Gill Page: Full Interview
Interviewed by Rachel Larman
30 August 2018
RL: Rachel Larman for West Yorkshire Queer Stories. It’s the 30th of August 2018.
GP: I’m Gill Page. I was born on January 6th 1932. I live in Chapel Allerton and I identify as a woman.
RL: Ok! [laughter]
GP: And a mother, and all sorts of things.
RL: Ok, would you describe yourself as a lesbian or bisexual woman?
GP: I... lesbian, yes.
RL: Ok. So Gill, can you tell me a bit about your family life?
GP: How much d’you want? I discovered that I was a lesbian by developing a relationship with a woman many, many years ago… And that was a realisation that I came to, but I remained happily married and bisexual for quite some years. And then it became, and then a relationship developed to be more important than the others ever were. And my husband had a relationship with another woman, which I knew about, and so we decided jointly that we would separate, and live in different houses. So he stayed in the house, and I came to live here. So it was amicable – we shared a car, y’know, had them two or three days every week, and we shared our money. So it wasn’t a problem at all.
RL: And did you have children?
GP: I had three sons, yes, yes. And they were all fully adult when all this happened. So there was never any secrecy. We didn’t openly talk about it, but it was – they knew and I knew they knew what my position was.
RL: And they were happy with that?
GP: Yes, oh yeah. Because Susan came to live in the house with us for a short while. They got very fond of Susan and when she went back to New Zealand they went and visited her there, so…
RL: You were mentioning about women’s groups when we talked earlier – what were you involved in?
GP: I was very heavily involved with the Labour Party. And in those days there was a very active Women’s Committee, nationally, within the Labour Party, which had MPs and people who worked in the various areas of England on women’s issues. That was disbanded, disgracefully, but it was, because we used to hold national conferences, which were very useful.
RL: So when was this?
GP: Jo Richardson was alive then. I could possibly tell you when Jo Richardson died, but I’m not sure… [Josephine Richardson was a Labour MP; she died in 1994] It was at the time when there was a lot of attempts by people to infiltrate the Labour Party.
RL: Would that be late ‘70s, early ‘80s?
RL: Like the hard left?
GP: Yes, they didn’t call themselves the hard left… what were they called? … Anyway, that was important, to me, anyway and [inaudible] I had to chair conferences and things…
RL: What about the more low-key women’s groups, like consciousness raising groups?
GP: I wouldn’t say I had a consciousness raising group. There were women I knew who were lesbians in various other groups that I was involved with, but no I didn’t have one, I don’t think I’d have a group I’d call that in those days.
RL: Ok, but you were meeting women to talk about lots of different issues, so what sort of issues were they?
GP: Yes. Political. As I say, women in prison. Women in hospital, mothers in hospital particularly, who were not allowed access to their children [inaudible] while they were in hospital, so we had to do something about that. That’s it really.
RL: Were you involved in any other particular campaigns?
GP: When we were trying to get rid of porn; that was quite interesting… I remember we had one event, in which it was planned some women would go and take some porn from the porn shop, because there were porn shops in those days… and they did that, and they had so much of it, they went out – because it was in one of the covered market places, what do you call them?
RL: Like Kirkgate?
GP: Yes, that’s right. Merrion Centre! And in the end they filled up this trolley, pushing trolley with this porn and got out, and then the problem was they’d parked the car in the car park, and they had to get all this porn up to the top, and the only way to do it was to get it in a lift. So they pushed it into the lift, and they said the atmosphere in the lift with the other people was quite electric [laughs]. And they were trying to pretend that this was quite normal, you know. But eventually they got it back home, and then they tried to burn it, because they didn’t know what to do with it. And they discovered it’s extremely difficult to burn books so, but they destroyed them in some way, but that was a great laugh – we all laughed about that. That was fun. A lot of it was fun.
RL: Yeah, so when was this, can you remember?
GP: No, I’m sorry.
RL: Ok. What about your –
RL: So on these, the campaigns and the groups you were involved with, did it tend to be the same group of women?
GP: Not necessarily. The women involved in the Labour Party wouldn’t necessarily be the same as the ones who were against porn and so on. Then you get the Ripper of course. [Yorkshire Ripper – serial killer Peter Sutcliffe]
RL: Yeah, do you want to say about that?
GP: Well the point – we tried to learn self-defence [chuckles], which was marginally successful I think. And you must ask somebody else about this, because I’ve got a bit of a blank, but I know that we learnt to walk, not next to the end of the wall when you’re walking along. We organised that the council should do something about the common land, I’ve forgotten what it’s called again, north of the University. On the left there’s a – the main road go that goes past the University, and up that through –
RL: Is it a park?
GP: Yes, it’s just common land, with a few trees on it. And they had the bright idea of lighting a path through this and we pointed out to them that that was the worst thing they could do because women would be walking down the lighted path and men could be lurking in the dark, so I think they gave up on that one.
RL: Were you involved in any protests to do with the Yorkshire Ripper, or things like [inaudible] rights?
GP: Only marches, really, that I can remember.
