Cross-dressing in the 1700s…


The churchyard of St Nicholas Church, in Brighton, contains the grave of Phoebe Hessel, a woman who was little known outside Brighton but who is a virtual legend within the city. This remarkable woman’s tale starts when she fell in love with a soldier called William Golding.

When he was posted to the West Indies in 1728, she decided to enlist in the armed forces so that she could be near him. Though she was wounded during her service, she managed to conceal her sex until Golding was wounded himself and sent home. Amazingly, she had remained in the Army for 17 years!

She later married Golding; when he died, some 20 years later, she moved to Brighton and married William Hessel. Phoebe’s amazing life continued in the town, where she worked selling fish from a cart, until she died at the grand old age of 108.

Find out more about St Nicholas Church on our Brighton tour. Click here for more information

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