1837 to 1966 – Easing off : the painful path towards liberation


Some national/international events are included for context.

1840 John Addington Symonds was born at 7 Berkeley Square off Park Street. He lived mostly in Bristol until 1877, and is of world significance for his work to free homosexuality from religious and moral distortions.

1861 Death penalty repealed for buggery.

1877 John Addington Symonds and his family leave Bristol to live in Davos, Switzerland.

1878 Katherine Harris and Edith Cooper studied at University College Bristol and became lesbian lovers. Their poetry was published jointly under the pseudonym Michael Field, but initial success in the 1880s was short-lived when it was discovered they were not one male but two female writers. They remained together until their deaths in 1913-14.

1885 The Criminal Law Amendment Act, known as the Labouchère Amendment, comes into force. All homosexual acts between men were made illegal, though not between women. This Act stayed in force until 1967.

1887 August: John Davis Hamer, a Bedminster draper, is convicted of buggery with a boy (age unknown) and sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labour.

1891 November: Henry Lodge, a 26 year old labourer, was convicted of a misdemeanour committed (on November 18) near Park Row. He was caught by a plain-clothed policeman who may have been deliberately looking for such activity. Arthur William Smith, a 35 year old carpenter was imprisoned for 2 months for gross indecency committed on College Green (November 30th).

1895 Oscar Wilde imprisoned for two years for gross indecency.

1898 Beverley Nichols was born at Bower Ashton near Bristol. He became a novelist, playwright, and one of the most prominent of the interwar set known as the Bright Young Things.

1907-11 Annie Kenney works in Bristol as regional organiser for the Suffragettes.

1909  November 13: Numerous Suffragette protests, including some by lesbians, surround Winston Churchill’s visit to Bristol to make an anti-Suffrage speech at Colston Hall.

c. 1920s-30s? The Radnor Hotel, St Nicholas Street becomes Bristol’s first known gay pub, run by the Broadhurst family.

c. 1939 Michael Dillon (born Laura) arrives in Bristol from Dublin. By 1943 a surgeon at Bristol Royal Infirmary had begun the process by which he became the world’s first person to undergo complete transgender surgery.

1950s The ‘witchhunt’ era for homosexual activity, with aggressive policing and frequent prosecutions encouraged by the Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. Bristol, Frome, Weston-super-Mare and Gloucester had several prosecutions of individuals or groups resulting in imprisonment. In 1953 a major court case hit the news, where several gay men had been blackmailed by a group of teenage boys after meetings in a Bath public toilet.

1958 The Homosexual Law Reform Society is founded in Manchester.

c. 1960-5 Bristol’s first proliferation of gay venues after the Radnor Hotel. The back bar of the Ship Inn, Redcliffe Hill opens as a gay bar c.1965. Three coffee bars around Park Street and The Triangle become largely gay after pub hours.

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  3 Responses to “1837 to 1966 – Easing off : the painful path towards liberation”

  1. 1960 5. You talk about the Ship Inn, Redcliffe Hill.

    The Ship Inn I visited from 1973 onwards was – and still is on Lower Park Row, which is situated between Park Row/Perry Road and Colston Street.

    Was there two Ship Inns?

  2. Searching the British Newspaper Archives Online. I’ve found that the boy in 1887 case against John Davis Hamer, was 11 years.

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