RL: So how did you feel being with these other women in these groups? Was there a sense of solidarity, did you make really good friends, did it lead to campaigns?
GP: Yes, yes I think there was never, it never seemed to me that there was a problem in the way that you were lesbian, y’know or black or whatever. If you were for the cause then it was alright.
RL: What about your social life, Gill, where did you used to go out?
GP: I loved going to the discos… When you’ve got three small children you don’t have much social life [laughs], no. So I would do things with my husband, and we went on family holidays or that sort of thing. And go out for a meal occasionally. But it was sort of ordinary.
RL: And what about the women’s discos, where were they held in Leeds?
GP: [long pause] I’ve forgotten. But they were regular, the discos. And if you wanted to, you could go on after it was closed to another disco which would be in Chapeltown. But that wasn’t necessarily women only. But they were great, yes. There was nearly always a disco to go to.
RL: What sort of music was it?
GP: Well, sort of the current pop music.
RL: You mentioned earlier, when we were talking, about being a city councillor. Could you say a little bit about that?
GP: [long pause] What is there to say?
RL: What did your work involve?
GP: It involved being a councillor, listening to what people told me and trying to put things through, and answering questions for them. And going to Labour Party meetings and informing the Party of what was happening, and what wasn’t happening, so that I could get their support if I wanted to speak out against something, or against, or in favour of something. So that was quite local, around Headingley, because that was where I lived and where my ward was. It was also interesting multi-culturally, because quite a lot of people from other cultures lived in Headingley, so the three Headingley councillors, we divided that work between us, so that – I remember going to an event, which I – they didn’t put me with the Muslims deliberately, but I thought that might be a problem with me being a woman. But the bloke who was doing the Muslims couldn’t go to this particular event when someone important was coming to visit. And they decided they wanted a councillor present. And I turned up, and I was sort of greeted with silence and shock, really, because [laughs] they didn’t realise it’d be a woman. So they didn’t know what to do with me, because I couldn’t be put in with all the men, obviously. So they put me in a back room, which I though, when I went to it, this is not on, you know, but in fact it was great because I was able to talk to all these intelligent, vigorous women [about] what they wanted. And it was also a problem in funding things sometimes, with religion – I’m jumping about a bit now – because they insisted that any money which we gave to an organisation which was within a Muslim group had to go through the male treasurer, if we gave money, because we had to write out a cheque. And we said no, we’re not giving it to the male treasurer, we’re giving it to the women. So that was an important thing we established as well. It was that sort of thing.
RL: Was that because it was for a women’s group?
RL: Right ok. So, what else did you do as chair of the Women’s Committee?
GP: [pause] We organised a bus, which went round vaccinating women against… something, I can’t even remember what it was. Alzheimer’s is a nasty business. [pause] That was very useful I think, it made women more aware of the disease. [pause] We also had [pause] Women’s Day, when we were able to grant a certain amount of money to any group which would put in the suggestion of an event they wanted to hold on this day. So we funded that, and we went round and looked at them all, which was fascinating.
RL: So what sort of events would take place?
GP: Often they were women talking, women-only talking events, and sometimes they were outings to places. And once they decided they’d like to have some Scottish dancing, but they didn’t quite understand what Scottish dancing was, I don’t think, and these men turned up with swords, and put the swords on the floor and danced all round them. And they were quite taken aback with that. And there was also for a while – this is not Women’s Day – there was a women’s hostel where, which the council funded, no it wasn’t a hostel, yes well it was a hostel in that women could go and live in it, if they wanted to, and they shut that down and we tried to stop them shutting it down and we couldn’t. So that wasn’t very good. [pause] The other thing we did was this: we got the leader of the council to go to all the departments where people were employed, which was much greater in those days, before they had to outsource everything, and so a lot of work was done in-council, and we got the person who was in charge of the staffing there to write down the salaries of the people by sex. And we showed how women were in the bottom line and how few men were in the top, and that I think was a useful document. Because they just hadn’t been aware of how it was happening. And we also, in the Women’s Committee, trained women up who were in jobs like dinner ladies to give them further skills so that they could move up through the ranks.
RL: So what decade were you Chair of the Women’s Committee? When was that?
GP: I’ll have to look that up and let you know.
RL: Ok. So, the politics and the work that you’ve done, there seem to be connections between sort of feminism and lesbianism and left-wing politics. Have you got anything to say about that, about those links? [pause] What your beliefs are, I suppose.
GP: I think it would – I don’t think you could be a feminist and a Tory, I mean that might be a bit outrageous, but… I think the Labour Party has much… is more grounded in feminism than any other party, partly because they were – probably still are – a means of women coming through. The other thing, which I haven’t mentioned, because I jumped there to Jo Richardson, was the miners’ strike, which was terrific, for me, but not for the miners.
RL: So why terrific for you?
