LGBT+ local history
The UK’s LGBTQ+ history features many diverse and different aspects – activists, demonstrations, artists, politicians, community organisations, clubs and pubs – and so much of this great heritage happens to have come from Islington. Thanks to our National Lottery Heritage Fund project, Islington’s Pride, we’ve been collecting, preserving and celebrating this unique and colourful part of our borough’s history.
To celebrate LGBT+ History Month, we’re spotlighting 28 different moments of the borough’s queer heritage. With over 150 to choose from, narrowing it down to 28 was a challenge. We hope that over the next month, this cross section helps us all better understand the history that is all around us, and the need to protect it for future generations.
We will be sharing a unique story each day on our Twitter account at 11am, before updating this article.
Aloysius Ssali – 1 Feb
Aloysius Ssali grew up in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal to this day. While in college in 1994, Ssali secretly founded the original Say It Loud club, a support and social group for members of the LGBTQ+ community. By 2003, Ssali had become a prominent LGBTQ+ activist and had been identified by the police. He applied to study in the UK for his own safety with the intention of later returning to Uganda. When he did return in 2005, Ssali was arrested and tortured by police.
Thankfully, Ssali had a few months left on his UK student visa and was able to return to the UK. However, he was forced to illegally overstay his visa as persecution due to sexuality was not recognised as a reason to claim asylum until 2010. Ssali became one of the first people in the UK to receive refugee status on the grounds of sexuality.
In 2010, Ssali founded the London branch of the Say It Loud club, based in Islington, to support LGBT+ refugees and provide assistance to those seeking asylum.
Amelia Edwards – 2 Feb
Amelia Edwards was a prolific author, publishing novels, poetry, and travel books. She lived in Clerkenwell with her parents in her youth, and wrote many of her early works in Islington. She was also a talented artist and illustrated many of her own stories.
Following her travels in Egypt, Edwards became very passionate about protecting ancient monuments from modern development and damage through tourism. In 1882, she co-founded the Egypt Exploration Fund, and contributed heavily to the study of Ancient Egypt at the time.
Edwards was known to have had several relationships with women throughout her life, and many of her friends and contemporaries were clear that she had never made any attempts to hide her sexuality. Edwards is buried next to Ellen Drew Braysher, at St. Mary the Virgin Churchyard, in Bristol. Brayshar was her life partner of 30 years.
Phil Cox & Gaywaves – 3 Feb
Gaywaves was a radio programme that was broadcast on the pirate station Our Radio during the 1980s. Our Radio used frequency 103.7 Mhz. Philip Cox, who lived in Godfrey House, Bath Street produced Gaywaves, which first hit the airwaves in May 1982. Pirate radio, although illegal, was an important way for ignored minorities to broadcast the tastes and sounds of their community, which would be otherwise ignored by the “legitimate” radio stations.
Aside from Gaywaves, Phil Cox was one of the people responsible for the creation of London Gay Teenage Group, the first group of its kind in the UK. He was also a volunteer for Gay Switchboard, still in operation today, which provides a helpline for LGBTQ+ people in need.
Gaywaves was recorded on tape, and cassette recordings have not only survived but are now held in the British Library, with some episodes having been digitised.
Central Station – 4 Feb
Central Station has been open since 1992 and is Islington’s oldest still operating LGBTQ+ bar. Before its current owners. Duncan Irvine and Martin Mason, purchased the pub, it was known as the Prince Albert.
Its location near Kings Cross makes it accessible for people both inside and outside of London, and therefore a key part of the LGBTQ+ club and social scene. The groups previously hosted by Central Station include the Gay Young London Group (for 18-30 year olds), the London Monday Group (a former campaign group consisting mostly of gay men over the age of 40), and New Beginnings (a space for LGB teenagers to socialise outside of the typical club scene). In the 1990s and 2000s it also hosted the Gay Football Supporters Network, a social group for LGBT+ football fans founded in 1989 which also campaigned to tackle homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in football and the community. Stepping Out, a gay and lesbian youth group providing support and social events for those aged 16 to 26. The Kings Cross Steelers, the world’s first gay rugby club, was first thought up by four friends having a drink at the bar.
The Central Station archives have been graciously donated to Islington’s Pride by Irvine and Mason. Central Station still operates as a pub and bar, serving food and drink during the day with cabaret, drag, and karaoke events in the evening. It remains an important part of Islington’s LGBTQ+ community, connecting with many different parts of the borough’s heritage.
