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Timeline of LGBT+ History for Stoke and Staffordshire

This page is a work in progress, we need your help! 

Please help us create a timeline of LGBT+ history for Stoke and Staffordshire. We will use this in future publications and to contribute to local archives. You can send your comments and suggestions using the form at the bottom of this page or you can contact us by email, phone or social media – see contact us.

Our history is important, lets make sure it’s not hidden or forgotten!

Celtic Tribes

Ancient Britain was inhabited by Celtic Tribes, three of which held territory with borders in Staffordshire. Women occupied a significant position in Celtic society equal to or greater than that of men – think of Boudica. Several classical writers in the ancient world noted that Celtic men preferred to have sex with each other. Writing in the 4th century BCE Aristotle (Politics II 1269b) says of Celts that “their men openly preferred male lovers” and in the first century BCE Diodorus Siculus writing about Celtic men says “although their wives are comely, they have very little to do with them, but rage with lust, in outlandish fashion, for the embraces of males” (Bibliotheca historica 5:32).

Celtic female warrior riding a chariot in an ancient landscape

Roman Occupation

Britain was part of the Roman Empire following the invasion of AD 43 until rule from Rome ended in the early 5th century. There is plenty of evidence of Roman life in Staffordshire including sites found in Chesterton, Trent Vale, Rocester and the spectacular site of Letocetum near Lichfield. Same sex relations between both women and men are a well documented part of Roman life though it would be wrong to ascribe the modern concepts of lesbian and gay identities to this very different culture. 

Roman busts of Hadrian and Antinous

The Middle Ages

Following the end of Roman rule, homosexuality became stigmatised through the increasing influence of the Church. It is likely that references to same sex relations in pre Christian Celtic history and folklore were edited out of all records in this period. The changing attitude to sex can be seen in penitentials – religious documents written to guide confessors on the penances to be imposed on their parishioners when they admitted to engaging in various sins. See for example the ‘Paenitentiale Theodori’, an early medieval penitential handbook based on the judgements of Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury

1534 - Buggery Act

The Buggery Act of 1533 was passed during the reign of Henry VIII, as part of a process of bringing activities that had previously been covered by church law into civil criminal law. The term buggery was not defined in the text of the legislation but was later interpreted by the courts to include only anal penetration and bestiality, regardless of the sex of the participants.  The act was widely used to prosecute men engaged in consensual sex. Buggery remained a capital offence until 1861, though the last executions were in 1835.

1800s - Criminalisation

In 1828 the Buggery Act of 1533 was repealed and replaced by the Offences against the Person Act. In 1861 the Offences Against the Person Act incorporated the further offence of ‘indecent assault’, which had emerged within common law during the 18th century. This was followed by The 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act that made any act of ‘gross indecency’ between men a criminal offence, whether it occurred in public or in private. In 1898 ‘Cruising’ streets, parks or urinals was criminalised as the offence of ‘importuning’ through the Vagrancy Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1912).

1835 - Staffordshire's Connection to the Last Men Hanged for Buggery

James Pratt and John Smith were the last two men to be hanged in England for the crime of ‘buggery’ (anal sex). Pratt and Smith came from working-class backgrounds in Essex and Worcestershire respectively. The “crime” took place in a private room in London rented from William Bonhill whose family has roots in South Staffordshire. The magistrate who committed the three men to trial was Hensleigh Wedgwood, the fourth son of Josiah Wedgwood II. Following the trial at the Old Bailey, Hensleigh wrote a passionate letter to the home secretary appealing against the death penalty that had been imposed on James and John. Read more…

1883 - Oscar Wilde Visits Staffordshire

Oscar Wilde visited Staffordshire on more than one occasion to deliver lectures as part of his national tours. In 1883 the venues he appeared at included St James Hall in Lichfield and St Pauls Institute in Burton-on-Trent. The following year in 1884 he appeared at the Lyceum Theatre in Stafford, The Temperance Hall in Leek, The Stoke and Fenton School of Art, the Town Hall in Stoke and the Mechanics Hall in Hanley. Read more…

