By Sewell Chan
New York Times
LONDON >> The former homes of the writer Oscar Wilde and the composer Benjamin Britten are among six sites that were recognized on Friday by an arm of the British government for their significance in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history.
Historic England, a body that designates places worthy of legal protection, announced the decision, the latest in an effort to showcase “queer history.” Last September, Historic England gave the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a well-known gay pub, a Grade II listing, meaning that it cannot be demolished, extended or altered without special permission.
Similar efforts to recognize gay history are underway in the United States. In June, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn, the location of a 1969 police raid and subsequent protest that galvanized the gay rights movement, and surrounding sites a national monument.
Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, said in a telephone interview that the decision was “part of a deliberate policy of looking at what we protect and commemorate by a listing, to see that it is more representative of society as a whole.”
Through a research project called Pride of Place, people have been invited to submit places of importance to gay history, many of them forgotten or obscure. More than 1,600 submissions have come in. The project will in part serve to commemorate the 50th anniversary next year of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales.
There are about 500,000 listed buildings in England, of which 2.5 percent are in Grade I, reserved for buildings of “exceptional interest,” like Stonehenge and St. Paul’s Cathedral, and 5.5 percent are in Grade II*, which covers “particularly important buildings of more than special interest.” The rest are in Grade II.
Of the six sites announced Friday, one is a new Grade II listing: the grave of Amelia Edwards — a writer, musician and founder of Egyptology in St. Mary’s Churchyard, in Bristol. She and her partner, Ellen Braysher, lived in the nearby town of Weston-super-Mare, where Edwards died of pneumonia in 1892, a few months after Braysher’s death.
(The New York Times, which covered a lecture she delivered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1889 on the hidden cities of ancient Egypt, said that an 1875 trip to that country was the “turning point” in her life.)
The Burdett-Coutts Memorial at St. Pancras Gardens in London, was given a higher listing, Grade II*. The memorial commemorates, among others, the Chevalier d’Eon, who was a French spy and diplomat in the 18th century.
A minor aristocrat from Burgundy, the chevalier was sent to Russia as a spy, fought in the Seven Years’ War and helped negotiate the treaty that ended war between Britain and France. The chevalier lived the first part of his life as a man, and the last few decades as a woman; the remarkable story has inspired art, plays and studies.
The memorial is made of limestone, granite and marble, includes a sundial and is built in the High Victorian style.
The other four properties were given updated descriptions in the National Heritage List for England, the searchable online database that Historic England maintains, to better reflect their significance to gay history.
Two are well-known to arts lovers. One is the house at 34 Tite Street, in the Chelsea neighborhood of London, where Oscar Wilde lived with his wife, Constance Lloyd, and their two children from 1884 until his trial for “gross indecency” in 1895. Convicted of having sex with men, Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor. The law under which he was convicted was not repealed until 2003. (The house, which has a blue plaque outside, is still a private residence.)
The other is theRed House, in Aldeburgh, a town on the east coast of England. Benjamin Britten and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, lived together there from 1957 until Britten’s death in 1976. (The house, run by the Britten-Pears Foundation, is open to the public.)
The remaining two sites were used by people who had to shield parts of their lives. Shibden Hall, in Halifax in West Yorkshire, was the home of Anne Lister, a landowner who kept diaries, part of them in code, about her relationships with women. She lived in the house for several years with her partner, Ann Walker.
In Chertsey, a suburban town in Surrey, is St. Ann’s Court, which Historic England cited as an example of “queer architecture.” The concrete house, built between 1936 and 1937, was the home of Gerald Schlesinger and Christopher Tunnard, a gay couple who designed their home in response to laws that made homosexual sex a crime, even in the privacy of one’s home.
The house’s master bedroom could be separated into two, promoting an image to visitors that the two men slept separately. Phil Manzanera, a guitarist with the rock band Roxy Music, later lived in the house.