Friday, 2 February 2018

Cross Dressing in Victorian Cardiff: Usurping the Masculine Prerogative

I love this. I can picture Ann Williams, pissed after an all night bender on Whitmore Lane, being stopped by the bemused copper at 9 o'clock Sunday morning as she strides towards him dressed as a sailor. Her reply to his question of 'why?' is also class, she wants what any sailor on shore wants, more booze.

This blog post looks at one of the subversive ways in which the 'working girls' of Victorian Cardiff had fun. It's another offshoot subject from my book on two very notorious Cardiff streets, the introduction to which can be found here

Looking at the end of this newspaper article, from February 1855, it's quite sad that a bunch of rich, entitled, middle-aged men would consider a 'good-looking girl of light fame' dressing up as a sailor as a threat to their 'masculine prerogative'. 
Ann Williams was obviously just having fun but she got two weeks in gaol for it. Ann, 28 years old when this happened, had probably been drinking throughout the night at the brothel she ran with her 'husband' Ned Llewellyn. They'd been together for at least 8 years and I bet she'd borrowed some clothes from a customer at the brothel. 

Ann's antics were unusual but not unique. 
In May of 1855 Sarah Ann Hopkins was dressed as a sailor on Bute Street at 11 o'clock at night:
She had a large number of people around her, was identified as a prostitute and was charged for obstructing the footway, which was a convenient charge often levelled at prostitutes who were hanging about on the street. Neither the newspaper or court record gives any explanation as to why, it was probably just for fun. 
On Bonfire Night in 1856 Caroline Williams appeared in court dressed in men's clothes after being apprehended the night before on the dock road. 
She didn't fancy staying at the Workhouse and was out within a few weeks and back working. She was working in Mary the Cripple's brothel two years later and by 1861 she'd been arrested 20 times. By 1863 this had increased to 35 arrests. Caroline had a daughter in the workhouse in 1869 but the poor thing only lasted a few weeks of life. 
In December of the same year 17 year old Ann Amos was picked up in the evening dressed as a sailor:
Here the newspaper interprets her dressing as a sailor to avoid being arrested for soliciting, implying that many others had. Perhaps this was the case, I suppose the women could walk away when they saw a copper and surprise the sailor up close. Ann may have been sent to Newport but she came back to Cardiff and was living in a brothel on Peel Street by 1861. 

On the 24th May 1858 19 year old Whitmore Lane girl Elizabeth Ford (the newspaper name is wrong) was found on the Canton Road at night in men's clothes too. 
Because she was a prostitute, or 'femme galante', the magistrates thought she was up to no good. She was arrested for 'intention of committing a felony' and got her seven days prison for 'Indecent Behaviour'.
When she says she did it for fun I believe her. Elizabeth had been a prostitute on Whitmore Lane since she was 17, having been turned out by her father and wicked step-mother aged 16. By 1860 fun loving Liz Ford had lost an eye, probably in an assault by a customer or a bully, and she was still a working girl three years later in 1863. She is probably the same Elizabeth Ford 'a woman of bad character' who was arrested for being drunk and improper in 1872 when she would have been 32.
In 1860 Ellen Hall was standing at the doorway of the brothel at 25 Whitmore Lane making a great noise and dressed in men's clothes. No reason is given in the court records.
Ellen Thomas went one better in December 1861 when she stole a soldiers clothes, presumably while he was asleep in a brothel, and went on the parade on Bute Street early in the morning:

Men had the same issue too it seems. When an Italian sailor was found on Bute Street in 1853 wearing 'a blue cotton frock, red plaid shawl, a victorina and velvet bonnet with flowers in it' he was told that might be okay in Italy but 'in this country people were not allowed to play off such pranks.' He was dealt with lightly as he was a foreigner and fined ten shillings. 

I know that some women dressed as men to pass themselves off for work, such as Susan Brunin of Newport who was arrested in Cardiff for being drunk in August 1853. She was arrested while walking with a girl and found to be a woman dressed as a sailor. She'd come off the ship Eliza and had signed articles (a contract) to go on her next voyage too. I've found no evidence of other women, or men, continually cross dressing as a lifestyle from 1840-1860. 

The girls from Whitmore Lane and Charlotte Street, being social outsiders, were probably well aware of the subversive, trouble making nature of the act and the law enforcers punished them for it. Also, as in the words of the great Cyndi Lauper, they probably just wanted to have fun (but of course they got punished for that too).


The PSCBO/1/ references are the Petty Sessional Records (otherwise known as the Police Courts) held at Glamorgan Record Office.
Ann Williams: Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian 1855 February 9th p.4.
Sarah Hopkins: CMG 1855 May 19th p.3. Possibly living on Whitmore Lane see CMG 1852 December 18th p.4. There is a Sarah Hopkins running a brothel at 5 Whitmore Lane on the 1851 census but she would be 40 years old at the time of wearing the sailors clothes, I think the newspaper would have commented on this. 

Caroline Williams: Male dress see Monmouthshire Merlin 1856 November 8th p.5. Out and working CMG 1856 November 29th p.8. Drunk and disorderly CMG 1856 December 6th p.8. Working at the Farmer's Arms CMG August 28th p.6. Veteran Offender Cardiff Mercury 1861 July 6th p.3. 35 convictions CMG 1863 December 4th p.7. Daughter baptised July 4th Cardiff St John n.3. Death Sept quarter Cardiff 11a 133. The report 'Frail Daughter of Eve' gives an insight into her life when she appeared 'without her head covered' with a load of sailors, she swore at the arresting policeman then hit him over the head in the police station as he read the charge CMG 1859 May 21st p.6.

Ann Amos CMG 1856 December 13th p.8. also PSCBO/1/18 Ann Amos 10th December. There's not many references to Ann Amos but there is one PSCBO/1/23 Ann Amos 25th May 1859 and brothel at 40 Peel Street 1861 census Cardiff St Mary RG9/4036 F.20 p.32. 

Elizabeth Ford: Newspaper see CMG 1858 May 29th p.8. For her proper name and the time of day see  PSCBO/1/20 Elizabeth Ford 25th May 1858 and also PSCBO/1/21 Elizabeth Ford 26th May 1858. For Whitmore Lane brothel theft in same year see MM 1858 September 11th p.3. where she got gaoled for nine months at the assizes see MM 1858 December 11th p.8. For early life see CMG 1856 February 16th p.8. Also see Cardiff Times 1859 September 17th p.4. MM 1856 May 24th p.5. For lost eye see MM 1860 March 24th p.8. For last brothel reference CT 1864 October 28th p.8. and last reference CMG 1872 February 17th p.6.  For baptism at St John and St Mary's Cardiff on October 29th 1839 no.1185.
Ellen Hall CMG 18 August 1860 p.6. and little more info at PSCBO/1/29 Ellen Hall 14th August 1860.
Ellen Thomas CT 6 December 1861 p.7. and PSCBO/1/35 2nd December
Susan Brunin MM 1855 August 18th p.4. CMG 1855 August 18th p.6. She is Sarah Bruton in the court records PSCBO/1/16 Sarah Bruton 16th August 1855. 
David Walgoria CMG 1853 November 26th p.4.

All images are courtesy of the wonderful Welsh Newspapers Online site which can be found here

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