Chris Smith – 5 Feb
Chris Smith, Baron of Finsbury, made history as the UK’s first MP to publicly come out as gay. His famous quote comes from a rally in Rugby in November 1984; “Good afternoon, I’m Chris Smith, I’m the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury and I’m gay.”
He was an Islington councillor between 1978 and 1983, and MP for Islington South and Finsbury between 1983 and 2005, during which time he was also Shadow Secretary of State for Heritage. He served as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport under Tony Blair 1997-2001, and was popular among his constituents for always being available to hear issues.
While Smith felt that being gay had no impact on his work as a politician, he regularly spoke out on issues affecting the LGBT+ community such as the AIDS crisis, Section 28 and the forced outing of closeted public figures. His primary focus was on environmental and cultural issues, leading to him becoming Chair of the Environment Agency in 2008.
In 2005, Smith was the first MP to acknowledge that he was HIV positive.
The Edward IV – 6 Feb
The King Edward IV pub, also known as The Eddy, was a pub on Bromfield Road. It was the oldest gay pub in Islington, having served the local LGBT+ community for over 50 years, with many famous regulars including Joe Orton.
The Eddy was well known for being a welcoming pub with a friendly atmosphere, having been refurbished in the early 2000s. It had two bars; the upstairs bar was quieter and more relaxed while the downstairs bar was described by regulars as being ‘cruisy’. Its beer garden made it a very popular spot for locals in the summer, as did its food, weekly Wednesday quiz nights, and themed parties.
Its closure due to financial pressures in 2011 was considered a great loss to the local community by a number of LGBT+ charities and organisations. The Eddy remains a strong memory for many people in Islington’s LGBT+ community.
Kate Charlesworth – 7 Feb
Kate Charlesworth is a cartoonist and illustrator. Between 1982 and 1990 she lived at 22 Rawstone Street, where she created the Plain Tales from the Bars comics. The comic strips are clever, comedic accounts of her experiences as a lesbian in the 1980s, and feature many of the same conversations that are still common in the modern lesbian community from dating to activism to tongue-in-cheek jokes about ‘dyke’ culture.
Her work has been in newspapers, magazines, books, comics, exhibitions, and online media, and she has worked as a storyboard artist for Hot Animation and Aardman Animations. In 2014 she collaborated with Mary and Bryan Talbot to illustrate Sally Heathcote: Suffragette, published by Jonathan Cape.
Her 2019 graphic novel, Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide is the first graphic novel documenting lesbian life from 1950 to the present, and was nominated for the Polari Prize.
London Friend – 8 Feb
London Friend is the UK’s oldest LGBTQ+ charity, founded in 1971 as a befriending service by the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE). It stood for “Fellowship for the Relief of the Isolated and Emotionally in Need and Distress”. In 1975 London Friend separated from CHE and became its own company, securing a five year Urban Aid Grant with support from Islington Council and the Home Office. London Friend became the first gay organisation to receive a grant from the UK government.
London Friend remains committed to supporting LGBTQ+ people in all aspects of their lives, from absorbing Antidote (the UK’s only alcohol and drug support group for LGBT+ individuals) in 2003 to running regular support groups for men, women, trans and non-binary people. They also hold events for both older and younger LGBTQ+ people, and have support. In 2016 London Friend won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
Pat Arrowsmith – 9 Feb
Pat Arrowsmith was a co-founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. From 1958 onwards, she served eleven prison sentences for her political activities, mostly in Holloway Prison. In 1961 Arrowsmith was the subject of parliamentary questions after she was force-fed while on hunger strike in Gateside prison. She also worked for the human-rights organization Amnesty International for 24 years up to 1994 and was the organisation’s first ever prisoner of conscience in Britain.
She was one of the organisers of the first Aldermaston March, an anti-nuclear weapons demonstration in the 1950s and 60s, which took place on Easter weekend between the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire, England, and London. She was also one of the original signatories of the Committee of 100, a declaration of resistance by 100 public figures including philosopher Bertrand Russell and writers Shelagh Delaney and John Berger.
