Friday, 23 December 2011

The Annual Servants’ Ball

November 1938

The annual Servant's Ball was popular among gay men long before homosexuality became legal. In the photo, men in drag attend the event at the Royal Albert Hall. Observers at the time were shocked by the scenes with one commenting: 'Groups of men dressed in coloured silk blouses and tight-lipped [sic] trousers. By their attitude and general behaviour they were obviously male prostitutes.'
Homosexuality was decriminalised 30 years later in 1967.
Thanks to The Metro

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Voices from the Old Bailey - Amanda Vickery on Radio 4

First broadcast on 3rd August 2011 on Radio 4, as part of the second series of Voices from the Old Bailey.

In Sexual Subcultures (link goes to BBC website; link still worked on 25 July 2016), Amanda Vickery uses court cases to explore the lives of gay men and cross-dressers in the 18th century. Lesbians did not appear in court as lesbianism was not against the law - but the programme includes an 18th century lesbian love song, as well as the hilarious 'Bumography'. (The programme lasts about 45 minutes.)

The 3 court cases referred to range from the tragic to the hilarious:
  • First, the case of a milkman caught in a raid on a gay brothel - and sentenced to death.
  • The second case is blackmail, and reveals the vulnerability of all men at the time to accusations of sodomy.
  • The third stars the hilarious 'Princess Seraphina', a cross-dresser with a bevy of female admirers who turn up in court - a priceless insight into 18th century camp.
Three contributors discuss the cases: leading gay historian Rictor Norton, Helen Berry, historian of sexuality, and Professor Peter King, historian of crime. They discuss how far there was a clearly-defined gay identity in the 18th century.

The programme was recorded on location in Lincoln's Inn, where barristers have been beavering away for centuries. But outside their chambers, this was one of the naughtiest places in London - a notorious gay cruising ground, and site of the 'bog-house', the public toilets which were a place of assignation.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Just whose side are you on, Judge?

Llewellyn Archer Atherley-Jones QC (1851-1929) was a British politician and Barrister who eventually became a Judge.
He was the son of Ernest Jones, a prominent Chartist leader who was also a Barrister; he adopted a hyphenated surname to include his mother's maiden name. Educated at Manchester Grammar School and Brasenose College, Oxford, he was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1875 and joined the North Eastern Circuit where he was initially involved in criminal defence work.
He shared his father's radical politics and became honorary Secretary of the Westminster Committee which supported William Gladstone on the question of the Ottoman Empire's atrocities in Bulgaria. He was also taken on as barrister for the Miners' National Union; he represented the miners at an inquiry into an underground explosion at Seaham, Co. Durham in 1880. The experience made him even more committed to the left-wing of the Liberal Party, although in 1881 he declined an invitation to fight a by-election in Leeds against Herbert Gladstone, son of the Liberal leader.
He was chosen as candidate for Ealing in 1884, but then had a much better offer from North West Durham, an area full of miners  where a Liberal victory was much more likely. He won that seat with 62% of the vote in the general election of November 1885 and served as their MP until 1914.
Later, as a judge at the Old Bailey in the 1920s, he got a reputation for dealing sympathetically with men charged with consensual homosexual offences.
As early as April 1922, Sir William Horwood, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, wrote to the Home Office about him. He attached a report by the prosecuting solicitors, Messrs Wontner & Sons, on a case of gross indecency (R v John Cecil Blackburn) tried by His Honour on 27th March 1922. Following some preamble the report said:-
“After the Defendant had given evidence the learned Judge summed up the case, and in the course of his summing up in effect said that although people who tamper with young persons, that is to say, people who are not adults, ought to be punished very severely, cases of gross indecency ought not to be brought to Court, but should be a matter for the men’s consciences.
“This extraordinary expression was the view put forward by the learned [Judge] as worthy of consideration by the Jury, who without leaving the box, returned a verdict of “not guilty”; and the Defendant was discharged.”
There was a postscript to the report:- “It is useless to make any further comment upon the way this Judge tries cases of an indecent character. For some reason or another, which we cannot appreciate, practically all cases of alleged indecency between male persons are put in this Judge’s list for trial at the Old Bailey.”
So, not only was the Judge sympathetic towards homosexual men charged with victimless sexual offences, it seems he had a confederate in the Listing Office at the Central Criminal Court.
At an interview with the Secretary of State on 19th May 1927, the Commissioner of Police told him that cases of sodomy were increasing in London and that the police efforts were hampered by Judge Atherley-Jones who declined to regard such offences as serious.

