We have been busy preparing copies of one of our more unusual sets of photographs to go on display in Chelmsford Library, before going on tour to other libraries around the county.
We are very fortunate to have c.7,000 images from the Spalding family (three generations of the family, all named Fred, worked as professional photographers), taken in the last half of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century.
One of the more unusual sets of photographs within the collection is a series of portraits of two young men, Frederick William Park and Ernest Boulton, taken in c.1869.
Park and Boulton were popular theatrical players during the late 1860s, and were better known as their female alter egos, Fanny and Stella.
Along with several other players they were performing with in Chelmsford, the pair commissioned the portraits from Spalding, and copies of the photographs were sold in great numbers, presumably to their audiences.
Female impersonation was a fairly widespread and acceptable form of entertainment, but the pair found themselves in trouble when they began to take their act off stage. Often travelling to and from their performances in costume, initially they attracted little attention, but eventually they gained a certain moral notoriety, visiting theatres in female dress as patrons and frequenting the Burlington Arcade dressed as and claiming to be women. They were arrested by the Metropolitan Police in 1870 and involved in a major court case at Queen’s Bench in May 1871. Park and Boulton were charged with “conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence”.
Amongst the evidence produced at the trial was the existence of “an album with photographs beautifully executed of Boulton in female attire”. Possibly this could have included Spalding’s studio portraits.
It is not known whether Park’s family connections in the legal sphere – his father was one of the Masters of the Court of Common Pleas – had any significant part to play in the trial, for Park’s father appeared as a witness for the defence and the two men were eventually acquitted. The verdict was greeted with popular acclaim and Park and Boulton disappeared from the public eye for good.
A selection of Spalding’s portraits of Boulton and Park will be on display in Chelmsford Library throughout March, before touring around other libraries around the county. The display marks the publication of a new book investigating the case by Neil McKenna, Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England, which will shortly be available to borrow from Essex Libraries.
Neil McKenna will be reading extracts from his book and taking questions at Chelmsford Library on Thursday 14 March 2013 at 7:30pm as part of the Essex Book Festival. To book tickets please call the Box Office on 01206 573948 or book online.