Thursday, 30 December 2010

History Carnival - January 2011

This month's History Carnival has a women's history bias, but it is also heavily seasoned with other topics - from the history of the Ashes to celebrity quacks. Enjoy!

Bloggers behind the scenes at museums and archives

Wellcome Library blog - a day in the life of a historical picture researcher

The Stuff Curator - a new blog by a museum curator

British Pathe blog - footage discovered of 'The Red Woman of Paris' – the scandalous Madame Steinheil

Sporting life
Idle Historian - a little bit about the Ashes

A Welsh wizard
BBC Wales History blog - Elizabethan astrologer and rumoured magician, Dr John Dee

Exploring an ancient tomb
Zenobia Empress of the East - the secret language of Palmyra

Following in Mrs Gaskell's footsteps
Gaskell blog - an interview with Monica Fairview, an author who lives in Elizabeth Gaskell's former home

Student Loans - in 1906
Cat's Meat Shop - find out what the Edwardians thought about higher education

Myth and medicine 
The Quack Doctor- a Victorian Celebrity Quack

The Chirurgeon's Apprentice - syphilis and ‘Syphilophobes’ in Early Modern England

Female monarchs
Philobiblon - the pre-Elizabethan female rulers of England

Victorian pawnbrokers
The Property Historian - property & pawnbrokers in Victorian society

The world of Edgar Allen Poe
World of Poe - a fascinating blog about this curious literary figure

HIstory in the headlines
Yesterday's Papers - American editorial cartoonists in 1900 

Advertising for Love - looking for the perfect wife (in 1860s New York)

Mind your manners
The Artist's Progress - pick up the rudiments of what was considered 'genteel behaviour' in 1737

A Lady's Guide to Etiquette - bringing together 19th century advice for gentlewomen on everything from love to addressing lords

Re-examining a PreRaphaelite scandal
Virtual Victorian - Effie Gray's revenge on John Ruskin

A new history blog from Shire Publishing
Shire Histories - check out the company's new blog written by the lovely Emily Brand of The Artist's Progress blog

Let it snow
Orkney Library 'Get Dusty' - snow in the archives

In Pursuit of History - takes an irreverent look at ice fairs

And to round off with the obligatory historical Christmas bit...
Fragments - 17th century Christmas celebrations

Monday, 27 December 2010

The January History Carnival starts here!

If you've just come across this blog, or you're a regular reader, then I hope you'll return on New Year's Day when I host the History Carnival a showcase of the best recent history blog posts, nominated by history-lovers all over the world.

To nominate a post (from any blog on a historical theme) for the Carnival, email me at or use the online form at:

For more information about History Carnival, check out the website:

Tweets and blog mentions about this are very welcome!


Saturday, 25 December 2010

Lady Austin’s camp boys: a night at a 1930s transvestite club

Transvestites at the Eldorado nightclub, in Berlin c.1930

One of my favourite things about working at the National Archives was being able to search the catalogue for random things and order up anything that sounded unusual or just bizarre. So, naturally when I discovered that there was a red silk transvestite pyjama suit, I ordered it right away. I went up to the safe room and it was wheeled out, and solemnly unveiled.

Although I was disappointed not to be able to try it on (and I definitely wanted to!) I did unearth the case files explaining the story of exactly how a transvestite pyjama suit came to be preserved for posterity...

Metropolitan police constables Jack Labbett and Henry Eric Chopping had drawn the short straw with their latest assignment. Two weeks before Christmas 1932, the two constables were going undercover to investigate rumours of 'obscene' dances at 27 Holland Park Avenue – posing as a gay couple.

Male homoseuxality was illegal at that time, and most Britons were suspicious if not openly hostile towards gay men. In 1916, The World newspaper warned its readers about the profusion of 'painted and perfumed travesties of men' who lounged about Piccadilly to 'openly leer at the passer-by'.
Labbett and Chopping started their investigation by watching a 'very effeminate man' to the Mitre pub, just across from number 27. Labbet reported later: 'His lips were rouged, eyebrows pencilled and his clothes scented. He smiled and rolled his eyes at PC Chopping, who smiled back...he approached us and said in a girlish voice "Are you going to the ‘Drag’ tonight?” The two policemen awkwardly attempted to flutter their eyelashes at their new friend, who took them to number 27.

 “Don’t go and get too fruity yet!”
The two squirming coppers found themselves in a room with about 50 men, aged between 20 and 40. Half were 'Queenies' were dressed 'as women attired in evening dress', and the 'Kings' in 'lounge suits'. Couples were dancing, the Queenies fondling their Kings, 'placing their hands inside the trousers whilst their partners stroked their bottoms and breasts', wrote PC Labbet. 'Every so often the lights went out and during these periods of darkness squeals of delight could be heard...I saw both the Kings and Queenies place their tongues in each others' mouths and ears'.

