Abstract This article will explore region as a category of analysis for understanding gender, sexual cultures, and the expression of same-sex desire. In unpicking the notion of regional difference in both its tangible and intangible forms, it outlines the corresponding impact on how sexual cultures developed and were experienced in twentieth-century Britain. By recognizing that the area in which an individual lived could have as much impact on their sense of self and their sexual experiences as issues of race, gender, and class, a new and fruitful avenue of interpretation is opened up for the history of sexuality and twentieth-century British history more broadly. Such a methodology has the potential to add a new dimension to all histories of non-state-sanctioned sexual experience such as illegitimacy, premarital sex, extramarital affairs, and prostitution. In using regional case studies and interrogating ideas of sexual taboo, this article offers a unique interpretation of sexual experience that destabilizes current London-centric narratives and offers a more democratic and nuanced history of sex. It has long been assumed that the importance of regional identity has diminished throughout the twentieth century. Although it is clear that in certain areas, cultures were becoming nationalized in the post-war years due to the centralization of state power, the rise of national print and broadcast media, and greater geographical mobility, this did not happen at the same rate and at the same time across the country.1 Although contemporary commentators of the post-war period such as George Orwell, Richard Hoggart, and Ferdynand Zweig lamented the death of working-class culture during the 1940s and 1950s—a demise accelerated by the ‘Americanisation’ of popular culture and affluence—in reality, they were somewhat premature.2 Traditional regional differences persisted, in some cases until the policies of the 1970s and 1980s destroyed the physical foundations of the industry that helped to maintain such specific cultures. Since the 1980s, in many areas, regional difference has been recreated along lines that reflect the identities and preoccupations of post-industrial Britain. Studies such as Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy and Ferdynand Zweig’s various explorations into work all foreground the importance of class alongside regional identity and difference.3 In fact, in many ways, class identity and regional identity are conflated into the same thing as the one was so intricately linked with the other. The British Worker is a study of working-class men in Britain in the early 1950s and offers two chapters on ‘Industrial Types’ and ‘Regional Types’.4 In these chapters, Zweig sets out the very real differences between men who did different industrial jobs such as mining, steel working, and engineering, but also the distinctly different regional cultures that these men belonged. For example, he saw northerners as more class conscious and the ‘industrial proletariat par excellence’, whereas those from the South West were more attached to the land and rural pursuits.5 Clearly there are problems with Zweig’s interpretation here but, much more important than his views, the many men that he interviewed recognized these differences and seemed to base their sense of identity on them. These differences were crucial, particularly the ones that accounted for the nuances in working-class culture (and as we shall see sexual cultures) between, for example, working-class experiences in South Yorkshire and the West Midlands. Historians have often misinterpreted evidence pointing to the existence of specific regional identities as evidence of generic working-class identities, and have mistakenly assumed that these class identities were present elsewhere, rather than being peculiar to the town, city, or region under study.6 This has led to assumptions that what was found in one working-class area would translate to others, and this in turn has led to misunderstandings and generalizations (particularly around sex and sexuality) that further research can challenge. Excellent studies such as: Ross McKibbin’s, Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951, and Joanna Bourke’s, Working-Class Cultures in Britain 1890-1960, seem to conflate regional and class identity at times. 7 Further to this, in her recent article examining sex education in Edwardian England, Hera Cook stated that ‘sexual constraint and the inhibition of expression of feeling were stronger in the north of England than in London and the south-east’.8 This statement built upon evidence taken from Derbyshire, which is not in the north but the Midlands. In terms of geography, there is very little difference but in terms of local identities, the two areas can be worlds apart, and this is key to personal experience. This article will explore region as a category of analysis for understanding gender, sexual cultures, and the expression of same-sex desire. For the most part, historians of sexuality have ignored provincial men, assuming that men in such areas did not have the same freedom of opportunity to be found in the capital and that they have left behind few traces of their experiences. The fact that, for the first half of the twentieth century, most northern men did not have access to the types of commercial and cultural venues, as their metropolitan counterparts have been seen as evidence of repression, and of a certain kind of provincial ‘backwardness’. However, this kind of reading obscures the fact that, for many men in the north, same-sex desire was an acceptable way to find sexual and emotional release.9 This article will unpick the notion of regional difference in both its tangible and intangible forms and outline the corresponding impact on how sexual cultures developed and were experienced in twentieth-century Britain. It focuses on four high-profile trials for homosexual offences during 1954. Examination of four trials in Yorkshire, the West Midlands, and London reveals the variety of sexual cultures being experienced concurrently in different regional contexts. The article thus reveals the importance of regional identities and notions of place in producing distinct forms of behaviour beyond the traditional boundaries of working-class historiography. While well-documented lives were being led in London, thousands of working-class men were having sex with each other in the north without challenging their ideas of sexual ‘normality’.10 By reworking an analysis of sexuality in the twentieth century to include region-specific research, the picture of how ordinary men fulfilled their desires becomes both more nuanced and more grounded in other forms of life experience such as work, class culture, and family life. This article will examine these intersections between sexuality, region, class, and masculinity. By recognizing that the area in which an individual lived could have as much impact on their sense of self and their sexual experiences as issues of race, gender, and class, a new and fruitful avenue of interpretation is opened up for the history of sexuality and twentieth-century British history more broadly. Regional and Local Identity Notions of region are notoriously difficult to pin down, but broadly, there are two kinds of regional difference: the tangible and material and the intangible and cultural. Areas such as economics, geography, accent, and dialect can