A few days later on 25th May: It was decided not to attempt to get the Lord Chancellor or the Lord Chief Justice to move in the matter. But it was arranged behind the scenes that 'serious cases of this kind' should be put in the lists of the senior Judges at Central Criminal Court, although, of course, “urinal cases” must still ‘find their way with other small fry into Judge AJ’s list’.
And there's a note on the folder of the archived file for that same date: “The Director tells me today that he finds that in any serious cases of his that stray into that list whether indecent cases or frauds this Judge takes a much more reasonable view than he did formerly. Today he gave Major Morris 9 months for indecency with boys.” [‘Boys’ the key word here, I think.]
Sir William wrote again to the Home Office in December 1927. His complaint sounds much the same as in the previous case: “His Lordship in his address to the Jury mentioned that when the offence of this description was in connection with children of tender years, it was much more serious than in the present case; that if two persons of mature age thought fit to make beasts of themselves in such a disgusting manner, they were only corrupting their own morals. But as it was an offence against the Law of the Country the Police were bound to act. His Lordship also pointed out that in the present case there was no question of a mistake on the part of two young constables, the evidence given was that of two old and experienced officers, and if the defence was to be believed these two officers had come into court and had committed wilful perjury. I may mention here that the two constables in question gave their evidence in a very straightforward and convincing manner. After retiring for about a quarter of an hour, the Jury returned with a verdict of not guilty, and both prisoners released.” The prosecuting solicitors said: ‘[his] summing up, as is getting usual in this class of case, was in favour of the defendants.’
In notes for late December 1927, we can see that the Secretary of State was no fool: "SofS can take no action. There is nothing which this Judge would more enjoy than to receive a remonstrance which he would answer in a letter to The Times as the champion of the independence of the Judiciary!"
The Judge was getting wiser in his remarks. They were still clearly intended to encourage acquittal but they were becoming less objectionable in form than others made by him in earlier cases. For example, he might say .“Police are bound to act” instead of “cases ought not to be brought into Court”, and “if the defendants are to be believed there must have been gross perjury on the part of experienced officers”, which was then a common form of invitation to convict, but had the opposite effect in his court!
A note by the bureaucrat in charge of this file says at this point: "I have not the least doubt that this Judge is unfit to try these cases but I fear we must put up with him for a little longer – he was born in 1851." But later we see "He will live for years. The wicked always do!" ['Wicked' for going against prevailing opinion about homosexuals, I assume.]
The last case referred to in the file was in October 1928 (less than a year before the Judge passed away aged 78). This time the Judge had had the gall to stop a trial and discharge the defendant rather than go by the uncorroborated evidence of a single witness. The prosecuting solicitors were a little peeved: .“It is a little unfortunate that the learned Judge took this view as this defendant has two previous convictions for this class of offence and also one for indecent exposure and we have little doubt that on the day in question he was committing the offence alleged against him.” (They obviously had no truck with the principle 'innocent till proven guilty'.)
On the whole, it is clear that the Judge took a comparatively modern view that, if children or those too young to be able to consent were involved it was appropriate to bring a case to court. But he made it clear to juries that, in his view, when the defendants were both adult and therefore only 'corrupting' those already 'corrupted', it was a waste of the Court's and the jury's time. And it seems from the frustrated correspondence between Sir William Horwood and the Home Office and the reports of the prosecuting solicitors, that the juries often agreed with the learned Judge.

Compiled by Chris Park, from file reference HO 144/22298 at the National Archives, with supplementary information from, and others.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Criminalisation begins...

A piece from Past2Present 2010 by Beth Brook

The first legislation against homosexuality in England was introduced to Parliament in 1533  by Thomas Cromwell under the reign of King Henry VIII. This was The Buggery Act, which defined the offence as committed with man or beast and was the first criminalisation of homosexual activities.
It is sometimes suggested that the Act was introduced as a measure against the clergy, since the Act was introduced following the separation of the Church of England from Rome, though there seems to be no firm evidence for this. The Act itself only states that there was no "sufficient and condigne punyshment" for such acts. The Act was, however, repealed in 1553 on the accession of Queen Mary and then re-enacted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1563.
Buggery remained a capital offence in England and Wales until the enactment of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (under section 61, ‘Unnatural Offences’):
Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable Crime of Buggery, committed either with Mankind or with any Animal, shall be liable, at the Discretion of the Court, to be kept in Penal Servitude for Life or for any Term not less than Ten Years.
The Penal Servitude Act 1891 abolished the minimum penalty for the crime of sodomy.
Parliament finally repealed buggery laws for England and Wales with the Sexual Offences Act 1967 (at least insofar as they related to consensual homosexual acts in private), ten years after the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, better known as the Wolfenden Report, in 1957.

