Finding LGB individuals in the archives

We have a guest item today from a small project that Reading University ran over the summer. I was lucky enough to join George and Amy on one of their research trips. Please come along to one of the events where they will be presenting their findings.

In recent weeks, the Supreme Court of India has legalised same-sex acts, overruling a regulation concerning ‘unnatural offences’. There are still advances to be made on this issue, but it is hugely significant. When celebrating our victories, it is often helpful to consider the victims of past prejudices and persecution. In the United Kingdom, the complete ban on same-sex acts continued until the Sexual Offences Act 1967 came into force. Even after this date, there were stringent conditions in which sexual relations between people of the same sex could be considered legal.

Before 1967, men (and they were invariably men: there was no desire to prosecute same-sex acts among women during the same period) who were suspected of having sexual relations with other men would be hauled before the courts and had their ‘transgressions’ examined by lawyers and reported in newspapers. The death penalty for same-sex acts remained in force until the Sexual Offences Act 1861. Even after this date, sex between men could be punished by up to ten years in prison. Men who were accused of intimate encounters with other men have been immortalised in the records of the justice system that criminalised them. The records for Berkshire are held by the Berkshire Record Office and the National Archives.

These records only document the individuals in their role as a perpetrator (or the person accused) of crime, however. They are full of condemnation: the acts are described as abominable, unmentionable and detestable. We wanted to delve deeper into the lives of these men and explore how their crime fitted into their broader story. In the course of our research, we uncovered heart-wrenching tales of heroism, persecution, deception, and resilience.

One such story is that of a man who was born just before the turn of the century. He was accused of committing acts of gross indecency with another man at the age of
17. His initial hearing took place at Wokingham Petty Sessions where he was indicted to
Berkshire Assizes. At the Court of Assize, he was found guilty and sentenced to three years
in a borstal institution. His sentence expired in 1915 and a few months later, he enlisted. He was in the army between January 1916 and July 1916, at which point he was discharged for being ‘mentally defective’. He is recorded in the 1939 register as living in Wokingham with relations. The parish death records show that he lived until his eighties.

There are many questions that are left unanswered by the records that were kept about this individual. It is impossible to tell the circumstances of the ‘gross indecency’ – was this a case of experimentation or the manifestation of a deeper and more lasting sexual desire? In any case, his punishment for gross indecency (a crime for which he would probably be pardoned for) would have been a formative experience for anyone of his young age, let alone for someone branded as ‘mentally defective’ by the state.

Join us at the events below to hear more of the stories we found and to explore the issues surrounding the punishment of individuals for same-sex desire.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: THE LIMITS OF COMMUNITY

A free public exhibition at Reading Minster, RG1 2XH on Saturday 10th November 2018 from 10am–4pm

On Saturday 10 November, Reading Minster turns into an interactive exhibition space filled with studies on crime and criminal justice carried out by University of Reading researchers at the School of Law.

Can the use of criminal punishments prevent unwanted deaths? How has punishment changed over the years? What does history tell us about what and who should be criminalised?

https://esrc.ukri.org/public-engagement/festival-of-social-science/festival-events/events-in-south-east-england/criminal-justice-the-limits-of-community/

OFFENCES AGAINST THE PERSON?  DISCOVERING HIDDEN LGB HISTORIES IN BERKSHIRE COURT ARCHIVES.

A free teatime exhibition and discussion of our research at Berkshire Record Office, 9 Coley Ave, Reading, RG1 6AF on Monday 11 February 2019 from 4:30pm-6pm (exhibition and refreshments from 4:30pm, discussion from 5)

As part of LGBT History Month, join us to hear University of Reading students Amy Hitchings and George Stokes discuss the findings of their summer 2018 UROP (Under Graduate Research Program) research; to learn about some previously forgotten lives; to see some of the Victorian and Edwardian documents they used for research; and to enjoy tea and cake.

For tickets, please contact the Berkshire Record Office – arch@reading.ac.uk

George Stokes spent the summer working with Amy Hitchings on research into hidden LGB histories in Berkshire, covering the period 1861-1919. This research was funded by the University of Reading under its UROP scheme.

60 Years ago Today

60 Years ago today, Sir John (later Lord) Wolfenden published his report which set the stage to legal changes that made gay love ‘not criminal’. To mark this occasion Katherine Harloe of Reading University and Jessica Stevens-Taylor of the Wolfenden Project have compiled a short blog. Please read it here.

