Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Phoebe Hessel - Brighton's most successful cross dresser?

Has anyone heard of Phoebe Hessel?

I hadn't until the peeps at Tourist Tracks pointed her out and i'm so glad they did.

Phoebe was little known outside Brighton but is a virtual legend within the city (well apart from with me clearly).

Brighton's most successful cross dresser?

This remarkable woman lived to be a whopping 108 and it's quite possible she was city's most successful cross dresser (and that's saying something!)

Phoebe's cross dressing tale started when she fell in love with a soldier called William Golding. Golding was posted to the West Indies in 1728 and Phoebe, unable to bear not being near him, took it upon herself to enlist in the forces too.

Wounded in service, she nevertheless managed to conceal her womanliness until Golding was wounded himself and sent home. Amazingly, she had remained in the Army for a whole 17 years!
All was not in vain though, as Phoebe later married Golding and was his wife for 20 years.

Phoebe moves to Brighton and becomes a Hessel

After his death, Phoebe moved to Brighton and married fisherman William Hessel. Phoebe’s incredible life continued here, where she worked selling fish from a cart in and around Brighton, until she died at the impressive age of 108...

It was stated that Phoebe also gave evidence that was instrumental in securing the conviction and execution of highwayman James Rooke.

Phoebe in old age

In old age, Phoebe sold items, such as oranges and gingerbread, on a street corner near Brighton's Royal Pavilion. She became a celebrity in Brighton, due to her great age and unusual life experience. Later forced into the workhouse, she was granted a pension of half a guinea a week by the roguish Prince Regent in 1808.

After a long and eventfu life, Phoebe died in 1821. She is buried in the graveyard of St Nicholas Church in Brighton.

What a lovely story. Right, well I'm off to buy a suit from Burtons - it could put years on my life expectancy.


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