Wessex Film and Sound Archive holds a collection of films attributed to Robert G Torrens (AV14). Torrens was an active foundational member of cine club culture in the Bournemouth area in the 1930s, he was a prolific filmmaker and was engaged in a range of film clubs and societies over the years. WFSA holds both films and a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings about the society’s work, which are both intriguing and insightful (film stills below from AV14/9).
One of the films from this collection is available to view (free of charge) on the BFI Player (British Fim Institute) ‘Screen Tests’ (Finding no. AV14/9).
The footage clip in this film at 1:10 shows two women kissing and is suggestive of lesbianism. But it is dangerous to read such things through today’s lens when they could be just theatrical -indeed, the catalogue entry records the sequence as ‘screen tests’. To make an informed judgement we need to know more about the two women concerned and there is, unfortunately, no known record of their identity – a feature common to many cine clubs whose memberships were often sizeable, yet so often un-documented (film stills below from AV14/9).
LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender +) history is sometimes referred to as a hidden history.
This is because so much history went unrecorded or was erased at a time when being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans (LGBT) was seen as sinful, shameful and even criminal. It is only in very recent times, largely since the 1960s, that some people have made great efforts to record what was previously missing from many history books and archives.
Not only is the evidence often missing but also where there is any evidence it might be clouded in mystique and different terminology.
Such was the disgust felt about gay sex (illegal until 1967) that it was often referred to as an abominable or unnatural act. Homosexuals were often called inverts. A whole varied lexicon exists for terms of the past that cannot always be translated easily into today’s understanding of LGBT+ terminology.
The meanings of many words have changed. The word ‘queer’ was a very abusive term until recently but has now been embraced by some LGBT+ people in the UK. All this makes LGBT+ history particularly problematic and often open to speculation. We must be careful to understand the context of the past and how cultures differed from the complex plural diversities of the 21st century.
Hampshire Archives contain some material which tells part of this story. One example is the register of marriages from Odiham showing Charles Hambleton (‘afterwards proved to be a woman’) married Mary Seamel in 1748. HRO 47M81/PR3. This is probably a lesbian couple but we cannot be sure and some would claim Hambleton was a trans man. This is a hotly debated issue in LGBT communities today (you can see this document on one of our previous blogs).
Y-Services Voices for Heritage LGBT history project interviewed a number of older people identifying as LGB or T in 2017-8 and these interviews are now available to listen to at Hampshire Record Office (ref AV1637/S1).
One of the interviewees, Patrick Gale is a well known novelist who went to school in Winchester. He describes in his interview how he was very lucky to have gay friends at Winchester College- ‘a gay gang’. Visiting London when he was a teenager he found Gay’s the Word bookshop and bought American gay novels. Gale also went to Magnums Club, Southampton (AV1637/1/S1/14).
These interviews constitute one of the few distinctly LGBT contributions to the archives in Hampshire Record Office.
Dr Clifford Williams
Dr Williams has written ‘A Queer A-Z of Hampshire; aspect of LGBT history in the county of Hampshire’ , published in 2019, and available from October Books, Portswood. £2.50.
If you have documents, photographs or film content that you would like to deposit with the archive – we are particularly keen to ensure that LGBTQ+ individuals and communities are represented in the collections. Please get in touch.