There’s a new blue plaque on the wall of Church House, where Reform lives. We went out and watched it being unveiled last week. (The picture that looks like Neil McKenna flying a kite is in fact Neil McKenna pulling the veil off.)
It commemorates two gay men, Ernest Boulton and Frederick William Park, who lived here in Victorian times when our charming oblong red-brick office block was a row of houses. They performed onstage, in women’s clothing, as Fanny and Stella, and were arrested at home in 1871, and charged “with conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence”. They were acquitted when the prosecution failed to establish either the details of their sex lives, or that cross-dressing was illegal.
It was a surprisingly moving occasion. Everyone agreed that there was something unexpected about seeing such a plaque on a church building. But Robert Rominger, welcomed it on behalf of the church, talking about how important it is to hear the stories of people who have suffered in such ways. In return, Neil McKenna, who wrote the book Stella and Fanny, paid tribute to the United Reformed Church, recalling how in his teenage years it had been “an oasis in a world of homophobia”.
At a time when it that’s the last phrase you expect to hear describing a church, the event made me feel enormously happy and proud to be a part of this one.