The annual Heritage Open Days are taking place in the UK this weekend. This is when thousands of heritage sites, historic buildings and museums open their doors free to the public, many of them private homes of special historical interest don’t admit the public any other day.
There are hundreds of
sites I’d like to visit, but today lets think about several historical sites of
lgbt heritage that have long since disappeared. Recent coverage of the
destruction of sites in Syria have outraged archaeologists, but ISIL are not
the first people to deliberately destroy historic buildings and they won’t be
the last. Some people may say it doesn’t matter, but try telling that to the
lgbt community in New York if a property developer suddenly announces the
demolition of the Stonewall Inn. Most buildings means something to someone,
even if they mean nothing to you.
The article I wrote back
in July about the possible threat to the ancient sites of Turkey get me thinking about other sites and buildings that we can no
longer see. What locations can we visit – all in the mind? I’m going to take
three heritage sites from three different periods which I would like to visit
if they still existed.
We’ll start in the ancient
Alexander the Great
founded several cities which he named after himself. The most easterly of these
was called Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus in what is now Afghanistan, just 65
kilometres north-west of Kabul. This was at a period when Alexander was pushing
eastward to expand his empire into India. His new city was at a crossroads of
routes through the wilderness and mountains.
On Alexander’s death his
empire was divided between his generals and the eastern half became ruled by Seleucos
I Nikator and was, hence, afterwards called the Seleucid Empire. Twenty years
later Emperor Seleucos swapped the city of Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus for 500
elephants and it came into the possession of the Maurya Empire of the Indian
subcontinent. Several changes of ownership over the next centuries led to its
gradual decline and eventually the buildings crumbled away.
Archaeological digs on the
site began in 1833. Thousands of artefacts and coins were found but we can only
imagine the splendour of the lost buildings.
The next site of lgbt
interest in one which I’ve visited many times. It was popular place for a day
trip when I was young, and my sister actually worked there for a while. It’s
called Clumber Park and it is the site of a stately home that was demolished in
Clumber Park is
significant to lgbt heritage because it was the home of the Pelham-Clinton
family. The land was bought in 1707 by Henry Pelham-Clinton, 2nd
Duke of Newcastle (1720-1794). In his teenage years he had a relationship with
the writer Horace Walpole. Henry wanted to create a private park “for the
better improvement and ornamentation of her Majestyes Forest of Sherwood”, as
he wrote in a letter to Queen Anne. In 1770 built the first stately home there
as his country residence.
The Duke of Newcastle also
owned Nottingham castle, and it was his great-great-grandson, the 6th
Duke, who sold the castle to the Corporation of Nottingham. The 6th
Duke’s younger brother was Lt.-Col. Arthur Pelham-Clinton,
MP, who lived with his brother at Clumber Park.
After a fire gutted most
of the state rooms in 1879 they were redesigned in typical Victorian opulence
that could outshine “Downton Abbey” or even Buckingham Palace. All of this was
lost after 1938 when the then Duke of Newcastle decided to sell everything and
demolish the empty shell that was left.
Today only the stables,
church, entrance gates and clock tower remain to indicate that there was any
stately building there at all. Clumber Park is now owned by the National Trust.
was lost by neglect. Clumber Park House was lost by demolition. Our next
heritage site was lost to Hurricane Katrina ten years ago.
Our next building was a
private residence, designed by its occupant Louis Sullivan (1856-1924). In June
I wrote briefly about Sullivan’s work on skyscrapers, but his lost building
we’re looking at today was much more modest, a cottage bungalow.
Although primarily known
as a Chicago-based architect, Sullivan built a rural getaway down on the Gulf
of Mexico in 1890 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He is well-known for his
collaborations with Frank Lloyd Wright, who later claimed to have designed the
cottage, not Sullivan. Whoever is was, Sullivan lived there for 20 years.
Although Wright tolerated gay men in the architectural office he was openly
hostile to them outside work. Perhaps this is why Sullivan needed to get out of
Chicago, in all probability he was gay himself.
Sullivan’s cottage may
have been lost long before 2005. Sullivan had to give to over to another
architect to pay some of his debts. During the 1980s it had been derelict and
was rescued and renovated by a lawyer from Biloxi.
Hurricane Katrina blasted
its way across the Gulf of Mexico in August 2005 leaving a trail of destruction
in its wake. Louis Sullivan’s cottage was reduced to rubble. Only one chimney
However great the loss to
world heritage, one consolation is that there are many photographs and images
of both Sullivan’s cottage and Clumber Park House. It is possible to
reconstruct them virtually, but their personal connections can never be
reconstructed. But while we "mourn" the loss of heritage sites we have plenty to look forward to in the future as more ancient and demolished sites are revealed through the work of archaeologists.