Pride of Place: queer women of England

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) histories are embedded in the buildings and landscapes all around us. Illustrated with images from the Historic England Archive and Google Street View, this gallery celebrates a selection of historic buildings and the LGBTQ women associated with them.

Henley Bridge, Henley-On-Thames, Oxfordshire (1890) by Henry William TauntHistoric England

Anne Seymour Damer (1748/9-1828)
Henley Bridge, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Anne Damer was cousin to writer and politician Horace Walpole. In 1787 she inherited his remarkable Gothick home Strawberry Hill House.

In the mid-1770s Anne separated from her husband John Damer. She was rumoured to have had affairs with women. One 18th-century diarist described her as being ‘a Lady much suspected of liking her own Sex in a criminal Way.’ From 1789 she had an intense and passionate friendship with the writer Mary Berry, which continued for many years.

Following her separation, Anne had a successful career as a sculptor, and designed the keystone sculptures of Isis and Thamesis on Henley Bridge, built in 1786.

Anne Damer (1748/9-1828)
Henley Bridge, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Henley had a bridge in the 12th century. The current bridge dates from 1786 but incorporates the easternmost span of the older structure. The five span, ashlar bridge was designed by William Hayward, who died before the bridge was completed.

Henley Bridge is Listed Grade I

Shibden Hall, Shibden, Halifax, Calderdale (2010-03-02) by Peter Williams, English HeritageHistoric England

Anne Lister (1791-1840)
Shibden Hall, Shibden, Halifax, Calderdale

Anne Lister is sometimes described as ‘the first modern lesbian’.

She was a successful entrepreneur and landowner, and took over the management of the Shibden Hall estate after the death of her uncle James Lister in 1826. Follwing the death of her father and aunt, Anne inherited Shibden 1836.

Anne kept an extensive diary that was partly written in code. In it she reveals the many sexual relationships she had with women throughout her life.

Discover more about Anne Lister and Shibden Hall with Historic England

Anne Lister (1791-1840)
Shibden Hall, Shibden, Halifax, Calderdale

Shibden Hall was built in around 1420 for William Otes, a cloth merchant. The house passed through several owners before coming into the hands of the Lister family, who were also cloth merchants, in the early 17th century.

The original timber-framed building comprised a hall and a two-storey crosswing. In the 16th century, much of the building was cased in stone and a new two-storey wing added. A Norman-style tower was built at the west end in around 1836.

Shibden Hall is Listed Grade II*

Church of Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, York (1874/1885) by George Fowler JonesHistoric England

Anne Lister (1791-1840) and Ann Walker (1803-1854)
Church of Holy Trinity, York

Anne Lister wooed Ann Walker, an heiress to a merchant from nearby Lightcliffe, in the gardens at Shibden Hall.

The lovers marked and celebrated their union in a number of ways, including the giving of rings. At Easter in 1834 they attended Holy Communion at the Church of Holy Trinity in York and saw this as an act equivalent to holy matrimony.

The couple lived together at Shibden Hall. Their relationship only came to an end when Lister died in 1840 while they were travelling in Russia.

Anne Lister (1791-1840) and Ann Walker (1803-1854)
Church of Holy Trinity, York

Situated just off Goodramgate in the centre of York,the Church of Holy Trinity dates to the early 12th century. Enlarged throughout the centuries, it underwent restoration in 1973-4.

Originally a parish church, Holy Trinity became redundant in 1971 and passed into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

The Church of Holy Trinity is Listed Grade I

Ingress Abbey, Greenhithe, Kent (1939-05-20) by Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

Eliza Cook (1818-1889)
Ingress Abbey, Swanscombe and Greenhithe, Kent

Eliza Cook, poet and journalist, resided for a time at Ingress Abbey, home of London Alderman James Harmer. Harmer was also owner of The Weekly Dispatch newspaper to which Cook was a long-standing contributor. She wrote some of her most famous works at Ingress Abbey, including the poem The Old Arm-Chair.

Cook advocated political and sexual freedom for women. She wore masculine clothes and her hair short, and was friend and lover of the American actress Charlotte Cushman from 1845 to 1849.

Eliza Cook (1818-89)
Ingress Abbey, Swanscombe and Greenhithe, Kent

Ingress Abbey was built in 1833 as a home for Alderman James Harmer. Designed in a Tudor-Gothic style by architect Charles Moreing, it is supposed to have been constructed using stone from the Old London Bridge, which had been demolished in 1831-2.

Ingress Abbey is Listed Grade II

Catacombe of Mabel Batten and Radclyffe Hall, Lebanon Circle, West Cemetery, Highgate Cemetery, Camden, Greater London (1980) by John GayHistoric England

Mabel Batten (c1856-1916), Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943) and Una Troubridge (1887-1963)

Mabel Batten, amateur singer and patron of the arts, was author Radcliffe Hall's first partner. Mabel influenced Radcliffe's artistic and intellectual education. After her death in 1916, Radclyffe attempted to continue their relationship through spiritual contact.

In 1918, Radcliffe set up home with Mabel's cousin, the sculptor Una Troubridge, who effectively became Radcliffe's 'wife'. The couple remained together until Radclyffe's death in 1943.

Radclyffe was laid to rest in Mabel's vault in Highgate Cemetery, London. It was planned for Una to also be laid to rest there. However, she died in Rome and was buried before her wish could be fulfilled.

