Exploring LGBTQ history at National Trust places

Many of our places were home to, and shaped by, people who challenged conventional ideas of gender and sexuality. In 2017, 50 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, we explored our LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) heritage with a programme called Prejudice and Pride.

What we did

Visitors in 2017 were able to discover hidden histories of love and relationships at our places, exploring the stories of persecution and the expressions of personal identity that shocked and challenged societal norms.

We worked with artists to create new exhibitions and installations to bring these stories to life and uncovered previously untold stories with help from academic experts. 

We particpated in community celebrations including Pride festivals around the country and Heritage Open Days in order to build an understanding of LGBTQ histories in local communities.

We also launched a podcast series and a guidebook to allow visitors to dive deeper into the LGBTQ history of National Trust places.

LGBTQ history at our places

We look after special places, for everyone for ever. LGBTQ heritage plays an important part in the history of the nation and a vital role in unlocking the histories of some of our places.

The art collection in the Saloon at Kingston Lacy, Dorset

Art and exiles 

Kingston Lacy in Dorset was profoundly shaped by William Bankes, who fled England in 1841 to avoid prosecution for same-sex acts. He had no choice but to leave England and the home he loved but he continued to send back works of art and treasures – the collection which can be seen and enjoyed by visitors today.

The 17th century barn theatre at Smallhythe Place

A ménage a trois 

The story of Smallhythe Place in Kent was fashioned by the artists who shared a home there. Edy Craig, daughter of actress Ellen Terry, and herself an accomplished actor, costumier, director and producer, shared Smallhythe in a ménage a trois with two other women for over 30 years and, together, created the theatre which still thrives.

West view of Knole House in Kent

Literary connections

Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando was inspired by the family history of her lover – Vita Sackville-West. Vita’s family owned Knole in Kent and the book tells the story of a gender-changing character whose life spans the 400 year history of the house.

Discover more LGBTQ stories from our places Find out more

What does LGBTQ mean?

In exploring gender diversity and same-sex love we are using the acronym LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) and seeking to acknowledge the widest diversity of lives and experiences.

‘LGBTQ’ is widely accepted as an inclusive term to reference the diversity of gender and sexuality that go beyond the ‘hetero-normative’ (that is, binary definitions of gender and of ‘one man with one woman’) conventions. 

‘Queer’ was once a term of abuse that has now largely been reclaimed by the LGBTQ community. It has also begun to be used as a term that encompasses all aspects of difference across gender and sexuality. It is a way to look at gender and sexuality as a spectrum rather than a series of definite, fixed categories.

We have adopted the approach taken by Historic England in their recent Pride of Place project and acknowledge that ‘in the past, as today, there is no single LGBTQ community, terminology or uniform identity that defines all LGBTQ people or heritage’. 

The 2017 anniversary

2017 marked 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act (1967), which partially decriminalised homosexuality in England. A wide variety of museums (e.g. British Museum, V&A, Brighton Museums, People’s History Museum), heritage organisations (Historic England, Heritage Open Days), Parliament, the media and many others marked and celebrated LGBTQ culture and heritage. We all have an opportunity to understand our heritage better as we reflect on the legacy of those LGBTQ individuals whose stories have not been fully told. 

In Prejudice and Pride we built upon the work of Historic England’s Pride of Place project. We are working with LGBTQ equality charity Stonewall and academics at Leicester University to ensure a strong legacy for LGBTQ histories at our places beyond 2017.

National Trust team outside Birmingham Back-to-Backs during Birmingham Pride 2017

Prejudice and Pride: Exploring LGBTQ history 

Explore the LGBTQ history of our places and the lost and hidden lives of the people who helped shape them - part of our programme called Prejudice and Pride which marked 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.