define the tangible. For example, in the case of academic work on the north, the idea of a north/south divide (in historical and contemporary terms) is foregrounded and used as a way to interpret regional difference. This divide is emphasized by differences in language, dialect, culture, class, and historical experience, and has been studied in the fields of literary criticism, sociology, and in history.11 Intangible differences can be more difficult to locate and understand but, in many ways, are more important in terms of personal identity. A complex web of cultural understandings that shift and alter over time often defines these, which can be things that people from an area can just know or feel without being able to fully articulate why. They are often tied up with both a sense of place and class culture and can be deeply affected by the dominant industry or type of work in an area. Metropolitan scholarship has been less keen to engage with this area, presumably because of the vague and often anecdotal nature of related evidence; however, writers and cultural commentators such as Stuart Maconie, Paul Morley, and Richard Benson have begun to fill this gap with rich and convincing studies of what it has meant to be northern and working class throughout the twentieth century.12 Intangible notions of region are so important to consider because they are crucial to the formation and experience of working-class culture.13 Such regional differences point to concepts of space and place. To use the industrial north as an example, the space or the material surroundings of the region were its landscapes and weather, streets and pubs, and pitheads and steel works. Such spaces provided the conditions in which distinct cultures (both working class and sexual) could flourish. However, in an abstract sense, these spaces had no meaning for the people who inhabited them.14 Human geographers such as Yi-Fu Tuan have theorized about how physical spaces become places—a place is a space imbued with meaning through the way in which it is used and experienced.15 Edward Relph argues that there can only be a ‘sense of place’ when the bonds between people and place were deep-rooted.16 For many working-class people from the provinces during the early to mid-twentieth century, this was linked to their inability or lack of desire to travel far from home. Therefore, within regions, sets of rules and norms that determined appropriate behaviour evolved around workplaces, districts within a town or city, and villages. In this way, it is clear that geographical areas had and continue to have cultures, identities, rules, and expectations that are rooted in practice and that this had an impact on all facets of people’s lives. What does Region Have to Do with Sex? Since the rise of cultural history, in twentieth-century British history at least, regional and local studies have fallen out of fashion. Regional and local history is somehow viewed as parochial or the poor cousin of studies of London or England/Britain which can often just mean London. However, in the study of pre-twentieth-century Britain, this is not the case, and regional history is often embedded firmly into broader enquiries.17 Urban history has often encouraged the idea that cities have shared characteristics, which can therefore be analysed in the same frame. It has been assumed that other cities can be viewed as smaller versions of London, and therefore, that people’s experiences in those places are comparable. This is particularly true in the history of sexuality where such a focus has skewed understanding, and presented a localized, metropolitan set of experiences as the norm.18 As has been demonstrated by the groundbreaking work in a non-British context, each regional case study problematizes but also enriches attempts to write a national history of sexuality and brings lost sexual and emotional cultures back to the historical record.19 In this way, regional history allows us to challenge dominant discourses, narratives, timelines, and what is understood to be received knowledge around sex, gender, and class. In practice then, how does a town or city become more than an area on a map and become somewhere with local customs, manners, and culture and, in the case of sex and sexuality, hierarchies of taboo? To take mining areas as an example, their masculine focus and sex-segregated work places are taken for granted but that has not always been a part of the landscape of such industrial areas. In pre-modern England, men and women (alongside children) worked in the mines, regardless of the dangerous conditions that this implied. This continued into the nineteenth century until such working practices were eroded by the triumph of capitalism in what has been termed the ‘social control hypothesis’.20 The most pressing concern for Victorian moralists and reformers was the fact that in mixed sex workplaces, men and women were able to develop relationships outside the control of the family and church.21 Single people could develop relationships, as could married people and, outside the boundaries of consensual relationships, women could be put in vulnerable situations around ‘rough’ and unregulated working men. These issues were particularly associated with the mining industry where the hard and dangerous work often translated into deep friendships and comradeship not unlike those experienced by soldiers at war. This was one of the reasons that men were able to cross the boundaries of friendship and sex with such ease throughout the twentieth century. In earlier centuries, this same principle seems to have applied to men and women in the same situation. Secondly, the unique conditions of deep cast mining, the incredible heat, and the danger of getting loose clothing caught with often fatal consequences, meant that miners of both sexes often worked in minimal clothing or even naked. For the newly morally attuned Victorians, this was untenable, and salacious details of nudity and sexual availability (alongside the often horrific conditions of the mines) were publicized in the First Report of the Children’s Employment Commission.22 Although some of the testimony from this report sounds like the fevered fantasies of a male Victorian elite, it clearly states that workers as well as elites were worried about this situation. For example, of 350 male miners from Barnsley, 345 passed a motion that it was ‘highly injurious’ to women’s morals to work in the pit and that it was ‘not proper work for females’.23 They did not object to women working generally, but they did object to them working in the mines.24 The document is packed full of anxiety: about morals, about unchecked heterosexual intercourse, about the position of the male worker in a new industrial system, and about the role of women inside the house and in the workplace. It also confirms that many women objected to working in the mines too due to both the physical toll that such work took on women, and the casual way that they could be exposed to sexual abuse.25 The result of such reports and soul searching about the heterosexual menace of the ‘modern’ industrial work place was sex-segregated communities that, in some areas, remained so until such industries collapsed in the 1980s. If segregating the sexes was an attempt by the government and mine owners to regain social control, it is ironic to see that it potentially encouraged same-sex encounters that would