LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer or Questioning) History

Rainbow Gay Surrey Logo

Where is it?

Until recently, LGBT history was a tricky subject for heritage organisations but it is now emerging through collections and displays across the UK. It is a heritage that is being celebrated and not kept ‘in the closet’.

In The Closet – The Nature of Archives

It is very difficult to trace LGBTQ lives through historical sources. Often there will only be references in court records, reflecting society’s attitude towards homosexuality over time. Lesbian lives are almost invisible in the historical record. Rarely are collections deposited with archive organisations purely because they relate to a known, documented LGBTQ person.

This makes uncovering evidence for LGBTQ lives incredibly difficult and often leaves us with negative stories of crime and punishment rather than positive events which would never come to light as part of everyday life. Add to this the fact that homosexuality was illegal until 1967, with earlier punishments ranging from hanging, to the pillory and ‘chemical rehabilitation’ (as in Alan Turing’s case), and it’s easy to understand why members of the LGBTQ community would not always have openly advertised their lives.

See how cases of homosexual activity in Surrey were dealt with at the court of Quarter Sessions click here to read more.

Read Surrey History Centre’s guide to researching LGBTQ history in Surrey and discover out what sources are available click here to read more.

Read an historical overview of LGBTQ history here. PDF.gif

PDF.gifClick here to see an LGBT history timeline prepared by Sussex Downs College.

Find out more about their LGBTQ History Month work at

Surrey’s LGBTQ History

Harry in uniform, 1940s.<br /> (From <em>This Small Cloud: a Personal Memoir</em> (London, 1987))

Harry in uniform, 1940s.
(From This Small Cloud: a Personal Memoir (London, 1987))

Surrey has many famous LGBTQ personalities who at one time made the county their home. JR Ackerley, Dirk Bogarde, Edward Carpenter, Noel Coward, Quentin Crisp, Denholm Elliott, EM Forster, John Gieulgud, Robert Graves, Terence Rattigan, Dame Ethel Smyth, Alan Turing, Horace Walpole and Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaneyall have connections with the county and each has been celebrated as part of LGBT History Month. More famous connections are uncovered every year but given the reasons cited above, uncovering the life stories of the not-so famous is much harder. One exception is the story of Harry Daley, who served in the Metropolitan Police for 25 years. Harry was always open about his homosexuality and was the lover of the novelist E M Forster, who lived in Abinger Hammer.

Read more about Harry’s extraordinary life here

Click here for a full list of Surrey’s LGBTQ icons that have been researched click here to read more.

POP banner ESPFind out about Surrey’s involvement in Historic England’s Pride of Place project.

Increasing Access to Surrey’s LGBTQ History
Surrey Heritage is committed to improving the diversity of and access to its collections. Records of LGBTQ organisations as well as personal records, such as letters, diaries, poems, stories or film, are all ways in which the collections here can be developed to ensure Surrey’s LGBTQ history is not lost. If you have material relating to the LGBTQ community in Surrey or would like to add a story of your own experiences to the archive, we would be delighted to hear from you.
Please contact Di Stiff on 01483 518737 or email [email protected]

Many Surrey LGBTQ organisations have placed their records with us for posterity. Read more about Gay Surrey’s records and see which organisations are featured in the archives click here to read more.

Learn more about Surrey Heritage’s work with the LGBTQ community and how we celebrate LGBT History Month. Discover how LGBT on Tour’s youth group project revealed the treatment of the LGBTQ community during the Second World War (LGBT on Tour Youth Project page) and discover further sinister links to Surrey LGBTQ personalities in Hitler’s Black Book.

See Surrey History Centre’s February 2017 Marvel of the Month celebrating LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans) History Month.

Click here to see a pdf () copy of an LGBTQ bibliography listing a range of published works held at Surrey History Centre.

Click here to see Surrey Libraries LGBT History Month iCloud collection.

Outlit logoSurrey Libraries OutLit LGBTQ virtual book collection can be found online at

2 thoughts on “LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer or Questioning) History”

  1. Richard Byrt says:

    Thank you for your very good, interesting information about LGBT history in Surrey, and the links. Unless, of course, you object, I’m about to include your LGBT history web page and link to your bibliography onto a bibliography of LGBT literature, which I’m compiling as part of the “Untold Stories” project: an LGBT oral history covering Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

    Thanks and best wishes


    (Richard Byrt, Untold Stories volunteer, Leicester LGBT Centre)

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