Brompton Cemetery is full of stories, and to coincide with LGBT History Month we highlighted those buried here who we would identify today as members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Starting in February 2019, historians and museum professionals Sheldon K. Goodman and Sacha Coward have been working with Brompton Cemetery and The Royal Parks in finding out more about these little known and recorded histories. For 2021, we're digitally introducing you to some of the lives and stories we've found - and there are many more. Celebrate our queer forebears as we introduce you to the Queerly Departed buried here!
1. Luisa Casati (1881-1957)
The life and soul of the party in the 1920 and 30s: this legendary Italian heiress and eccentric has the aesthetic of a modern day icon such as Madonna or Lady Gaga and was written about by the likes of Jack Kerouac and painted by Augustus John. She was also a bodacious bisexual woman, whose small headstone does no justice to her influence in the social sphere of the early 20th century.
2. Barbe Sangiorgi
A famous Soho dining institution was a favourite haunt of a noted wit and raconteur of the 19th century. But more-so, it provided a safe space for little-tolerated passions and desires to play out, away from the judging eyes of the outside world. This is the grave of Barbe Sangiorgi of Kettner's restaurant, founded by and managed with her late and second husbands.
3. Ernest Thesiger (1879–1961)
Known largely today as his role as Dr Frankenstein's mentor in the 1935 horror classic 'The Bride of Frankenstein', Ernest Thesiger's career on stage and screen was show his background allowed him to be 'out' and proud.
4. Julian and the Suffragettes
Emmeline Pankhurst's monument was created by a sculptor who challenged the sexual and societal norms of the day. On a wider scale, Sacha looks at evidence of lesbianism in suffragettes and how to look beyond what we see in a cemetery above ground.
5. Pretty Policemen
Gay and bisexual men in the 1970s and 80s saw the cemetery as more than a place of remembrance - it was also a space to indulge in illicit encounters, away from prying eyes. Pretty policemen would operate - and it is this history that Sacha confronts in this episode of Queerly Departed.
6. Charles Allston Collins
Some people leave behind mysteries - and Charles Allston Collins, Dicken's own son-in-law, left one that to this day draws questions to his true sexuality.
7. Richard Henn Collins
As we rediscover our #QueerlyDeparted, not all of them were allies - as is the case here, with Judge Richard Henn Collins, who presided over the first trial of Oscar Wilde.
8. It's a Drag - Mary Anne & Robert Keeley
The perception of gender and identity came under intense scrutiny in the Victorian era and a husband and wife team challenged this by playing gender-swapping roles to much acclaim: in her youth Mary Anne played 'principle boys' and Robert played a prototype Hyacinth Bucket. Here Sheldon takes a closer look at their lives, alongside the legacy they left on queer culture and drag today.
Public historian Sheldon K. Goodman and museum professional Sacha Coward. Queerly Departed is a Cemetery Club production for the Royal Parks.
Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to the contributions of National Lottery Players, as part of the Brompton Cemetery Conservation Project.
Special thanks to Dan Vo for additional direction and camera duties.
Thanks to Virgin Xtravaganzah, Son of A Tutu, Keith Jarrett, Claire Mead, Toni-Dee Paul, Floria Lundon and Dan Gilbert for being part of the in-person events held at Brompton Cemetery and to Charli Carver and Claire Harris for their support for the project