When two glamorous women departed The Strand Theatre in London on 28 April 1870 after a show, passers-by were startled to see them being arrested by police officers. The women, who had been flirting openly with male members of the audience all evening, had also, unbeknown to them, been the object of the officers’ attention throughout the play. Producing a warrant card and apprehending the ladies, the arresting officer said: 'I’m a police officer from Bow Street, and I have every reason to believe that you are men in female attire and you will have to come to Bow Street with me now.‘ The officer was correct in his belief. The 'women’ were Fanny and Stella, a pair of middle-class gentlemen with a predilection for cross-dressing - and their subsequent court trial for being transvestites scandalised Victorian England.
Fanny and Stella’s real names were Frederick Park, 22, and Ernest Boulton, 21. And on the night in question they were charged with both having sex with each other and also with several counts of conspiracy. It even emerged police had had their 'dressing-up flat’ under surveillance for a year - and that the home secretary himself was encouraging the attorney general to prosecute.
The day after their arrest, Fanny and Stella arrived sensationally at Bow Street magistrates court where nearly 1,000 people gathered to watch them be taken inside. The two men spent four months in jail awaiting trial, and if convicted, their sentence would be between 10 years and life in prison. But because of a very weak prosecution case - and the fact that the two men were charged with conspiracy with six others who had, between them, fled, died or didn’t even know each other - the trial failed and the men were acquited. Boulton’s mother Mary Ann had, crucially, testified to say that it was no secret his son’s nickname was Stella and that he enjoyed dressing as a woman - which made the case look more silly than sordid and sinister.