Skip to content

Prejudice and Pride: Exploring LGBTQ History at National Trust Places

  • by

Prejudice and Pride at the National Trust

The National Trust Magazine have produced an article supporting their Prejudice and Pride exhibitions across some of their sites.
“Many of our places were home to, and shaped by, people who challenged conventional ideas of gender and sexuality. 50 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, we’re exploring our LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) heritage with a programme called Prejudice and Pride. We’ll be holding events, special exhibitions and much more.”

Author Sarah Waters introduces their stories “Back in 1989, a fresh-faced 22-year-old, I visited Sissinghurst Castle Garden with my first girlfriend.
We went there not for the glorious garden itself, nor for the wonderful setting, but because we knew that its one-time owner, Vita Sackville-West, had had many affairs with women. As we wandered about, I remember that we weren’t quite daring enough to hold hands. But I still recall the thrill we felt at discovering this semisecret bit of ‘our’ history.

These days we can all be a bit bolder about exploring and enjoying the UK’s rich heritage of sex and gender diversity. I’d argue that without an awareness of that heritage, our experience of certain National Trust properties is incomplete.
It deepens our understanding of Smallhythe Place, for example, to know of its connection with Ellen Terry and her unconventional daughter Edy, who lived near by in a long-term partnership with two other women artists. It surely enhances our visit to Knole to picture Vita Sackville-West ‘stalking’ down the gallery ‘in her Turkish dress’ as she showed off the house to her admirer Virginia Woolf. And to tour Woolf’s own country home, Monk’s House, without acknowledging the fact that so many of its illustrious visitors over the years were, like Woolf herself, bisexual or gay – people like Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, E. M. Forster – is to fail to appreciate the full boldness of the artistic and political unorthodoxies to which the house served as a haven.

And what of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender experiences of the other, less visible residents of Trust places – the servants, the gardeners, the chauffeurs? Most of their stories, alas, like other working people’s, have gone unrecorded. But to acknowledge the potential of queer stories from the past is to open a space for their recovery. It’s to find figures with the power to shock, surprise, inspire and move us. It’s to build a fuller, more fascinating picture of how the nation’s historic properties have been used and shaped by their owners and occupants and left for us to enjoy.”

Sarah Waters is the author of six novels, including the bestselling Tipping the Velvet

To read more about the Prejudice and Pride exhibitions, visit the National Trust’s Website here

Image Copyright National Trust

Image Copyright National Trust