Cross-dressing teenage thief from Lancashire causes quite a stir in the dock

Smith was arrested on Fishergate in Preston
Smith was arrested on Fishergate in Preston
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Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the unusual attire of a defendant who was turning heads in court...

At the Chorley Petty Sessions in late September 1888 John Jesse Smith, aged 17, described as a waiter from Preston, stood in the dock accused of theft.

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His appearance dressed entirely in women’s clothes caused quite a stir.

Mrs. Jane Croasdale, who was an eating house keeper in Chorley, told the court that the defendant had been employed by her for a few weeks. She claimed that one day early in September she had put £7 in gold between her bed and the mattress, but on going up later in the day it was gone. She had discovered the money was missing whilst the accused was out and he never returned to his work.

Police Sergeant Heath told the gathering that he had searched for the accused and informed the Preston Borough Police of his suspicions. He had collected the prisoner from the Earl Street police station in Preston. He had been arrested in Fishergate, whilst dressed in women’s clothes, after arriving from Blackburn by train where he had been staying for a couple of weeks.

Mr. Arron Hall, an ironmonger and gun dealer from Chorley, was then called and he identified the prisoner as the person who had in early August visited his shop in Market Street for an article for Mrs. Croasdale. Later in the day he had realised a revolver was missing. Mr. Vernon Croasdale was then called to testify and he said the accused had shown him the revolver, and said his brother had given it to him.

Throughout all the proceedings Smith hung his head and did not speak a word. After a brief discussion the magistrates committed him for trial at the next Preston Quarter Sessions on both charges.

That same day the Chorley Petty Sessions had to deal with ten cases of drunkenness with fines of one shilling being handed out, two cases of breach of the peace with the culprits bound over and a case of turnip stealing. Six lads had helped themselves to turnips in a field belonging to the Wigan Coal and Iron Company. All the accused receiving a fine of two shillings and sixpence or the option of seven days imprisonment.

As for John Jesse Smith the Preston Sessions took place in mid October 1888 before the chairman Mr. W. H. Higgins QC and other magistrates. By this time another charge of stealing an apron from Maria Farnworth at Preston was added to his offences.

Addressing the accused, who appeared in the dock smartly dressed in female attire, the Chairman stated that it was a very disgraceful thing for a young fellow to be found in such attire and ordered him to remove his hat. Smith then entered a plea of guilty to all charges and he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour and three years of police supervision.