Diverse Llandudno: our LGBT+ walk

Back in February 2019, two of our volunteers, Graham and Rachel attended a training opportunity led by Glamorgan Archive’s Queering the Archive project.

Norena Shopland led volunteers through techniques, smart ways, and tips for interrogating archive material to reveal the ‘Forbidden Lives’ of the LGBT+ community.

Norena, a considerable academic researcher, taught us much and two volunteers, Graham Morgan, and Rachel Claire Evans attended.

The one day course allowed Rachel and Graham to meet a number of workers in the field and to engage with people who advise the Welsh Assembly Government on equality issues.

Inspired by the learning achieved on the course Rachel and Graham met with local groups, individuals and of course trawled through Llandudno relevant archive material. Attendance at a Unique* meeting was most fruitful in terms of contacts and promises of assisting with publicity for an event
*Unique Transgender Network North Wales and Cheshire

As a result of their networking and research, Graham and Rachel went ahead to assemble historic material for an interesting and historical walk around Llandudno.

Twelve people attended our walk on May 18th which coincides with National Day Against Transphobia the previous day.

Historic Site Number One: The Astra
We met outside the museum and moved a couple of feet to our right to the site of the former Astra Cinema and Conference centre. It was here, in 1977, that C.H.E. ( Campaign for Homosexual Equality) were first offered conference facilities which were subsequently and inexplicably withdrawn. Norena Shopland devotes a whole chapter in her book Forbidden Lives showing how discrimination took an institutional form.Griffith Vaughan Williams ( Griff) was one of the leaders for reform at this time and had been a pioneer in setting up a helpline for gay people.

The Odeon Theatre, Llandudno – later The Astra

Historic Site number Two: The Oval
The group walked the short walk to the Oval where a football match of a bizarre nature was played in 1907. Men dressed as Suffragettes and Policemen played a football match with much hilarity and mockery. A few weeks earlier the Suffragists had their first meeting in The Cocoa house temperance establishment and it is hard to see the ‘football’ match as anything other than mocking of women’s fight for equality.

Historic Site Number Three:The Cocoa House
We stopped at the Cocoa House to continue our discussion of the ‘Football Match’ and to reflect on how much pioneering discussion had been begun in the Cocoa House led by Suffragists and other activists. We noted that the Museum’s good friend Barbara Lawson Ray had written a great guide to the suffragists and more in her recent book.
A highlight was provided by Wil Unwin, museum volunteer and Welsh learner, who bravely read both Welsh and English inscriptions of the plaque.

Historic Site Number Four: Club 147
Finding shelter from the sun and bustle of a busy Llandudno led us to the alleyway of Club 147.
This club has a proud record of being a venue and meeting place of the LGBTQ+ community, today and in the past. It gave us a chance to read journalist Ruby Williams email setting out her memories of being a gay woman coming out in the 1970s. She gave us a wonderful nostalgic tour of ‘ the scene’ and really brought home to us the ‘forbidden love’ aspect of those times. This prompted members present to share their own memories.

Historic Site Number: Five Police Court, Court Street
Here we heard the sad tale of the severe sentence meted out to a young man who had dressed in female attire. From the Llandudno Advertiser 31 August, 1907
William Thomas Rowlands 17years old sentenced to six months of hard labour. Arrived in Llandudno went from shop to shop dressed as a woman obtained ‘ladies attire’ by false pretenses. Obtained boarding in an establishment on South Parade at two and a half guineas a week. Landlady said she believed her as she spoke so very well.Other witnesses, shopkeepers, and a draper, in particular, gave evidence eg. the draper allowed the lady to obtain four skirts on approval.
The newspaper reports do not make clear how he came to be found out but one suggests suspicions arose after he was recognised by a friend.

Historic Site Number Six: The Prom
At this site, we discussed L-Fest the highly successful Lesbian festival on Bodafon fields and also pointed out various hotels that had gay or LGBT+ clubs in the past and currently. It meant we could discuss them without doing a great deal of walking
This was the end of the walk.

At the end of the walk, those attending showed theri appreciation with donations to Museum funds.

Through this walk, we learned that there is much more LGBTQ+ history in Llandudno yet to be uncovered, that the help of the community is vital and there are people yet to be found who know a great deal more than the Museum knows.

The walk may be summarised then as a useful ‘Starter for ten’.

We repeated the walk on a wet Saturday morning in September 2019, and we hope to use the material gained to support further activities, such as talks and publications

Many thanks to Graham and Rachel for their work and enthusiasm in organising and presenting this event

The LGBT+ walks form part of our Llandudno Museum Community Heritage Project Activity Plan. This project is supported by the Welsh Government, National Heritage Lottery Fund, Conwy County Borough Council, Gwynt Y Mor, Garfield Weston, Headley Trust, & the Foyle Foundation

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