Published: Wednesday, 8th May 2019

A series of live performances will bring the stories of Bolton’s LGBTQ pioneers to life.

Vesta TilleyThe “Museum Monologues” will explore the town’s LGBTQ heritage from the perspective of five influential individuals.

Produced by local writers and performers Stephen M Hornby and Inkbrew Productions, the short interactive monologues will be performed at Bolton Central Library and Museum throughout May.

The project has been organised to coincide with “Desire, love, identity: exploring LGBTQ histories in Bolton” an exhibition hosted in partnership with the British Museum.

The five subjects were chosen by exploring the museum archives to learn more about the people who shaped Bolton’s LGBTQ heritage.

Actors will portray Victorian era male impersonator Vesta Tilley, local author Matt Cain, renowned photographer Humphrey Spender, a young member of the LGBT Youth Group Liaison Initiative, and J W Wallace who corresponded with and visited America poet Walt Whitman.

Stephen M Hornby said: “Inkbrew Productions has worked with the Museum staff to find five of the most significant local LGBTQ people from Bolton's past and bring them to life in the gallery. 

“We have commissioned five fantastic heritage playwrights and set them to work on this brilliant material. 

“They will each be creating a seven to eight minutes monologue for their historical figure which will then be performed in the gallery on special days and for schools and local LGBTQ groups. 

“The embodiment of the past in an actor portraying the person is a magical thing and brings a whole new dimension of engagement to visitors.”

Museum Monologues can be seen in the temporary exhibition gallery:

  • Saturday, May 11 at 11am, 12pm, 2pm and 3pm
  • Monday, May 13 at 3pm
  • Thursday, May 16 at 3pm, 5pm and 6pm
  • Friday, May 17 at 12pm and 3pm,
  • Saturday, May 18 at 11am, 12pm, 2pm and 3pm
  • Saturday, 25 May at 11am, 12pm, 2pm and 3pm

The lives featured in the Museum Monologues will be:

  • Vesta Tilley (written by Abi Hynes): Vesta Tilley was one of the most popular music hall performers of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Famous for her male impersonation acts, she would create characters based on male stereotypes of the time, delighting audiences with her perfect recreations of upper-class schoolboys and soldiers. Tilley travelled to Bolton twice during her career, performing at the Theatre Royal, Churchgate in 1892 and later at the Grand, Churchgate in 1909. Local papers labelled her “The People’s Idol”, and audiences applauded her performances for so long that she was forced to ask them to stop so the evening’s other performers could take the stage. 
  • Matt Cain: Matt Cain is the author of The Madonna of Bolton, which was published to great acclaim in 2018. Loosely based on Cain’s own childhood, the novel tells the story of a gay boy growing up in Bolton in the 1980s.The most autobiographical section is when the central character, Charlie Matthews, travels to Leeds to see one of Madonna’s first UK concerts. This monologue, written by Cain himself, explores the author’s teenage years in Bolton. 
  • Humphrey Spender (written by Alex Joynes): Photographer Humphrey Spender played a key role in Mass Observation’s Worktown Project documenting the lives of working people in 1930s Bolton. Spender’s network of acquaintances in the 1930s included the pioneering gay novelist Christopher Isherwood and poet W. H. Auden, whom he got to know through his brother, the poet Stephen Spender. This group had an open, experimental attitude to sex and sexuality, and Humphrey Spender himself had love affairs with both men and women in the 1930s and later. Rachel Spender, his widow, has said: “I think he felt, as I do, that if you really love someone it doesn’t matter what sex they are or indeed what age they are.” 
  • Member of LGBT Youth Group Liaison Initiative (written by Rosie Adamson-Clark): The LGBT Youth Group Liaison Initiative was set up in the early 1990s to support lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in Bolton who were under 26.  In 1993, in recognition of their pioneering work, the Youth Group received a royal visit from Princess Anne.
  • James Wallace (written by Stephen Hornby): A fascinating group of young men in Victorian Bolton developed a sense of shared identity through their love of the great American poet Walt Whitman. James Wallace was an architect’s assistant, working for local architectural firm Bradshaw, Gass and Hope. Wallace and his close friend Dr John Johnston had first written to Whitman in 1887. This led to a long correspondence between the great poet and his Bolton disciples which lasted until Whitman’s death in 1892. Wallace and Johnston also travelled to America to visit Whitman at his home in Camden, New Jersey.

Museum Monologues is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

“Desire, love, identity: exploring LGBTQ histories in Bolton” is open until May 26. The exhibition features items from both the British Museum and Bolton Museum collections.