Before 1967, homosexuality was illegal and loving someone of the same sex was a criminal offence.
The privacy of the home provided safety and security for many LGBTQ+ people when same-sex intimacy was condemned by society.
Here are 5 queer artists’ homes that have become landmarks in LGBTQ+ history.
1. The Cabin, Bucks Mills, Devon
Once a fisherman’s store, this mid-19th century cabin became the studio retreat of artists Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards in 1924.
The women met as students in London and fell in love. Together they travelled the country, painting and selling their work. They lived and worked in the cliff edge summer house for sustained periods over 50 years until Judith died in 1971. Mary Stella closed the Cabin and did not return.
It has been left unchanged in the care of the National Trust and is still used as an artist’s residence.
2. Chantry House, West Sussex
Artist Hannah Gluckstein adopted the name Gluck in 1918 and began to dress in traditionally masculine clothes.
Gender subversion, non-conformity and queer sexualities played an important role in Gluck’s art. One of their most famous paintings, ‘Medallion (YouWe)’, 1937, a dual portrait of their love, socialite Nesta Obermer, later became the cover image for Radclyffe Hall’s novel ‘The Well of Loneliness’, 1928, about a lesbian relationship.
Please return in good condition to Gluck, no prefix, suffix or quotes.Hannah Gluckstein, known as Gluck, on the back of publicity prints of their paintings.
After Nesta broke off their relationship in 1944, Gluck began a relationship with Edith Shackleton Heald, the first female reporter in the House of Lords. They lived together in Heald’s home of Chantry House in Sussex until she died in 1978.
3. Priest’s House, Kent
Successful theatre producer, director, and costumier Edith (Edy) Craig lived at Priest’s House with her female partners, the writer and translator Chris St John (Christabel Marshall) from 1899, with artist Tony (Clare) Atwood joining in 1916.
They lived together for the rest of their lives and were visited by queer artists and writers, including Virginia Woolf and Radclyffe Hall.
Their timber-framed house is on the grounds of Smallhythe Place, home to Edy’s mother, Victorian actress Ellen Terry.
When Ellen died in 1928, Edy transformed the house into a memorial museum to her mother’s life. She converted the 17th century thatched barn into a theatre and held an annual drama festival from 1929, attracting luminaries of the theatre world, including queer actor John Gielgud.
4. Ham Spray House, Wiltshire
Artist Dora Carrington and the writer’s Ralph Partridge and Lytton Strachey made Ham Spray House their home in 1924.
The ménage a trois was associated with ‘The Bloomsbury Set’ of artists and intellectuals who had open relationships, often with same-sex partners.
Strachey wrote his books ‘Elizabeth and Essex’, 1928, ‘Portraits in Miniature’, 1931, and ‘Characters and Commentaries’, 1933, in the first-floor library of the house.
The library was designed by Carrington, featuring tiles with Strachey’s monogram and a false bookcase with humorously titled book spines. Strachey died in 1932, and grief-stricken Carrington died of suicide shortly after.
5. Sissinghurst Castle, Kent
Purchased in 1930, the poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West lived at Sissinghurst with her husband, Harold Nicolson. They both had numerous same-sex affairs throughout their happy and unconventional married life.
The most well-known of Vita’s love affairs was that with the novelist Virginia Woolf. Woolf is said to have modelled her successful book ‘Orlando’, 1928 and its gender-shifting hero on Vita.
Both Vita and Harold were discreet about their same-sex affairs. Their home at Sissinghurst allowed them to share a happy, queer marriage.
In 2017 we listed two places and relisted 14 places to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised homosexuality. The human stories in these places have been added to their List entries, and captured for future generations.
The pleasure I might well have had from your site was completely thrown by your frequent use of the word “queer” to describe gay people. I am gay and grew up in a period when the word developed as a deeply contemptuous expression, which caused me and others like me the greatest offence. It still does. Think of the most disgusting slang word you can to describe people of colour: there are several and no decent person would dream of using them. I promise you, people of colour couldn’t possibly object more violently to such a word than I – and many others like me – object to the word “queer “.
Hi Vincent, thank you for your comment. This blog was created as part of a wider research project to identify LGBTQ heritage sites of national importance. The terminoligy and language that is used across the ‘Pride of Place’ project is explained further as follows:
‘Pride of Place uses the term ‘queer’ both in its historical context and also as an inclusive term to indicate the complex experiences of sexuality and gender diversity across history. In the past, ‘queer’ has been used both as a term of derision and also of self-identification. Many others, scholars and community members alike, have reclaimed the term today, but use it differently: to capture the complexity of gender and sexuality not otherwise addressed by LGBT – it is also with this in mind we use the acronym LGBTQ.’
More information can be found here: https://historicengland.org.uk/research/inclusive-heritage/lgbtq-heritage-project/our-approach/
The date you have shown for Clare joining Edy Craig’s household has been mistyped. It should be 1916 rather than 1966.
Thank you Simon, that’s been updated.
I knew Mary Stella well, as did my family. She was a remarkable person, very generous, as well as exceptionally talented. However, she used to describe herself to me not as an artist – she always said she was a poet who could paint. As well as her many paintings, she also published several volumes of poetry, many of them poems to or about Judith.