have been far more shocking to the authorities than topless female miners. Segregating industrial workplaces did not just have an effect on the working environment. It had a dramatic effect on the communities surrounding such workplaces and the way in which people socialized, created networks of friendship and emotional support, and conceptualized gender and sexual identity.26 Perhaps unsurprisingly, working-class men spent the majority of their waking lives at work and therefore with their workmates rather than their families. As wages grew, and people could spend them on their leisure time, pubs, working men’s clubs, sport teams, and brass bands sprang up around the workplace, and this encouraged people to sex-segregate their spare time too. As Charlotte Wildman has argued, this also continued through the rise of consumerism and the beginnings of affluence in the inter-war period with women moving from the home into the shops and men remaining in the pubs.27 This kind of environment created a self-sufficient and self-regulating community that was often inward looking and almost anti-metropolitan in its outlook. The values and traditions internalized by the inhabitants of individual towns and cities could make a small geographical distance between them seem both difficult and undesirable to cross.28 Jonathan Rose’s Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes delivers many accounts of the insularity of northern, working-class towns, and cities during the first half of the twentieth century. It was common for people to never leave their own communities and, for many, leaving the county was a real stretch. An attachment to place was prevalent and for some people, deeply fulfilling. This sense of a local village, town, or city as ‘home’ could be stifling to some but provided others with the security to formulate their identity separately to the national discourse of what it meant to be ‘a man’.29 Decisions governed by Victorian morality and the desire to protect women and children from the harshest conditions of industrialization had the unforeseen consequences of helping to create an environment where same-sex friendships were valued, in some cases, as highly as marriage, and same-sex sexual encounters could be an ordinary mode of sexual expression. 1954 1954 proved a particularly busy year for the courts in prosecuting men for homosexual offences. In fact, it was a peak year for the reporting of such cases in the press with numbers unmatched before or since.30 There are four cases that stand out: three of these were large trials in relation to the numbers of men involved and one was large in relation to the amount of column inches it received in the press. The latter, the Montagu, Wildeblood, and Pitt-Rivers trial is famous both for its content, and ultimately, the impact that it had on the road to the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1967. The other three that took place in Rotherham, Barnsley, and Birmingham are much less famous, possibly because the majority of men involved were working class, and certainly none were aristocrats or minor celebrities. The 1950s have long been seen as a decade of sexual repression envisaged dourly between the wildness of the Second World War and the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s. Historians have recently challenged such a simplistic reading to show that the experiences of people of all genders, classes, and sexualities did not always fit this narrative.31 When thinking of sex between men, the 1950s have accumulated an even worse reputation, one that the discussion of four such prominent trials seems at first to reflect. Patrick Higgins has argued that by the 1950s, ‘it was a national practice’ for policemen and local communities to persecute homosexuals.32 Countrywide, prosecutions had tripled since the war, the press had relaxed its self-regulation in speaking about same-sex desire, and a number of high-profile cases such as those of John Gielgud and Rupert Croft Cooke resulted, not just in scandal at the time, but produced memoirs which suggested McCarthyite witch hunts against homosexual men.33 In fact, there were no such witch hunts sanctioned by the government or even by high-ranking police officers. As Matt Houlbrook has proven, in the capital, decisions were made by individual police districts or even individual policemen if and when to target homosexual men.34 Despite Higgins’ suggestion that provincial people and their police forces also targeted homosexual men in this period, this was simply not the case in the north of England where prosecution rates remained tiny in comparison with London.35 Not only were the experiences of men throughout the country very different, so were the responses to them by the authorities and local people. To start with the most famous example, the Montagu trial became a sensation with copious details printed in all types of newspapers including the Daily Mail and Express which, unlike, the News of the World, usually ran very limited, euphemistic coverage of stories involving homosexuality, if they ran them at all. The case involved aristocrats and men about town as well as young working-class men, which invoked echoes of the Wilde trial of 60 years before. There is an aura of glamour hiding in the ‘sordid’ details reported by all the newspapers including trips to West End theatres, champagne in Montagu’s London flat, visits to his stately home Beaulieu, and an all-male party in the beach hut there.36 The social status of the defendants is highlighted throughout with the following excerpt from the Express saying all that need be said about the English class system of the 1950s: In the brown-curtained retiring room the jurymen were served with lunches on trays, so that they could carry on without a break. In the cell block under arched ceilings, Lord Montagu, Pitt-Rivers, who is his second cousin, and Wildeblood lunched at a small table. Lord Montagu’s 45 year-old half sister, Miss Elizabeth Douglas-Scott-Montagu, brought in a picnic basket containing cold roast beef for Lord Montagu and Wildeblood…. Each lunch had been packed by Tate, Lord Montagu’s butler at Palace House Beaulieu. The napkins bore an embroidered “M” topped with a baron’s coronet; the silver cutlery had the Montagu monogram too. Montagu, Wildeblood, and Pitt-Rivers were portrayed contradictorily, as both above the nature of their alleged crimes because of their class (they were even driven to prison in a Rolls Royce) and part of a lineage of upper-class deviants linked directly back to Wilde.37 Further contradiction lay in the portrayal of McNally and Reynolds, the RAF men accused of sexual relationships with the above. Throughout the later coverage of the trial, they are portrayed as the ‘corrupters’, young men already experienced in sex with other men taking advantage of men who should know better. However, in earlier coverage, issues of class and privilege take precedent. McNally and Reynolds were assumed to have been ‘under the seductive influence of the lavish hospitality loaded upon them by these persons who were so infinitely their social superiors’.38 The linking of ‘perversion’ and ‘lavish treats’ for working-class men is key here.39 As with Wilde, much of the consternation around the case came from the cross-class nature of the relationships concerned. It was difficult for many people to understand why upper-class men would want to be