Marking the 50th anniversary of the UK Sexual Offences Act we look at the Historic England listed locations with LGBTQ histories
The Sexual Offences Act 1967, which permitted homosexual acts between adults over the age of 21, signalled a turning point in LGBTQ rights, and was the first step in moving closer to equality. Historic England’s listings commemorate the 50th anniversary of this law and highlight the contribution of LGBTQ people to England’s cultural heritage. Here are the places and the people who made them famous.
The Chapel of St Anne, Saunton, Devon – A newly-listed Grade II property
Artist Mary Lowndes created one of the beautiful stained glass windows inside The Chapel of St Anne, which was Designed by the architect Frederick James Commin and built in 1898. The window, which was installed at the height of the artist’s career in 1906, clearly shows Lowndes’ Arts and Crafts inspiration.
A suffragette, Lowndes was a leading figure in the movement and chair of the Artists’ Suffrage League, for which she designed banners and posters to be taken to demonstrations. She lived with her partner, the fellow suffragette Barbara Forbes.
More examples of Lowndes’ work can be found at The Women’s Library.
Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards
The Cabin, Bucks Mills, Devon – Now a Grade II listed property
This modest studio home, perched on the cliff at Bideford Bay was home to artists and partners Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards. The couple met at art school and created most of their artwork in and around the area, using The Cabin as a retreat and studio. They remained together until Ackland’s death in 1971, when Edwards left the studio and never returned.
Now owned by the National Trust – The Cabin remains unchanged, with the modest interior left just as it was when the pair lived here, including half-finished works.
Ackland and Edwards also travelled widely, and as a result their paintings have made their way into museums and collections across the country.
Artworks from the Ackland and Edwards collection can be found locally, at The Burton at Bideford.
The grave of James Barry, Kensal Green Cemetery, London – Grade II listed
It’s not just LGBTQ artists who made an important contribution to Britain’s heritage. Dr James Barry was a leading military surgeon — one of the most gifted and respected doctors of his time. After graduating as a medical student, Barry joined the British Army, and served around the world.
Barry was instrumental in reforming conditions for patients, he insisted on cleanliness, improvements to water supplies and better conditions for mental health patients and prisoners. Barry also performed the first ever successful caesarean section in Africa – in which both mother and child survived. This feat was not to be performed in Britain for another 7 years.
On his death in 1865, it was revealed that Barry was born biologically female, and may have even borne a child. Barry was born Margaret Ann Bulkley around 1789, and began his new life as James in 1809.
Hannah Gluckstein ‘Gluck’
Chantry House, Steyning, West Sussex – Grade II listed
This house in the rural West Sussex village of Steyning was home to subversive 20th Century artist Hannah Gluckstein, better known by her pseudonym Gluck, and her lover, the successful journalist Edith Shackleton Heald.
After studying art, she joined an artists’ colony and, in 1918 at the age of 23, adopted the name Gluck. She took on an androgynous style – cutting her hair short, dressing in traditionally masculine clothes and smoking a pipe. This gender subversion and non-conformity was reflected in her artwork.
Gluck was a perfectionist, and spent many years campaigning for better quality, graded oil paints and even developed her own style of art frame, which became very popular and would go on to grace the walls of many modernist homes.
Sissinghurst Castle, Kent – Grade I listed
Home to aristocratic author Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf’s friend, lover and muse, Sissinghurst Castle stands in the grounds of one of the finest gardens in England. Sackville-West lived here with her husband, the author and politician Harold Nicholson.
Sackville-West developed an infatuation with Woolf after they met at a party in 1922, and this slowly grew into a decade-long love affair between the two authors. She was the inspiration for Woolf’s revolutionary ‘Orlando’, in which the title character lives, without aging for 400 years, and changes gender from male to female. The novel was described by Vita’s son Nigel Nicholson as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’.
Reading Gaol, Berkshire – Grade II listed
Irish playwright, poet and author Oscar Wilde is perhaps just as well known for his imprisonment and exile as he is for his literary works. In 1895, after being accused of the crime of sodomy, both Wilde and the prostitute Alfred Taylor were convicted of ‘acts of gross indecency with other male persons’ and sentenced to two years’ hard labour. Wilde was sent to a number of prisons, ending up in Reading Gaol, where he lived in cell C33 for 18 months.
During his time in Reading Gaol, a fellow inmate was hanged for murder – this event led him to write his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which recalls his experience of the prisoner’s last moments and brilliantly evokes the prison’s bleak atmosphere. It is thought that the substandard conditions Wilde experienced during his stint in prison were a major factor in his premature death, while in exile in France, at the age of 46.
Dora Carrington, Ralph Partridge and Lytton Strachey
Ham Spray House, Ham, Wiltshire – Grade II listed
Bloomsbury artist Dora Carrington lived at this house in Wiltshire in a complicated ménage à trois with her lover, the writer and critic Lytton Strachey, and husband Ralph Partridge. The house was purchased by Strachey in 1924, who also funded Carrington and Partridge’s wedding and honeymoon. The trio had open relationships, and had several affairs – often with same-sex partners.
While she received little fame during her lifetime, Dora Carrington is now considered a notable member of the Bloomsbury Group and is best known for her surrealist-inspired landscapes and portraits for her fellow Bloomsberries.
After Lytton Strachey’s death from stomach cancer in 1932, Carrington saw no purpose in living, and she committed suicide with a gun borrowed from a friend. Her ashes are buried in the garden.
Dora Carrington and fellow Bloomsbury artists have works in the collection of Tate Britain.
Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud
8 Royal College Street, Camden, London – Grade II listed
Home to the French poets and lovers Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud in 1873. Paul Verlaine was a symbolist poet associated with the Decadent movement – a hedonistic artistic and literary movement based on the ideology of excess. Verlaine met the seventeen year old fellow poet Arthur Rimbaud in 1871 after Rimbaud sent him some of his poetry to critique. Verlaine was intrigued by Rimbaud and invited him to Paris, and a brief and tumultuous love affair took the poets to London in 1872.
They lived in poverty in this house in Camden from 1873, surviving on funds from Verlaine’s mother and odd teaching jobs. The couple split a few months later, and Verlaine returned to Paris. In June of the same year Verlaine shot Rimbaud, superficially injuring his wrist, signalling the end of the couple’s stormy relationship.
Pride of Place is a project run by Historic England to identify locations linked to England’s LGBTQ heritage. The project celebrates the country’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer stories, from Ancient Roman to modern times.
View more Pride of Place locations on the map and contribute your own at Historypin.org