Celebrating175 years of Edward Carpenter

Edward Carpenter was a true Sheffield pioneer. Born on 29 August 1844, he was an activist, poet and campaigner whose writings were the cornerstone of the gay rights movement of the 20th century.

Wednesday, 31st July 2019, 8:54 am
Updated Thursday, 29th August 2019, 4:05 pm

To celebrate his 175 th birthday, the Friends of Edward Carpenter and Museums Sheffield are working together on a series of new displays and events paying tribute to his


‘Edward Carpenter was a truly remarkable man’ says the Friends of Edward Carpenter’s

Kate Flannery. ‘Born to a wealthy family in Hove, he rejected his privileged life and came to

live in the north, teaching in the University Extension Movement (the Workers’ Education

Association of its day) in Leeds and Sheffield, then market gardened, made sandals, wrote

poetry and politics, and lived for decades according to his ideas of a simpler, more

communal life.

‘He campaigned throughout his life on many issues of social concern such as women’s

suffrage, environmental protection, sexual emancipation and the formation of trade unions.

He was also a passionate advocate of socialism, feminism and vegetarianism, opposing

poverty, imperialism, vivisection, war and capital punishment.’

Mark Scott from the Friend of Edward Carpenter adds, ‘He travelled widely throughout the

world and was known for wearing sandals, which he designed, made and popularised. For

over forty years he formed a strong bond with the people of Sheffield, living openly as a gay

man with his lover, George Merrill in Millthorpe, Derbyshire, only a few miles away.

‘His life was one of quiet celebration. His writings and example laid the foundation for the

gay liberation movement of the 20th century and men and women from across the globe,

from all walks of life, came into contact with each other through him and his connections with Sheffield. Around the world, gay campaigners regard him as a courageous man who was ahead of public opinion. He put his beliefs into practice and was famous in his day as a

freethinking author and campaigner, and as the writer of the socialist song, England Arise.’

At Museums Sheffield, we’re working to make the city’s museum collections more representative of all of our communities. Edward Carpenter is an important part of Sheffield’s story and was the inspiration behind our Proud project, which reflects the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and non-binary people in the city.

Next month, visitors to the Millennium Gallery will see a new display celebrating Carpenter’s

life and influence, with objects on show including the portrait bust of him sculpted by his

niece, Dorothea Clement, photographs, writings and more. Up at Weston Park Museum,

Proud! continues with new exhibits telling stories of LGBT+ life in Sheffield today.

The new displays have been co-curated with members of the city’s LGBT+ communities.

‘Working with the co-curators to develop these displays has been brilliant’ say Clara Morgan, Curator of Social History at Museums Sheffield. ‘It’s been fantastic to explore Edward Carpenter’s story with them and work together to reflect the lives of LGBT+ people living in the city now. The group has been amazing and the stories they’ve told together are really moving and inspiring.’

One of those co-curators is Steve Allen. For Steve, it’s important that Edward Carpenter

continues to be celebrated: ‘Edward Carpenter’s writings inspired many and set the tone for

the modern exploration of queer theory. He was an intersectional activist when such a thing

wasn’t thought of. He believed no one is free until everyone is free and that is certainly

something we can all aspire to in the modern world.’

The new displays are just part of the ways Edward Carpenter’s birthday is being marked this

year. At Yorkshire Artspace you can currently see a fantastic Carpenter-inspired exhibition

by contemporary artist, Yuen Fong Ling. At the Millennium Gallery we’ve just unveiled a

huge Edward Carpenter artwork on front of the building, created by the internationally

renowned, Sheffield-based artist, Paul Morrison.

Coming up next month, we’ve got Edward Carpenter’s Birthday Party. “It’s going to be a party to remember” says Steve Slack from the Friends of Edward Carpenter, the party’s co-hosts. ‘There’ll be activities, talks, music, performance and lots more. We’ll also be

announcing some very exciting news about a permanent memorial to Edward Carpenter

here in his adopted home city. For many years the Friends of Edward Carpenter have been

raising the profile of Carpenter in Sheffield and beyond through events and fund-raising

activities. The plans we’ll be unveiling are a huge coup for Sheffield. We can’t wait to tell

people about them.’

Edward Carpenter’s Birthday Party takes place at the Millennium Gallery on Saturday, September 7, 12–3pm – entry is free.

Proud! Telling LGBT+ Stories in Sheffield displays open in early September – for more information visit museums-sheffield.org.uk

By Louisa Briggs, Exhibitions & Displays Curator, Museums Sheffield