Historic England to relist Oscar Wilde’s home and others with gay heritage

Pride of Place project honours LGBTQ men and women whose historical significance has been ignored or underestimated

The homes of Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Britten and Anne Lister, a woman considered the first modern lesbian, are being relisted as part of a gay history project undertaken by Historic England.

The heritage organisation has also announced that the grave of Amelia Edwards, a Victorian novelist and Egyptologist, is to be given listed status for the first time.

The listings are the result of a project called Pride of Place. Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said buildings and places were witnesses to events that shaped society, but lesbian and gay stories had often been neglected.

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, he said.

Shibden Hall, Halifax, the home of Anne Lister. Photograph: Alison Oram
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.

Some of the buildings are already listed, but their status is being updated to take into account their LGBTQ histories.

Examples are 34 Tite Street in London, where Wilde lived with his wife until his trial for gross indecency in 1895; the Red House in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, where Britten lived with his partner, the tenor Peter Pears; and Shibden Hall, near Halifax, the home of Lister in the early 19th century.

Lister was something of a pioneer because she unashamedly identified herself as being sexually and romantically attracted to women. She inherited Shibden Hall from her uncle in 1836 and lived there for several years with her partner, Ann Walker.

St Anns Court, Surrey. Photograph: FRENCH+TYE

Also receiving an updated listing is an art deco jewel: St Anns Court near Chertsey, Surrey, the home of Gerald Schlesinger and Christopher Tunnard. Built in 1936-7, it is described as an example of queer architecture. It was designed with a master bedroom that could be separated into two, so visitors assumed the two men slept separately.

A later occupant was Phil Manzanera, guitarist with the band Roxy Music.

Edwards, a determined advocate for womens rights in Victorian England, is being recognised with a new grade II listing for her grave in St Marys churchyard, Bristol.

She died in 1892 at the home in Weston-super-Mare that she shared with her partner, Ellen Braysher. They are buried beside each other in the churchyard.

The Pride of Place project has been led by historians at Leeds Beckett Universitys Centre for Culture and the Arts. Researchers had asked the public to suggest LGBTQ heritage sites ahead of the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality next year.

Prof Alison Oram, lead researcher at Leeds Beckett University, said it had been a real passion project for the team.

Weve had a tremendous response to it from people across the country, who have pinned their favourite LGBTQ heritage places on our crowd-sourced map. Its been wonderful to meet and discuss the project with many diverse LGBTQ communities, she said.

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.

Separately, Historic England has created a walking app called Queer Soho, which guides users through the alternative lifestyles of the areas residents over the past 130 years.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/sep/23/historic-england-to-relist-oscar-wildes-home-and-others-with-gay-heritage

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