Hidden Pride: Exploring the History of the LGBT+ Community in Norwich

Front cover of Gay Britain magazine featuring a sign reading "Welcome to Norwich, a Fine City"

Hannah Henderson, Curator of Community History

My name is Hannah Henderson and I have worked as a Curator of Community History at The Museum of Norwich for over 15 years.

This week, to coincide with the Norwich Pride celebrations, I have been asked to share highlights from the newly evolving collection linked to the city’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender + (LGBT+) community. 

Throughout the year, we present a public programme that links with many of the city’s annual events, none of which are more colourful and vibrant than the city’s Pride celebrations in July. This is always a great time of year, with lots of positive linked events. Last year we welcomed the Teenage History Club from Thetford’s Ancient House Museum and worked together to create a ‘Queer Tour’ of the museum.

Group of people waving Pride flags.
Teenage History Club leading a fully-booked Queer Tour at the Museum of Norwich, July 2019

One of the consequences of the COVID-19 lockdown has been that all our planned exhibitions and events have had to be put on hold.

This year, we had planned an exhibition showcasing some of the items recently donated to our local museums and libraries by the LGBT+ community. As the annual Pride Parade in Norwich has been cancelled, some celebrations are migrating online and as such, we are dedicating our first blog post to this important collection and event. We are also working with Norfolk Museums Service’s National Lottery Heritage Fund project Kick The Dust and YMCA Norfolk on linked projects to celebrate Pride in different ways.

This collecting project is just the start of a new wave of work where we collaborate with the community to reconsider the stories we tell, uncover hidden histories and actively diversify and reshape our collections and future programmes.

So, without further ado, here are a few highlights from the collection.

Gay News Article, 1977

“People don’t object to us. They ignore us.”

A group of men gathered around a Norwich road sign, with the words 'Gay Britain' above.
Gay News Article, 1977

Gay News was founded in 1972 but was forced to close in 1983 after a court wrangle with Mary Whitehouse. In November 1977, Gay News sent journalist Keith Howes to Norwich to report on LGBT+ life as part of their “Gay Britain” series. Luckily for us, Howes goes into detail about the 1970s Norwich scene, providing lots of information about gay and lesbian life in the city. He lists the nightspots as well as the groups and support services he finds.

‘Officially there is only one gay pub in the city, the Studio Four in Crown Road, so called because it is next door to Anglia Television (which has three studios) … At night the gay crowd take over and Nellie Lovewell, a weathered woman with a strong Norfolk burr, says that she has “never had no cross word with any of them …”

Big Daddie’s … on Swan Lane… has been run for members only since last year and is 100 per cent gay. It’s small (holding around 120) and ferns dangle over the DJ and naked trellis lurks elsewhere. When I went there, there were bowls of carnations on each table and the affable DJ Duncan wore one behind his ear… Big Daddie’s is open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 9pm to midnight (2.30am on Saturdays) and annual membership of £1, entrance fee 10p (Wed and Fr) and 30p (on Sat). And the entrance fee includes a buffet on Saturdays…

Bangs disco opened last year in an upstairs room in the Studio Four pub, and at first, was mainly popular with gay women. Things have changed and the number of gay women has reduced “because of fights” … “It used to be nothing but girls here but now it is 90 percent men!”… For all that, Bangs is currently packed and pulsating from Mondays to Fridays from 8pm to 11pm and on Thursdays and Saturdays until 2am… You can’t hear yourself speak but you can, of course, go downstairs (at least until 11pm) to Studio Four if you want to revive the vanished art of conversation.’

The article concludes; ‘Norwich, in the main, would appear to be an unpressured place in which to be gay. One certainly doesn’t hear of any cases of queer-bashing, police harassment and job discrimination and quite a few people I spoke to said that their neighbours knew they were gay, and no one seemed to mind. On the other hand, very few people appear to be out in their jobs and gay badges are as rare as hen’s teeth…. As Vincent Lodola says sadly: “People don’t object to us. They ignore us.”

Membership cards for The Caribbean Club, The Loft and Norwich Centre Group

This collection of membership cards belongs to Roger Smith, who kindly donated them to Norfolk Libraries’ collection.

Norwich Centre Group (NCG) was Norwich’s first gay group and was set up in the late 1960s or early 1970s, holding meetings at an address in the Cathedral Close. NCG saw itself as a support group rather than a campaigning organisation, bringing people together and putting on plays like Joe Orton’s ‘Erpingham Camp’. Its name was intentionally low key due to its location. In the beginning it held very popular discos, which fundraised for local gay friendly causes, until local nightclub Bangs Disco took the limelight.

The Caribbean Club was a popular gay club from 1982/3 – 1990. The venue’s name changed to The Loft in 1990 and is still a popular night club to this day, running both LGBT+ and straight nights. In the past, the venue was well known for hosting competitions such as Mr Gay UK and Mr Hardware.

Before The Caribbean Club opened, the gay community met at the back bar of The Jolly Butcher’s Pub on Ber Street. The pub was famous for its landlady Black Anna, known for her black clothes and extraordinary Jazz voice.

Norfolk Friend Poster, 1991

Norfolk Friend was a local LGBT+ support service that offered counselling, information and advice. When it was started in 1976, it operated through a Post Office box number but soon set up a telephone helpline.

In these early days, Norfolk Friend, along with other local organisations like Norwich Centre Group and the Campaign for Homosexuality, could only be publicised by The Samaritans, the public library and an information sheet circulated to all Social Services departments.

This was because the local media including the Eastern Daily Press, The Eastern Evening News and Anglia Television, banned the promotion of gay groups.

Vincent Lodola worked for Norwich and Waveney Friend, as it was first known, and was interviewed by the Gay News in 1977. He summed up the facilities for other parts of the LGBT+ community at the time. “The leather crowd don’t admit that they’re gay. Transvestites? Hard luck, mate! Transsexuals? Like visitors from another planet.”

