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Pride and Prejudice – but not what you think!

30 September 2015 by Matt

programme cover with illustration of the theatre

Royal Court Theatre Programme, 1951

A lot of my colleagues saw the title of the Pride and Prejudice project and thought we were doing an exhibition on Jane Austen, or at the very least Georgian life.  Luckily for me, they were wrong.  Instead what we have started work on is an amazingly interesting but admittedly challenging task.  We are undertaking a unique two year project, funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund, to identify, research and better present objects and stories relating to Liverpool’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities held within our collections. Easy? Think again…

Like most museums, no one has spent a huge amount of time looking through our collections specifically looking for LGBT items and stories and many of these stories are in fact ‘hidden histories’. My role, as the Researcher for the Pride and Prejudice project, is to unearth these hidden stories from within our collections, to highlight the contribution of Liverpool’s diverse LGBT communities to the city, and challenge prejudices. It was difficult to know where to start, but like most things, once you pull the thread, ideas and inspiration start to unravel and I am finding out more and more every day that I spend on the project.

adverts for dining and dancing at the Adelphi and Stork hotels

Adverts in the Royal Court Theatre programme

Immediately items spring forth from the collection and a list develops.  Some items have an obvious LGBT story, like a painting of men ‘cruising’ at a public toilet in Williamson Square and a copy of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’, others do not. I begin to understand that the key to this project being successful is careful and thorough research, which to a lot of people sounds tedious but given the subject matter I think sounds incredibly interesting.  I’m hearing stories about nights out, health scares, civil rights protests, pride marches and a host of characters that make this research anything but tedious.  The more I find out, the more I understand the LGBT collections we already have but haven’t yet identified.

As part of my research on I have looked in our collections for programmes from the Royal Court Theatre and found one from 1951.  Knowing that the bar of the Royal Court Theatre was a meeting place for LGBT people prior to decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, I noticed that the programme also discreetly advertises several other bars where LGBT people met including the Adelphi and Stork Hotels.  This piece of ‘hidden history’ would have remained hidden without the research and no LGBT significance would have been placed on this rather ordinary-looking theatre programme.

Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done but I’m certain this project is going to be as interesting and rewarding as it is challenging. The objects and stories will be highlighted on our website soon, so watch this space!

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