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Researchers hoping to find Hidden Histories from around the Gorge

23 Feb Researchers hoping to find Hidden Histories from around the Gorge

A major new research project has been launched by The Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust to uncover the overlooked histories of the area – and it wants the public to get involved too.

The Hidden Histories project aims to document the Ironbridge Gorge’s historical stories, characters and links to the Empire, women, disability and the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community – all of which are often left out of the history books.

Teams of external researchers have been brought in by the Trust to look at the four key areas, with the information being collated over the coming months.

Funded by Arts Council England, the project kicks off this weekend with the Trust’s first-ever live online event, Steam PunQ – which is a virtual history cabaret night, featuring a look at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people connected to the area, alongside cocktails, performances and a drag act.

Sacha Coward, who has spent 10 years working with communities to make museums a more exciting and welcoming space for everyone, is leading the LGBTQ+ research.

He said one of the difficulties of documenting queer history is that much of it was destroyed because of its perceived illicit nature.

“When you talk about queer history, many people don’t understand that it’s often a history of burned letters and hidden relationships – it was for much of history illegal and people were often frightened to reveal their true selves, for fear of persecution” said Sacha.

“I’ve come across it over and over again. It’s just not there on a blue plaque for everyone to see – you have to look between the lines to find these stories.

“If you go back to the 1800s, being queer was almost certainly going to be seen as a scandal. There were very few people who were out and proud. Unless you were a wealthy and notable figure like Oscar Wilde, you just couldn’t be that way publicly, and even Oscar was convicted, incarcerated and had to flee to France after his sexuality was revealed to the public! Queer people that were less well off than him, less protected, are even harder to find in the historic record!”