Written by Oliver Merrington, MIInfSc, September 2001.
The Hall-Carpenter Archives (HCA) is named after the authors Marguerite Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943) and Edward Carpenter (1844-1929).
In 1978 the Gay Research Group of the British Sociological Association discussed the development of gay archives, but it was the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) which identified the need for a media monitoring service to collect evidence of discrimination and police arrests from all parts of the United Kingdom. So in 1980 it established the Gay Monitoring & Archive Project (GMAP) as part of its Discrimination Commission. It received agency press cuttings and collected other newspaper clippings sent in by its members. It also had inherited the correspondence and files of various earlier gay rights organisations, and GMAP held meetings in CHE's offices in London.
GMAP later became separate from CHE and one its founders, Julian Meldrum, moved all the papers into his tiny flat in London. Its first funding was a grant made to the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) from the Manpower Services Commission, and this allowed Julian to be employed for 12 months to work on the Archives. He actively researched how a professional archive is run, and began to buy PRO (Public Record Office) boxes, brass paper clips and the like. In 1982, with others, he set up a limited company called the Hall-Carpenter Memorial Archives Ltd. This rather obscure name and some carefully worded Objects of the Company were chosen to allow it to write to the Charity Commission to obtain charitable status for the new organisation.
Its first few company Directors were gay librarians or information scientists, journalists working for gay publications or gay rights campaigners with a strong interest in maintaining a "storehouse of our past". In 1983 the company obtained charitable status. Around this time an early homosexual rights group, the Albany Trust, donated its extensive archives and press cuttings to us, and the NCCL provided essential meeting and working space in Southwark, with financial assistance from a charitable trust, the Lyndhurst Settlement. It also received personal donations from members of the lesbian and gay community. However the Albany Trust donation, plus a growing number of filing cabinets and a rented photocopier, meant there soon became too little room for Julian Meldrum to put down his folding mattress, so in 1984 the archives moved to its first rented office accommodation in Mount Pleasant, London. Various other gay organisations had offices in the same building.
In 1984 a major funding bid resulted in a grant of £32,000 from the Greater London Council (GLC). Part of this was to set up a Media Project to monitor television and radio broadcasts, and Lorraine Trenchard and the late Mark Finch were employed to run this. The archives also moved to the newly opened London Lesbian & Gay Centre (LLGC) in Cowcross Street, Farringdon. This centre was, in its time, the largest lesbian & gay centre in Europe, and comprised a cafe, a gym, bars, offices and meeting/drama spaces. From our office there the archives ran weekly volunteer work sessions to index and sort press cuttings, write publications, collect archives, journals and ephemera, and run projects. Early publications from this time included The Gay News Index (1982); 'Declaring an Interest' - a projected catalogue of gay images on television in Britain, (1982-83); and A.I.D.S. through the Media (1984), all now out-of-print. With a newly-purchased computer, work started on indexing the "News Library" of press cuttings and the records of gay organisations using DBase II, and a "Pink Thesaurus" was created by volunteers.
From 1985 to 1988 the archives employed Margot Farnham to coordinate a group of six women and four men (volunteers) for an Oral History project. Thirty-five interviews were carried out using new sound recording/transcribing equipment. [The tapes and transcriptions are now in the National Sound Archive, part of the British Library, London. An accession list is available]. The Oral History project culminated in two books, published both in hardback and paperback:
"Inventing Ourselves : Lesbian Life Stories", London, Routledge; 1989. ISBN 0415 02959 7 (pbk)
"Walking After Midnight : Gay Men's Life Stories" London, Routledge, 1989. ISBN 0415 02957 0 (pbk.)
HCA is the author. Both are now out-of-print, but many academic and public libraries have copies. Around this time the late Kenneth Barrow had established the "National Lesbian & Gay Survey" within HCA. This was a Mass-Observation style survey engaging the opinions of "ordinary" lesbians and gay men on various vital or controversial contemporary issues, anthologies from which were later published by Routledge.
