Sheffield: Call for public art tribute to early gay activist Edward Carpenter

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A new community group has been set up in Sheffield to campaign for a permanent public tribute to Edward Carpenter.

Friends of Edward Carpenter is calling for the tribute that recognises his historical and social importance as a writer and political campaigner.

Edward Carpenter, who died in 1929 aged 84, was a significant cultural and political activist, who for over forty years formed a strong bond with the people of Sheffield.

Mainly remembered now as a pioneer of gay rights campaigning – living openly with his lover and writing bravely about it as the same time that Oscar Wilde was imprisoned – he was also an advocate of environmentalism, socialism, anarchism, trade unions, feminism, vegetarianism, clothes reform and teetotalism.

He opposed imperialism, vivisection, war and capital punishment. He travelled widely, writing sympathetically about India and Ceylon. He believed in nude sunbathing, and wearing sandals, which he designed, made and popularised.

He was the friend and possibly lover of the famous American poet Walt Whitman, and imitated him in his own long poetry cycle Towards Democracy, the touchstone for many early socialists. He is reputed to have helped EM Forster both to ‘come out’ and write. He led meetings with William Morris, supported the suffragette movement, and the campaign for clean air.

The objective of this community project, lead by Kate Flannery, Mark Scott and Steve Slack is to raise funds to establish a fitting memorial for Edward Carpenter – one that will provide both a concrete and spiritual focus for all who are inspired and influenced by him.

Kate Flannery, one of the founding members of the group, said: “Sheffield Archives holds one of the largest collections of carpenter’s writings and artefacts – including his sandals.

“We believe that Carpenter is an important historical character who bravely campaigned on numerous issues such as sexuality, the environment, clean air and the rights of women – all of which many people now take for granted. Carpenter was living with his male lover on the outskirts of Sheffield at the same time Oscar Wilde was being imprisoned for his sexuality. Recognition of this man’s contribution to social change is long overdue.”

Mark Scott said: “We intend to organise a number of events which will not only raise money for the public artwork celebrating Carpenter, but will also ensure that more people are aware of Carpenter’s work and influence. We hope that such events will also build a sense of community among people who share the values espoused by Carpenter. We are delighted that the young folk singer Grace Petrie has agreed to perform a benefit concert for us in July. Grace is a rising star who was invited by Billy Bragg to perform at Glastonbury last year and we are over the moon that she is supporting our project.”

Steve Slack said: “We intend to raise the profile of Carpenter. Here we have a positive role model who is a part of our gay history yet has had little public recognition for his work. We intend to commission a work of public art that uses local materials and talent, that has integrity, and that will ensure a respectful place of pilgrimage, meditation, celebration and memorial in the heart of the City of Sheffield.

“We have a lot of fundraising to do but we are confident we will get there.”

The group aims to establish the public artwork celebrating Carpenter by 2014 in a city centre location. For more information, visit

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