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Out in the past: part two

Manchester Pride is upon us – here's part two of a trail around the city looking at its lesbian and gay heritage

Published on August 26th 2009.


Out in the past: part two

THIS trail was written and researched for Europride 2003. It led to a series of mosaic panels designed by Mark Kennedy being placed in city streets at each point mentioned below. Sadly, some of these have been removed by careless contractors whilst working on the pavements.

There will be a whole series of trails around the city published on Manchester Confidential in the coming months, covering everything from architecture through retail to rock music.

This trail takes between one and a half to two hours to walk. This is part two, covering points 10 onwards. Click here for part one.

From the Deansgate junction with St Ann’s Street, turn left down Deansgate with House of Fraser (Kendals) on your right. Take second left up King Street West and then left onto Ridgefield.

10) On Ridgefield were situated The Stuffed Olive, aka Bernard’s Bar, and Heroes. They were two of many 1980s gay bars in the city. In an amusing and typically idiosyncratic interview in 1986 with Frank Owen, Morrissey, the celebrated Smiths singer and future solo artist, recalls visiting the former. “The gay scene in Manchester,” says Morrissey, “was a little bit heavy for me. I was a delicate bloom. The Rembrandt I could take. Do you remember Bernard's Bar, now Stuffed Olives? If one wanted peace and to sit without being called a parade of names then that was the only hope.”

Frank Owen then chips in, “I do indeed. I particularly remember the endless stream of ageing music hall acts that Bernard booked (Mr Memory men, jugglers, etc) in order to create what he thought was an upmarket ambience. I also remember that you were kicked out if you dared so much as snigger at the appalling turns.” Stuffed Olive was where South nightclub now stands.

Further along Ridgefield was the entrance to Heroes, one of the ‘essential’ gay bars. This ran, off and on, from 1980 to 1985. Nights included toga evenings, mud wrestling, plus acts such as Eartha Kitt, Miguel Brown and many others. There were also benefit events for the Manchester Gay Centre. Some of the many other Eighties venues which ran gay or lesbian nights or which were gay included Dickens, Pips (one frequent visitor there recalls how in one room you found the Bowie fans and in another the Human Leaguers), Placemate 7, Devilles and the Number One Club.

A renowned night from 1991-1996 was Flesh run by Paul Cons, on the first Wednesday of each month, at the now demolished Hacienda club. This flamboyant celebration of gay and lesbian identity was frequently compared to Rio during Carnival. It must be remembered too that the Hac had underscored its radical nature with its Gay Traitors Bar – re Burgess and McClean, the Soviet spies – since its 1982 opening.

Kendals (House of Fraser) department store passed on the way here features in Tony Warren’s book, Behind Closed Doors, as a gay rendezvous and a place were gay staff were tolerated.

Follow Ridgefield to John Dalton Street and go straight over on to Bridge Street. Continue to the river, keeping on the left side of the road.

11) On the Salford side of the river is the Mark Addy pub. Above this was the once feared, now demolished, New Bailey Prison. Built in 1790 it was the principal city gaol until it closed in 1868. The earliest, and one of the bleakest of gay or lesbian scenes, was played out here in 1807. The story was reported tersely thus: ‘James Massey, a prisoner in the New Bailey, charged with an unnatural crime, hung himself and was conveyed away that evening and buried near the distance chair on Kersal Moor; from whence he was in a few days afterwards removed and buried in the ditch where Old Grindret was gibbeted; and not lying there a day or two was took up again, and interred near the Salford weighing-machine.’ We can be sure what ‘unnatural crime’ means. Tragic also how his body was rejected in death too.

Return to Deansgate and turn right past John Rylands Library to the square on the south side of the building.

12) Close to this point was Cumberland Street. This is an account of two residents who lived there in the early nineteenth century. These words, with the original inverted commas, come from a later account.

‘In 1839 owing to a quarrel between a married couple called Stoakes over household expenses it transpired in evidence that the husband, Henry Stoakes, was in reality a woman. Early in life she had discarded female clothing for that of a man, and was apprenticed as a boy to a builder. In 1816 she was married at Sheffield, and 13 years later removed to Manchester, where the ‘husband’ followed the trade of a bricksetter. She was an excellent workman, and being particularly clever in fixing ovens and boilers, was in constant employment. ‘Henry Stoakes’ also acted as a special constable, “performing the duties with ease and efficiency.” After 28 years of ‘married life’, arose the quarrel, which disclosed the secret and ended in the separation of the pair.’ Manchester’s first WPC, 120 years before women could officially join, was in disguise.

13) John Rylands Library opened here on New Year’s Day 1900. It contains one of the finest collections of books and manuscripts anywhere, including a first edition of Shakepeare’s sonnets and the earliest fragment of the New Testament anywhere.

The library also holds a rare example of Edward Carpenter’s ‘Homogenic Love’, see part 7 of the trail. It is an outstanding text, clear and forthright in its defence of same sex relations for men and women and actively arguing for the validity of their physical expression, with, albeit, a strong degree of cautiousness about direct reference to anal sex – which could have landed Carpenter in a heap of trouble. It is an important document that prefigures arguments used to this day. The 51 page pamphlet concludes with ‘since no amount of compulsion can ever change the homogenic instinct in a person, the State damages a respectable and valuable class of its own citizens.’

