England’s queer history celebrated
Five other places with queer histories have also been relisted, and one upgraded, including the London home of Oscar Wilde and the house where Benjamin Britten lived with his partner, the tenor Peter Pears. The listings are a result of Historic England’s ground-breaking research project Pride of Place, led by historians at Leeds Beckett University’s Centre for Culture and the Arts, and the Leeds Sustainability Institute.
This is part of a major initiative from Historic England to improve understanding and recognition of England’s diverse heritage, tackling under-recognition of the major influences and contributions of communities including LGBTQ, Black and Minority Ethnic Groups, disabled people and women in building the nation we live in.
Professor Alison Oram, lead researcher at Leeds Beckett University, said: "Pride of Place has been a real passion project for our team. We've had a tremendous response to it from people across the country, who have pinned their favourite LGBTQ heritage places on our crowd-sourced map. It’s been wonderful to meet and discuss the project with many diverse LGBTQ communities.
We are delighted to see our research brought to life in the Pride of Place online exhibition which gives everyone a chance to learn more about the fascinating stories embedded in the streets, parks and historic buildings all around us. Queer heritage is everywhere, and we hope that Pride of Place will lead to more historic places being publicly valued and protected for their important queer histories."
Listing and relistings
Amelia Edwards was one of the key founders of modern Egyptology, an advocate for women’s rights, a daring traveller and an unflinching writer who challenged social prejudices. Remembered as an unconventional, dignified woman who had lasting relationships with women, she is buried beside her beloved long-term partner Ellen Braysher in St Mary’s Churchyard, Bristol. Their grave, adorned by an ankh (Egyptian cross) to mark Amelia’s study of ancient Egypt, has been newly listed at Grade II.
Among the listings updated to record their LGBTQ histories are 34 Tite Street in London, where Oscar Wilde lived with his wife until his trial for ‘gross indecency’ in 1895; Red House, where the composer Benjamin Britten lived with his partner, the tenor Peter Pears; the 1930s home of Gerald Schlesinger and Christopher Tunnard, masterfully designed so that the couple’s bedroom could be split into two separate rooms meaning they could preserve their privacy, and a memorial, newly upgraded to II*, which remembers among others the life of 18th century Chevalier d’Eon, who in today's terms might be understood as transgender. Shibden Hall (pictured top) is also recognised as the place where Anne Lister, described as the “first modern lesbian”, lived in the early 19th century and kept detailed, partly coded diaries of her relationships with women. The diaries were at one time kept hidden in the wall of an upstairs corridor at Shibden by a descendant who wanted to keep them secret.
Pride of Place
These stories and other hidden histories have been uncovered through the Pride of Place research project, which has seen members of the public share information about the LGBTQ buildings and places special to them via an online map. Over 1600 contributions have been made so far, through individual posts and shared stories at group “pinning parties”.
Historic England is encouraging people to keep adding their stories to the map as the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality approaches in 2017. Some of the pins have been grouped into themed “tours”, for example on Queer Performance in London or LGBTQ places in Morecombe and Lancaster, and can be found as part of the map. The findings have now been distilled and shared in an exhibition on Historic England’s website to bring their LGBTQ history to a wider audience.
Among the uncovered LGBTQ histories is the work of book illustrator, textile designer and lesbian Enid Marx. In 1936 she designed the fabric for the London Underground train and bus seats which remain a part of every Londoner’s daily life.
The project also highlights the surprising story of Fred Dyson, a worker at Goldthorpe Colliery in Yorkshire, who feared being cast out by colleagues after his conviction for cottaging in the early 1960s but instead was welcomed, even congratulated, by his workmates. One said: “Fred, if thou can admit to being a poof all thou life, thou are a better man than us. Have a pint”.
A new guide has also been produced to show communities how to uncover the history of, and protect, LGBTQ buildings that are vulnerable to redevelopment. The guide will help ensure that LGBTQ-related buildings, gardens, monuments and other historic places are properly understood and the most important of these recognised in planning decisions.
Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch said: "It's so important when we protect our heritage that we recognise all of the communities that have influenced and shaped our history. It's fantastic news that so many buildings with such a rich history have received the important protection that they deserve."
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England added: “Historic Buildings and Places are witnesses to events that have shaped our society. They hold real and tangible evidence of the way our nation has evolved. Too often, the influence of men and women who helped build our nation has been ignored, underestimated or is simply unknown, because they belonged to minority groups. Our Pride of Place project is one step on the road to better understanding just what a diverse nation we are, and have been for many centuries. At a time when historic LGBTQ venues are under particular threat, this is an important step. The impact of the historic environment on England’s culture must not be underestimated, and we must recognise all important influences.”
New and updated listings:
- Amelia Edwards’ grave, St Mary’s Churchyard, Bristol, newly listed at Grade II: Amelia challenged social conventions in both her professional and personal life and was a determined advocate for women’s rights. She also travelled to countries which had barely been explored, particularly by women. Amelia died of pneumonia in 1892 at the home in Weston-super-Mare which she had shared with her beloved companion, Ellen Braysher who had died only a few months before. She and Ellen are buried beside each other in St Mary’s Churchyard, Bristol.
- Shibden Hall, Halifax: Anne Lister (1791-1840) inherited Shibden Hall from her uncle in 1836. Lister has been described as “the first modern lesbian” because she clearly identified as a woman who was sexually and romantically attracted solely to women. She kept detailed diaries, partly in code, in which she recorded her sexual and romantic experiences with women. She wrote “I love and only love the fairer sex and thus, beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any other love than theirs”. Lister lived at Shibden for several years with her partner Ann Walker.
- Oscar Wilde's house, 34 Tite Street, London: Wilde lived here with his wife Constance Lloyd and their children Cyril and Vyvyan, from 1884 until his trial for ‘gross indecency’ in 1895. Wilde was sentenced to 2 years with hard labour after he was found guilty of engaging in sexual acts with other men.
- St Ann's Court, Surrey: The home of Gerald Schlesinger and Christopher Tunnard, built between 1936-7 is an example of “queer architecture”. The design of the house, in the shape of a bow, was a response to homophobia and the need for the couple to have privacy. Sex between men, even in the privacy of one’s own home, remained illegal until homosexuality was partially decriminalised in 1967 with the Sexual Offences Act. The design meant that if there were visitors, the master bedroom on the first floor could be separated into two. This maintained the idea that Schlesinger and Tunnard slept in different bedrooms. Later occupants have included Phil Manzanera, guitarist with the highly influential 1970s art/glam rock band Roxy Music.
- Red House, Aldeburgh, Suffolk: This was the home of the composer Benjamin Britten and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, who lived together at the Red House from 1957 until Britten’s death in 1976. Pears continued to live there until his death in 1986. The Red House is now the home of the Britten-Pears Foundation.
- Burdett-Coutts memorial at St Pancras Gardens, Camden, London, upgraded to II*: Burdett-Coutts lived with her companion and partner Hannah Brown for 52 years. She commissioned this memorial sundial to commemorate people who had been buried nearby, but whose graves had been destroyed by the development of the Midland Railway Lines during the 1860s. Among the names included on the memorial is that of the Chevalier d’Eon, who was a French spy and diplomat in the 18th century. The Chevalier lived the first part of their life as a man and the latter as a woman. Their gender was widely speculated about, and they were written about in many satires and pamphlets.