Peter Wildeblood – 10 Feb
Peter Wildeblood was a prominent journalist and author. In 1954 he served an 18 month prison sentence for “gross indecency offences (homosexual activity)” as part of the Lord Montagu Trial in Hampshire. At the time “homosexual activity” was illegal. Around 1,000 men were imprisoned every year, mostly for seeking or committing same-sex sexual acts in public. The act of “buggery” carried a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Wildeblood, a journalist, was only 30 when he was arrested at his home on St Paul’s Road on Saturday 9 January 9. After he was released from prison, he was involved in efforts to decriminalise homosexuality. Wildeblood was the only openly gay man to testify in front of the Wolfenden Committee, a group tasked with writing a report on the legal status of homosexuality and prostitution. The findings of the Committee were part of the reason why, in 1967, the law was finally changed for homosexuality, allowing sexual activity in private for two men aged 21 years or above (which we recognise as “partial decriminalisation”).
Wildeblood also wrote a book called Against the Law in 1955 which explored his experiences and called for legal reform. The book was wildly successful and popular, and is seen as having an impact on the eventual change in the law.
Roger Casement – 11 Feb
Roger Casement was an Irish diplomat, slavery abolitionist and played an instrumental part in Ireland’s fight for independence. Casement spent time working for the British Foreign Office in Congo and was knighted in 1911.
Casement is mostly known for his involvement in the Easter Rising in 1916, which was an armed revolution in Ireland carried out in an attempt to free Ireland from British rule.
Following the Easter Rising, Casement was arrested and charged with high treason, sabotage, and espionage against the crown. During his trial, one of the pieces of evidence brought against him was a series of his journals, now known as the “Black Diaries”. These journals revealed that Casement was gay and recorded his sexual activities, which were illegal at the time. This possibly reduced support for Casement and ensured his execution.
He was executed at Pentonville Prison and was buried in the grounds until his remains were repatriated to Ireland for a full state funeral in 1965.
Bob Crossman – 12 Feb
Robert ‘Bob’ Crossman was the first openly gay mayor in the UK, serving as Mayor of Islington from 1986 to 1987 after moving to Islington in 1979.
Before becoming mayor, Crossman was an Islington councillor. He served on the council from 1982 to 1994. His appointment as mayor was widely disapproved of by the political right wing, and right wing media often mockingly referred to Crossman’s partner, Martin McCloghry as ‘the Mayoress’.
Crossman later founded and chaired the Islington Lesbian and Gay Committee and was one of the founding members of the Gay Labour Group. He was a member of numerous other political left wing groups including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine, and the National Anti-Racist Movement in Education.
Surprisingly uncommon for LGBT+ politicians in the late 20th century, Crossman was closely linked to a wide variety of LGBT+ organisations including Switchboard, Gay Men Fighting AIDS, and the National AIDS Helpline. He campaigned for LGBT+ rights throughout his life, using both local politics and wide-reaching aid organisations.
In 1996 Crossman sadly passed away from cancer. He is remembered fondly by many.
Olumide Popoola – 13 Feb
Olumide Popoola (born 1975) lives in Islington and works as an author, poet, and is the project leader of ‘The Future is Back’. Popoola was born in Germany to a German mother and Nigerian father, and lived for five years in Nigeria before returning to Germany.
Her first full-length novel, When We Speak of Nothing, was published in 2017 and featured a trans protagonist and explored the themes of youth, friendship, race, and sexual identity in the context of the 2011 London riots and the ecocide in the Niger Delta.
In 2018, Popoola founded and led the Arts Council funded project ‘Futures in the Making: a writing workshop collective of emerging LGBTQ writers,’ which was held at Islington Central Library. The project worked to provide support and guidance particularly for LGBTQ writers of colour to help them develop their skills and progress with their writing.
In 2020, Popoola launched The Future is Back: Black Teacher’s Edition. The programme is a direct response to the Black Lives Matter uprising. It has a dedicated anti-racist focus and asks LGBTQ+ writers to reflect on questions of representation, voice, and anti-racist commitment. All facilitators and texts used during the course are Black writers.
Jide Macaulay – 14 Feb
Reverend Father Jide Macaulay was born in Islington in 1965. He is the Founder and CEO of House of Rainbow CIC. He is an openly gay British-Nigerian, a Christian minister since 1998, Anglican Priest, an inspirational speaker, author, poet, pastor and preacher and HIV Positive Activist.
Jide’s ministry, The House of Rainbow, focuses on inclusion and reconciliation of sexuality, spirituality and human rights. He writes for various Christian and secular journals, as well as authoring several books: Poetry Inspired (2001), Pocket Devotion for LGBT Christians (2005) and has won several awards including the 2003 and 2007 Black LGBT Community Award for “Man of the Year” for his work helping people of faith.
