Speedwell Cavern & Chapel-en-le-Frith … Times Gone By


Speedwell Cavern

We hired a coach in order to visit Speedwell Cavern at the foot of Winnats Pass, near the village of Castleton in Derbyshire. A few people visited a café in Castleton, but fifteen of us donned our hard hats and fleeces and descended into the cave system.

We tentatively walked down 106 wet and slippery steps to a narrow horizontal passage two hundred metres below ground. The passage, which is man-made, leads to the limestone cavern and is permanently flooded. Access is made by boat and it was an incredible underground boat journey.

Our guide, Josh, propelled the boat by pushing against the walls with his hands and demonstrated how the boat was legged through. Legging requires the guide to lie on their back with their feet against the tunnel roof, and was sometimes performed by women.

The mine was developed in the 1770s but the limited lead ore deposits meant that it was not profitable and it was closed down by 1790. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to carve out these tunnels using only the most primitive tools.

The “Bellows Hole” is where a small boy would work all day pumping on a pair of blacksmiths bellows circulating the air.

There is a “half way house” tunnel where boats can pass each other. At he end of the passage the cavern opens up and we disembarked. The cavern contains the “Bottomless Pit” – a huge subterranean lake.

We then went on to the town of Chapel-en-le-Frith. The town was established by the Normans in the 12th century, which led to the French-derived name Chapel-en-le-Frith (“chapel in the forest”). We spent a pleasant couple of hours before returning to Manchester.

More photos can be seen here.

Times Gone By – LGBT+ History:

Claude McKay

Claude McKay – 15 September 1890 – 22 May 1948

Festus Claudius “Claude” McKay was born in Clarendon, Jamaica, on 15 September 1890. As a young man he studied poetry and philosophy with Walter Jekyll, who encouraged him to write his poetry in his native Jamaican dialect. His first two books of verse were published in 1912.

That same year, inspired by Booker T Washington, McKay moved to the US to study agronomy. It was there that he encountered racism for the first time. In 1914, he moved to New York, settling in Harlem, where he delved into the clandestine gay scene. Enjoying a love life that included both male and female partners, he entered a brief, but unsuccessful, marriage.

In 1917 McKay published his next poems, including the radical “To the White Fiends,” a challenge to white oppressors and bigots. His work appeared in various periodicals, most notably in the leftist magazine The Liberator, which published his anthem of resistance “If We Must Die,” threatening retaliation for racial prejudice and abuse.

In 1922 McKay published “Harlem Shadows”, his fourth and most important collection. The volume assured McKay’s place as a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. During this period he explored Communism and worked with the Universal Negro Improvement Association, writing several articles for that organisation’s publication. From 1923-1934 McKay travelled in Europe and North Africa, and wrote the novels “Banjo” and “Banana Bottom”. Most notably, during this period he also wrote “Home to Harlem”, a novel containing an openly gay character and detailed descriptions of Harlem’s gay and lesbian club scene in the 1920s, including drag and gender bending.

After this sojourn, McKay returned to Harlem and began working on “A Long Way from Home” (1937), a memoir describing his experiences as an oppressed minority, calling for an end to colonialism and segregation. In failing health, the lifelong agnostic embraced Catholicism and, in 1940, became a US citizen. In 1944 he left New York and relocated to Chicago to work for the Catholic Youth Organisation. McKay died of congestive heart failure there on 22 May 1948.

Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo – 18 September 1905 – 15 April 1990

The image of the mysterious and uncommunicative Greta Garbo (born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson) has drifted around the edges of human sexuality for nearly a century. She converted her enigmatic sexual status into power at the Box Office and profited from the curiosity and titillation it aroused.

Though Hollywood did not address lesbian audiences directly – it routinely pandered to male voyeuristic interests, which made Garbo a star of the highest magnitude. That she did not fulfill the social-sexual script the world had prepared for her was the world’s problem, not hers.

More significant than with whom Garbo slept was how sex and gender were integrated into her life and films because what the general public thought it knew, and what the gay subculture actually knew, about Garbo’s real life cannot be separated from her star image. She was romantically linked with Tallulah Bankhead, Lilyan Tashman, Billie Holiday, Louise Brooks, Mercedes de Acosta, and Marlene Dietrich.

Though she made relatively few major films in her career, the roles – Anna Christie, Mata Hari, Queen Christina, Anna Karenina, Ninotchka and Camille (for which she is most revered) – were iconic and unforgettable. Garbo’s enigmatic and ambivalent performances were an appealing departure from formulaic heterosexual images and made it possible for her to stand out from her contemporaries while identifying both as gay (to those who were aware) and with other gay people across the invisibility, disgrace and fear that characterised much of gay life during the era. Garbo effectively retired from Hollywood after World War II and lived out the remainder of her life in self-imposed seclusion. She died in 1990 at the age of 84 from natural causes.

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