Harry Stokes

"The man-woman of manchester"


Harry built chimneys by hand until 1860 and is proud to be part of Manchester's worker bee history. From a young age they dreamed of having their own trade, on their own terms. Women weren't allowed to run businesses and Harry knew they'd never be another man's property. The Victorians called Harry an 'epicene' - not man, not woman, but in-between. As a pioneer of equal human rights, Harry would be honoured to shake your hand in solidarity with those silenced in the shadows on the periphery. In-situ filming, live performance and digital technology will shine light on this unsung hero's journey, with ghostly shivers that transport you back in time to celebrate their iconic story.



LGBT+ heritage has been excluded from public records, cast aside to be mostly archived in criminal court cases and alluded to in derogatory street ballads akin to circus freak shows. Like many transgressive pioneers few records exist about Harry, immortalised in street songs with no voice of their own. Whether Harry is read as Non-Binary, an F2M or Trans-Masc, their story remains historically recorded in newspapers and street ballads as an 'Epicene Man-Woman.' Transcestory did not exist with positive role models that educate the mainstream of how to include us - until now. 


Historical AFab's (Assigned Female at Birth) are globally rare, let alone working class F2M hero's. Harry and the worker bees on the periphery fought to reform the working conditions of the 'disenfranchised under-class' 'disabled' 'refugee and asylum seekers' through protest over the last 160 years. We have a collective responsibility to celebrate and continue the journey of our collective heritage, for the benefit of past, present and future generations.

about harry

As Victorian women were owned by their fathers or husbands and not allowed to run businesses, Harry escaped their gendered rural fate of poverty, with an apprenticeship to become a bricklayer. Married at Doncaster Cathedral to Ann, they moved to Industrial Manchester and employed many skilled labours. Harry became a volunteer special police constable, until 22 years later when he was strip-searched and ordered to close his business in and leave the house and belongings to Ann over divorce proceedings in 1838. Harry then moved to Salford with an older partner and their son who ran a pub, while Harry continued their bricklaying business. In 2020 an American academic found a Manchester Guardian article reminding everyone about Harry yet again in 1855, when a new case involving an Irish trans woman called Maria, convicted of loitering for indecent purposes and petty theft and ordered to leave Manchester. Four years later, Harry was found in the River Irwell, assumed to have committed suicide, when their body was again confirmed female. 60 years was an exceptional age to live to in Victorian times, so Harry could have had a heart attack, stroke, slipped and banged his head and fallen into the canal or been purposefully drowned.


Hero harry

It is imperative Harry is not represented as a victim, but celebrated as a skilled, heroic entrepreneur and ground-breaking activist who challenged the system and the status quo throughout their lifetime. Harry's ghost speaks in allegiance with the people on the periphery in Manchester over the last 160 years. In collaboration with long term associates and new media artists we will create historical backdrop projections, merged with moving image and soundscapes to contextualise and bring to life a Victorian Manchester. This multimedia performance will be an interactive hybrid blending live theatre, new technology, film and moving image that will be globally accessible in multiple formats. Produced for pop up, theatre, digital spaces, intimate studios with Q&A, or pre-recored installations with educational online episodes, audiences will be able to contribute in writing or add to the on-going video diary; part of the docu-promo film about the making of Harry, integrated on social media platforms.


With support from LGBT+ History Month's associated networks and partnership organisations of 250K outreach, our process will be informed by dialogue with local communities, industry experts, LGBT+ leaders and global academics. Ambassador to this project and co-chair of Schools Out and LGBT+ History Month is Sue Sanders, with in-kind support by Dan Vo, queer museum expert and media producer at heavy-entertainment in Soho London. Local partnership organisation Z-arts is an Award Centre for young people's outreach programmes. Long-term collaborative theatre director Julie McNamara also offers in-kind accessibility expertise.



TransAction will integrate socio-historical issues engaging with diverse spectrum's of Manchester's marginalised communities, like our recent collaboration with The Men's Room. The intersectionality of gender, sexuality, class, age, disability and cultural diversity will create inclusive dialogue and positive action through politics of allegiance. Participatory projects and professional performances will be documented in line with GDPR for a myriad of outcomes. Live and on-line feedback from participants, audiences, academics, LGBT leaders and artistic experts will also inform the on-going making of the docu-promo process, with high-quality praxis. As the AD of TransAction Theatre with 30 years experience, a first class BA Hon's, PGCE distinction in Theatre teaching and MA in Ed Research, we specialise in delivering 'Diversity, Equality and Empowerment' participatory performance projects to collectively shape the making of Harry's story.


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