Monday, February 15, 2021

A South East London transgender marriage in 1954

I have seen a few mentions on twitter and  facebook about the case of Vincent (born Violet) Jones and Joan Lee who were each fined £25 in 1954 following their 'illegal' wedding at St Luke’s Church in Downham - illegal because Vincent was not legally recognised as a man. An article at Historic England includes a photo of the couple on their wedding day (see below), with a quote from Jones: '‘We both love each other and when everything is put right we intend to get remarried. We shall have a public ceremony. We have nothing to be ashamed of.’

I wanted to see if I could find out more about this and thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and Ancestry, plus a couple of hints in messages from Bob from Brockley and Running Past, I think we can piece together more of the story.

Joan Mary Lee seems to have been born in Lewisham in 1933, her parents were George and Mary and in 1939 they were living at 120 Capstone Road in Downham with George working as a fitter for Post Office Engineering. Vincent Jones seems to have been born Violet Jones in Steyning, Sussex in 1928. The 1952 Electoral Register has Violet Ellen Jones living at 42 Ringmore Rise in Forest Hill. 

The couple met when they both worked as tracers in the drawing office at the South East London Telephone headquarters - not sure where this was, but it may have been the telephone exchange on corner of Glenton Road and Lee High Road SE13. According to the People (24/10/54) 'Girls who knew them say that "Miss Jones" had arrived at work one day in man's clothes and insisted that "she" had become a man, after operations'.

In September 1954 the vicar of St Luke's, Rev D G N Clark, 'pronounced Vincent Eric Kenneth Jones' of Forest Hill and '21 year old Joan Lee of Moorside Road, Downham, man and wife'  (Daily Herald, 25 October 1954) at a white wedding attended by relatives. 

After a two week honeymoon in Hastings they had set up home in rented rooms at 162 Ardgowan Road, Catford*.  It seems to have been the Vicar who reported them to the police having become aware that Vincent's  birth certificate bore the name Violet Ellen Katherine Jones. Following a police visit to their home in November, the couple were summonsed to appear in court for making a false statement to obtain a marriage certificate.

'The Girl Bridegroom' (Sunday Mirror, 24 October 1954)

The case was heard at Greenwich magistrates in December, and both were fined £25, the case receiving national media attention, some of it quite sympathetic. The magistrate said that Jones had 'made a grave false statement to cover your unnatural passion with a false air of respectability'. But this does not seem to have been a case of a same sex marriage by subterfuge - of the marriage of two self-identifying lesbians. Jones clearly identified as a man, telling the Daily Herald (25/10/54) for instance: ''I am a man. There is no doubt about that, and I have nothing to fear. My wife and I are very happy'.  In her statement, Joan said 'As time went of I became increasingly sure of my feeling for him as his for me, which neither of us made any attempt to hide from the world. To me he is as any other husband is' (Daily Herald, 14/12/54). 

Jones seems to have been recognised as a man at work and elsewhere and had experienced what would later be termed 'gender dysphoria' since childhood.  Jones' lawyer told the court that they had 'been a tomboy until teenage' and 'began to feel  desperate about her situation. It seemed ridiculous for her to be a female - she couldn't feel that she was a female. She tried to imitate them but found she couldn't do it'. Jones had sought medical treatment and spent four weeks at the Maudsley Hospital which had apparently 'advised Jones to wear male attire'(Liverpool Echo, 13 December 1954).

Jones told police 'I am a man but if you mean physically I still possess female organs... I have been to doctors to alter my sex completely but I was sick of waiting'. Jones had 'written to Denmark where there was a case of a woman doctor who changed her sex' (quoted in Alison Oram, 'Her Husband was a Woman!: Women's Gender-Crossing in Moden British Popular Culture', 2007). Gender Reassignment Surgery was in its early stages so it would have been very difficult for Jones to access it in 1954.

What happened next is unclear. Sadly Joan seems to have died in Dartford in 1966, bearing the name Joan Jones which suggests that the marriage continued. A press report from 1954 mentions that 'Joan is bald and wears a wig' which perhaps indicates an underlying serious health issue. There's a little confusion about Vincent - although so named in court, he is also referred to as Vic in press reports (e.g. by Joan's father below).  And it is as Victor E.K. Jones that he is named in a few places on family history website Ancestry, seemingly dying in Hastings in 1991 - decades after his honeymoon there with Joan.

 * press reports give address as Ardgowan Road, I have deduced house number from fact that their landlord Cyril Thomas is listed as living at 162 Ardgowan Road in 1962 electoral register.  Thomas 'in whose house the couple took rooms'  was quoted as saying 'They are a nice quiet couple. Sometimes they go out dancing' (DH, 25/10/54). 

'Girl weds girl in sex change sensation ' (People, 24/10/1954)-
found at British Newspaper Archive

(post last updated 18 November 2021)

1 comment:

catford_cat said...

Happened to have a 1952 London telephone directory open online for some other research...

Lists 'London Bridge Street' (phone number HOP exchange 8060) as location for SE London area telephone manager, so more likely to be there.

Now the 'London Bridge Hotel' / 'The Telephone Exchange' pub