Graffiti by Gay Prisoners held in Lancaster Castle remains on castle walls

The UK’s historic buildings are filled with hidden LGBTQ+ history, Lancaster Castle is no exception

Over the past couple of weeks, Lancaster’s LGBT+ Staff Network has been running various events in honour of LGBTQ+ history month, from lectures and readings to Q&As and film nights. In particular, Dr Colin Penny, Museum Director at Lancaster Castle, discussed the rich queer history written on the building walls.

Inside the prison cells and the castle gatehouse, there is clear evidence of gay prisoners carving graffiti into the walls, documenting their existence for future generations to come. One piece is written on the gatehouse’s corridor walls, where prisoners were held whilst awaiting their trials. Next to an intricate depiction of a violin, it reads:

“John Bailey committed April 15th, 1741 by Brindle for kissing.”

In his talk, Dr Penny discussed why the creator of this graffiti would have been gay. First, there were no laws against kissing in public at the time. Second, as well as the drawing of a violin, there is a carving of a tulip, a queer slang symbol of the time.

Dr Penny noted that queer people might have used graffiti in the past to make their existence known, with the advantage that graffiti is anonymous, meaning that its creators would have avoided arrest. However, a name is given in the castle graffiti, giving us an amazing but heart-breaking insight into the personal story of one queer man in the 1700s: John Bailey, a violinist who was executed for a kiss.

Now, because of Bailey carving his story into the castle walls, we have a commemoration of his queerness and an illustration of queer history in Lancaster. Thanks to the path that people like him paved, society is where it is now.

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