Linda Shuttleworth: Full Interview
Interview by Paula Smith
26th February 2019
PS: Ok, it’s the 26th February. My name’s Paula Smith, I’m here with Linda Shuttleworth for West Yorkshire Queer Stories. So, Linda – let’s start.
LS: Ok, my name’s Linda Shuttleworth. I’m 74. I think I’ve kind’ve always known that I were lesbian, but didn’t know the word at that time. I’m from Keighley, in West Yorkshire, and I used to sort of be really, really concerned that if anybody knew that I were lesbian then it would, everything’d be terrible and y’know my life’d be awful, and I didn’t know anybody else who were lesbian. So, I never actually did anything about being lesbian until – I read an article in the News of the World that I think highlighted the New Penny pub in Leeds, which used to be called I think The Hope and Anchor, but I’m not quite sure. And it were showing people, and their faces were kind of covered in and I thought, ‘oh crikey, there’s other people, like me’. But I wouldn’t have gone to the pub. I wouldn’t have come through to Leeds to go to the pub or anything, but I can’t quite remember what age that was, when I saw that, but then I kinda knew that.
And then I didn’t really know, I just used to – I used to work in the mill when I first started work, and there were people that, people used to say – point people out and say they were lesbian, but I used to avoid ‘em if I thought somebody were lesbian, then death by association, y’know what I mean? But then people did, like the – what we called the over-looker, the man that was in charge, there was always a lot of – in the mill – there was always a lot of what would be now called, there was erm, I don’t know what you’d call it now, sexual abuse wouldn’t you, y’know people would think it was alright to touch you or stuff like that. So because the men would get away with those sort of things, when one time they accused me of being lesbian – and because I was lesbian I were petrified that somebody would know, and what would it mean if somebody knew and everything. So I was always like, quite fearful time really. And then, there was two programmes on the television, but I can’t remember – it was certainly before 1974 – there was one programme about lesbians and it was ‘Lesbians in London’ outside, outside a club in London, or a pub, and then again, the faces were kind of blocked out, so I knew then that there were things went on in London. And then the week after there was a programme about gay men, and I was looking forward to that.
I think at that time I’d have told my mother that I was lesbian, and she said she wished she were dead, when I told her that, but then she sort of like came round a little bit about it and said she would watch the programme that was on about the gay men. But I don’t think she ever really, I think she never really was alright with it, which was quite, really quite difficult y’know, at that time. And then – I don’t know, I watched another programme that was about an organisation in London called – I think it was called Release, and it might still exist, but I think it was a drug, I think it was a drug programme. I think it was called Release, but I think it was for people to do with drugs, I don’t know.
Anyway, I decided what I would do is – I’d obviously found out what the word lesbian meant, I think I’d seen it in a book and looked it up and thought, ‘oh my God, that’s, that’s me’, y’know and like petrified, thinking, ‘what am I gonna do?’ – anyway, I must’ve found out about this organisation. I think, I can remember, in the post office you used to be able to go and they’d have all the directories from all over the country, with all the phone numbers in, and I looked it up and found this London phone number. So, I can remember going to this phone booth and being really worried that people would know – I was in the phone booth y’know where you could put money in to ring up – that they would know what I were doing, cos they could see me in the phone booth. But obviously they wouldn’t’ve known, but this is what I thought. So I rung this place up and I said, ‘oh you’re probably going to think this is really strange but I want to know where there’s any clubs in London where you can go that are just for women’. And obviously, thinking about it now, that weren’t anything new for them was it, but it were a big deal for me. And so they said all these places, and I said, ‘oh’, I said, ‘well I’ll – just give me the names of these clubs, where they are’, cos I had an auntie and uncle who lived in London; I thought, what I’ll do is, I’ll go down to London, cos this is where, that’s where you’d go. So they, and, the only, they said the clubs and I chose one out of it, it just happened to be The Gateways, but just by chance, I just chose The Gateways. And, I think at that time, I think at that time my mother was still alive, so this was pre ’74, pre-1974.
