Connecting Communities with Hidden Lesbian Stories Embedded in Popular Heritage from the Past

 

This project supported, by the National Lottery Heritage Fund has the following objectives:

  • Work with local community organisations in five locations across the UK to hold launch events, share learning to date about Gwen and Norah, and recruit volunteers.

 Charles Duff, at the event we organised in October 2019, talking about his mother Caroline Paget and her partner Audry Carten and their long friendship with Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney

  • Work with local volunteers and networks to research Gwen and Norah’s connections to the five places, and plan ways of celebrating and sharing their stories locally. 
  • Deliver five events across the UK, produced in collaboration with local communities/volunteers. 
  •  Record and share the project through Behind the Lines' website, videos, blogs, and a book deposited at local libraries/community centres in the five locations 

 

 

Video presentations about Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney in a dedicated archive room set up by us and local volunteers  at  our event at Baildon Hall in February 2020

 

An event funding by the National Lottery Heritage Fund at the Latest Bar in Brighton, February 2019

We are working with local volunteers in London, Brighton, Effingham, Bradford and St Austell to research the importance of these 5 places in the lives of forgotten variety stars Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney. Between October 2019 and September 2020 are hosting 5 events to share and celebrate this research in the communities Gwen and Norah lived.

London Event: 22nd October at the studio behind Gwen and Norah's house in Chelsea

Brighton Event: 25th October 7p.m. Horatio's Brighton Palace Pier 

Baildon Event: 2nd February 7.30.pm Baildon Hall Club

Effingham Event: 7th March 2020 Effingham Golf Club

September 2020 Exhibition King George V Hall, Effingham

St Austell Event: 26th September 2020 St Austell Arts Centre

 

LONDON

Gwen Farrar drew her own record of life with Norah Blaney, including sketches of the house they shared in the King's Road Chelsea. We are working with local people to uncover the stories these sketches tell and to match them with their original locations. 

Norah Blaney left a wonderful oral history legacy in recordings of conversations she had with Londoner Derek Hunt in the 1970s. These recordings have now been stored at the British Library sound archive. We are sharing extracts from these conversations with local historians and matching Norah's reminiscences with playbills, photographs and recordings to create a timeline of events in the career of Blaney & Farrar.

We are working with local musicians to recreate the Blaney & Farrar double act, tracking down out-of-print sheet music and transcribing words and music from recordings almost a century old.

On 22nd October 2019 we shared this work in a wonderful celebratory evening in Gwen and Norah's old music studio in front of packed audience. In the words of one participant it was,  "A joy and a treat.. really enchanting, evocative and the gathering  was warm, appreciative and eclectic. I so enjoyed myself." 

 

 

BRIGHTON

Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney visited Brighton 

regularly, both to perform and to take a break from performing. They often caught the Brighton Belle steam train that left London late on a Saturday night. 

We celebrated their connection to Brighton with an event at Horatio's on Brighton Pier on 25th October 2019 sharing the story of Blaney & Farrar with local groups including Older and Out and Kenric. The evening included a Charleston Dance demonstration followed by inclusive dance instruction, which got most nearly all the audience up on their feet, joining in. "We absolutely loved how you brought the book to life with stories and songs - we really enjoyed ourselves and I found some of the readings very touching." 

 

 

 

EFFINGHAM

Gwen Farrar rented a cottage in Effingham, Surry in the mid 1930s. Here she and Norah Blaney prepared for their most successful recording session at Abbey Rd Studios in February 1935. 

Members of Effingham Local History Group are exploring Gwen's connection to other stars who lived locally: members of the famous Ballets Russes and the distinctly bohemian actress Teddie Gerard. With them we are holding a celebration event at Effingham Golf Club on 7th March 2020 and mounting an exhibition on 14th March in the village's King George V Hall.

 

 

 

BAILDON, BRADFORD

Norah Blaney lived just outside Bradford from 1932-1945, contributing much to her local community. Having been a leading 'Principal Boy' at the Alhambra Theatre and the Theatre Royal, Leeds for 'King of Pantomime', producer, Francis Laidler, Norah then became a member of Bradford Operatic Society. Local volunteers are researching this and her connection with the National Spinster's Association. 

Founded by Bradford local Florence White, the Association sought pension equality for unmarried women. Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney together headed a rally that was held to raise awareness of the cause in June 1937.

Norah hosted large garden parties in aid of Bradford Civic Theatre in the grounds of her mansion, 'Woodlands' in Baildon.

We have working with residents there to research and celebrate her connection with the area. On Sunday February 2nd 2020 we held a wonderful community event in Baildon Hall. Photos to follow very soon.

 

ST AUSTELL

In 1945 Norah Blaney moved to Cornwall where she lived and kept livestock at Vounder Farm (now part of the Eden Project). She kept up her interest in local theatre and became a key member of the newly founded St Austell Players, directing three very successful productions for them, even involving her old friend J.B. Preistley.

We are working with members of the St Austell Players to research Norah's connection with the group and help celebrate its 75th Anniversary.