Gay and Lesbian Guide to Norwich, 1994

This Gay and Lesbian Guide to Norwich was produced by shOUT magazine in association with Norwich Gay Men’s Health Project (NGMHP) in 1994. shOUT was a gay and lesbian magazine produced in the 1990s and NGMHP was an organisation that offered safer sex information to gay and bisexual men and operated a drop-in advice centre. The guide features a map of the city, listing gay friendly venues, support services and places of interest. It also offers information on cruising, encouraging the community to tell friends where they were going, warning of recent police surveillance in local toilets and advising victims of crime of what to do if they were attacked.

Norwich Pride Guide, 2009

The first Norwich Pride was held in 2009 to celebrate the LGBT+ community. Whilst there was cynicism and opposition from some, 3000 people came onto the streets to support the march.

Since then, Norwich Pride has gone from strength to strength.  In 2019, the city streets were thronged with up to 10,000 people, amidst a sea of rainbow banners, coming together to celebrate diversity, challenge inequality and celebrate the LGBT+ community. 

COVID-19 has meant Norwich Pride 2020 will not go ahead as planned this year. Instead, the community is being encouraged to get involved with a Virtual Pride by creating a rainbow trail of flags and posters in every street across the city. 

The Justin Campaign Patch

Pink embroidered patch featuring Justin Fashanu's face and the words 'Justin Fashanu All-Stars'.

The Justin Campaign was founded in 1998, to challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and promote equality for the LGBT community in professional football.

Justin Fashanu was the first professional footballer in England to come out as gay – and remains the only male professional player in the country to have done so. He is remembered by many as a trailblazer in football and is proudly remembered by fans of Norwich City Football Club.

After making his Canaries debut against West Bromwich Albion in January 1979, he scored 40 goals in 103 appearances for the club over three years. His most memorable goal came against Liverpool in 1980, which sent Carrow Road into raptures and saw him win the BBC Goal of the Season award.

Justin became the first black player to command a £1million transfer fee when he moved to Nottingham Forest in 1981. It is important to remember that during the 1980s, black players endured relentless racist abuse from the terraces. Sadly, due to injury, his performance on the pitch was never as strong again.

Fashanu came out in 1990, at a time when homophobia was the norm in football. His coach Brian Clough openly criticised him for his sexuality and fast, lavish lifestyle. The immense pressure of these two prejudices created a toxic mix, adding to an already chaotic life and complicated personality.

Justin spent the next few years as a coach in the USA. He was later questioned by US police after allegations of sexual abuse with a young man in Maryland, a state where homosexuality was illegal. Immediately afterwards he returned to the UK.

Justin took his own life in May 1998. He had written that being gay and a personality ‘is so hard’.

In February 2020, 40 years after his most memorable moment, Carrow Road fans paid tribute to their hero at a match with league leaders Liverpool, unfurling a 20m banner featuring commentator Barry Davies’ description of the pass sequence which ended with Fashanu’s ‘magnificent goal’.  This banner was designed by David Shenton, who features below.

Fashanu was posthumously recognised almost 30 years after coming out publicly – and on what would have been his 59th birthday – when he was inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame in February 2020.

His legacy lives on through the work of LGBT+ campaigners, The Justin Campaign and The Justin Fashanu Foundation, founded by his niece Amal. Amal is also patron of Proud Canaries, the first LGBT+ football fan group in the UK, who work with NCFC to promote equality and inclusion in football. Norfolk Museums also care for two ‘Rainbow Laces’ NCFC football shirts in its collection, which were worn at Proud Canaries matches.

David Shenton’s ‘Duo Shirt’

“Hand-holding is unavoidable, blatant and the integral function of the garment.”

This shirt was created was created by David Shenton, retired Norwich teacher and celebrated cartoonist, to wear at the London Pride march in 2013. We asked David to explain more; “This shirt was designed as a dedicated PRIDE March shirt… the only occasion when John Griffiths, my (late) partner/ husband of 23 years, and I could confidently walk down the road, holding hands. It was made from 6 shirts (bought in Cromer charity shops), that make up the colours of the Pride rainbow. Each shirt was cut into three sections and pieces sewn back together, but this time as one garment with the two middle sleeves sewn together as one, so hand-holding is unavoidable, blatant and the integral function of the garment. I made it and we wore it at London Pride in 2013 to celebrate the fact that Equal Marriage was on the horizon.”

Pride 2018 by Owen Mathers

Copyright: Owen Mathers

Our most recent acquisition for the collection is this colourful and jubilant location drawing of the Pride March in 2018, as it makes its way along Davey Place with Norwich Castle in the background. We can’t wait to see crowds marching proudly through the city again next year. In the meantime, we will continue to add to the collection, engage with the local LGBT+ community and support the values that Pride embodies.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank everyone who have contributed this project, be it this blog, our planned exhibition or 2020 virtual programme: Our colleagues at Norfolk Library and Information Service, especially Rachel Ridealgh and Jo Foster-Murdoch, David Shenton, Norwich Pride, Michelle and Stevie Savage, Di Cunningham, Zoe Alexander, Eloise O’Hare, David Fullman, Sue Lane, James McDermott, Dela, Jen Alexander, Hannah Ayres, Jasmine Mickleburgh, Rachel Daniel and Owen Mathers, amongst others.

Furthermore, we are grateful to all the people who have shared their individual stories and experiences in developing this collection. 

We hope to open the exhibition when the Museum of Norwich is able to reopen to the public.

For more information about these collections please contact Rachel.Ridealgh@norfolk.gov.uk (Norfolk Library and Information Service) or Hannah.Henderson@norfolk.gov.uk (Museum of Norwich).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s