friends with young men so far ‘beneath’ them socially, and the defendants found themselves constantly justifying this. The prosecution suggested that the only reason for such a friendship could be sexual and Pitt-Rivers' Counsel to the jury addressed this rather scathingly: Foreigners think we are a nation of snobs. I daresay we are but you must have got to some pretty basic snobbery in this case. It is now said that because on a sunshiny holiday with chaps in bathing clothes in a beach hut, they are all calling one another by their Christian names, that is the badge of some indecent association. How unnatural it would have been if Reynolds was not being called ‘Johnny’ by all and sundry. And what a pompous ass Pitt-Rivers would have been if he had said ‘do not call me Michael, call me Major Pitt-Rivers’.40 Despite the social upheaval of the war years, class boundaries were still strong in 1950s Britain. It would not just have been upper- and middle-class snobbery at play here either, suspicion of and sometimes dislike of those classes were often displayed by the working classes too. As well as this case being classic scandal fodder, it also fit with and (falsely) reinforced all the tropes of same-sex desire that had been common currency since Wilde, including the types of men susceptible to such desire—the effete aristocrat/writer/aesthete and the working-class chancer/rent boy/trade.41 What has not been considered before is that this is a particularly metropolitan narrative and therefore codifies particularly metropolitan sexual identities and experiences in the public discourse. This story could not really have taken place elsewhere, and the same can be said for Wilde’s too. Aristocrats do not tend to bump into attractive young men on public transport in provincial towns, and, for most of the twentieth century, a lavish trip to a provincial theatre was considerably less evocative of glamour and wealth. Reynolds and McNally were in the RAF and therefore transient. They had been removed from the areas in which they grew up and that coupled with the cross-class nature of their relationships fed into this metropolitan experience. The press’ telling of the Montagu story (and the associated tropes of same-sex desire) would potentially have been recognizable to men outside of London, but the experiences of the men involved would not. The details of the Birmingham trial of summer 1954 offer a bridge in understanding between a particularly metropolitan experience of same-sex desire and that of men in the industrial north. Birmingham is and has long been the second largest city in Britain and has been shaped by a largely solid economy (beginning with the industrial revolution), immigration, and good commercial and transport links to London. Although, on the surface, the West Midlands seems to have a similar industrial heritage to South Yorkshire including the steel industry and mining, there were significant differences. Mining and steel were not central to the economy in the way in which they were in South Yorkshire, and the West Midlands was dominated by small firms (specializing in engineering) rather than the large-scale steel firms found in South Yorkshire. These spatial differences also generated a different sense of place and class culture for the working-class inhabitants of the area. Alongside this, the cosmopolitanism generated by immigration and links to the capital helped to shape a different sexual culture and way of experiencing same-sex desire. Twenty-eight men stood trial, and all of them pleaded guilty to ‘serious charges’ making the life of a local jury, who had to be given a special glossary of relevant terms by the vice squad, that much easier.42 Although this number of defendants makes the trial one of the largest of its type in British legal history, it went unreported in most national and local newspapers (including the Daily Mail and Express), and the group of men brought to trial did not fully represent the amount of men actually involved. In its usual measured tone, the News of the World gave the story the headline ‘They Infested A City’ and made it clear that Kenneth Walton’s address book contained the names of 213 men ‘with whom he had associated for years’.43 Not only this but also that he ‘had kept a record of improper associations with 105 men in 1951. 80 men in 1952 and 50 last year ’.44 After an unspecified complaint made against him, Walton gave the police his little black book and, as a result of this, the rest of the men were implicated, and he received a shortened prison sentence. As well as being extremely successful in picking up sexual partners, Walton was a key part of what seems to have been a vibrant queer scene reminiscent of that enjoyed by ordinary men in London. The men met at a number of pubs and a notorious milk bar in Birmingham city centre as well as holding private parties where they sometimes dressed as women.45 Many of the men had feminine nicknames such as Tiger Lil, The Duchess, Garbo, Rita, Jezebel, and Nina, and Walton carried suntan powder, an eyebrow pencil, and the ubiquitous powder puff with him wherever he went.46 Much of this would have been familiar to London’s Dilly Boys and the Holland Park partygoers of the 1930s.47 As Matt Houlbrook has argued, it was most often working-class men who engaged in the kind of camp defiance suggested by the above, although it was still going on in Birmingham into the 1950s, unlike the Dilly Boys who had disappeared by the post-war period.48 This could be evidence of a more low key, provincial queer culture (in comparison to the fairly flashy Holland Park Ball) slipping under the police radar in Birmingham, a lack of desire on the part of the West Midlands police force in prosecuting men unless it became unavoidable, or of a different timeline in the development of queer culture. The Birmingham trial did not fit the tropes suggested and solidified by the Montagu trial of a few months previous. The vast majority of men involved were working class, apart from an ex-public schoolboy who had been an army Captain, and captain of ‘one of the country’s best known Rugby teams’, rather than a writer or aesthete.49 However, these men also did not fit similar occupational profiles to the men involved in the West End queer scene either. Whereas these men often worked in the hospitality industry or domestic service, which was crucial in the formation and location of the scene itself, most of the men in Birmingham had jobs entirely outside of this industry.50 With the exception of a hairdresser, two cooks, and three male nurses, the remaining twenty-four men involved in the trial held more traditionally masculine jobs or jobs not linked to queer subcultures.51 This suggests that they networked, socialized, and formed friendships and relationships in different ways to those men in London, but developed a similar subculture in which to spend their leisure time. From their addresses, it is also clear that the men came from a wider area of the West Midlands and clearly travelled into Birmingham centre to meet their friends and partners. As they were not all from similar areas and similar occupations, they may have been less affected by the cultural norms associated with this and the intangible nature of regional identity. Consequently, as with men in London, they felt able to engage in camp behaviour and display this more overtly than men in South Yorkshire. Prolonged