By Jacqueline Grima
The people of Manchester were invited to Manchester Town Hall and Manchester Central Library this weekend to take part in the Manchester Histories Festival Celebration Day. The day brought together history and heritage groups from across the region to offer a range of workshops, information and activities for all ages.
Manchester Histories Chief Executive Claire Turner told us, “In a time of great change, heritage has an important role in helping to build community cohesion and a sense of identity and belonging. Even more importantly, it’s about having fun together as people share and learn about their own and other people’s pasts and hoped-for futures. And the MHF Celebration Day is a place for this to happen.”
Activities at Central Library included a talk by Jenny White entitled Harry Stokes: Manchester’s Female Husband. Jenny told the audience how Harry, born a biological female in the 18th century, chose to identify as male. Indeed, he went on to qualify as a bricklayer, became a special police constable and married twice, his true identify only hitting the headlines when his disgruntled first wife decided to seek a divorce.
Jenny said, “Today we might class Harry as part of the LGBT community.”
She added, “Nowadays, we see trans people as living in their true identity. In the 1800s, female husbands were seen as ‘gender imposters’.”
Marrying again, Harry went on to live a quiet life in Salford before coming to a sad end when his body was found in the River Irwell in 1859.
Following Jenny, Brian Donavan from Find My Past gave a presentation entitled Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, in which he talked about the challenges and difficulties of tracing Irish family histories. This is mainly due to the destruction by of the Dublin Public Records Office during the Irish Civil War in 1922.
At the Town Hall, guests were invited to attend a variety of talks including a presentation by author Angela Buckley who talked about the subject of her book The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada. Angela told the audience how, in Victorian times, Manchester was a very dangerous place, with around four times as many crimes committed in the city as in London. She said, “Wherever you went, there was crime all the time.”
Detective Jerome Caminada, who is said to have inspired Conan Doyle’s character, Sherlock Holmes, worked as a policeman in the city for over 30 years. Often disguising himself as a manual worker or, even, a woman, Caminada solved a number of cases including the infamous Manchester Cab Mystery, in which respectable businessman John Fletcher was found dead in a taxi cab.
Also talking on the day was actor, writer and Manchester Histories patron Maxine Peake. Maxine talked to the audience about how she had always wanted to write and how she eventually fulfilled her ambition when she heard the story of 1960s world champion cyclist Beryl Burton. In 1964 Beryl was awarded an OBE for her services to cycling and Maxine’s play Beryl: A Love Story on Two Wheels was aired on Radio 4 in 2012 and was later adapted for the stage.
Other activities for the whole family included arts and crafts, the chance to have a photograph taken in a ‘snapshot frame’ and the chance to explore a fire engine and double decker bus from Manchester’s Museum of Transport. Guests were also treated to a performance by Manchester Community choir.