1921 - Proposal to Outlaw Gross Indecency Between Women

A new offence of gross indecency between women was drafted under amendments to the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 1921. Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme voiced opposition to the amendment fearing that it would promote an increase in blackmail. Read more…

an old photograph of two women sitting on a beach

1928 - "The Well of Loneliness" A Lesbian Novel is banned

“The Well of Loneliness” is a novel by British author Radclyffe Hall first published in 1928. Shortly after the book’s publication, a British court judged it obscene because it defended “unnatural practices between women” and it was not published again until 1949. The book’s notoriety increased the visibility of lesbians and for decades it was the best-known lesbian novel in English. Read local newspaper reports…

1922 - Quentin Crisp Attends Denstone College in Uttoxeter

Quentin Crisp was born Denis Charles Pratt on 25 December 1908. While at Kingswood House School in Epsom, Surrey he won a scholarship to Denstone College, a boys boarding school in Uttoxeter where he studied from 1922 to 1926 aged 13 to 17. His memories of Denstone College are recorded in chapter 2 of his autobiography, “The Naked Civil Servant” though he only refers to a “public school on the borders of Staffordshire and Derbyshire”.

1957 - The Wolfenden Report

The Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (the Wolfenden report) was published on 4 September 1957. The report recommended the decriminalisation of sex between men.

1967 - The Sexual Offences Act Partially Decriminalises Sex Between Men

The Sexual Offences Act 1967  decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men over the age of 21. The Act only applied to England and Wales, and did not include decriminalisation in the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces.

1967 - Police Arrest Four Young Men

People may have hoped that the partial decriminalisation of sex between men in 1967 would bring more enlightened times. Sadly police action against gay men increased and this included action against young men under the age of 21.  The first concerted police campaign against gay men under the new age of consent was in Staffordshire in the Autumn of 1967. Four youths were arrested and charged, one later committed suicide. Read more…

1972 - Police Target Keele Gay Lib Soc

In 1972 police targeted the Keele Gay Lib Soc as part of a wider campaign against gay men in the Potteries. An article in the newly launched national publication “Gay News” reported that over the last eight months police had been compiling a dossier of all known gays in the potteries. Read more…

1972 - The Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in Stoke

Stoke-on-Trent had a local Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) group that was part of a national network of CHE groups that met across the UK. The goal of the CHE was to promote legal and social equality for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. The group formed in 1972 and initially met in members homes and  the 141 club that opened a year later. Membership cost 50p

Nationally, the CHE has now evolved into, the CHE Research Trust (CHERT) a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) established to research and publish the history of LGBT rights in the UK.  See www.chert.org.uk

1972 - Labi Siffre Song "Cannock Chase"

Labi Siffre is a homosexual black folk singer with a catalogue of successful albums and songs. His third album, released in 1973 included the hits “It Must be Love” and the album’s title track “Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying”. The album also included a less well know track called “Cannock Chase” of which Labi has said “I wrote it on Cannock Chase sitting in the back seat of my car with arms around my guitar and I gave it that place name”

1973 - Stoke's First Gay Nightclub

Stoke’s first  gay night club opened in May 1973. It was called the 141, reflecting its address in 141 Marsh Street, Hanley. The name one for one also had other connotations. 

We would love to hear from anyone that has memories, photographs or publicity material for the old 141 to help us expand on this entry.

1977 - North Staffordshire Switchboard

Community members established our first local lesbian and gay helpline in 1972. It later became known at the North Staffordshire Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Switchboard.  The organisation became a registered charity in 2000 but it no longer operates having closed around 2008.

We have recently received a collection of old documents that may enable us to expand on this history. Or if you can help please contact us!

1979 - Potteries Gay Community Association

The PGCA formed in 1979. Members tried to raise funds for a Potteries gay centre to offer an alternative to the emerging club and pub scene and to provide a permanent home for the North Staffordshire Gay Switchboard. Their various fundraising activities included monthly discos at the 141 club and selling numbered postcards designed as bricks.