study of this subculture would therefore offer a different understanding of queer culture in the 1950s to the metropolitan one of aristocratic excess and the retreat of the West End queens in the face of more vigorous policing and a more informed and potentially hostile public. The two South Yorkshire trials tell a different story yet again. Although both took place in neighbouring industrial towns in the summer of 1954, none of the men from the two trials knew each other. In fact, out of the seventeen men tried in Rotherham and fourteen in Barnsley, many of the men did not even know more than one or two of those in the dock with them. This immediately rules out the kinds of social networks prevalent in London and Birmingham where most, if not all of the men involved, were known to each other and often to a wider scene. The men involved were working class, and many of them were employed in traditional industrial jobs within factories, mines, and steel works.52 Not only this, but they lived in a closer radius than the men in Birmingham and, on the whole, in communities associated with those industries. They met each other in a variety of alluring places such as Rotherham bus station, the cinema, public toilets, and at work, but never in commercial queer venues.53 This distinct lack of glamour continued into where the men met to conduct their sexual and emotional relationships which included the (often industrial) workplace, woods, and disused areas of land, private houses, and if they were lucky, the occasional trip to the seaside.54 There is no evidence of cross-dressing, the use of feminine names or parties, either of the manly beach hut sort or the camper Tiger Lil and the Duchess variety. There is not even a central meeting point such as Birmingham’s milk bar to suggest any sort of subculture organized around sexual preference. These men who had been having sex with other men for, in some cases, many years were ordinary working men with nothing to distinguish them from other ordinary working men. There were no hints of effeminacy in any of the men, even the few who were singled out as ‘ringleaders’ and ‘corrupters’. In one case, the young man who was held responsible for the seduction of numerous other men was described in court as coming from a ‘very good home’, being a ‘good worker and timekeeper’ and having a ‘deep interest in religious affairs’.55 It was just this kind of prosaic detail that caused so much anxiety for the authorities because the perceived ringleader in the trial was an everyman. The interactions between the men took place as a part of everyday life rather than being something outside the norm, and this was entirely different territory to the Montagu and Birmingham trials, an issue that was addressed by a solicitor during the Rotherham trial: The most disturbing feature of these very sordid cases, for those who care about morals to-day, is that they started in such a casual and off-handed manner. You may think that in some cases the extreme casualness in which the offences were committed was a matter for grave disquiet.56 Here, the prosecutor is referring both to the way in which the men conducted their liaisons but also the unconcerned and even, on occasion, flippant way in which many of the men conceived of what they had done. Many of the men involved had either wives or girlfriends, and this fits into the notion of there being a hierarchy of taboo, a notion that will be examined in further detail later. Traditional, working-class communities such as these in South Yorkshire placed illegitimacy and affairs at the top of the list of unacceptable behaviour.57 Avoiding the issue of sex before marriage or a sex-less marriage by having casual sex with other men (as long as this did not transgress notions of privacy or visual sexual self-restraint) was a way to satisfy sexual urges and remain within the boundaries of the local community. Out of the seventeen men involved in the Rotherham case, six had wives or girlfriends willing to stand by them in the wake of the trial.58 By either rejecting or being simply unaware of the camp aesthetics displayed by the men in Birmingham, the masculinity and, in most cases, sexual identity of the South Yorkshire defendants remained unchallenged, and for this reason, a significant number of men who had without doubt had sex with other men were let off with a fine or probation rather than a prison sentence.59 The cultural and material surroundings of the industrial north created a set of conditions which allowed these men to form solid masculine identities linked to work, which in turn allowed them to have sex with other men without changing their sense of themselves as men. The heat, noise, and danger of the mine or steelworks legitimized nudity, touch, and bonds of trust and reliance. The sex-segregated nature of working-class towns such as Rotherham and Barnsley meant that same-sex friendships often took on added significance and could slip between platonic and sexual while hiding in the plain sight of workplaces and surrounding areas. In Rotherham, two large steelworks were sites of such activity. In one, a work trip to London provided the catalyst for numerous sexual encounters between workmates; although during the course of investigations, it became clear that such encounters had been going on prior to the trip in question.60 In another, a group of men had been having sex in various places in the works, and some of them continued their encounters on land nearby, or at each other’s homes.61 One man summed up this fluid type of relationship when he told police that ‘he had slept with his pal…at his home’.62 For these men, the boundary between workmate and sexual partner was flexible. This was not so easy in less gendered and more cosmopolitan spaces, although such spaces did allow for the creation of subcultures absent from the industrial north. The examples from South Yorkshire alongside that from Birmingham also highlight confused issues around class in the 1950s. Where a key focus of the Montagu trials was the cross-class nature of the relationships, and all the attendant anxieties about how and why men of different classes could meet, and if they should even be friends, Birmingham and South Yorkshire show the stereotypes of the working classes which had been common currency since the nineteenth century. In Birmingham, the men involved were portrayed as unruly and dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure at their parties, pubs, and milk bar.63 In South Yorkshire, most of the men were portrayed as hard working, reliable men, whose behaviour could be explained by experiences in the war or by having a few too many drinks.64 In short, these were the respectable working classes made momentarily less respectable by a lapse in judgement or a burst of lust. These case studies show why addressing regional difference is both crucial to a more nuanced sexual history of England, and to an understanding of the ordinary and extraordinary in sexual experience. They highlight the impact of tangible and intangible regional difference on the way that men experienced sex with other men. During the same period, these three differing experiences of same-sex desire had been taking place concurrently, but entirely separately. It is clear that elements of each of these regional sexual cultures would have been unrecognizable to outsiders. The queer venues of Birmingham would have been