New project maps hidden gay stories of British buildings

Historic England is about to embark on Pride of Place, a ground breaking research project that will uncover the untold queer histories of buildings and places people have lived alongside for generations. Led by a team of historians at Leeds Beckett University’s Centre for Culture and the Arts, people can give examples of the buildings and places special to them; from the private houses of trailblazing individuals; to the much loved local gay bar; to the first venue in town to host equal marriage and everything in between. The result will be a map of England that plots the multitude of buildings across the country that hold a sometimes hidden, sometimes public, LGBTQ history. People can contribute at map “I’m proud that Historic England is tackling the challenge of identifying those places that were so important to the lives of gay men and women during times when homosexuality was stigmatised and criminalised. Historic places can be such a graphic reminder of critically important times in our history. Recognising them means they and their embodied stories will not be forgotten,” said Duncan Wilson, Historic England Chief Executive. A trial of the map has already taken place for London (see above) and has uncovered such intriguing examples as the Beaumont Society – the UK’s society for cross-dressing men – which held its annual dinner at the restaurant below Broadcasting House in the 1970s and 80s; Sodomite’s Walk, now part of modern day Finsbury Square, that was a popular gay cruising spot in the early 18th century; and The Shim Sham, a gay friendly and ethnically mixed Jazz club set up in 1935 on Wardour Street Soho, and constantly attracted police attention. Trocadero Pictured: The Long Bar at the Trocadero, Piccadilly, London was a male-only preserve, popular with middle class gay men during the 1920s and 1930s.(c) Historic England By autumn this year, Historic England will have distilled these collective stories in to a timeline that tells LGBTQ history in England through its buildings and places. By autumn 2016, an online exhibition with archive material, images and information, that brings this fascinating topic to a wider audience, will be on the Historic England website. Pride of Place comes at a time when buildings and places with LGBTQ associations are coming under increasing pressure. Many are disappearing as LGBTQ culture becomes more integrated into wider society, while others – often in urban areas - are closing to make way for redevelopment. People are passionate about preserving these vulnerable buildings because of what they represent. One such example is the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London, which is being assessed for listing by Historic England. Professor Alison Oram, lead researcher at Leeds Beckett University, said: “It's really significant that LGBTQ history is being recognised and promoted by our national heritage body, Historic England, and I am delighted to be developing this project with them. It means that people all over England will have the opportunity to contribute to and learn about the LGBTQ heritage that exists in the streets and buildings all around us.” Gina Warr proprietor of the Gateways Club Pictured: Gina Ware was the proprietor of the legendary Gateways club at 239 Kings Road on the corner of Bramerton Street, Chelsea. (c) Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Photographer John Bignell.