LGBT History Month

In February and March, we support a very exciting, informative and celebratory month, to educate out prejudice and make LGBT+ people, in all their rich diversity, visible.
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Darlington Pride parade Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT


LGBT history month
2018 Darlington Pride parade Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Did you know in 2001, Darlington was one of the first towns in England to allow same-sex civil ceremonies?

Mr Bell and Mr Johnstone both from Darlington, became one of the first in the North East to get married under the new legislation back n March 2014.

Our town has a small gay scene developed over a number of years by the local LGBT community, prior to lockdown a number of local venues supported ‘Gay Night’ held every Monday night. The scene has grown to become a beacon of LGBT entertainment in the region.

Darlington also plays host to an annual Gay Pride Festival which comprises a series of celebrations of local LGBT culture and acceptance held at venues across the town. The aim is to promote equality and diversity in Darlington and eliminate discrimination

LGBT History Month – Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse

The Backhouse family of Darlington had been prominent Quakers since the seventeenth century. Edmund’s grandfather represented Darlington in parliament, while his father, Sir Jonathan Backhouse, became a director of Barclay’s Bank

Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse There are things we know about Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse, 2nd Baronet, of England: He was one of few Europeans to live among the Chinese in the early 20th century, and his writings greatly influenced the way the West saw Peking. Then there are fuzzier facts, like his claim that he had affairs with both Oscar Wilde and the Empress Dowager Cixi. He was considered ‘an active gay man” and there was a book published which is a memoir of his gay life in Beijing between 1898 and 1908.

Credit:  Chris Lloyd

LGBT history month
Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse

Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse (1873-1944) who must be, without fear of contradiction, the most extravagant character ever to be born in the village of Middleton Tyas, near Scotch Corner.

Sir Edmund was the grandson of Edmund Backhouse, who was the Liberal MP for Darlington from 1868 to 1880 (it was his near defeat in 1868 that triggered the formation of The Northern Echo).

Edmund the MPs eldest son was Jonathan Edmund, who lived at Uplands off Carmel Road South in Darlington, and had a country retreat at The Rookery in Middleton Tyas. In 1901, Jonathan Edmund was created the 1st Baronet Backhouse of Uplands for his services to the Liberal Unionist Party.

His eldest son and the 2nd Baronet, Sir Edmund Trelawny, was born at The Rookery on October 20, 1873. “In him, long generations of Quaker frugality at last took their revenge,” says Hugh Trevor-Roper in his famous biography, The Hermit of Peking.

How much time Sir Edmund spent in Darlington is difficult to say, but by the time he was nine he had been packed off to boarding school in Ascot. He made it to Oxford University in 1892 where he showed great promise, fell in with a group of homosexual aesthetes (he claimed to have had affairs with Oscar Wilde and the Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery), amassed 23,000 of debts and was declared bankrupt. His family of famous bankers at the time, they were selling their Darlington-based family bank to become part of the Barclay conglomeration of Quaker banks finessed his embarrassment away, and sent him out of the country.

He never made it back to Darlington; instead he settled in Peking.

He had great talent as a linguist, and was one of very few Westerners to be accepted in China. He made his name as a journalist, providing great exclusives for the Times, and his books, with their insider information, helped formulate British Government policy.

Yet even then he was known to have had a distant relationship with the truth. In 1915, he claimed to be sailing a flotilla of cargo ships full of rifles which he had bought off Chinese rebels to help the British war effort. But for all his promises, and for all his updates on the flotillas progress down the Yangtze, the flotilla did not exist. It was a figment of his imagination.

LGBT history month
the Dowager Empress Cixi

He faded into eccentric reclusiveness in the 1920s and 1930s, and his last project was writing a diary of his sexual encounters with the Dowager Empress Cixi for his Swiss doctor, who had been impressed with his fantastic stories.

The 2nd Baronet Backhouse of Uplands, Darlington, died in Peking in 1944. He was considered an eminent if odd, sinologist. However, that reputation was thoroughly dismantled by Trevor-Roper in his superb 1976 biography, The Hermit of Peking. Trevor-Roper portrayed Sir Edmund as a fraud, a forger and a fantasist. Even Sir Edmunds seminal and influential writings had been based on supposedly original documents and authentic diaries that he had forged.

Trevor-Roper studied Sir Edmunds diaries of sexual encounters and dismissed them as another fraud, concocted by Sir Edmunds over-fertile imagination. However, those diaries have been published in Chinese and English by New Century Books. 

So did the grandson of the Darlington MP satisfy that appetite or did he make the whole thing up?

Everyone seems to believe the latter, but the promoters of the book point out that Sir Edmunds privileged and intimate access to Chinese high society means that while we can’t take the book as a literal fact, it is still a unique insight into the mood and atmosphere in Peking.

Do you have stories, photos or comments to share for LGBT history month? Please tag us on social media using #DiscoverBightwater or drop us on message here 

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