Lesser-known Figures of the LGBTQ+ Community: Part 2

While there are some names in LGBTQ+ history which are famous, there are many that are not. In this blog post, we introduce you to 2 more LGBTQ+ figures whose lived experiences, sexuality, and gender have been largely left out of history and left out of the narratives that surround them. We’d like you to meet Nina Frances Layard, and Brian Epstein.

Nina Frances Layard

Nina Frances Layard was born on 20 August 1853 at Stratford Green in Essex. Her parents were Sarah and Charles Clement Layard and Nina was their fourth child. During her childhood, Nina became an avid collector of shells and eggs, a hobby she enjoyed wherever her father’s employment with the Church of England called their family.

Image Courtesy of the Ipswich Society

After further study, she moved to Ipswich in 1889 and continued her archeological work professionally and developed her talent for poetry. She is most known for her discovery, excavation, and recording of Foxhall Road in Ipswich, a 300,000-year-old site which served as a route for early humans with tools to reach the riverbank. Nina was one of the first women admitted to the Society of Antiquaries in London (in 1921) and was the first female President of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia. Some of Nina’s work is held at The National Archives at Kew, a testament to her importance to the archeological field.

Image Courtesy of Ipswich Women’s Festival Group

In addition to challenging gender norms of the day, Nina has become a queer icon as a result of her relationship with Mary Frances Outram. From 1894 onward, Nina and Mary were together constantly and the 1901 census records tell us that they were living together. Beyond being a constant presence in Nina’s life, Mary was instrumental in Nina’s career, illustrating and transcribing Nina’s work. Neither Mary nor Nina married, and they lived the rest of their lives together, providing strong evidence – albeit unwritten – that they were in a same-sex relationship. Nina died on 12 August 1935, shortly after her lifelong partner Mary. They were buried in a shared grave at Kelveden churchyard in Essex on 15 August 1935, further proof of their love and devotion to each other despite the societal norms of the day.

To find out more about Nina Frances Layard and to see The National Archives’ holdings check out the websites below:

Brian Epstein

Finding the door locked, the butler asked the housekeeper to get the keys. When they opened the door, what they each saw was a body on the single bed. The coroner later found that the 32-year-old man had died after overdosing on sleeping pills mixed with alcohol. The date was the 27th August 1967. The man who was now dead was the worldwide renowned “king of pop” and music manager Brian Epstein.

Image Courtesy of Brian Epstein Official Site

Brian was born on the 19th September 1934 in Liverpool into a family of successful businesspeople. The family had initially made their name in the furniture business and would soon take on more shops and businesses bringing more and more success and money. This would include the NEMS (North End Music Stores) that sold vinyl music and instruments, of which Brian was made director in 1955. Epstein was expelled from school twice for laziness and poor performance and went to several different schools. At the age of 15, he decided he wanted to be a dress maker, but his father adamantly refused and made Brian work for the family business. Brian then saw a stint in the Army for National Service but was often reprimanded. He was also arrested for impersonating an officer and courting young men in clubs.

After finishing his Army service, Brian was made Director of NEMS. It was at this time Brian told a psychiatrist that he was homosexual. It was also at this point that he decided he wanted to be an actor and joined RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) but soon dropped out feeling that it didn’t suit him, and he returned to NEMS. In 1961 Brian’s NEMS shop in Liverpool was visited by a customer asking for a record by ‘the beat brothers’. The song was entitled ‘My Bonnie’. Brian looked into this and discovered the record was by Tony Sheridan with a backing band called The Beatles. He then found out they were a local Liverpool group and visited them at the Cavern Club. Brian immediately knew they had a unique talent that he had to promote with his connections in the music industry.

Brian met The Beatles and became their manager. After their first meeting they arrived late and Brian told them to be more professional and prompter and then suggested they wear suits, rather than the scruffy leather trousers and jackets, and treat their act more professionally. They were told to no longer smoke or swear on stage and to bow at the end of each performance. Soon the band were picking up bigger gigs at locations all over the country. By 1962 The Beatles had signed a record contract with Parlaphone at EMI and were a household name in Britain. By early 1964 they had secured their first US number one, a feat that hadn’t been achieved by any contemporary music acts. This paved the way for the ‘British Invasion’ and burst of the 1960s global counterculture. Brian had played the greatest part in propelling The Beatles into the global limelight. He would go on to discover further talents in Liverpool from Gerry and the Pacemakers to Cilla Black and he was soon dubbed ‘the king of pop’.

Brian struggled, though, with his private life. He suffered with severe bouts of depression and frequently lost large sums of money in gambling clubs. He was engaged in abusive relationships that involved physical violence. He was arrested for “persistent importuning” outside a men’s lavatory and engaging in “cottaging”. When he went on holiday with John Lennon, John punched someone after Brian had been accused of being gay. Brian covered up the story, but the accusations and mockery continued, although not publicly. He was forced to hide his homosexuality, which was still illegal. Brian was further driven to pills to help him sleep and others to give him energy.

As The Beatles’ fame grew, he became less involved with their activities. In 1966 The Beatles gave up touring to concentrate on recording in the studio and Brian soon found himself lost. When Brian’s father died, his addiction to drugs grew and he began to take heavier drugs. He also became engaged in abusive sexual encounters, sometimes being heavily beaten. When Brian died in August 1967 many suspected it was linked to depression and his struggle to fit into society. Homosexuality was legalized the year after Brian died.

To find out more about Brian Epstein check out the websites below:

Thank you for joining us for our second blog post where we explore little-known LGBTQ+ figures! We hope that these two posts have given you a greater understanding of these figures and how their gender, sexuality, and lived experiences inform the legacy they’ve left behind them. If you would like to learn more about LGBTQ+ history head over to our YouTube channel where we have a short video explaining the origins and importance of LGBT+ History Month in the UK. And don’t forget to join us on Tuesday the 23rd of February for Amy’s talk ‘The Life and Legacy of Christina of Sweden’.

By Amy Saunders, James Jefferies and Johanna Strong

Today’s blog post was co-written by Amy, James, and Johanna. Though they work on 3 different periods of history, each of them integrates aspects of gender into their research. While Johanna and Amy look at gender and sexuality in early modern English and British queenship (with Mary I and the Stuart kings and queen consorts, respectively), James’ work often delves into women and war and researches aspects of masculinity in the world wars. They’re very excited to be bringing LGBT+ History Month to History Indoors and cannot wait to share more LGBTQ+ history with you!