'I acted as PC Chopping’s ‘Queenie’, wrote PC Labbett. 'I saw several men grab ‘Queenies’ saying, "Come here you bitch". He danced with one man named ‘Clary’ and then sat down with him while Clary explained that there were 'five real women present...all Lesbians'. Labbett soon regretted his disguise as a Queenie, when Clary started groping him: 'he tried to place one hand on my person and one at the rear...He then said "Have you traded tonight yet?" Panicking, trying not to blow his cover Labbett quickly boasted “Twice with my boyfriend,” pointing at PC Chopping, but Clary kept trying to entice Labbett into the bathroom or garden, slipping his tongue into the reluctant Chopping's mouth. 

"I danced with a ‘Queenie’ known as ‘the Bitch’ and while dancing she (he) placed his hands inside my trousers"

Chopping was off having adventures of his own: 'I danced with a ‘Queenie’ known as ‘the Bitch’ and while dancing she (he) placed his hands inside my trousers. This I resented, saying “I have been with my own ‘Queenie”. This sort of nauseating conduct continued the whole evening...Small prizes were given at intervals for the best fancy dress and consisted of Scent Sprays, Fancy Soap, Powder Puffs'.

When the dance ended around one in the morning, several of the men 'tried to fondle and kiss' the PCs, asking to escort them home, but Labbett and Chopping slipped away and headed back to Notting Hill station to write their reports.

A week later Chopping and Labbett were back at number 27. The lecherous Clary was all over Labbett again: 'He placed his hand up my rear and between my legs and pressed me towards him'. Labbett escaped and started speaking to another man, who told him: "Other people would sympathise with us if they knew and knew we couldn’t help it". Meanwhile, Chopping danced with a Queenie who was 'dancing in a lustful manner the whole time, pressing his body close to mine. He said “Press your hand lower down. I have got a lovely bottom, haven’t I?” Chopping was saved by the entrance of their superior, Chief Inspector Smith and his team, who raided the party.

As the policemen barged through, they were shocked by the scene: 'Some of the couples had their lips together. Another man had his tongue in his partner’s mouth. One man had his legs in between his partner’s legs, and they were going through obscene contortions. They were feeling each other’s breasts and private parts and buttocks'. The officers searched the ballroom and hauled in two men caught with their pants down in the garden.

Smith's report reveals his awkwardness at being confronted with dozens of 'nancy boys':

'I then shouted out "I want Lady Austin"...Prisoner Salmon said "I am her Ladyship"...I read the warrant to him and cautioned him. He said "Surely only members of our own cult are here. What harm are we doing? You don’t understand our love"...I said to him "Why are these men dressed as women and half-naked?" He replied "They are Queenies tonight. We take it in turns. I was a Queenie last week". I said "What do you mean by members of our cult?" He said "Why Lady Austin’s camp boys of course. We all know each other".

Lady Austin told Smith, “we don’t run it for profit, only for love, but of course you don’t understand that...We don’t like women, a drag is a dance without women and give and take is between ourselves. Oh dear, this trouble would be obviated if they made our love legal”.

"You call us 'Nancies' and 'Bum boys', but before long our cult will be allowed"

And Lady Austin's boys didn't give themselves up without a fight. One said “We are sweethearts. I can’t see what you object to. We boys prefer to love each other.” Another complained: “The law can’t tell me what I shall do with myself and if this boy likes to be my love, then it’s only a matter for us both, not you”.

Mischievous James Dimmock annoyed police officers by calling them ‘dear’. “I told him the last word dear' was unnecessary. He said "It’s nice, we always speak to each other like that”. The officer pointed out a stain on the front of Dimmock’s trousers. “It’s only love drops,” Dimmock laughed. 

Lady Austin mocked the obviously uncomfortable officers, asking of one, “Is that boy really a detective...Fancy that, he is too nice. I could love him and rub his Jimmy for him for hours”. Smith 'told him not to use such expressions and cautioned him,' but Lady Austin was in full flow: "You call us 'Nancies' and 'Bum boys', but before long our cult will be allowed in this country and we shall vindicate our patron saint, the glorious Oscar Wilde.”
Eventually the gaudily-dressed prisoners were led out, I'd like to think that they were still flirting with police officers and answering back, as they were shoved into the police van. Thirty-two of them were charged, and 27 received prison sentences of between three months and a year.

Lady Austin was convicted of: 'conspiring to debauch the minds and morals of such persons as should be induced or permitted to come to 27 Holland Park Avenue and there remain whoring, behaving in an obscene and disorderly manner and taking part in divers lewd, scandalous, bawdy and obscene practises'.

At the trial, one of the jurors, clearly confused by the situation, passed the judge a note: 'I have heard in evidence that prizes had been distributed. I have been given to understand that this is usually done after a parade of fancy dress'. While I couldn't find any mention of the pyjama suit, this note made me wonder if the suit had survived for a hapless police officer to model in court.
You can read about Rex v Austin Salmon by ordering the files CRIM 1/638 and CRIM 1/639 at The National Archives. The red silk pyjama suit is in series EXT 11/131, but it is safely stowed away in the strong room.