Thursday, 27 June 2013

Cross dressing at Biddulph Moor- a 19th century "singularity"



The following “singular” case appeared in the Morning Post in the autumn of 1848 concerning a Biddulph Moor woman. On the 16th September Doctor Bland ,a physician in the Macclesfield work house was asked to attend a man dying from dysentery who lived in a lodge house in the town. He thought that the man who was aged about 60 looked decidedly feminine around the face. The man named John Smith also had a womanly voice. He spoke to Smith's wife who was with some of her eleven children. She was not married to him, but had met him 14 years ago in New Mills, Derbyshire. Smith worked as an itinerant knife grinder and spoon maker. His wife said that he was a supportive husband. Some days later John Smith died and Bland returned to sign the death certificate. His suspicions were correct and Smith was female. His wife told the doctor that she had only found out the day before Smith's death that he was male when he had her implored to sew the body into a winding sheet. She told Bland that the 11 children had been fathered by her first husband. “John Smith” was buried in Christ Church and a great deal of interest was shown at the funeral.

After subsequent investigation Bland found that the dead woman had been born Sophie Locke in a cave at Croker Wood, Sutton and moved to live with her extended family who lived on Biddulph Moor. Sophie followed her father's occupation as a tinker and knife grinder. The Lockes were an itinerant lot and spent the year moving around the country, although they always wintered on the moor. From an early age she dressed as a male and often accompanied her brother around the pubs in Biddulph and Congleton where the two would dance and play the violin. She appeared to be a volatile soul and pretty handy with her fists. Sophie got involved in a massive punch up at Bolton Green in Lancashire and in the fight a breast was exposed. News of the incident got back to Biddulph and the community impressively kept the secret for the remainder of her life. Over the years whenever she met someone from the town she became very wary and withdrew from society although the concealment held. She rarely visited Biddulph Moor after the Lockes were accused of sheep stealing.

She lived as a husband to several women including one whom she married in Winster Church in Derbyshire. The story is that a serving girl became pregnant after a liaison with a local squire. Sophie was encouraged to marry the woman and bring the child up as the “father” and this relationship lasted some years. The woman that Doctor Bland met had lived with Sophie for about 14 years and spent the year travelling around the country with Locke and her large brood of children. Taking part in the hop picking in Worcestershire every autumn was something that the family enjoyed.

As I said earlier Sophie gained enjoyment from challenging men to fight. On one occasion at Bosley she was making a noise in a local pub. She was defying a room full of men when in walked a hawker from Biddulph that she knew. She exchanged compliments with the man and then left.


She was described as being dark haired, of wiry build and very swarthy ( that sounds very “Saracen “ to me). The writer of the “Morning Post article remarked “ that she would draw the attention of many admirer of the gypsy picturesque”.