as alien to the men from Rotherham as Lord Montagu’s country pile. Sex on the factory floor would have been as unlikely to Peter Wildeblood as camping it up in a West Midlands milk bar. By the metropolitan experience being dominant for so many years, the equally rich and revealing examples analysed here have been lost, and in many ways, they are more representative of what life was like for the majority of men who desired other men during the 1950s. Because of this, particularly in the case of South Yorkshire, what was once a part of ordinary life has now become extraordinary and the extraordinary, in the case of aristocrats, stately homes and lavish West End nights out, has become ordinary. Hierarchies of taboo Regionality, both tangible and intangible, does not only offer a new way to conceptualize experiences of, and attitudes towards same-sex desire. It is equally relevant when considering all aspects of sex and sexuality. The conditions discussed above meant that many regional areas regulated themselves and their morality throughout much of the twentieth century, rather than church and state doing it for them.65 This was particularly pertinent regarding sexual matters as attempts by the state to intervene into private life were often met with mistrust, anger, and even scorn.66 The mental and physical remoteness of areas from the centre fed into the way that communities regulated themselves away from metropolitan ideals and the long arm of the law. That is not to say that local expectations were not exacting. Acceptable behaviour could be defined street by street, never mind county by county, and this reflected what locals in an area valued. I would argue that people in the provinces only accepted national discourse on facets of sexual and emotional behaviour when they either chimed with local concerns, or offered a positive image with which to engage. For example, Laura King has demonstrated that regionality held less importance in men’s parental experiences, and that they were more likely to engage with national discussions around fatherhood, thereby making it easier to talk about an English experience of being a father.67 Advice literature, the press, and popular culture around parenthood focused on what individuals could do, and on ways to be a better father, rather than in telling people that what they were doing was wrong. Narratives around sexuality (when they appeared) were negative and didactic, thereby arousing the same kind of anti-establishment feeling demonstrated previously. Interventions into private life in a hectoring and moralising way, were rejected in favour of local customs and concerns, while suggestions for an improved family life were more likely to be accepted as just that, suggestions that chimed with the way that people were experiencing the materiality of affluence, and all the domestic trappings it entailed. Regionality then is more relevant when looking at taboo issues and people in the margins, for example same-sex desire, illegitimacy, prostitution, premarital sex, and interracial relationships. In fact, anything outside of the state-sanctioned model of marriage followed by children is where this mode of analysis could shed new and important light. Here, local attitudes towards power and authority translated into how people thought about taboo issues and how far they were willing to be led by national discourse. For example, in some areas illegitimacy may have been the worst taboo, in others, it may have been same-sex desire, and often, this hierarchy of taboo made pragmatic sense—if the worst thing that could happen was a pregnancy out of wedlock, sex between men was a way to guarantee that this did not happen. As has been demonstrated by many studies over the years, illegitimacy was one of the most taboo issues, if not the primary taboo in working-class communities.68 Illegitimacy was viewed so harshly for numerous reasons, but perhaps the most dominant was that a pregnancy and then baby out of wedlock was a visible reminder of a loss of sexual restraint. For many, the attitude of ‘what happens in private stays in private’ could not be maintained in the face of such a public expression of its consequences. However, the impression of a monolithic response to illegitimate children given by some studies does not reflect the diversity present throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when dealing with this issue. Many discussions of women’s and children’s experiences of illegitimacy reflect the fact that some individuals were not castigated by their communities. They and their children were taken in openly by family members, and whole communities knew the parentage of children and welcomed them into their midst. There is also an unexplored link between the ways in which sexual ‘indiscretions’ were viewed and the hierarchy of taboo, and this is explicitly related to regional difference. For example, in an area that rated illegitimacy as the worst possible sexual transgression against the community, correspondingly, same-sex encounters were viewed as less problematic. This could be the case in traditionally ‘respectable’ working-class communities such as those built around mining and steel working where the visible shame of illegitimate pregnancy and ‘illicit sexuality’ was more problematic than anything that could be hidden.69 In an area where illegitimate children were accepted as part of the community, same-sex relationships may have been seen as more of an issue of concern.70 Social research in South Yorkshire shows that extramarital affairs were seen as extremely problematic by the traditional working classes and being caught out could ruin a person’s social status.71 Again, here, same-sex activity in private could be a viable and less risky (in terms of local cultural norms) alternative.72 In ‘non-respectable’ areas such as those populated by the poorest in society, illegitimacy and same-sex activity were often accepted as part of the fabric of life; although, this should not be surprising, as such people were already deemed outside of respectable society and had either no desire or opportunity to rectify this. Sexual practices have never been experienced in isolation; therefore, we should not study them in isolation either. To fully understand what was not permitted in a specific time and place, we must understand what was permitted and why. Conclusion Revisiting the regional past is more important now than ever. As this article has demonstrated, by doing so, these histories can often challenge long-held beliefs and assumptions about working-class lives and experiences and understandings of sex and sexuality throughout the twentieth century. Not only does this work help to re-examine broader histories of the period, it offers a way to engage with the difficult realities of the present. In the aftermath of 2016’s EU Referendum, and the way that the provinces were portrayed by the media, a historically tolerant South Yorkshire may sound unlikely to many ears, but the present should not be allowed to obscure the past. This article and the experiences it have recovered alongside, new research on race and immigration show that the resources for managing difference are already available in the culture and history of the region.73 It has provided an alternative way to read the history of sexuality in the twentieth century as well as a past that is relevant and usable for the present. The study