Queer Places:
HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, 160 Du Cane Rd, London W12 0AN, UK

In 1931, Norma Jackson aka Austin Hull (born 1906) was the most famous 'transvestite' in England.

Norma Jackson was raised in St Helens, Lancashire, by parents who called her Austin Hull. Austin's parents treated him much like a girl: he did the housework and took female roles in theatricals. Austin left school at 14 and worked for a while as a haulage hand at a local colliery. From age 16 Austin experimented with dressing as a woman, for which he was cautioned by the local police and thrashed by his parents. Even dressed as a man, Austin was often taken to be a woman. People followed and stared at him. At the age of 16, when returning from church on a Sunday, he was arrested and taken to the police station where he was stripped on the supposition that he was a woman masquerading as a man.

When in a convalescent home at Grange-over-Sands, the nurses reported him to the doctors on suspicion of being a woman. He later, at his trial, agreed that he did like to pass as a woman. He spoke in a light feminine voice.

In January 1931, as Norma, she met George Burrows, an unemployed labourer. By mid-February they moved into a bed-sitting room in St Helens and lived as man and wife. In June they moved to London, initially living in the sex-segregated hostels of the Church Army. She then claimed that she had found a position as a lady’s companion, but George found out that she was scrubbing floors at 10/- a week. They agreed to return to St Helens, but Norma then disappeared, although she wrote to him from Edinburgh.

George started asking around in St Helens, discovered her parents, and indeed that she was Austin Hall. He went to the police, and Norma was tracked down and arrested in Blackpool in September. In November she was tried with 'procuring another to commit a gross indecency', with George as the major witness. To the titillation of the press, the judge made the defendant appear in her female clothes until the prosecution case was completed. As George testified that he never realized that Norma was not a woman, the resident medical officer at the prison argued that gross indecency could hardly have taken place. The visiting psychiatrist described Hull as ‘an invert and not a pervert’.

However ‘Austin Hull’ was convicted and sentenced to 18 months hard labour. She burst into tears and then fainted. Mr Hull, the father of Norma, was so shaken by the trial, that he was admitted to a mental hospital, and his wife and the other children were forced onto relief. There had been sufficient publicity about the case that ‘Austin Hull’ was adopted by the sex-reform movement who argued that she should be treated in a hospital, not in a prison. They raised a petition and wrote articles in the press, especially the Week-End Review. They were successful to the extent that Hull was transferred to HMP Wormwood Scrubs, so that he could attend the Tavistock Clinic three times a week for psychotherapy. Even so he was accompanied by two uniformed warders, to one of whom he was always handcuffed.

After release Norma/Austin disappeared from view.

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