The First Execution for buggery, along with treason, was of Walter Hungerford, 1st Baron Hungerford of Heytesbury, although it was probably the treason that cost him his life. Nicholas Udall, a cleric, playwright and Headmaster of Eton College, was the first to be charged with violation of the Act alone in 1541, for sexually abusing his pupils. In his case, the sentence was commuted to imprisonment and he was released in less than a year.
The last execution, on 17 November 1835, was of James Pratt and John Smith, two poor, married men caught in the act in a run-down boarding house in Southwark. Their appeals for clemency were rejected and they were hanged together before a crowd that was ‘excessive, but exceedingly decorous’, according to The Times.
Sources:; pp109-110, A Gay History of Great Britain, ed. by Matt Cook

The last executions in the UK, by hanging, were in 1964, prior to capital punishment being abolished for murder in 1969 in Great Britain and in 1973 in Northern Ireland. Although not applied, the death penalty remained for some other offences until 1998.
The last death sentence in the UK was imposed on  William Holden in 1973 in Northern Ireland, for the capital murder of a British soldier during the Troubles. Holden was removed from the death cell in May 1973.
The last civilian offences punishable by death were treason and piracy with violence, the death penalty was abolished for these by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

Even after the death penalty was removed, the social consequences could be appalling:-
On 21 November 1891, at Newcastle Assizes (what is now known as the Crown Court), George Canham (28) and M Baker (31) were convicted of sodomy with each other and both sentenced by Judge Wills to 10 years penal servitude.
Baker committed suicide by taking poison in the police cell passage immediately after sentence.
National Archives file HO 144/243 Bestiality - Reduction of sentence of penal servitude

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Harvey Milk (1930-1978)

On this day, 33 years ago, Harvey Milk was assassinated by Dan White. Harvey was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the US.

For more information:

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Tale of Edward Hewitson

From The Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York

Edward Hewitson of Over Poppleton, near York, appeared in the court of the Dean and Chapter of York Minster in the last months of 1516. This was an office case (that is, the accused was prosecuted by the court, rather than by an individual).
The court records do not give details of his crime; however, some of the papers for his individual case survive. These, although damaged, make it clear that he was accused of repeatedly committing the ‘detestable sodomitical sin against human nature’ with other men for a period of 14 years.
The surviving records give details of the accusations made against him with notes of his responses to these statements. Although he began by denying all the charges, he did confess that he had in the past admitted committing this ‘sin’ and had performed public penance for it. This meant that he had to walk in procession around the church at Over Poppleton and the church of St Mary Bishophill in York, dressed in a sheet. This would have taken place during the weekly church service so many people would have seen him and known he was performing penance.
The accusations were backed by the accounts of witnesses, which would have been read after the accusations were made. They were encouraged to give an account of any relevant information, which was copied down. In the 14th and 15th centuries, these accounts would have been translated into Latin for presentation in court. By the 16th century when this case was heard more written accounts were being produced in English. In this case the accounts waver between the two languages, with a few words in Latin followed by some in English. These witness accounts are badly damaged, breaking up the narrative, but it is still possible to get a sense of these men’s stories.
The were five witnesses: Ralph Falowfeld, Francis Mane, Robert Hay, George Browne and Robert Carrok. There is a note that the first three witnesses appeared on 15 January and the final two on 16 January – the year is missing but must have been 1517 from other evidence.
It is not known how this case was resolved: the court book shows that it continued in the court for several months but we have no record of a sentence given.
The Church Courts could provide very little in the way of punishment and the strongest sentence which it could have passed would have been one of excommunication. This would have involved refusing Edward Hewitson the right to enter a church, and perhaps isolating him in his village so that he was not spoken to by his neighbours. If Edward repented and performed a penance these bans would have been lifted.
Edward was fortunate: from 1533 sodomy became a crime which could be tried by the secular courts and those convicted were hanged.

See also:

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Alan Turing - Drama documentary on Channel 4

Whilst flipping through my copy of the Radio Times to discover what televisual treats await us next week, I discovered that Channel 4 are screening "Britain's Greatest Codebreaker" on Monday 21st November at 9.00pm.

According to the text, this drama documentary "recounts the brilliant and ultimately tragic life of one of the 20th century's great minds".

For a bit more background:

International Trans Day of Remembrance 2011 - London

 (I got this via a friend from

An event to mark International Trans Day of Remembrance 2011
Location:  The 52 Club, Basement, 52 Gower Street, London WC1E 6EB
Date: Sunday 20th November · 4:30pm - 6:30pm, followed by refreshments in 52 Club bar until 9.00pm

The International Trans Day of Remembrance is an opportunity for trans people, their friends, families and allies to come together in a safe space to reflect on those who have lost their lives through violence or suicide because they are trans. It is a time to remember, mourn and celebrate them and to tell their stories so they are not forgotten.

Commemoration through readings, poetry and music
You don’t have to bring or do anything but, as in previous years, we would very much like people to contribute and participate if they wish. If you would like to take part, please bring short stories, readings or poetry and speak to the organisers beforehand – if you prefer not to read yourself, we can find someone else to read the text for you.

The venue is accessible via lift at street level.

Johannes or Eleanor?