of tangible and intangible regional difference opens up a window onto the intricacies, routines, and rhythms of the working-class day-to-day, as it was experienced across Britain in a way that is not possible by generalizing or focusing on the capital. This connection between locality and intimacy should therefore map naturally onto the study of sexual cultures and sexuality. As this article has shown by using the example of 1954, there has never been one way to understand how people have experienced sex and the place in which they lived was just as important in affecting this as any other, more widely accepted markers of identity such as class or gender. In a less technologically connected world, regions remained more isolated from each other, and this fostered local sexual cultures and hierarchies of taboo that could have been unrecognizable in a different city or county. Many of these stories are ‘small’, intimate, and private rather than the ‘large’, public, and sometimes even era defining events that are often associated with metropolitan sexual history. Here I am thinking about the Wilde trials, Cleveland Street scandal, the Montagu trials, and Wolfenden rather than the lives resurrected by Matt Houlbrook in Queer London. This does not mean to say that they have nothing to say to the larger histories of sexuality and twentieth-century Britain in general but rather that they offer a glimpse behind cultural, medical, and governmental discourse to that most difficult territory of private emotion, action, and feeling. They are everyday lives of everyday people showing that sexual ‘deviance’ could indeed be part of the everyday. The ordinary was once extraordinary, and the extraordinary was once ordinary. This offers a way into a more democratic sexual history, a way to begin to see how ordinary people experienced sex on their own terms and in their own language. This article began its life as a paper at the first Modern British Studies Conference in Birmingham in July 2015. I would like to thank the audience at that panel as well as subsequent audiences at York St John’s University, the Working Class Movement Library, and the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Manchester for their thoughtful comments and questions. I would also like to thank the reviewers, Laura King and James Greenhalgh, for their insightful feedback throughout the process. Footnotes 1 Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven, Connecticut and London, 2001), 455–64. 2 For selected examples: Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy, Aspects of Working-Class Life (London, 2009, first published 1957); George Orwell, Essays (London, 2000, first published 1968); and Ferdynand Zweig, The Worker in an Affluent Society: Family Life and Industry (London, 1962). 3 Zweig, Labour, Life and Poverty (London, 1948); Men in the Pits (London, 1948); The British Worker (London, 1952); and The Worker in an Affluent Society. 4 Zweig, The British Worker, 33–54. 5 Zweig, The British Worker, 47. 6 Selina Todd has recently reinforced the importance of recognizing the fact that a homogenized working-class culture has never existed in the past, Selina Todd, ‘Class. Experience and Britain’s Twentieth Century’, Social History, 39 (2014), 489–508, 491. 7 Ross McKibbin, Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951 (Oxford and New York, 2000, first published 1998); Joanna Bourke, Working-Class Cultures in Britain 1890-1960 (London and New York, 1996, first published 1994). 8 Hera Cook, ‘Emotion, Bodies, Sexuality, and Sex Education in Edwardian England’, The Historical Journal 55 (2012), 475–95, 477. 9 Helen Smith, Masculinity, Class and Same-Sex Desire in Industrial England, 1895-1957 (Basingstoke, 2015). 10 Laura Doan has recently written on how ideas of normality can be challenged and reconfigured and, in terms of sexual experience, a study of the north can add to this scholarship: Laura Doan, Disturbing Practices: History, Sexuality, and Women’s Experience of Modern War (Chicago and London, 2013). 11 Helen M. Jewell, The North-South Divide: The Origins of Northern Consciousness in England (Manchester, 1994); Ian Taylor, Karen Evans and Penny Fraser, Global Change, Local Feeling and Everyday Life in the North of England: A Tale of Two Cities; A Study in Manchester and Sheffield (London, 1996); Frank Musgrove, The North of England: A History From Roman Times to the Present (Oxford, 1990); Dave Russell, Looking North: Northern England and the National Imagination (Manchester, 2004); Patrick Joyce, Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Question of Class, 1848-1914 (Cambridge, 1991); and Dennis Smith, Conflict and Compromise: Class Formation in English Society 1830-1914: A Comparative Study of Birmingham and Sheffield (London, 1982). 12 Richard Benson, The Valley: A Hundred Years in the Life of a Family (London, 2014); Stuart Maconie, Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North (London, 2008); Stuart Maconie, The Pie at Night: In Search of the North at Play (London, 2015); and Paul Morley, The North (And Almost Everything In It) (London, 2013). 13 E. P. Thompson gave ample consideration to how region and work contributed to developing notions of class consciousness and detailed the difference between Marxist understandings of class and the more intangible way that people engaged with their class in everyday life, E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1991, first published 1963). 14 Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (London, 1977), 6. 15 Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place. For other discussions of space and place, see: Tim Cresswell, Place: A Short Introduction (Oxford, 2004); Henri LeFebvre, The Production of Space, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford, 1991); Edward Relph, Place and Placelessness (London, 2008, first published 1976); David Seamon and Anne Buttimer, eds., The Human Experience of Space and Place (London, 1980). 16 Relph, Place and Placelessness, Preface. 17 A fine example of this is Emma Griffin, ‘Sex, Illegitimacy and Social Change in Industrializing Britain’, Social History, 38 (2013), 139–61. 18 Examples of this are Harry G. Cocks, Nameless Offences: Homosexual Desire in the 19th Century (London, 2003); Matt Houlbrook, Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957 (London and Chicago, 2005); Frank Mort, Capital Affairs: London and the Making of the Permissive Society (New Haven and London 2010); Florence Tamagne, History of Homosexuality in Europe: Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 (Vol. I and II, New York, 2006). However, it must be noted that often the authors of such studies do not make such claims for their work but those who go on to cite it do. 19 Peter Boag, Redressing America’s Frontier Past (Berkley, 2011); Peter Boag, Same-Sex Affairs: Constructing and Controlling Homosexuality in the Pacific Northwest (California, 2003); Chris Brickell, Mates and Lovers: A Gay History of New Zealand (Auckland and London, 2008); and John Howard, Men Like That: A Southern Queer History (Chicago and London, 1999). 20 Jane Humphries, ‘"The Most Free From Objection" The Sexual Division of Labor and Women's Work in Nineteenth-Century England’, The Journal of Economic History, 47 (1987), 929–49, 930. 