Church House, 90 Deansgate, Manchester

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Hope everyone is well. During lockdown I seem to have swopped 10,000 steps each day for 10,000 calories!

The building where Out In The City meets has a very interesting history. In the 1940’s there were jazz concerts.

From the late 1960’s to the 1970’s, it was a venue for rock concerts and Barclay James Harvest, Ralph McTell, Roy Harper, Generation X,  Buzzcocks and many others all played there. John Peel was a DJ there on at least two occasions.

Buzzcocks 1976

On 7 October 1964 the building held the first meeting of the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee. There is now a plaque on the wall and a rainbow tile on the pavement.

The following article was originally published in the LGBT Foundation’s magazine Out North West in October 2004.

Andrew Gilliver interviewed Allan Horsfall (1927-2012) and Ray Gosling (1939-2013) the pioneers of the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee (later Campaign for Homosexual Equality):

In the 1950’s no one used the word “gay”. Same sex relationships were illegal and there was no gay political movement at all campaigning for change.

 Many people were quite happy living their lives in semi-secrecy, there were no great trials or persecutions of gay men. There was no mention of lesbians as they didn’t exist, even in the imagination, thanks to Queen Victoria’s influence.

There was however a lot of blackmail. It wasn’t until a sensational trial where three prominent men, Lord Montague, Peter Wildeblood and Michael Pitt-Rivers, were imprisoned for sex with two airmen that a lot of people realised something must be done to stop the persecution of gay men. Incidentally the RAF men involved were given immunity from prosecution in exchange for their evidence against the others. In the early 1950’s the government of the day were prompted (mainly by one Tory MP, Robert (later Lord) Boothby who was bisexual) to set up an inquiry into the anti-gay laws.

The Wolfenden Report

In 1957 Sir John Wolfenden recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality, several influential liberal-minded people in London decided to set up a reform society to think about a change in the law. These liberals were the kind of people who wanted to do the right thing, good white Christian-minded people who wanted to do something for “the queers”, not out of approval, more from a position of tolerance. However it was to be a further ten years before being “gay” was no longer illegal.

Following on in 1958, A E Dyson, a gay man who was a lecturer at Bangor University, wrote many letters to the Spectator and the Times and to many prominent people asking for support to form the Homosexual Law Reform Society. Support came with many other founder members who in the main were not gay, but distinguished folk such as Lord Attlee and Bertrand Russell who were on the honorary Committee of the Homosexual Law Reform Committee. The Albany Trust was formed as the charitable arm with the first ever out UK gay activist – Anthony Grey. The trust took its name from J B Priestley’s flat in the Albany where meetings were held.

Allan Horsfall

At that time gays were starting to come out – albeit slowly – in support of the cause and most notable was Allan Horsfall a colliery clerk and labour councillor from Nelson, Lancashire. It was through Allan’s energy that a group eventually gathered in Manchester to support Anthony Grey in London. The group made demands for full equality, and they were much more radical than their southern counterparts.

Allan & Ray

It all started in 1959 when Allan tabled a motion to back the decriminalisation of homosexuality and introduced his local Labour Party to the ideas of law reform for gays. It has to be said that the motion was very firmly rejected.

NWHLRC

Allan set up the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee (which later became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality) which had its first semi-public meeting on 7 October 1964 in Houldsworth Hall (now Church House) at 90 Deansgate, Manchester.

Early meetings were supported by the Church of England, Manchester Diocese who provided meeting rooms and the group received much support from the Bishop of Middleton. It was the only grassroots gay movement which acted to hasten the eventual change in the law to make gay relationships legal in 1967. The law at that time however only applied to two people behind locked doors. It was still a criminal offence for more than two people to be present if a homosexual act took place. The armed forces were also exempt from this law.

Rocking the boat

Allan remembers those first meetings in Manchester. “People didn’t want it to be official or to have minutes taken – they were frightened of having their names mentioned and being outed. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to get you”, he quipped. “People were worried we were attracting police attention and our friends in London thought we were rocking the boat. I kept asking why was there no progress in the reform of the law. In 1960 I wrote a piece in New Left Review entitled “Wolfenden in the Wilderness” but originally had no intention of starting a reform campaign. I wrote to the Homosexual Law Reform Society in London asking them to form provincial branches but they didn’t want to lose ownership so it wasn’t until 1963 after a witch hunt in Bolton around gay men that I became more committed to get involved myself.”

Bolton Evening News

Allan continues, “There was a situation where gays were getting into trouble that involved no public sex, no young men, no group sex and I protested – writing a letter to the Bolton Evening News. The editor said he had received visits from the police after carrying my letter and subsequent letters of support for reform.”

“He also said that he had hundreds of letters against reform but seeing as they were full of unprintable ranting he couldn’t print them. He was a bit of a homophobe anyway so I didn’t know whether to believe him or not.”

“Something had to be done”

Allan was determined though. “Something had to be done”, he says. “However, people were facing professional ruin and prison sentences just for being queer. I tried again to expand the Homosexual Law Reform Committee across the country and when Anthony Grey took over he was far more receptive to my requests. Together with Colin Harvey, the senior social worker for the Manchester Diocesan Board for Social Responsibility, who was regarded as a safe pair of hands, I decided that if we didn’t do something ourselves, nobody else would. So we launched the new campaign by printing 10,000 leaflets. Each of these bore my address, a Coal Board house in what was virtually a colliery village, since we were unable to use a church address (too controversial) and we felt that a Box Number would give the campaign an air of furtiveness. The Coal Board were not best pleased, but in the end took no action against us!”