GP: Well, early on we realised that the important – in the Labour Party the important thing was to help the miners’ families because they had no money – at all – coming in, none. Except the, what the union could give them, which was in no way going to help them. They lived in houses which were rented from the Coal Board, which were solely heated by coal. So there was no coal, and they had no heating, and it was really miserable. So, I expect you know this, they set up kitchens. A lot of it, the funding, came from the trade unions, and I used to go to the market on two days a week, and go to the stallholders and ask them to buy a whole lot of things with money that the Labour Party raised, and they would then give me stuff. It was quite extraordinary, the amount of support there was for the miners’ strike among the stallholders, which you wouldn’t somehow have expected. But they did, they’d come out the front with a whole box of stuff and give it to me, load it in the car and take it down to the particular pit which we supported in Leeds, the women in Leeds supported, and y’know handed out and helped them with giving the dinners and doing the cooking. And the miners would all come in with their children and y’know have a good meal, which often was difficult for them. We got meat from… through a trade union, I can’t remember which trade union… And we also supplied legal advice to them, because most of them were, had got themselves in debt in a big way. And eventually they went with us to Greenham Common actually, which was quite interesting [laughs] because they knew all sorts of tricks about how to deal with the police, which we didn’t know! [Laughs]
RL: So tell me about Greenham then.
GP: Ah, it was great. We went down – a lot of women from the Labour Party, on the day, y’know a particular day, and we stayed the night before in the tents, well half out of the tents, because it wasn’t very adequate, and sort of woke up and spoke. There were women there all the time, as you know. And then we started to try and surround the base – we did actually surround the base and the whole of the wall, the great high wire fence, a lot of it was covered with messages that people had brought, and children’s toys, and people had come from as far away as New Zealand and Australia, and had chosen to come there. And some of us almost got in, I think some people did get in, but not get very far, but I thought the most brilliant idea was – we lined up facing the fence, put our hands through the wire and waved ourselves backwards and forwards like this in unison. And in the end we’d got the fence down, quite y’know in about twenty yards. The police did not know what to do about this! They came along and – if that’s the fence – they came along and hit our hands up, down, so that we couldn’t – and then as soon as they’d gone, we put our hands back again! I love women’s intuition for getting round these things, and the sort of big burly policemen couldn’t deal with it. So that was good fun. But then what did we do? We didn’t quite know what to do when we’d got through the fence [laughs]. Again, that was a bit typical, probably, anyway.
RL: So what was the feeling like at Greenham?
GP: Oh, amazing! Wonderful, yes. People from all over the world had come.
RL: So it was a national day of action?
GP: Yes, oh yes. I mean it hit the front page of the newspapers in all respects, because it was photogenic I suppose. There was some funny people there too, people going round chanting, I don’t know what they were doing, but that was good.
RL: Did you go to Greenham again? Or was it that one time?
GP: No, I only went once, but then I had to go because some of the women were arrested. No, this is the miners’ strike, so we went on a picket, a women-only picket. And… we got there, and lined up in an orderly fashion, not blocking the entrance, on either side of the entrance, as the striking miners went in. And some of them told them what they thought of them, but we didn’t try to obstruct them. But the police had got to hear about it, I don’t know how, and they came down, really heavy-handed, and started to shove us into a corner – there was a wall like that, and we were in this area and we couldn’t get out, and they wouldn’t let us out. And they decided they wanted to arrest some of us, but they didn’t know which ones to arrest, so they went in and grabbed one woman and dragged her out, and other women were punching them, so they got arrested, and I think there were about five people arrested in the end, five women. And we didn’t know where they’d gone, because we couldn’t get out of this cordon that the police had driven round. So, we got into my car and we had with us a lawyer, and somehow – I can’t remember how – we found out what police station they would’ve been taken to, so we went there and we sang very loudly outside [laughs], and they heard us because we could hear them shouting inside [laughs].
RL: What were you singing?
GP: I can’t remember… ‘we are women, we are strong, we are fighting with our men, side by side’ – y’know, that, the women’s song from the strike. And then I drove home, absolutely exhausted, but then we had, after about a week or so, they had to come and be tried for… I don’t know, obstruction or something like that, and it was all rubbish, y’know the police were lying through their teeth. But they were all put on probation, so we lost that really. And the union paid their fines, so that was that. But, I mean, the miners’ strike was lost. And they all came, some of them came over and I bought them a meal, that’s right, we went to a pub and had an enormous meal, just in one of the pubs off the ring road. But they couldn’t eat very much, and it was because they hadn’t been used to eating big meals
RL: The miners?
GP: The miners’ wives. I think there was real hardship there, oh yes. Mind you, they used to things like, y’know, go at night and steal potatoes from potato fields and things like that, so…
RL: Can you remember the name of the pit where you were going to protest?
GP: It’s closed now, of course, they closed them all down. Can you write that down, I’ll…
RL: I can put that in after.
RL: Gill, you’ve been involved in lots of different things, lots of different campaigns and politics. Where did you get your information from about things, like newsletters, magazines, word of mouth?
GP: [pause] Other women, mainly. Spare Rib, I used to read Spare Rib. [pause] And the women’s section of the Labour Party, that sort of thing. [pause] I don’t know, you just knew, y’know if there was a march or anything like that you knew.
RL: Anything else you would like to add?
GP: [pause] No, I don’t think so. I’ve known some marvellous women, that’s all, who have done so much.