21 Humphries, The Most Free From Objection; Gerry Holloway, Women and Work in Britain Since 1840 (London and New York, 2005), 2, 15–36; Katrina Honeyman, Women, Gender and Industrialisation in England, 1700-1870 (Basingstoke, 2000). 22 Parliamentary Papers, Vol XVI, 1842, pp. 24, 196; Vol. XV, p. 84; and Vol. XVII, 108. 23 Parliamentary Papers, Vol. XVI, 1842, 256–7. 24 Parliamentary Papers, pp. 262–3. 25 Parliamentary Papers, Vol. XV, p. 84, and Vol. XVII, 108. 26 Smith, Masculinity, Class and Same-Sex Desire, 61–93. 27 Charlotte Wildman, ‘The “Spectacle” of Interwar Manchester and Liverpool: Urban Fantasies, Consumer Cultures and Gendered Identities’, PhD thesis, University of Manchester, 2007, 146. 28 Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy, 45–57; Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, 343–50. 29 This is not to be confused with the domestic home as analysed by Claire Langhamer; Claire Langhamer, ‘The Meanings of Home in Postwar Britain’, Journal of Contemporary History, 40 (2005), 341–62. 30 Patrick Higgins, Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Postwar Britain (London, 1996), 214. 31 For more on alternative readings of the 1950s, see: Adrian Bingham, ‘The “K-Bomb”: Social Surveys, the Popular Press, and British Sexual Culture in the 1940s and 1950s’, Journal of British Studies, 50 (2011), 156–79; Matt Cook and Heike Bauer, eds, Queer 1950s: Rethinking Sexuality in the Postwar Years (Basingstoke and New York, 2012); Richard Hornsey, The Spiv and the Architect: Unruly Life in Postwar London (Minnesota, 2010); and Frank Mort, Capital Affairs. 32 Higgins, Heterosexual Dictatorship, 166. 33 Brian Lewis, Wolfenden’s Witnesses: Homosexuality in Postwar Britain (Basingstoke, 2016), 5. 34 Houlbrook, Queer London, 34–6. 35 Smith, Masculinity, Class and Same-Sex Desire, 23–60. 36Daily Express, 26 January 1954, 6; 16 March 1954, 2; Daily Mail 25 January 1954; 16 March 1954, 5. 37Daily Express, 25 March 1954, 1. 38Daily Mail, 25 January 1954. 39 Hornsey, The Spiv and the Architect, 96 40Daily Express, 24 March 1954, 2; Daily Mail, 24 March 1954. 41 Chris Waters, ‘Wilde in the Fifties’ in Kate Fisher and Rebecca Langlands, eds, Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past (Oxford, 2015), 277. 42News of the World, 1 August 1954. 43News of the World, 1 August 1954. 44News of the World, 1 August 1954. 45News of the World, 1 August 1954. 46News of the World, 1 August 1954. For a comprehensive study of the role of cosmetics and particularly the powder puff in understandings of sexual difference in the interwar period, see: Matt Houlbrook, ‘“The Man With the Powder Puff” in Interwar London’, The Historical Journal, 50 (March 2007), 145–71. 47 Houlbrook, Queer London, 139–66; ‘“Lady Austin’s Camp Boys”: Constituting the Queer Subject in 1930s London’, Gender and History, 14 (2002), 31–61. 48 Houlbrook, Queer London, 270. 49News of the World, 1 August 1954. 50 Houlbrook, ‘Lady Austin’s Camp Boys’, 35–6. 51News of the World, 1 August 1954. The full list of occupations are as follows: male nurse, hairdresser, milk man, brewer, mechanic, warehouseman, record clerk, storeman, spring maker, rubber worker, butcher, porter, cook, chocolate worker, machinist, laundry worker, packer, tailor, shopkeeper, farm labourer, toungesman, and cellerman. 52News of the World, 21 November 1954; 12 December 1954. A full list of occupations are as follows: Rotherham: saw driver, engineer, fitter, bus driver, miner, salesman, shop assistant, labourer, millhand, steelworker, shunter, driver’s mate, and moulder. Barnsley: glass worker, glassworks packer, railway shunter, hospital porter, master builder, cable repairer, batch mixer, painter, labourer, ice cream salesman, haulage hand, clerk in holy orders, and railway policeman. 53Barnsley Chronicle, 14 August, 1954, 6; 18 December 1954, 10; News of the World, 25 July 1954, 4; Rotherham Advertiser, 24 July 1954, 4; 20 November 1954, 13. 54Barnsley Chronicle, 14 August, 1954, 6; 18 December 1954, 10; News of the World, 25 July 1954, 4; Rotherham Advertiser, 24 July 1954, 4; 20 November 1954, 13. 55 Rotherham Advertiser, 20 November 1954, 13. 56Rotherham Advertiser, 24 July 1954, 4. 57 St. Philips Education and Research Society, The Equipment of the Workers: An Enquiry by the St. Philip’s Settlement Education and Research Society Into the Adequacy of the Adult Manual Workers for the Discharge of Their Responsibilities as Heads of Household, Producers and Citizens (London, 1919), 299–324. 58Rotherham Advertiser, 20 November 1954, 13. 59News of the World, 21 November 1954; 12 December 1954. 60 Rotherham Advertiser, 24 July, 1954, 4. 61 Rotherham Advertiser, 24 July, 1954, 4. 62 Rotherham Advertiser, 24 July, 1954, 4. 63News of the World, 1 August 1954. 64Barnsley Chronicle, 14 August, 1954, 6; 18 December 1954,10; Rotherham Advertiser, 24 July 1954, 4; 20 November 1954,13. 65 Sidney Pollard and Colin Holmes, eds, Essays in the Economic and Social History of South Yorkshire (Barnsley, 1976), 5–6; Taylor et al., Global Change, Local Feeling and Everyday Life in the North of England, 39. 66 Louise A. Jackson, Child Abuse in Victorian England (London, 2000), 36; Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum (London, 1971), 100. 67 Laura King, Family Men: Fatherhood and Masculinity in Britain, 1914–1960 (Oxford, 2015). 68 Nadja Durbach, ‘Private Lives, Public Records: Illegitimacy and the Birth Certificate in Twentieth-Century Britain’, Twentieth Century British History, 25 (2014), 305–26; Tanya Evans, ‘The Other Woman and her Child: Extra-Marital Affairs and Illegitimacy in Twentieth-Century Britain’, Women’s History Review, 20 (2011), 47–65; Kate Fisher, Birth Control, Sex, and Marriage in Britain 1918-1960 (Oxford, 2006); Ginger Frost, ‘“The Black Lamb of the Black Sheep”: Illegitimacy in the English Working Class, 1850-1939’, Journal of Social History, Winter 37 (2003), 293–322; Steve Humphries, A Secret World of Sex (London, 1991); Jane Robinson, In the Family Way: Illegitimacy Between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties (London, 2015); Simon Szreter and Kate Fisher, Sex Before the Sexual Revolution: Intimate Life in England 1918-1963 (Cambridge, 2010). 69 Frost, ‘The Black Lamb of the Black Sheep’, 309; Melanie Tebbutt, ‘Women’s Talk? Gossip and ′Women′s Words' in Working-Class Communities, 1880-1939’, in Andrew Davies and Steven Fielding, eds, Workers' Worlds: Cultures and Communities in Manchester and Salford, 1880-1939 (Manchester and New York, 1992), 62–7. 70 Szreter and Fisher, Sex Before the Sexual Revolution, 114. Here it is acknowledged that context had an impact on the acceptability of illegitimacy, but region is not stated as part of that contextual dynamic. 71 Smith, Masculinity, Class ad Same-Sex Desire, 103–6. 72 Helen Smith, ‘Love, Sex, Work and Friendship: Northern, Working-Class Men and Sexuality in the First Half of the Twentieth Century’, in Alana Harris and Timothy Jones, eds, Love and Romance in Britain, 1918-1970 (Basingstoke, 2015), 79. 73 For example, widespread racism and anti-immigration feeling does not have historical precedent in South Yorkshire: David Holland, ‘Native and Newcomer, Marriage and Belonging: The Social Networks of South Asian Migrants in the Sheffield area, c.1918-1947’, Past and Present (forthcoming, 2017). © The Author . Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
Twentieth Century British History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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