Sonia Burgess – 15 Feb
Sonia Burgess (1947 – 2010) was an immigration lawyer who co-founded the Winstanley Burgess Solicitors firm in Islington. Sonia was a transgender woman who began her transition during her marriage and lived openly as Sonia from 2005.
Burgess was an incredibly successful immigration lawyer, winning the right for 52 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees to enter the UK and leading to a change in the law that would protect refugees from being immediately sent home upon refusal of asylum to give them a chance to appeal.
Burgess was also one of the lawyers involved in the Mark Rees case. Mark Rees campaigned strongly and eventually went to the European Court of Human Rights to argue for the right to change the gender assignation on his birth certificate from female to male. Burgess’s involvement in the case was part of Rees’s thirty year campaign which eventually helped lead to the introduction of the 2003 Gender Recognition Bill.
Sonia Burgess died in tragic circumstances in 2010. Tributes were paid to her tireless work representing people who had faced overwhelming adversity.
Icebreakers at Hemmingford Arms – 16 Feb
Gay Icebreakers (or just Icebreakers) was a radical community-based support organisation started in 1973 as a collective of lesbians and gay men. They ran a nightly telephone service for gay people who were isolated and wanted another gay person to talk to. They also ran a hugely popular Friday night disco.
Icebreakers discos were held on a Friday night in various locations across Islington. It had a home at the Prince Albert, the Hemingford Arms, the Carved Red Lion, the Pied Bull, and finally The Bell. Evidence suggests that Icebreakers ran until around 1984, though the exact date that it stopped running is unknown.
Micky Burbidge, a member of the Gay Liberation Front and an early member of Icebreakers, stated that “Icebreakers turned out to be really important. It was a creature of its time based on the simple idea that people who were gay and afraid needed contact with other gays and not psychiatric help.” Support and social groups like Icebreakers were an essential alternative to “conversion therapy” a harmful treatment designed to ‘turn’ LGB+ people straight which was considered acceptable in the 1970s and 80s, and is sadly still around today.
Sisterwrite – 17 Feb
Sisterwrite was a feminist collective started in 1979 by Kay Stirling, Lynn Alderson, and Mary Coghill. It consisted of a bookshop with an upstairs reading room and vegetarian café, and it remained open for fifteen years, acting as the epicentre of feminist and lesbian literature in the 1980s. It was praised for being a women-only venture at the time.
The bookshop occasionally faced difficulties and one occasion there was a brief clash with the police, as the owners of Sisterwrite believed that their phones has been wiretapped. During the era of Section 28, certain books that discussed lesbian in an affirmative way had to be kept under the counter for fear of reprisal from the authorities.
Sisterwrite was part of a movement of female collectives that helped shape the movement of second-wave feminism by bringing more people’s attention to women’s writing and publications. Their contribution, along with other Islington-based publication, Spare Rib, championed female voices and self-determination.
Sisterwrite is mentioned in the Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, who was a regular visitor to the bookshop.
Yvonne Sinclair – 18 Feb
Yvonne Sinclair was a prominent figure in the UK’s ‘transvestite and transsexual’ community from the 1970s onwards. She founded the TV/TS Support Group, which met at 274 Upper Street 3 nights a week and every weekend for 16 years.
In 1985 she turned the TV/TS Support Group into a registered charity in order to provide a safe space for trans people to socialise and get support. Eventually, the organisation became the first national telephone support line for trans people and ensured that their physical office was open 5 days a week to give support and advice. Sinclair’s tireless fundraising allowed the group to do a huge amount of work despite a complete lack of external funding from local government.
Dawn Wyvern, a regular at the TV/TS Support Group, stated that “it had a vibrant membership…there were drag queens, TVs, TSs, and ‘professional boys’ who posed as ‘ladies of the night’, admirers and supportive family members.” Sinclair’s open membership of the group made it an important fixture of Islington’s trans community.
The Crown and Woolpack – 19 Feb
The Crown and Woolpack was built on St John’s Street in 1851 and remained open under various names until the 1990s. In the 1970s and 1980s it was one of the many pubs in Islington that, while not being exclusively queer, hosted a wildly popular lesbian disco night. Author Lisa Power quotes “Julia J”, saying that the Crown and Woolpack disco was “the first real gay women’s pub disco”.
