Jul 23

Blue Plaque recognition for ‘illegal’ cross-dressing double act ‘Stella and Fanny’

Following on from my earlier post, you can read more about the day I unveiled the plaque at 13 Wakefield Street to commemorate Fanny & Stella.  This article was written by Alice Hutton and appeared in the Camden New Journal recently.

Neil McKenna and everyone under new plaque

A PLAQUE has been unveiled on a Bloomsbury church in honour of a Victorian cross-dressing double act who suffered national persecution 150 years ago.

Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park – better known by their stage names Stella and Fanny – lived at 13 Wakefield Street, from 1868 to 1870, when they were arrested and put on trial for  committing “felonious crimes” and “outraging decency”.

Although later acquitted in an important test case that exposed failings in the criminal justice system, they were subjected to humiliation and legally sanctioned homophobia.

Last Wednesday, a plaque was unveiled on the side of their old lodgings, now the United Reformed Church, following a campaign by the Marchmont Association, and a single, anonymous donation.

Mayor of Camden Jonathan Simpson and supporters, including Gay’s the Word, London’s oldest LGBT bookshop, applauded as it was revealed by Neil McKenna, author of the acclaimed biography, Fanny and Stella, published earlier this year.

Mr McKenna told the gathered crowd how on April 29, 1870, a policeman had knocked at the front door and burst into their room, discovering racks of dresses, petticoats, furs, rouge and “rather incongruously”, some chloroform, acting as both an aphrodisiac and a way for the pair to deal with “difficult visitors”.

The onlookers may have laughed but there was a more serious message behind the arrival of the plaque, the author from Highbury Fields said.

“It shows that we have come full circle,” he explained. “We have come from a time of extreme and profound homophobia and hatred to a time of tolerance and acceptance.”

Mr McKenna, whose biography, has now been optioned for a TV drama, continued: “They were accidental heroes and heroines but that does not take away from their courage and tenacity. The story of Fanny and Stella illustrates just how tough and hard and cruel it was.”

Rev Roberta Rominger, of the United Reformed Church, said: “They were flouting the law, because in those days who could imagine that the law would ever change and be how it is today?

“It is really out of that that this plaque needs to be here and we need to know.”