Hertfordshire's Female Barman: Thomas / Mary Anne Walker

Hannah Dingwall Bae

Hertfordshire Express and General Advertiser 5/9/1868 p.4
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

NB: in order to avoid confusion when changing between genders, the author is using ‘they/them’ pronouns to refer to Thomas/Mary Anne Walker throughout the article.

Mary Anne Walker was born in around 1842, one of three girls. Their father was originally a Hertfordshire farmer but became a publican in Westminster during the 1850s. Walker’s upbringing was considered respectable, and they went to boarding school to be educated. It was at school that Walker allegedly initially started dressing in male clothing.

After leaving school (or, depending on the account, running away from it), Walker found work as a porter at Jesus College in Cambridge dressing as a man and probably using the name John or Thomas Walker. It wasn’t long before they were found out, though, starting a life-long habit of quickly and hastily leaving employment. Walker held a number of jobs in various places, the order of which changes depending on the newspaper doing the reporting, but the jobs they held include being a booking clerk in Birmingham for the London and North-Western Railway, working on board a Cunard steamer as a cabin boy then steward, living in Paris among students in the ‘Quartier Latin’, moving back to London to be a counter assistant at a grocer’s, an engine cleaner based in London King’s Cross for the Great Northern Railway, and eventually taking a job as a barman which led to the infamous nickname of ‘the female barman’ once Walker had been outed as female again. Walker dressed and presented as male throughout their varied employment history.

Walker was discharged from working behind the bar after being accused and prosecuted for theft. Sentenced to a term of hard labour at the House of Correction, Walker was found to be female and was subsequently moved to the Elizabeth Fry Refuge in Hackney. After a short time though, they were removed from the establishment for being ‘incorrigible’.

By 1867, Walker was wanted by the police for a felony charge. They had been living and working under the name Charles Arnold for Great Western Railway at the London Paddington terminus as a porter. A newspaper wrote how, at this particular job, Walker was a model employee – the first to start work and the last to finish, and would invariably scold fellow porters when they were larking about. At some point during this employment, Walker fell ill and was found to be a woman when their landlady went to treat this illness with a mustard plaster or ointment (used back then as a way to encourage healing) on the chest. The day after being discovered, Walker fled, taking some of their fellow lodgers’ clothing and train tickets, which enabled the police to charge them for theft.

Walker then started to capitalise on the interest of them being the ‘female barman’, and even did a stint as a singer at the Marylebone Music Hall. Newspaper records indicate they appeared in other music halls as well, although the performances weren’t successful enough for Walker to make a living off of this.

Records of Walker disappear soon after, and it’s not known when or how they died. They may well have returned to living under a male pseudonym without being discovered. Even so, Walker left quite a mark on contemporary society – a ballad titled “The life and career of Mary Ann Walker, the female barman!” was written at some time between 1860-1883, and can be found online via the Bodleian Libraries: http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/search/roud/V1285


“FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE ‘FEMALE BARMAN’.” Standard, 15 November 1867. British Library Newspapers (accessed 19 January 2023). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/R3213681310/BNCN?u=cambuni&sid=bookmark-BNCN&xid=dfa599a2.

“The Essex Herald.” Essex Newsman, 22 November 1887, p. 8. British Library Newspapers (accessed 20 January 2023). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/EN3224525364/BNCN?u=cambuni&sid=bookmark-BNCN&xid=2d8eb7a8.

“ADVENTURES OF THE FEMALE BARMAN.” Cheshire Observer, 23 November 1867. British Library Newspapers (accessed 19 January 2023). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/R3210287534/BNCN?u=cambuni&sid=bookmark-BNCN&xid=e2dc0809.

“WORSHIP STREET” Standard, 31 August 1868, p. 7. British Library Newspapers (accessed 9 January 2023). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/R3213685608/BNCN?u=cambuni&sid=bookmark-BNCN&xid=5c1951ba.

“Ballad – Roud Number: V1285 Title: The life and career of Mary Ann Walker, the female barman!” H. Disley, circa 1860-1883, Broadside Ballads Online from the Bodleian Libraries (accessed 9 January 2023). http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/search/roud/V1285

This page was added on 26/01/2023.

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