So I goes down to London and goes down King Road, and I’m there at about seven o’clock at night, y’know, and so I find The Gateways and I’m just got, like, clothes that, I can remember wearing bell bottoms on and like a – wearing what you used to call like an angel top, this were the style of that time. And so I goes down at seven o’clock, eight o’clock, and nobody goes out do they while ten o’clock do they, and I’m there at seven or eight o’clock down Kings Road, so I’m, I had to go and I had to knock on this door and a little window, a little window opened, and I said, ‘oh, I’ve come down from –‘ and this is what I said: ‘I’ve come down from Yorkshire, so I’d like to be able to come in if I could’, so they said ‘oh yeah’, so they opened the door and let me in, and I said ‘oh’, and I had a bag, a weekend bag cos I were gonna stay at my auntie’s and I said ‘oh can I leave this somewhere’ – can you imagine, they wouldn’t let go of a bag if you were in London now, y’know – ‘can I leave this somewhere’, so they put it somewhere. And I went downstairs, and it just looks like, like it does in that film The Killing of Sister George, The Gateways did just look like that. You went down the steps and there’s just somebody, like, there taking the money, and there’s a bar and everything.
So there’s nobody hardly in there, there’s just me and – and I’m looking round and I thought there seems to be a lot of men in there, but at that time, the 1970s, it was a real butch / femme kinda look, y’know, so a lot of the women had like suit on or, I remember someone in like a tweedy jacket, and it was just the time that people started having their hair blown, y’know, so these people – I actually have really curly hair, so I didn’t have mine like that – with their hair blown and I thought, ‘oh God, it’s like straight couples here’. So I go to the bar, and I don’t, I didn’t really drink or anything, but for some reason or other I know about summat called a Whisky Mac, which I think is whisky and ginger ale, or summat like that, so I goes and orders this, a Whisky Mac or something – when I think about it now I could cringe – and so I’m stood at the bar, and obviously I’m quite young at the time weren’t I, what I’d be less than 30 I think, and somebody came up to me – oh it was, it was a jukebox in there, they had a jukebox in there that they played the dance music, there was a dancefloor and a jukebox – and this woman came up to me – by then more people came in after a bit, I just sat there and eventually more people came in – and then somebody came up to me and said, ‘oh, when there’s some slow music on the, y’know they’re playing, I’ll come and ask you to dance’, and I thought, ‘oh my God, my God, what am I gonna do?’ So I went to somebody else, and I said, I said, ‘d’you mind if I just stand with you for a minute?’, I said, ‘because this woman said she’s gonna ask me to dance if er’, and so anyway this woman said ‘oh yeah, come and stand with me’, and then – and I’d never been anywhere, I’d never been anywhere where you danced with anybody or do anything – and so she said, ‘oh yeah’, you know, she’d dance, she’d dance with me and I thought ‘oh’ so straightaway I’m in love, I’m having a dance with somebody I’m in love, and then she said ‘oh’, and then she kissed me – I remember she kissed me and she said ‘oh, that’s summat for you to take back to Yorkshire’. Yeah, I’ve never forgotten it, it was really a bit, y’know, life-changing I think, in a way.
PS: That was your first kiss.
LS: Yeah, well it was really I suppose, and then I got – and then eventually her girlfriend arrives and off she went, and I couldn’t sort of get my head around that. That were all a bit ‘oh y’know, ‘what’s all this about?’ Yeah, so that was really good was that, and then I – when I went into the loo I could hear like a Yorkshire voice, so I came out and said, ‘oh where are you from?’ and these people were from Leeds. So she said, ‘oh yeah there’s some, a club in Leeds that you can go to’. So then I knew about Charlie’s, which is a club that used to be down in Lower Briggate, so I knew about that then. Y’know, so I got more information from Yorkshire. I think I probably went to the Gateways another couple of times on different occasions, and it was all a bit interesting there, it was very sort of like a lot of people, like, really probably a lot of people with money and a lot of people without money, very mixed but very butch/femme kind of a situation, and I thought, ‘oh well what should I, y’know this is what they’re all wearing, what should I wear?’ So I decided then I would change, and I would start wearing a tank top, and more that kinda thing really. I decided I’d go for that look, cos I could see what everybody were wearing.
So probably ne-, so probably then when I came back, then I – I don’t know how this happened, but I found out about, in Leeds, at the university, that they had, I think it was part of the campaign for… oh what did they call it now, I can’t remember. There was a paper ca- there was a paper you could buy – Gay News, that’s it. There was a paper called Gay News and you could buy that at one of the newsagents going up toward the university, and I went to buy it, and I thought, ‘oh God, when I go to buy this paper they’ll all know’, cos I’m buying this paper, y’know. And so I bought it, and I kept it, and then I did start going to – I started going to things that, there was a lot of political stuff went on a the university, and I think it was… I don’t know whether they called it, was it Gay Liberation Front or something like that, I think, yeah. And I started going to meetings there, and also they had discos there in the student union, that’s first time I went anywhere where there were men with frocks on. And y’know and I thought, ‘oh that’s interesting’, y’know there’s a few men wearing dresses, y’know I didn’t think anything much about it.
