National Trust to explore the UK’s hidden gay history

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The National Trust will mark the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality next year by exploring the UK’s hidden gay history.

The historical conservation charity preserves sites of natural beauty and historic importance, maintaining them and keeping them opening them to the public.

As England and Wales mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality, in 2017 the Trust will for the first time explore Britain’s queer history.

A new guidebook exploring LGBTQ heritage in National Trust places will be published, alongside a podcast series and a string of online resources dedicated to LGBTQ stories from history.

A number of events will also be taking place through 2017 at Trust properties with LGBTQ connections, while the Trust will be involved in community-focused celebrations, including Pride festivals around the country.

The National Trust says the ‘Prejudice and Pride’ programme will tell the stories of the men and women who challenged conventional notions of gender and sexuality, and who shaped the properties in which they lived.

A number of National Trust properties – including Sutton House in Hackney, Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire, Smallhythe Place in Kent and Knole in Kent – will hold events exploring the sites’ LGBTQ heritage.

Many of the Trust’s properties were influenced by little-known elements of LGBTQ history. Dorset’s Kingston Lacy was profoundly impacted by owner William Bankes, who fled England in 1841 to avoid prosecution for “homosexual indiscretions”.

He had no choice but to flee England and the home he loved but he continued to send back works of art and treasures, many of which are still on display to visitors today.

Meanwhile, Knole was home to Vita Sackville-West, lover of renowned writer Virginia Woolf.  A signed copy of Woolf’s iconic novel ‘Orlando’, inspired by Sackville-West family history, has been acquired for the exhibit.

The Trust explained: “We look after special places, for ever, for everyone. LGBTQ heritage plays an important part in the history of the nation and a vital role in unlocking the histories of some of our places.

“You’ll be able to discover hidden histories of love and relationships at our places, explore stories of persecution and learn about the expressions of personal identity that shocked and challenged societal norms.

“We’ll be working with artists to create new exhibitions and installations to bring these stories to life and uncovering previously untold stories with help from academic experts.

“We’ll also be taking part in community celebrations including Pride festivals around the country and Heritage Open Days to build an understanding of LGBTQ histories in local communities.

“Over 2017 you’ll be able to explore these stories further with a podcast series and a new guidebook exploring LGBTQ heritage at National Trust places.”

“Our places span grand historic houses to small workers’ cottages and we have a unique opportunity to bring these places together to share a wide and deep LGBTQ heritage. By sharing the LGBTQ stories in our histories and collections we hope to add a new layer of understanding for all.”

Tipping the Velvet author Sarah Waters, who has contributed to the Trust’s LGBTQ resources, said: “These days we can all be a bit bolder about exploring and enjoying the UK’s rich heritage of sex and gender diversity. And I’d argue that without an awareness of that heritage our experience of certain National Trust properties is incomplete.”

National Director Simon Murray said: “Our spotlight on LGBTQ heritage is an important one and we have chosen it to begin our ‘Challenging Histories’ programme. Over the next few years we will be exploring some of the complex and often more difficult aspects of the history of our places, stories we have perhaps shied away from but which are important to our understanding of their history.

“The programme will be built on new research and will, we hope, stimulate contemporary debate on issues that have their roots in the past but are of continuing relevance today. We will create a programme of events and exhibitions that will be of interest to new and existing audiences alike and remind us all of the importance of our cultural heritage and how vital it is to care for it for future generations to enjoy.”

Some of the properties taking part are:

Sutton House, Hackney
Sutton House will hold a year of exhibitions, activities and events around the theme ‘Sutton House Queered’. Working with a number of community partners, the programme will unpick themes of exploration, anarchy and campaigning and include a range of displays and trails ranging from Alice in Wonderland to 1980s squatters. Events begin in LGBTQ history month in February.

Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire
Hanbury Hall will be focussing on their collection and, in particular, the dramatic Sir James Thornhill wall paintings that adorn the staircase which include depictions of Achilles and his lover Patroclus. Hidden stories will be shared revealing tales of classical love in Ancient Greece and satirically, Queen Anne’s Court. From March onwards.

Smallhythe Place, Kent
The former home of actress Ellen Terry will shine a spotlight on her daughter Edy Craig who lived with two female partners in the Priest’s House. Playwrights, Pioneers, Provocateurs will highlight a number of objects in the house, and a production of Wilde Without The Boy, a dramatisation of De Profundis, the letter/s written by Oscar Wilde to Lord Douglas from prison, will take place in the Barn Theatre on 9th and 10th June.

Knole, Kent
Knole will be celebrating Virginia Woolf’s iconic novel ‘Orlando’, inspired by her lover Vita Sackville-West, who was born and brought up at Knole. A copy of the book, signed by Woolf for Vita’s cousin Eddy Sackville-West recently acquired at auction, will form the centre piece of events which include a partnership with Cinelive and the British Film Institute. A week of events begins Tuesday 27th June.