Tag Archives: LGBT

“Banned! Censoring Sexuality” LGBT History Month


Birmingham Pride Parade 2004 reproduced with the kind permission of Brigitte Winsor.

Banned! Censoring Sexuality is a talk by Rachel MacGregor as part of LGBT History Month.

Tuesday 10th February 2015

Join Collections Curator Rachel MacGregor to explore the history of censorship in Birmingham Libraries and in particular the case of the book described as “unadulterated filth” by Jean Genet, the celebrated French novelist, poet and playwright which became a national scandal when the Birmingham Library tried to buy it.  Discover more about censorship in the years before the Lady Chatterley trial and the role that Birmingham played in this.

Tickets available from The Box Tel: 0121 245 4455

Part of the Origins Season January – April 2015


Fred Barnes – Music Hall Star and Queer Pioneer

Lunchtime talk with David Viney (Birmingham LGBT)

Tuesday 11th February 1pm – Heritage Learning Space

fred barnes

Fred Barnes (1885-1938)

To celebrate LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) History Month our regular Tuesday lunchtime local history lecture celebrates the life and times of Birmingham Music Hall Star Fred Barnes who rose from rags to riches and then back again.  Barnes who debuted at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham in 1906, lived an openly gay life at a time of persecution and hostility and together we’ll be celebrating his life and extraordinary times.

Admission is free but booking is recommended via The Box (tel 0121 245 4455) quoting “Birmingham and its people”.

Gender transgressions

Aris's Birmingham Gazette. Monday 5th September 1791.

Aris’s Birmingham Gazette Monday 5th September 1791

“A discovery of a singular nature was made, it is said, in Stafford gaol a few days ago:  A prisoner who was convicted and condemned for horse-stealing, but since reprieved (under the name of James Burroughs) proves to be a woman; she has lain in the dungeon with near 50 male prisoners since the 18th August, without any kind of suspicion arising among them of her sex.  She now says her name is Mary Etticks.”

Throughout history men and women have dressed in clothes associated with the opposite gender for a wide variety of reasons.  Personal expression, political act, security and economics all play a part in the decision. The example above is of a woman dressing as a man in 1791 which came to light following her arrest for stealing.

This report comes from Aris’s Birmingham Gazette for 1791 from 5th September.  You can read more articles from Aris’s Gazette here:


although not this edition (the British Library do not hold a complete set of local newspapers) so you’ll need to wait until September to read this one.

More information and links about cross dressing here:



Gender Matters: trans history

Gender Matters1

Ben and Melissa’s story

Gender Matters has been awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to capture the oral histories of the trans community in the West Midlands.

Birmingham Archives and Heritage have been supporting the project to help map the history of trans experience.

Members of the group are telling their stories through stories, song, poetry and art, which will form a permanent record of trans experiences in the region.

This is Ben and Melissa’s story:

Ben is a cross dresser and has captured his story – and his transition to Melissa through a series of photos and memories: 

‘I got married when I was 21 so my access to women’s clothes increased…but the difficulty in hiding it also increased.  There was a subconscious desire to be found out and accepted, combined with the fear of not being accepted.’

The stories describe positive and uplifting journeys.

‘I wasn’t prepared to go through the deceit and lies in another relationship so I was very upfront in the early stages and was thankful that she was accepting and supportive which has enabled me and Melissa to flourish. It’s a cross dressers dream to be accepted and supported.’

Rachel MacGregor

Celebrating Diversity: Vesta Tilley

MS 310/1467. Miss Vesta Tilley.

MS 310/1467 Miss Vesta Tilley

Vesta Tilley was born in Worcester in 1864 as Matilda “Tilley” Powles. She made her first stage appearance at the age of 4 and her first appearance as a male impersonator in 1870 in Birmingham at Day’s Concert Hall. Vesta Tilley had a strong lesbian fan base and she challenged contemporary notions of gender roles in Victorian society.

This image comes from the Manning Collection (ref MS 310) which is a collection of photographs and other materials relating to music hall, mostly in Birmingham and the Black Country but also including other areas of the country.

You can find out more about Vesta Tilley online here:

Worcestershire County Record Offices Archive Collection relating to Vesta Tilley


BBC Radio Four Womans Hour on Vesta Tilley:


Victoria and AlbertMuseum sources on Music Hall generally and Vesta Tilley in particular:


There are various publications relating to Vesta Tilley (references are to Birmingham Archives and Heritage collections, available from September 2013)

“Recollections of Vesta Tilley” – Lady de Frece (1934) ref L78.1 TIL

“Vesta Tilley” – Sara Maitland (1986) ref: L78.1 TIL

“The Great Little Tilley” – Gwyneth Sudworth (1984) ref: L78.TIL

There are also more sources relating to BirminghamMusic Hall in Birmingham Archives and Heritage including the Manning Theatre Archive (MS 310), the Manning Theatre Index and a large collection theatre programmes for Birmingham theatres.