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Wednesday, 30 May 2018

From Prejudice to Pride - Cheshire's LGBT Past

In October 2017 Cheshire Archives and Local Studies embarked upon an exciting new heritage lottery-funded project, ‘From Prejudice to Pride’, in collaboration with the LGBT group Silver Rainbows and the sexual health charity Body Positive Cheshire and North Wales. The aim of the project is to preserve the rich and varied LGBT+ history of Cheshire.

Over the last few months we have been eagerly researching our collections in order to identify items with an LGBT+ connection. We hope that by uncovering the wealth of records in our collections that reflect LGBT+ lives, histories and culture, we can help to make Cheshire’s LGBT history more widely known and accessible.

QJB 4/83. Quarter Sessions Book. March 1952.

Male homosexuality was illegal until the 1960s and there are plenty of criminal records to use in researching this subject. For example, we hold various records relating to the famous trial of Alan Turing and Arnold Murray in 1952.

We found that local newspapers were an excellent source of information for pinpointing other trials and criminal cases. For instance, we were able to learn about the shocking incident in Warrington in 1806, whereby a group of twenty-four men were arrested for homosexual offences, nine of whom were eventually tried and two of whom were hanged.


Chester Courant - Tuesday 07 October 1806 

Records relating to male homosexuality are not limited to court records. Before the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act many blackmail attempts involved a threat to expose a man as a homosexual, whether or not he were in fact gay. In one of solicitor’s collections we discovered the letters, photographs and other personal effects belonging to a gentleman in Warrington. One of the letters, written in French and sent prior to the outbreak of the First World War, seems to be an attempt to blackmail the recipient into paying for medical treatment.

The author of the letter suggests “you know well what happened to me at your house” and demands a payment of 200 francs. He ends by threatening “if you don’t do it, I shall have justice.”



Unfortunately, many records relating to LGBT history are hidden within collections and can be challenging to find. It can be particularly tricky to find records of female homosexuality, as this was never officially criminalised. However, even in the short time we have spent working on this project this hidden history has revealed some surprising and inspiring stories!

There are many historical cases of women who cross-dressed or passed as men in order to live with their female partners, but in some extraordinary cases it seems that these relationships were not concealed at all. This incredible record shows the marriage of Hannah Wright and Anne Gaskill at Taxal Parish Church in 1707. Again, in 1750 Sarah Richardson, “commonly known as Peter”, and Maria Sproston were married by publication at St Michael & All Angels, Middlewich.

Unfortunately we can’t know for sure the circumstances surrounding these marriages, but this does not make them any less captivating.

Marriage of Anne Gaskill and Hannah Wright at Taxal St James, Prestbury, 04 September 1707 (P 233/1/2)

Cheshire also has a rich history of LGBT activism. The Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) was a democratic voluntary organisation founded in 1964 with the aim achieving full legal and social equality for LGBT people in England and Wales. At one time the Chester group has over 240 members and was the biggest in the country. Meetings were held at various venues across Chester, including the Blossoms Hotel and the Bear & Billet.


The records of the Chester Campaign for Homosexual Equality group are currently held at the London School of Economics Library, but we hope that this project will encourage local residents to donate their collections of CHE records to Cheshire Archives.

The following article from a 1975 copy of the Cheshire Observer gives a fascinating insight into life within Chester CHE.

Cheshire Observer 21/11/1975 Gay Liberation article

These are just some of the fascinating records that we have discovered over the last few months – we plan to produce a new comprehensive collections guide to Cheshire’s LGBT records towards the end of the project, and of course much more LGBT history remains still hidden in the Archives.

If you have information relating to the LGBT community in Cheshire, or relevant material to add to the collections, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please telephone 01244 972574 or email rebecca.farmer@cheshiresharedservices.gov.uk for more information.

Some of the items mentioned in this article will be on display in our searchroom from 29th May to the 1st June, along with a series of banners telling key stories from Cheshire’s LGBT history.

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