John Rykener, known also as Johannes Richer and Eleanor, was a 14th century transvestite prostitute working mainly in London (near Cheapside), but also active in Oxford. In 1395, he was arrested for cross-dressing and interrogated. The records have survived, the only surviving legal records from that age which mention same-sex intercourse.

During his interrogation, Rykener claimed to have had many clients including priests, monks and nuns; he said that he preferred priests because they paid better than others. He mentioned a Franciscan friar, who had given him a gold ring, a Carmelite friar and six foreigners, "of whom one gave Rykener twelve pence, one twenty pence, and one two shillings".

This link has a record of his trial - plus an image of the original record!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Fictional Obscenities

In November 2010, Dr Louise Chambers, a founder member of the LGBT History Project, gave a lecture on the regulation of 'obscenity' in relation to the banning of novels whose narratives featured same sex relations between women in the early 20th century.

A podcast of the lecture is available on the National Archives website at:

Note that the lecture features mature themes and some explicit references.

Research Day - November 2011

Yesterday was not so much a research day as a 'sort things out' day.

We spent a lot of our time discussing the content of format of the 2012 edition of our annual magazine, Past2Present.

The magazine looks promising - we think, anyway.There'll be a number of longer articles on various historical subjects, including sport-related ones, plus some short pieces on more recent events.

The magazine will be published online in time for LGBT History Month in February next year. Watch this space...

(You can download the 2011 edition of Past2Present is available for download from:

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Tu Er Shen

Tu Er Shen was originally a man called Hu Tianbao, who fell in love with a very handsome imperial inspector of Fujian Province. One day Hu Tianbao was caught peeping at the inspector through a bathroom wall, at which point he confessed his affections for the other man. The imperial inspector had Hu Tianbao sentenced to death by beating. One month after his death, Hu Tianbao is said to have appeared to a man from his hometown in a dream. He told him that, since his crime was one of love, the underworld officials had decided to correct the injustice by making him the god and safeguarder of homosexual affections. After his dream, the man built a shrine to Hu Tianbao, which became very popular in Fujian province, so much so that in late Qing times, the cult of Hu Tianbao was targeted for extermination by the Qing government.

A slang term for homosexuals in late imperial China was tuzi (rabbits), which is why Hu Tianbao is referred to as the rabbit deity, though in actual fact he has nothing to do with rabbits and (obviously) should not be confused with tuer ye, the rabbit on the moon.

Source - Wikipedia, among others

Friday, 28 October 2011

An inspiring woman

Rose Robertson: 1916-2011

Not only was she courageous, working for the British Special Operations Executive during the Second World War as a spy, but she was supportive of LGBT people at a time that few heterosexuals were.

See Peter Tatchell's obituary of her in the Guardian online:

Monday, 17 October 2011


I'm just starting putting together an article for the 2012 edition of Past2Present. I'm looking at the reactions to the use of the word 'gay' to describe lesbian and gay people. From my visit to LAGNA on 6 October last, I found snippets in their file Ra - Language from as early as 1963.

A couple of favourites...
  • From The Evening Standard of 27 June 1986: a reference to HUGs - 'Heterosexuals Unafraid of Gays'. I'm happy to say that I know a lot of HUGs. Lovely people... kind to their mums... (just teasing)
  • From a letter in the Bournemouth Evening Echo of 19 November 1986: "What really annoys me is this ridiculous and wrongful use of the word “gay”... It’s about time the church spoke up about this,...". Quite what the church has to do with usage in the English language is not made clear.
Warm regards

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive - LAGNA

On Thursday 6th October, Louise and I went to the Bishopsgate Institute library to have a look at LAGNA in its new home. It moved there from Middlesex University in January 2011.

Apart from having a major thing about form filling, the staff there couldn't have been more helpful and interested in our work.

After a quick check on LAGNA's catalogue, we decided to start with the files on Sport and Language. Some time later...

We realised that we'd not be going further into the archives that day. I was cobbling together a piece on reactions to the word 'gay' since about 1963 - and reactions to reactions to the word 'gay', while Louise was engrossed in pulling out information about the Gay Games movement.

If you'd like to see what we did for February this year, the 2011 magazine is available online at:-

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Starting up...

The LGBT History Project is a team of, currently, three people with a (quite amateur) interest in the hidden history of LGBT people. Between us, we represent a good proportion of theL, G, B and T.
For several years now, we have been rummaging through the National Archives to see what lurks in the nation's official record.
So far we've uncovered tales of harsh policing in the 30s,as well as some intriguing signs that civil servants in the 40s and 50s were almost sympathetic to trans men. Hopefully, more will turn up as we dig further.
We all do this in our personal time and we are not funded. However, we are working to produce a magazine in PDF format for February 2012, as our contribution to LGBT History Month.
You can contact us at or by commenting on a post here.