has written, 'My Darling Erne . . , He tells me you are living in drag, I have a mind to come to London
myself to see your magnificence with my own eyes' "
The Judge looked across to Stella, raised his eyebrows, and then nodded as if in agreement with the evidence.
" . . . and in this letter you will hear that the writer states ' . . even in town I would not take you to the Derby' "
"The Derby?" asked his Lordship.
"A club, your Lordship, in the Haymarket, where certain types of people meet. That is, er, like the prisoners, er, men, who prefer, that is, the company of other men, rather than,er. . . . "
"Thank you my learned friend" said the Judge, laying heavy emphasis on the last two words.
A ripple of amusement ran through the court.
"The Courtwill rise until two o'clock" "Be upstanding for his Lordship . . " The prisoners returned to the dock,
flanked by the police. The Judge looked kindly across to them. "Perhaps you would like to sit down ladies - um, I mean, of course, gentlemen" looking down at his desk to hide his smile. He turned to the others, "Mostconfusipgl"
" . . . and that, your Lordship, concludes the case for the prosecution." The defending counsel rose to his feet, "Call P.C. Higgins."
" . . . and I submit that at no time did the defendants threaten Mr. Peter . . . he replied that he knew they were men that dressed in women's . . . ' "
" . . . P.C. Trout, I ask you again, and l remind you that you are under oath, did you see either of the defendants ask for money?"
" . . . he stated that he had bought the dresses willingly, and that he knew the money given was a gift . . .
" . . . now, Mr. Lyons, how" long have you known the two ladies -er-gentlemen?"
"Two years, and . . . "
" . . . and did you not try to force your will upon . . "
" . . . and, when they refused, did
you not lay charges against the two?"
. . . I think, sir, you are a liar, and a cheat, and what is more, . . . " "Thank you, Mr. Lyons, that will be all" "Call Mrs. Boultonl"
Now, Mrs. Boulton, please tell the court about your son."
" . . . and when he was six years old he was alwaysdressing in his sister's clothes . . . my sister, his aunt, never knew it was him, she thought we had a padourmaid; it was his joke, so to speak. Then, when he was twelve, he started work in a store, but when he found out the girls were getting three shillings a week then he went back to work as a woman, like!"
"Mrs. Boulton, has he been a good son?"
"Yes, he has, although he don't live at home, and as he spends all his time dressed as a female, when he does visit it's more like being visited by a daughter." "Does he give you money?"
"Yes sir, and the other girl -I mean the
man with him now - although I thought she was a woman. I ain't never been so well off before!"
"Did you know how he earned' the money?"
"No sir, he never said, though he spoke of men friends."
"Did you know your son was a male prostitute?"
"He ain't one of those sirl He's a good boyl He just likes wearing ladies' clothes, he always has, he means no harm. I've seen those other men, sir, and they don't dress like he does; they don't dress like ladies, not like him sir. He's more a lady than some what I've scrubbed floors for l"
"Thank you, Mrs. Boulton, that will be all."
"The defence rests."
The Judge looked across at the prosecuting bench.
"No questions, my Lord!" SUMMING UP
" . . . and we have heard from Mr. Lyons that . . . you heard the mother state that her son dressed from an early age in womens' clothes and . . . whatever reasons the male person has for wanting to spend his time dressed in the . . . the police have given evidence that, on many occasions, they have seen both in music halls, where they left on the arms of men for what we can only assume was sexual reasons, yet we have only the statement of one, somewhat dubious, witness to this effect, which leaves a great deal to be desired . . . therefore it is your duty, members of the jury, to decide . . . on the evidence which has been presented in this . . . thank you."
"How do you find the accused? Guilty or Not Guilty?"
"Not Guilty, your Lordship!"
Thank you, Mr. Foreman; you are discharged", then, turning to Stella and Fanny, the Judge said, "You are free to go", and he smiled at them as though he