The pamphlet is initialled by Carpenter to his great friend, Charles Frederick Sixsmith, father of three, managing director of local cotton mills, early socialist and a member of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship. It was the common love of the work of American poet Walt Whitman that brought the two together.

The word ‘homogenic’ not ‘homosexual’ was used because in his scholarly way Carpenter didn’t like a word with a Greek and Latin root mingled together – homogenic is pure Greek.

From John Rylands Library cross Deansgate and walk straight up Brazennose Street, to Albert Square and Manchester Town Hall.

14) The Town Hall is included here as a tribute to the lead the city council has taken in the last two decades in helping to promote equal rights and opportunities for the lesbian and gay community. There have been problems and crises but, in general, the council has shown more understanding on this issue then any other in the UK. It has, amongst many initiatives, provided dedicated officers, liaised and worked with agencies (for instance the George House Trust from 1986), provided a focus for Clause 28 protests and hosted the first conference on policing the lesbian and gay community in 1995. Symbolic gestures have been important too; during early Mardi Gras festivals, the Town Hall was probably the first in Europe to fly the rainbow flag.

From Albert Square follow Mount Street past Central Library and turn right on Peter Street. Follow Peter Street down to a Subway outlet.

15) Peter Street, Quay Street and Oxford Road for the last hundred years have been big centres of evening entertainment for Mancunians. For those of the gay community who liked things smart, the Café Royal, sited here, was a popular rendezvous in the Fifties. It’s described in Tony Warren’s Behind Closed Doors and the quote here shows how awkward life could be.

‘Peter had decided to live out Hetty King’s motto: ‘When in doubt, Follow another Queen.’ For good measure, Peter followed two. The only thing which had revealed them as ‘that way’ was sliding eyes. As Peter pursued them down the stairs and into the bowels of the building, he felt as though he’d been stock-checked and marked down as new.

‘Cigarette smoke and chatter and music were drifting up to meet them. Was there anybody here he knew? It was a long narrow room with a curving thirties counter undulating right down the left-hand side. The pianist was tucked away in the corner; he had several glasses of gin, each one accompanied by a little bottle of tonic, lined up on top of the grand piano. Behind the pianist, opposite the counter, was a wall full of alcoves. Peter had to look twice to be sure that he was seeing properly. The alcoves were full of fairly posh-looking couples – men and women. Could he be in the right place? Another quick glance round the whole cocktail bar and he had the ground rules straight. They were a bit like life itself: queer people were standing warily on their feet while normal ones were sitting down.’

Return past Central Library to St Peter’s Square, turn left to Princess Street and then right to Mosley Street and to Manchester Art Gallery.

16) The gallery is honourably mentioned in the dispatches of many lesbian and gay folk. It’s already a place of lesbian pilgrimage to view Charles Mengin’s Sappho 1877. The poster of this moody oil on canvas of the poet, lyre by her side, stormy seascape all around, is a gallery bestseller. Some older gay men recall paying homage to the naked Rodin sculpture nearby when times were more demure when it came to depiction of naked bodies.

Continue down Princess Street away from the Town Hall and turn right on Portland Street to its junction with Oxford Road. Turn left and the Tai Wu restaurant is over the road under a car park.

17) On the site of the multi-storey car park was once the Gaumont Cinema. Along the Great Bridgewater Street side was the Long Bar, so called because it was said to be the biggest on the planet. At one end was The Trafford Bar, but as one customer describes, nobody in the Fifties used the double doors that connected the two. “It was very odd, we used to go in through a separate entrance, the internal doors might as well have been a wall between two different worlds. I loved the Trafford Bar, there was no hassle at all, it was very friendly. Very exotic too, a different world, full of drag queens, half the blokes were wearing make-up.” Close by was the more upmarket venue Prince’s Bar and Grill, now also disappeared.

Further down Great Bridgewater Street, opposite the Briton’s Protection, was a bus station café nicknamed The Snakepit which was very different. This was a dive where ‘queers’ and prostitutes were tolerated, a guaranteed pick-up joint.

To varying degrees all these places, upmarket or down, used parlaree, the secret code speech of the homosexual: homi was a man, palone a woman, bonar was good, eek face, ogles eyes.

Continue down Oxford Street, watching out on the right-hand side for a path down to the Rochdale Canal. Once on the tow path double-back under the bridges and tunnels towards the Village.

The Rochdale Canal was completed in 1804 and was the first waterway link across the Pennine Hills, uniting west coast with east. The canal’s tucked away nature and the many tunnels provided hide-outs for city centre liaisons – as did many public toilets, the most famous being the nearby Whitworth Street toilets, now closed. One of the many measures by which the police used to catch out gay men was via a motor launch with a spotlight which used to glide up and down the canals, illuminating the darkest nooks and crannies.

You can follow the canal through the impressive landscape of textile warehouses, now converted to other uses, back to the New Union and the start point of this trail.

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