Apart from its LGBTQ+ history, the Crown and Woolpack’s primary claim to fame is that it was allegedly once used as a meeting space by Vladimir Lenin in the 1910s during his exile from Russia, as the meetings of the Socialist National were held there at the time.
Trade at Turnmills – 20 Feb
Trade, beginning in 1990, was London’s first gay after-hours club night, hosted at Turnmills nightclub in Farringdon. Trade ran from 3am to 1pm on a Sunday, and was a wildly popular part of the emerging gay rave culture of the 1990s.The name Trade came from the gay slang term for casual sexual partners, and the club night was known as a popular meeting spot to pick up
The club housed two dance rooms and a ‘chill out’ room with coffee and cocktails. It catered to a wide variety of clientele. One of the previous managers even mentioned that Björk had previously visited there. Other famous visitors include Alexander McQueen, Björk and Madonna. Cher was once reportedly refused entry. Trade became so famous that in 1998 Channel 4 commissioned an hour-long documentary on the club night entitled Trade: The All-Night Bender.
Trade continued to run at Turnmills until it began to tour worldwide in 2002. The last Trade event ever was hosted at Turnmills on the 23rd March 2008, and went on from 3am until 5:45pm.
Thomas Wright’s Molly House – 21 Feb
“Molly house” was a term for a meeting place for homosexual men used in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some men went there purely to socialise and drink tea or ale with other men, others used rooms for more intimate encounters. Thomas Wright’s Molly House in Beech Lane (now Beech Street) existed in the early 18th century.
One evening there was a quarrel between two men, one of whom decided to take revenge by helping agents for the Society for the Reformation of Manners to infiltrate molly houses. A number of molly houses were investigated after this time and Thomas Wright’s Molly House was raided on 17 November 1724, where the investigator reported that he had found “a Company of Men fiddling, and dancing, and singing bawdy Songs, kissing, and using their Hands in a very unseemly Manner.” Through another door “a great many indecencies” were reported.
Thomas Wright was found guilty of buggery and was hanged for his crime on 9 May 1726.
Maureen Colquhoun – 22 Feb
Maureen Colquhoun was a Labour Party candidate in the February 1974 General Election and was elected as MP for Northampton North. She was one of only 28 women in the House of Commons, and was elected Treasurer of the Labour Party’s left wing Tribune group.
In 1975 she left her husband Keith Colquhoun, a Sunday Times journalist, and moved in with her lesbian partner Barbara (Babs) Todd, who published the lesbian magazine Sappho. Colquhoun was outed by the Daily Mail’s gossip columnist Nigel Dempster in 1976 after he managed to get an invitation to the couple’s housewarming party.
In 1977 Colquhoun was living with Todd in South Islington and had been scheduled to open the London Friend offices at 274 Upper Street, intending to use it as an opportunity to come out herself. However, under pressure from the Labour Party she withdrew from the event.
By September of the same year, her local Labour Party Committee voted to deselect her as the Labour candidate, which many at the time believed was because of her sexuality. Although she won her appeal to the Labour Party National Executive Committee against the deselection, the local committee continued to attempt to remove her until the 1979 General Election where Colquohoun was one of many Labour MPs to lose her seat.
Colquhoun’s autobiography Woman in the House was published in 1980 and she served as a councillor in Hackney for 8 years between 1982 and 1990. Colquhoun moved to Cumbria, where she currently resides, and was a Lakes Parish Councillor in Ambleside until 2015. She remained with Babs Todd until Babs’s death in 2020.
Sweet Wednesday at the Underground Club – 23 Feb
Sweet Wednesday is a bi-monthly daytime club at Central Station, run by Bob & Nancy. The club has been running for over 10 years, and hopes to return in 2021 when it is safe to do so.
Sweet Wednesday is described as a club for trans women and the men who admire them. It is welcoming of all people who identify as women, including those who may only present as women “part time”. Guests who may be first-timers can change their clothes and get their make-up done on the premises. Clientele who pay entry for Sweet Wednesday can enjoy all levels of the venue, including the main bar and roof terrace at Central Station. It is an event where all guests are encouraged to feel safe and welcome.
Sexual contact is permitted in the Underground Club in a safe and consensual manner. CliniQ, a trans healthcare group that operates out of 56 Dean Street also attend to every other party. CLASH and SHOC, part of NHS sexual health services that cover Islington, Camden and Haringey, also come to every other event and can do sexual health testing, and give advice.