A Month of Events and Archives

Rummaging in the Archives

This month we have been spending a lot of time visiting archives at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archives (LAGNA) and the National Archives at Kew. we have other trips planned for more rummaging at these and at other archives around the country. The National Archives hold frequent events, many focused on LGBT histories which are very well presented and thought provoking. I deeply disliked history lessons at school, if they had been more like the archive research we have been doing I feel many more people would become engaged by our rich past. It is such a pity that teachers do not have the freedom or resources to allow this.

View from LAGNA reading rooms

Heritage Lottery Fund Networking Event

The HLF will be running an event for current and potential recipients on the 15th of September in Reading. This event aims to encourage more funding applications for LGBT+ projects. Our very own Lynden Kingston (CEO) will be giving a presentation.

This drive for more LGBT+ applications is also being supported by a series of articles and blogs, the first of which can be viewed on their website.

Reading Pride

We are very busy with events in September, also on the calendar is Reading Pride on the 2nd of September. Support U are partnering with Reading Buses again and you may have seen a bus around town with Lord Wolfenden adorning the sides?

Reading buses supporting Support U and Reading Pride

We will also have, curtesy of Reading Buses, an open top bus at the Pride Festival where Kath and I will be on hand to talk about the project. There will also be displays and people to discuss LGBT History Month next February which is supported by Support U.  This will include a series of events, including some talks by The Wolfenden Project. Drop in and see us to find out more.

Before Pride there was Fear and Shame

Before the Pride marches and festivals LGBT people in the UK faced imprisonment, hefty fines, social disgrace and blackmail.

60 years ago Lord Wolfenden published a pivotal report that recommended same-sex love be partially decriminalised. We are marking this anniversary with a project to explore what has happened since that time. We need your recollections – good, bad or indifferent from any time during the last 60 years.

You may have lived through the time when being gay was enough to land you in prison. You may only just be coming to terms with your sexuality or gender. Do you remember Section 28? Were you a teacher or a local government employee between 1988 and 2003? Did Section 28 or its repeal change the way you worked? Were you a student during this time? Have you ever served in the armed forces and identify as gay, bi or lesbian? Did you serve before the change in policy in 2003? Is there homophobia, biphobia or transphobia in your workplace or family?

Whatever you have to share, be it a few words or a few pages, we would love to hear from you. We would like to have personal stories read by actors for a short documentary. We are also interested in any items like letters, pictures or newspaper clippings that you are happy for us to photograph and use.

We will need an approximate date/year for your memory and ideally a rough location, particularly if it is from outside the UK. All contributions will be treated as confidential unless you expressly state you are happy for us to include your name.

Please email contributions to: history@supportu.org.uk
or write to:
The Wolfenden Project
Support U
15 Castle Street
Reading
RG1 7SB

A Less Happy Event

You may have heard that Support U was broken into earlier this month. While the would be thief was scared off before they took anything they did cause a huge amount of expensive damage. We do not receive any public funding and the costs of repairs and upgrading our security systems is a huge drain on our funds earmarked to help people. It would be a huge help if you could spare any amount, small or large through our Just Giving page. Thankyou in advance for your generosity.

 

You have a story to share!

60 years ago Lord Wolfenden published a pivotal report that recommended same-sex love be partially decriminalised. We are marking this anniversary with a project to explore what has happened since that time. We need your recollections – good, bad or indifferent from any time during the last 60 years.

You may have lived through the time when being gay was enough to land you in prison. You may only just be coming to terms with your sexuality or gender. Do you remember Section 28? Were you a teacher or a local government employee between 1988 and 2003? Did Section 28 or its repeal change the way you worked? Were you a student during this time? Have you ever served in the armed forces and identify as gay, bi or lesbian? Did you serve before the change in policy in 2003? Is there homophobia, biphobia or transphobia in your workplace or family?

Whatever you have to share, be it a few words or a few pages, we would love to hear from you. We would like to have personal stories read by actors for a short documentary. We are also interested in any items like letters, pictures or newspaper clippings that you are happy for us to photograph and use.

We will need an approximate date/year for your memory and ideally a rough location, particularly if it is from outside the UK. All contributions will be treated as confidential unless you expressly state you are happy for us to include your name.

Please email contributions to: history@supportu.org.uk

or write to:
The Wolfenden Project
Support U
15 Castle Street
Reading
RG1 7SB

Lord Wolfenden Poster

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