Conflicted sexuality in Edwardian Preston

A rather sad tale of unrequited love gives a rare glimpse into the private lives of the well-to-do families living in the Winckley Square district of Preston at the beginning of the last century, revealing the extent to which homosexuality was viewed as unacceptable at that time.

The affair would have been forgotten with the death of the parties involved if it was not for the survival of five documents which came into the possession of history researcher Ian Waugh in 2011. Mr Waugh uncovered the story behind the documents and published an account of the affair on his website, together with copies of the documents: http://ianwaugh.com/2015/05/29/the-red-tie/

The documents consist of four letters written in 1907 by George Clementson to Leslie Dixon of Ribblesdale House in Ribblesdale Place, just off Winckley Square. Leslie was a member of the Dixon family who had operated the nearby Frenchwood Tannery for half a century. At this time Leslie, who had been a pupil at Rugby School, would have been 22 and, having recently graduated from Oxford, was living with his parents. [1] The fifth document records the affair being brought to an abrupt close.

George Clementson was born in Ashton-under-Lyne in January 1880, making him 27 when he was writing his letters, to judge from which he was socialising in Preston at the time and living there or nearby. In the 1911 census returns he was described as an unemployed solicitor, living with his parents in St Annes.

In the letters Clementson refers to Dixon as ‘D’ and to himself as ‘X’. In the first letter he is clearly conflicted. He says he does not approve of Oscar Wilde ‘that brilliant but misguided man’ and ‘looks with an intense abhorrence on “men” who go in for what “The Little Minister” man [who can that be?] did some years ago in Preston [what can that be?]’. But then he goes on to relate that ‘he imagines … that when D is nude he has the figure of a young Greek god’ and then proposes various explicit sexual activities. He asks Dixon to put a personal message in the Daily Mail or the Lancashire Daily Post so that he will know he is encouraged to continue contact. Then he suggests Dixon wear a red tie to signify his interest in him.

The third letter from Clementson reveals that Dixon has taken to wearing a red tie but he is unsure whether Dixon is interested in a relationship or merely wishes to discover the identity of his admirer.

The fourth letter discloses the Dixon had placed an advert asking Clementson to meet him at ‘The Bull’ (presumably the Bull and Royal) but Clementson is wary, thinking others might have seen the advert and be waiting in the Bull. He proposes instead an 8pm meeting at either ‘The Crown’ or ‘The Park’

The advert in the Lancashire Daily Post of Tuesday, 24 September 1907 read ‘X.-D. “Bull,” Wednesday, 8 p.m.; red tie’, the tie, presumably, to allow Dixon to recognise X.

Clementson’s identity must have been discovered very quickly for the fifth document in the collection, dated 25 September 1907, is his abject confession, admitting to having written ‘obscene and lascivious letters’. The confession is witnessed by Dixon and an Edward Cayley. Appended are the names of two inspectors with the same date. A note adds that the inspectors did not witness the signing of the document but merely signified that they had seen it on that date.

Mr Waugh rounds off his account by tracing the later lives of the two men. They left the area shortly afterwards: Dixon for London and Clementson for the Isle of Man.

A much fuller account with facsimiles and transcripts of documents can be found on Mr Waugh’s website.

[1] Arthur Tompson Michell, Rugby School Register: 1874 to 1904, 2nd ed., vol. 3 (Rugby: A.J. Lawrence, 1904), 273, http://archive.org/details/rugbyschoolregis03rugbuoft.

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