How East Anglia's museum curators are writing our area's LGBTQ+ history

A Pride flag

A Pride flag - Credit: PAPA/John Walton

Beyond the bookshops in Bloomsbury or the nightclubs in Soho and Manchester lies a wealth of LGBTQ+ heritage in the countryside.

The curators of Essex's history are queering the county's rural past.

For February's LGBT+ History Month, Jenny Oxley from Saffron Walden Museum has explained why she is working to document more of Essex's LGBTQ+ history.

And Sally Dix from the Museum of East Anglian Life in Suffolk has said that there are plenty of stories featuring rural people who expressed their identity in "surprising" ways.

Jenny said: "It is important that everyone feels reflected in the stories they read growing up.

"That they read success stories about people they identify with, who have trail-blazed before them."

She added: "In London and urban areas, there have been established community groups and Pride events for decades, so exploring LGBTQ+ history is often easier in that context.

"The existence of organised community groups provides a gateway for historians exploring those stories."

Jenny, Saffron Walden Museum's collections officer, is co-curating the Snapping the Stiletto campaign with Southend Museum to tell the stories of LGBTQ+ people and women throughout Essex.

A Christmas at Keddies department store bag, part of the Southend Museums Service collection

A bag from Keddies department store as part of the Snapping the Stiletto project. Keddies was embroiled in an AIDS crisis-era scandal when a Santa impersonator was fired after it emerged that he was gay - Credit: Southend Museums Service

She said: "STS is about broadening the perspectives of history in every way, not just in an LGBTQ+ context.

"Feeling represented in history is really important."

In Suffolk, audience development officer Sally was involved in a project to "Queer Rural Connections" with the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading.

Sally said that one of several interesting histories in her exhibition featured Colonel Victor Barker, who was assigned female at birth but lived as a man from the mid-1920s.

Most Read

He joined a fascist union in 1926 and went to Brixton Prison for men in 1929.

Col. Barker died in 1960 in Lowestoft with the name Geoffrey Norton, married to a woman called Eve.

Sally said: "We are just beginning to explore rural LGBTQ+ history, and it's a very exciting time for researchers who are unpacking these stories.

She added: "We led visitors through our museum with an interactive theatre performance, directed by Timothy Alsopp from Suffolk.

"LGBTQ+ history exists in letters and - sadly - a lot of crime records.

"We are just beginning to unpack that history and celebrating these people's achievements."

Read more:

'Science and sexuality cross over more than you might think'

LGBT+ History Month 'helps reduce harm' as hate crime rates soar

How Essex's fire service is celebrating LGBT+ History Month