Allan continues, “Many people opposed it, but many supported us. MP’s like Dennis Skinner said that homosexual rights wouldn’t succeed outside London! But, the local paper ran with a front-page story about us and the sky didn’t fall in. With the support we were receiving we realised that if we can make something happen here in the North West, it could be done anywhere.”

Allan continues, “Local labour parties weren’t interested but church groups and university groups were. People took it upon themselves to inform their work colleagues and it was from all this happening in the provinces that word got around to the tea rooms of Parliament. London’s attitude was then to help us. What happened in Manchester was all about frustration of inactivity since the Wolfenden Report in 1957. God knows what would have happened if it had been delayed even further and we had HIV and Clause 28 to deal with.”

“Flaunting Homosexuals”

Originally one of the supporters of a change in the law, Lord Arran famously said during the third and last reading of the 1967 reform bill in the House of Lords “flaunting homosexuals must remember although there is nothing bad about being a homosexual, there is nothing good about being homosexual either.”

The media in the late 60’s were keen to maximise disapproval of the change in the law though many people gay and straight alike didn’t seem to notice much of a change at the time.

TV and newspapers had to remind everyone to be repulsed about gay life. Gay men in the many documentaries of the time highlighted the “desperately lonely men” who were “beaten up in public lavatories”. Programme makers wanted to highlight the unpleasant side of gay life but real life wasn’t as miserable as the BBC would have us believe.

Homophobic tabloids

Allan continues, “Interestingly in all my dealings with the press before 1967 no one ever questioned my sexuality! The press weren’t as intrusive in those days. We were never denounced. Now we have homophobic tabloids with hacks like Gary Bushell, Richard Littlejohn and their regional equivalents. That never happened before ’67.”

“Blackmail happened before ’67 but gays weren’t beaten up as a blood sport as they have been since, in a way many people were right to be worried about coming out because since the decriminalisation of homosexuality homophobic incidents have increased.”

Unbelievable Humiliation

Ray Gosling, a well-known journalist in the North West wasn’t keen on coming out at the time but it took a friend of his to be prosecuted for living with another man that made Ray so angry he had to join the campaign. Ray remembers, “The police wanted to get John Clarkson – a gay friend of mine – so much they stalked him and even took away his bed sheets for exhibiting in a court of law. It was in front of a jury that semen stains were pointed out as evidence of sexual activity between John and his lover. It was unbelievable humiliation.” The resulting conviction of three years in prison for both men shocked Ray into doing something, needless to say it ruined his friends relationship.

Ray & Allan

Gay clubs

It was when Ray joined the Campaign for Homosexual Equality that an idea of the organisation to set up clubs around the country to enable gay men to have somewhere to meet and socialise gathered momentum. They were to be a bit like working men’s clubs.

An early supporter of the clubs was Reg Kilduff, manager at the time of The Rembrandt Hotel on Sackville Street. He was the first publican, gay himself, to run a noted “queer bar”. By 1970 the law had changed but not without creating new problems as Ray recalls, “People didn’t want to come out in public even though there had been a lot of support for the clubs in places like Nottingham, Brighton, Leeds and Sheffield.”

A moral victory

It was when a local Burnley paper got hold of the story that all hell let loose. A campaign was led by a Roman Catholic priest who said defiantly, “We’ll have no buggers clubs in Burnley.” A meeting was held in Burnley’s main library which Ray (by now a well-known local TV presenter) chaired. “I couldn’t see any hope at all. It was going very badly”, remembers Ray, “until one woman in dark glasses stood up and said ‘My son was gay and he killed himself. He would be alive today if there had been a club like this here today where people could meet’. To stunned silence from the assembled audience the moral victory had been won.” Ray continues, “Other obstacles were in our way after this and there were laws that needed tidying up, but by 1973-74 Allan was life president of CHE and other campaigning groups had picked political issues up. It wasn’t until 1997-98 that I got involved again with the infamous case of the Bolton 7.” Since that trial Allan and Ray have been the only ones working in the area of malicious prosecutions and unsafe convictions.

The present day

In March 2000, Allan received the Pink Paper award for Services to the Gay Community. Now Manchester City Council have agreed to honour Allan, Ray and the NWHLRC / CHE by commissioning a commemorative plaque for what became the greatest mass democratic national organisation of gays the UK had ever seen. A special ceremony was held on 5 October 2004 at Manchester’s Town Hall. It’s now the right time to begin to remember the pioneers of our very own gay rights movement. Remember this all happened before the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969. From lobbying Parliament for change when all male gay sex was illegal to set up social clubs were there was no gay life, no bars or clubs, no press or gay magazines and everything was secretive and done in fear. These men were indeed pioneers.

The fight goes on …

Commenting on the lack of interest around the many issues that Ray, Allan and other groups have fought hard for and are still having to fight just to have their voices heard, he says, “It’s a shame after 40 years that people are still victimised, still judged unfairly because of their sexuality and still not being heard.”

Church House

2 thoughts on “Church House, 90 Deansgate, Manchester

  1. Thank you Tony – a fascinating history.

    Keep well.

    David Austin (Rev) Oldham 50+ lgbt group

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    Like

  2. Thank you Tony for such an erudite and interesting piece of research, it is a very appropriate place for us to hold our meetings, and we will be back once this is over, Pauline xxx

    Like

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