Can you help us expand on this with recollections, photos, leaflets or other publications?

1980s - The Excalibur

During the 1980s a new gay club opened in Hillcrest Street. Initially it was called the “Excalibur” and operated as a multi level venue with raves in the basement bar and meetings for the leather and fetish scenes on the top floor. In 1995 it was taken on by local drag artist Ruby Von Trappe and became known simply as “The Club”. Sadly the venue closed in the mid 2010s.

Do you  have any recollections and photos that can help us expand on this history?

1988 - Clause 28 Bans the "Promotion of Homosexuality"

In 1988 a new section was added to the Local Government Act 1986 banning the promotion of homosexuality. This came into law on 24 May 1988 and had significant national and local impact. The LGBT community in Stoke staged a public demonstration which the Evening Sentinel newspaper described as the first ever gay demonstration in the Potteries.  The law was not repealed until 21 June 2000 in Scotland, and on 18 November 2003 in England and Wales. Read local press reports…

1990 - Body Positive North Midlands

In February 1990 a group of people living with HIV/AIDS met for the first time at the North Staffordshire Health Promotion Unit. The group decided to call itself “Body Positive” following the trend set by the first UK HIV/AIDS self help group established in London in the late 1980s. The early years of the local HIV/AIDS pandemic primarily affected gay men. 

1993 - Staffordshire Buddies

Volunteers recruited and trained by the development worker of Body Positive North Midlands established a new local support service for people living with HIV/AIDS.  Staffordshire Buddies was launched on the 1st December 1993 coinciding with the World Aids Day them “A Time to Act”

1994 - Age of Consent for Sex Between Men Reduced to 18

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 reduced the age of consent for sex between men to 18, and legalised anal sex between men and women, also with an age of consent of 18. Read about changes to the age of consent on the LGBT Archive

1995 - Mesmen Project

Staffordshire Buddies set up the Mesmen Project in Lichfield to provide HIV Prevention and Sexual Health Promotion to gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in South Staffordshire. The project ran for over twenty years – we hope to add a detailed history to our timeline in the near future.

2001 - An Equal Age of Consent

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 implemented an equal age of consent of 16 years of age for males and females engaged in both homosexual and heterosexual acts. The change took effect on 8 January 2001. 

2003 - Stoke Pride

A Stoke Pride event was originally planned in 2003 but was cancelled due to fears of a homophobic backlash following opposition from local residents and BNP Councillors. Despite the hostility various events were organised by community activists and in 2008 Stoke Pride was officially endorsed by the Local Authority. The first Pride took place on a car park in Hanley and then for several years it was in Northwood Park before moving to Hanley Park in 2017.

Rainbow lips with words Stoke-on-Trent Pride

2006 - Pink

Pink is an award winning club and cabaret bar that opened in 2006 and moved to its current site in Stafford Street, Hanley, in 2012

2006 - Staffordshire Police most "Gay Friendly" employer in Britain

In 2006 Staffordshire Police were recognised by Stonewall as being the most “gay friendly” employer in Britain. This accolade was remarkable given the local police force’s past poor relations with the LGBT community. The force now has a “Staffordshire Police LGBT+ Association” and  runs local campaigns combatting hate crime against the LGBT+ community.

2009 - The North Midlands LGBT Older Peoples Group

In December 2009 A group of older LGBT+ people held the first meeting of what was later to become the North Midlands LGBT Older People’s Group. We are in the process of creating a book to celebrate our first fifteen years which we hope to add to this timeline entry later in 2024

2014 - Gossip

Hanley nightclub “Gossip” opened at 5 Hope Street  after the closing of the Factory nightclub on Bryan Street. It is run by Carl and Dominic Gratty of Stoke-on-Trent Pride.

Add to Our LGBT+ History for Stoke and Staffordshire

We want to create a record of the important people, places, organisations and events that are part of our history. We would love to receive your memories and recollections – please send us details of things that we can include. Anything you share with us may be used in future publications and local archives.

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