The archives' GLC funding terminated in 1986 and again the Lyndhurst Settlement helped the HCA with funding. In 1987-8 a Fundraiser was employed who wrote to around thirty charitable trusts – but none replied favourably. At this time it looked unlikely that the London Lesbian & Gay Centre would receive future funding and its closure was imminent, so the Directors made a deliberate choice to try and house the Archives in a university, preferably in London.
In 1988 its core collections, i.e. the organisation records and periodicals, were moved to the Archives Division of the Library at the London School of Economics (LSE) with the active support of the Archivist, Angela Raspin. These included those of CHE, the Albany Trust / Homosexual Law Reform Society, Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Gay Liberation Front and a number of other now-defunct community based national and local groups. The papers of the Gay Rights Working Parties of the GLC and NCCL are also represented. Scotland and Ireland are covered in the papers of the Scottish Minorities Group, Scottish Homosexual Rights Group, the National Gay Federation and the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association. A number of prominent gay activists, such as Peter Tatchell and John Chesterman, also donated personal campaign collections. In addition complete runs of most British & Irish gay serial publications, many newsletters from lesbian and gay groups throughout the United Kingdom, overseas lesbian and gay publications and ephemera (posters, newsletters and notices from small or short lived organisations in the UK and overseas along with programmes, posters and tickets for a wide range of social and arts events) were transferred. This was a fitting home for the Hall-Carpenter Archives as the first meeting in Britain of the Gay Liberation Front was held in LSE. This part of the archives was loaned under a ten-year agreement with the Library. Since 1988 the HCA at LSE have continued to grow with new accessions every year, and have been extensively sorted and indexed by Sue Donnelly and other professional archivists in her team.
The Hall-Carpenter Archives Management Committee was in abeyance between 1989-1991, all directors having resigned. In 1991 Oliver Merrington, one of the original Directors, took over as the Honorary Secretary/Treasurer and began arranging meetings, dissolving the Limited Company, issuing occasional newsletters and drawing up formal agreements with the repositories which held its materials. He also arranged a regular donation of press cuttings from the monthly Gay Times, which used to subscribe to a cuttings agency for their Mediawatch column.
The Press Cuttings Collection proved much more difficult to house, as the LSE archive had a policy of not taking newspaper cuttings, for conservation reasons (they are printed on acid paper which rapidly deteriorates). Initially the collection remained in the LLGC building in Cowcross Street, although the early cuttings relating to the start of the AIDS epidemic were moved to the Terence Higgins Trust. The cuttings then moved to the offices of SIGMA (an organisation conducting sexual research in relation to HIV) in Brixton, South London. During this time a professional archivist, Mark Collins, joined the volunteer team and started a re-sort of the cuttings collection which had not been touched for some 10 years. He also arranged their eventual transfer in the late 1990s to the Greenwich Lesbian and Gay Centre, a converted warehouse in South East London.
A concerted effort to find a new university home for the Press Cuttings Collection resulted in a positive response from several universities. Simon Bradford, the librarian of the Cat Hill campus of Middlesex University was at this time creating a new Collections Room for a number of historical archives, and offered space to HCA. In February 1997 the transfer was arranged and a formal ten-year loan agreement signed with Middlesex University. Oliver Merrington was appointed Honorary Research Archivist by the university, and holds weekly volunteer sessions there to organise the cuttings. On 2nd June 1998 the collection was formally opened by a Member of Parliament, Evan Harris (standing in for Stephen Twigg MP). The photograph collection from Gay News is also at Cat Hill, as well as a growing collection of lapel badges, T-shirts, printed carrier bags and banners from marches and demonstrations. In 2001 the collection on this site was renamed The Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive.
Text by Oliver Merrington, with Tim Parry and Robert Thompson. Additional material from Sue Donnelly and Julian Meldrum.
Updated 23 September 2001.