England’s ‘queer history’ celebrated with LGBT landmarks

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Six LGBT landmarks across England have been given special status to celebrate the country’s “queer history”.

The locations include the London home of Oscar Wilde and the house where Benjamin Britten lived with his partner Peter Pears.

It comes as a result of Historic England research project Pride of Place, which aimed to record and preserve the history of LGBT people.

As an outcome, the grave of pioneering lesbian writer and Egyptologist Amelia Edwards was today granted listed status by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Five other places with queer histories have also had their landmark status bolstered to recognise their unique importance to LGBT history.

Among them is London’s Burdett-Coutts Memorial, which commemorates Chevalier d’Eon – an 18th century transgender spy who lived as a woman inside the Empress of Russia’s court.

The Halifax home of lesbian pioneer Anne Lister has also been listed. Regarded as “the first modern lesbian”, Lister would write a diary using a complex code to describe her trysts with other women.

St Ann’s Court in Chertsey, Surrey, is also recognised as an example of “queer architecture”.

Owned by architect Christopher Tunnard and broker GL Schlesinger while homosexuality was still illegal, the master bedroom of the house could be separated if visitors came round.

Professor Alison Oram, lead researcher for the project 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.”

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.”

The locations are:

  • 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: 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.