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A Magazine for Sheffield

Sheffield’s hidden LGBTQ+ history brought to life with podcast and film

Steel City Queer History launches podcast and film for DIY walking tour of Sheffield’s gay past.

Steel City Queer History

A Steel City Queer History banner

Steel City Queer History

Most of us walk through Sheffield city centre without paying much attention to what is around us. Rarely do we consider what was happening on those streets in times gone by. But Steel City Queer History wants to tell some of those stories from the past, specifically those about Sheffield’s LGBTQI history.

Sandra Baker Donnelly and Chris Mowat told Now Then how they are going to tell these tales.

You are launching a film and podcast. Tell me about them.

The podcast is a walking tour of Sheffield’s queer past. We have selected 10 spots in the city centre that give a range of LGBT+ ‘moments’, from the Victorian music hall scene to gay bars in the early 2000s. The podcast gives a brief discussion of each of these, before directing you to the next spot, the idea being that you can follow the walk yourself and listen along.

The film has been created in parallel to show visuals of the sites, and pull out pictures of the older stuff, partly to make it possible to watch along at home.


Eleanor Coppard at Sheffield's temporary Walk With Pride crossing.

Photo by Eleanor Coppard.

What are you hoping people will learn from the podcast and film?

Some of the range of LGBT+ experiences that have happened in Sheffield! But also, what ‘history’, and particularly ‘queer history’ can be - it is not just about the big events, but also those smaller moments.

What did you learn in the process of making them?

I think we learned how much crossover there is between some of these stories. They are like layers on layers over the city - looking at them separately and you think “oh yeah, this isolated incident happened in this spot” but the walking tour really brings home the fact that there have always been queer stories happening around the city centre.

Also that Sheffield has a really weird layout!

Who has taken part in making them?

The podcast and film were written by the Steel City Queer History working group, with funding (and technical) help from DINA venue. There has also been help from Sheffield archives and libraries, Picture Sheffield, and the Friends of Edward Carpenter group.

We also used source material from our other ongoing project, ‘Our Steel City’, which is about letting people in and about Sheffield submit their own stories and memories of being LGBT+ in Sheffield.

Covid meant you had to suspend face-to-face meetings last year. Has that been part of why you have gone with this digital approach, too?

Lockdown was when we actually came upon the podcast idea. We had been planning to do an in-person walking tour before the pandemic, and so this project grew from the idea that, though we may not be able to gather together personally, we can still get around the city, and walk ‘together’ in other ways.

Steel City Queer History

Sandra Baker Donnelly, Chris Mowat and Mark Pendleton from Steel City Queer History

Steel City Queer History

What was your favourite fact or piece of information from the film or podcast?

Sandra Baker Donnelly: Our first stop for an old gay bar in a hotel called The King's Arms. I have heard a couple of men talk about this place being there in the 1960s and how they had to walk through a bar of straight men downstairs to get to the gay area upstairs. The hotel is no longer there but it's great to be able to imagine that place and what it was like for LGBT+ people in Sheffield at that time.

Chris Mowat: Oh, I love all the stories, but I think my heart will have to belong to the Victorian male impersonator (drag king) Vesta Tilley. I loved finding the dates of when she toured to Sheffield, and thinking about the audiences who would have been able to see her perform and imagine their own queer possibilities...

Your launch event is almost sold out but people can access the film and podcast without attending the launch. How can they do this?

The podcast and film will both be free to download and watch/listen to on our website.

If somebody wants to get involved or get in touch with you, how can they do that?

Again, on our website we have contact details, as well as the opportunity for people to submit their own stories for the ‘Our Steel City’ project! You can also email us at [email protected]

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