Discover more about Radclyffe Hall's controversial novel 'The Well of Loneliness' with Historic England

Mabel Batten (c1856-1916), Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943) and Una Troubridge (1887-1963)
The Egyptian Avenue and Lebanon Circle, Highgate Western Cemetery, Camden, London

The remains of Mabel Batten and Radclyffe Hall are interred in a vault in Highgate Western Cemetery.

The terraced catacombes of the Egyptian Avenue and Lebanon Circle were built in two phases, c1838-9 and c1870, respectively by architects James Bunstone Bunning and Thomas Porter. Set below ground level, they are constructed in brick and stucco. Each vault has shelving to accommodate twelve or fifteen coffins.

The Egyptian Avenue and Lebanon Circle is Listed Grade I

Lambeth Pier and Lambeth Palace, Lambeth, Greater London (1904-06-23) by Rupert PotterHistoric England

Mary Benson (1841-1918) and Lucy Tait (1856-1938)

Mary Benson was wife of Edward Benson, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1883. They had married in 1859. Despite having six children, there appeared to be little love in their marriage.

Mary was described as a 'spiritual counsellor' to younger women, with whom she is said to have had romantic involvements. Known as 'Ben', Mary experienced guilt as well as joy in her sexual friendships with women.

One of her most significant relationships was with Lucy Tait (daughter of the previous Archbishop), who lived with Ben at Lambeth Palace, home to the Archbishops of Canterbury, and later when they moved to a house near the Sussex Downs.

Mary Benson (1841-1918) and Lucy Tait (1856-1938)
Lambeth Palace, Lambeth, London

Lambeth Palace is the home of the Archbishops of Canterbury, who first occupied the site in 1197. It comprises ecclesiastical, ceremonial and residential buildings. The existing palace has medieval origins, the oldest surviving part being the undercroft to the 15th century chapel situated to the north of the Great Hall.

Lambeth Palace is Listed Grade I

Holloway Prison (1970-08) by English HeritageHistoric England

Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)
HM Prison Holloway, Islington, London

Ethel Smyth was a suffragette, author and composer. Ethel became involved in the women’s movement through her friendship with suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

Among Ethel's compositions was March of the Women, which became the anthem of the women’s movement. When Smyth was imprisoned at Holloway in 1912, she led an impromptu rendition of March of the Women, conducted with her toothbrush.

Ethel had relationships with both men and women, and described her sexuality as an 'everlasting puzzle'. Among her companions, lovers and unrequited loves were Emmeline Pankhurst, Henry Brewster, Edith Craig, Virginia Woolf and 'Nelly' Benson, daughter of Mary Benson. Woolf, with whom Smyth became good friends, described her unrequited love as 'like being caught by a giant crab’.

Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)
HM Prison Holloway, Islington, London

Built in 1852 as the City House of Correction, the prison housed both male and female inmates until it became a female-only prison in 1902. Many convicted suffragettes were incarcerated here.

Between 1971 and 1985 the prison was completely rebuilt on the same site, leaving no trace of the buildings that once housed its suffragette prisoners.

Holloway closed in 2016. The remaining female prisoners were transferred to Downview and Bronzefield prisons.

Priest's House, Smallhythe, Tenterden, Kent (1955) by Frederick J Palmer, Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of EnglandHistoric England

Edith Craig (1869-1947)
Priest's House, Smallhythe, Tenterden, Kent

Edith (Edy) Craig, daughter of Victorian actress Ellen Terry, lived at Priest’s House in a lesbian ménage a trois. The house was situated in the grounds of Terry’s home, Smallhythe Place, in Kent.

Edy, a suffragist and theatre director, had shared a home with writer and translator Chris St John since 1899. In 1916 the artist Tony Atwood joined the household in Smallhythe. This was on Edy’s condition that: ‘If Chris does not like your being here, and feels you are interfering with our friendship, out you go!’ They lived together for the rest of their lives.

The Smallhythe trio were visited by queer artists and writers, including Virginia Woolf, Radclyffe Hall and Vita Sackville-West. Edy and her friends set up the Barn Theatre at Smallhythe, and held an annual drama festival from 1929. This attracted lectures and performances from many luminaries of the theatre world, including the queer actor John Gielgud.

Edith Craig (1869-1947)
Priest's House, Smallhythe, Tenterden, Kent

Priest's House, a timber-framed continuous jetty house, was built in the late 15th century or early 16th century. It is possible that it was reconstructed following a fire in 1514 that resulted in the adjacent Church of St John and a number of houses in Smallhythe to be rebuilt.

Priest's House is Listed Grade II*

Sissinghurst Castle, Cranbrook, Kent (2001-05-11) by English HeritageHistoric England

Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)
Sissinghurst Castle, Cranbrook, Kent

Poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West lived at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent, from 1932 with her husband Harold Nicolson. Both Vita and Harold had numerous same-sex affairs.

Vita briefly left Harold for writer Violet Trefusis during their affair in 1918-21. Her diaries, which gave an account of this relationship, were discovered locked in a bag in her tower study after her death, and were published as Portrait of a Marriage (1973).

The most well known of Vita’s love affairs was with the novelist Virginia Woolf. Woolf modelled her very successful book Orlando (1928) and its gender-shifting hero on her lover. Both Vita and Harold were discreet about their same-sex affairs. Their home at Sissinghurst allowed them to share a happy, queer marriage.

Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)
Sissinghurst Castle, Cranbrook, Kent

The gardens created by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicholson were created on the site of a medieval moated manor house.

Derelict when she bought it, she restored the Elizabethan Tower - where she had her study - and several other parts of the site. Around and between these buildings, Vita and Harold built their famous gardens.

Sissinghurst Castle Park and Garden is Listed Grade I

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