Central Station’s unique location next to King’s Cross – St Pancras means that Sweet Wednesday is attended by people from all over the UK and even other countries in Europe. It is a unique event and service unlike anything else in London.
Charlie Kiss – 24 Feb
Charlie Kiss became the first transgender man to stand for Parliament in 2015, when he contested Islington South and Finsbury for the Green Party. Kiss had been heavily involved in the LGBTQ+ community in Islington and around London since the 1980s.
At the age of 17, Kiss was imprisoned in Holloway Prison for his involvement in anti-nuclear demonstrations at the Greenham Common women’s peace camp. Upon release, he was offered champagne by Islington Council, but declined.
Kiss’s book, A New Man: Lesbian, Protest, Mania, Trans Man is an autobiographical telling of his life and journey from ‘feminist lesbian to trans man’. He continues to be closely involved with a number of political movements and organisations.
Gay Gooners – 25 Feb
The ‘Gay Gooners’ is an organisation of LGBTQ+ Arsenal football club supporters. It was founded in 2013 and now boasts over 750 members with over 90 in its Islington chapter alone. It is currently the largest LGBTQ+ football fan group in the UK with a fairly even membership split of 40% women to 60% men.
They aim to provide a safe space and comfortable social group for LGBT+ Arsenal fans as well as working towards eradicating homophobia in football and the football community. They were the first LGBTQ+ group to display their banner at a sporting stadium, and the first sports group to participate in the London Gay Pride parade.
The Arsenal club itself is actively supportive of the Gay Gooners and has previously invited the members of the group to be VIPs at matches.
London Gay Teenage Group – 26 Feb
The London Gay Teenage Group, conceived of in 1976, was one of the first LGBT youth groups in the world specifically catering for under 21 year olds. Its first official advertised meeting took place at 296 Holloway Road. By 1979 the group moved to the Manor Gardens Centre. They remained at Manor Gardens until the group ceased to exist circa 2000.
The group was both run and populated entirely by individuals under the age of 21. In 1979 the group won recognition from the National Association of Youth Clubs and the Inner London Education Authority which meant that they were able to obtain grants. With their newfound funding, the group was able to employ a part time youth worker in 1982.
Former members of the group include well-known individuals such as Matthew Bourne Jimmy Somerville, lead singer of Bronski Bear and The Communards.
The Pink Paper – 27 Feb
The Pink Paper was an LGBTQ+ newspaper which ran as a print paper from 1987 to 2009 before moving to an online only form until 2012. It was founded by Stephen Bur and Stephen Burton. Lisa Power was among its contributors. As a free fortnightly paper it was used as a campaigning tool for gay and lesbian groups.
The Paper was widely circulated across the UK, as it was distributed for free in gay bars and clubs as well as community spaces such as libraries and community centres. It was also the first LGBTQ+ publication to benefit from mainstream advertising, and also contained job adverts from institutions that were at the time typically averse to being related to the LGBTQ+ community including local councils and the police force.
The Pink Paper was originally published by Chronos Publishing at Cedar House on Holloway Road before moving later on. In 2005 it was bought by the Millivres Prowler Group which also published other LGBT+ publications such as Gay Times. Unfortunately, the Pink Paper was forced to close in 2012 due to a lack of budget.
Simeon Solomon – 28 Feb
Simeon Solomon was a Jewish Pre-Raphaelite artist who regularly exhibited work at the Royal Academy between 1858 and 1872. His art regularly depicted both his Jewish life and same-sex attraction, and was collected by wealthy people who also shared his experiences including Oscar Wilde.
In February 1873 Solomon was arrested near Oxford Street for indecent exposure and ‘attempting to commit sodomy’ which resulted in him spending six weeks in prison at the Clerkenwell House of Detention. He was also fined £100, the equivalent of about £10,335 today.
After his arrest, Solomon’s physical and mental health declined rapidly. He was committed to asylums by his family on two separate occasions, but was discharged from both of them as ‘unimproved’. By 1884 Solomon was struggling with alcoholism and ended up in the St Giles workhouse in Holborn, where he continued to make art despite his difficulties.
Solomon died in 1905 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Willesden. Since his death, his artworks have been exhibited many times all over the UK, including in a 2017 exhibition at the Tate Britain entitled Queer British Art 1861-1967 which featured seven of his works. His art is permanently on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum and Leighton House in West London.
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