Discover these British LGBT landmarks for Pride
With Pride festivities in full swing, Neil Simpson takes a look at places beyond the capital that are celebrating, too.
You’ve chosen to visit London at the height of Pride season, so if you’re planning a trip beyond the capital, why not make time for a Pride-friendly landmark or two? Here’s a look at UK attractions that hold significance for Britain’s LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and more) community.
Canal Street, Manchester
Before LGBTQI+ Manchester, there was Madchester. This cultural movement emerged in the late 1980s, as local musicians began blending alt rock with acid house and dance (no wonder they used the word ‘mad’). As Manchester evolved to become a beacon of creativity and fun for north-west England, its gay community grew.
LGBTQI+ people received a harsher reception in the industrialised north of England than in the south, which made parts of Manchester buzzing safe havens. In 1991, the city became home to the UK’s first glass-fronted gay bar. Called Manto (formed from the words ‘Manchester’ and ‘today’), it represented a milestone for the nation.
Manto was on Canal Street and before long, the whole area transformed into one of the UK’s hottest gay villages. It was immortalised as the backdrop for Queer as Folk, a groundbreaking UK TV show that generated headlines when it was broadcast in 1998. Written by Russell T Davies (who went on to write BBC’s relaunched Doctor Who from 2005 onwards), Queer as Folk brought Canal Street a new level of fame and today, it stands as a true gay landmark for Britain. These days, the area is commercialised and its dedicated LGBTQI+ venues are closing as the rest of Manchester becomes increasingly welcoming, but Canal Street is still an essential destination.
www.canal-st.co.uk | www.lgbtarchive.uk/wiki/Manto
The Lesbian Archive, Glasgow
Here is some fantastic news for anyone with XX chromosomes, no matter their sexual identity: Glasgow has its very own Women’s Library. It is the only one in the United Kingdom that has been accredited and four years ago, the library was also awarded the status of being a ‘Recognised Collection of National Significance’ by the Scottish government. The library emerged in 1991, thanks in no small part to Glasgow becoming European Capital of Culture in 1990. It boasts mountains of books, as well as a museum and an archive.
The library’s Lesbian Archive contains numerous items from the past 100 years, including the back catalogues of publications such as Arena Three, Outrage and Pink Paper, alongside rare books and records relating to the UK’s first organisation for black lesbians: the Camden Lesbian Centre and Black Lesbian Group.
www.womenslibrary.org.uk | w.outragemag.com |
Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes
If Bletchley Park sounds familiar but you’re not sure why, it might be because you’ve seen The Imitation Game, a film about code breaker Alan Turing starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
Set in Bletchley Park, it tells the story of what happened there during World War II, when a team worked to decipher the coded messages being sent between the Nazis. These codes included Enigma, which was thought to be unbreakable. Turing was homosexual and, due to the laws of the day, he was forced to undergo hormonal treatment to reduce his sexual urges and eventually committed suicide in 1954.
Due to the major part that Turing played in the Allied victory, he has become an icon for LGBTQI+ struggles, making Bletchley Park a key location at which to honour that fight. The site, with an impressive mansion at its heart, houses exhibitions and wartime artefacts. There’s also a centre dedicated to the cracking of Enigma.
www.bletchleypark.org.uk | www.bl.uk/people/alan-turing
Althorp House, Northampton
This majestic stately home has been the seat of Britain’s noble Spencer family for five centuries. Sir John Spencer grazed his sheep here from 1486, buying the estate in 1508. Just in case you haven’t guessed yet – this is the family that Diana, Princess of Wales was born into. Diana made a huge, positive difference to the perception of people suffering from AIDS across the world. A little island in the middle of a lake in the grounds is Diana’s resting place, making Althorp a landmark in the UK’s LGBTQI+ story.
The Althorp House opening season (1 Jul to 31 Aug) permits access to the house’s state rooms, so this is a great time to visit. Like stepping on to the set of Downton Abbey, the rooms are as ornate and grand as you might hope, especially the gold and royal blue state dining room. Outside, 550 acres of grounds include ancient oak trees, a herd of rare black fallow deer and Diana’s lake, the Round Oval.
www.spencerofalthorp.com | www.royal.uk/diana-princess-wales |
National Museums Liverpool’s LGBTQI+ trail, various locations
Liverpool has a sightseeing trail that incorporates the Museum of Liverpool, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Walker Art Gallery and Sudley House. These are members of the National Museums Liverpool collective. The collective is behind the Pride & Prejudice project, which launched in 2015 to highlight items that have an LGBTQI+ link, in order to rebalance centuries of misrepresentation.
You’ll see the rainbow-coloured Pride & Prejudice logo dotted around each site in the National Museums Liverpool collective, which indicates that the highlighted object has an LGBTQI+ connection. Look out for a 2010 photograph of April Ashley in the Museum of Liverpool. Ashley was born in 1935 and became one of the world’s first people to have gender reassignment surgery, before modelling for Vogue and being made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2012.
www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk | www.april-ashley.com
The Museum of Transology, Brighton
No guide to LGBTQI+ Britain is complete without a mention of Brighton, which most people will tell you is the UK’s unofficial gay capital.
It’s also home to The Museum of Transology exhibition at Brighton Museum. Running until October, the exhibition includes items donated by the trans community and reveals stories about life as a trans person in England. One of the museum’s other exhibitions, Queer Looks (to Dec), explores local LGBTQI+ fashion and style.
The Piers & Queers walking tour takes you to LGBTQI+ landmarks. For its guide, Ric Morris, the city’s Hippodrome theatre is significant: ‘Dusty Springfield performed there – she was probably the first British star to voluntarily come out, in 1970. She was a regular in Brighton.’ www.brightonmuseums.org.uk | www.onlyin brighton.co.uk | en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dusty_Springfield
Photos courtesy of Liverpool Museums, Katy Davies, Marketing Manchester, iStock, Glasgow Women's Library, Rex Features, Althorp House