So I started going to a few different things, but Charlie’s, when I went to Charlie’s – Charlie’s again was very much like – it was mixed was this though, so this was mixed gay men and lesbian and you had to sign to – had to sign your name to get in, and it was slightly different with the Gateways cos the Gateways was obviously just, just les- just women, lesbians, mainly lesbians I would say. So it’s slightly different, but I used to look forward to Fridays, coming over to Charlie’s, and I used to come over on a scooter, which I think’s really bizarre now, but I did. And then I found out that there was a – I think there was a few pubs around Leeds – oh yeah I eventually did go into the New Penny, which as I say, used to be called the Hope and Anchor – so I went in there, yeah that’s it, I went in there and then went to Charlie’s after there. So that was in Leeds, really, I don’t remember other things in Leeds, a few different pubs in Leeds. And then I started going, in Bradford we used to have a gay pub called the Junction. So I started going to the Junction, in Bradford, and then eventually there was discos there, at Checkpoint, it was called, in Bradford – that was every week. And then over to Huddersfield, there was a club in Huddersfield called the Gemini. And Manchester – I used to go to Manchester on my motorbike, down the motorway. You’d be killed now, wouldn’t you, on a 125 motorbike. We used to go to Ashton-under-Lyme, that was a gay, y’know, a gay club – all the way there on a motorbike – but I would go anywhere, y’know I’d go anywhere just to meet, y’know, other lesbians, and be in that kind of atmosphere, do y’know what I mean?
And then I met somebody – I met somebody in Keighley, who came from the same town, who was also lesbian, so then I knew her. And then I just continued on doing that and started relationships. By then – by then my parents had died, so then I started relationships after that and – oh no, bef- previous to that though, one of the things that I did, which was before my mother died, was – I must’ve found out, I don’t know, about this magazine that you could get called Sappho, and I used to get that, and it came once a month – I think you subscribed to it – and it came once a month, and it came in a brown envelope so nobody knew what you were ordering. I wish I’d have kept those now because they’d be a bit interesting now, but I didn’t keep them. So I used to get that, and I think I also came through to Leeds to hear two women speaking, and I’ve a bit of a feeling that they ran the magazine, and I can’t remember the name now, but they were really famous, and it’s, it’s just left me has the name, but they were really famous, these two women, and my memory is that it was somewhere up… probably a pub, or upstairs in a pub somewhere up the main, up the main street, which is up off Lower Briggate, I can’t remember the name of it now, but I can remember coming to see that. And I think I did come to some discos as well.
And by that time, it was – there started to be like political things going on. Like there was, there was something going on between the working-class women and the middle-class women in Leeds. And because I didn’t quite understand it all I used to just say, ‘oh I’m not political’, cos I didn’t really know what it was, but there was obviously some stuff went on, so there started to be like political things going on at that time then, which probably’d been there before, but I didn’t really know about it, but I just, I just said, ‘oh, I’m not political’, and I don’t think I ever really did anything political until Clause 28 was it? And then I can remember going down to London on a big, a big demonstration down there – but by then I knew like lots of other lesbians and also –
PS: How did you get down to London?
LS: I think we all went on a coach. I think we went on a coach, I think so – that’s my memory of it. And the, y’know, some people had children. At that time, my memory is that people that had children it was mostly from marriages that they’d had, not children within the lesbian relationship, but I might be wrong about that, cos I weren’t really involved in anything like that. And then I – I think because by then I’d started to meet, I’d started to meet people who were of a different class, y’know like mostly either middle class, maybe some upper class, but mostly middle class, and then I – I used to work in the mill and then I went to work in a factory, but by then I started to meet people who were educated and who did different kind of work, and I met somebody who worked as a gardener, and I thought, ‘I could do that’ – and I really hated working in factories, I didn’t like being inside, I didn’t like the whole – even though that by this time, the factory where I worked there were other lesbians worked there, y’know as well, so it weren’t, y’know there were like maybe, I think there were sort of two couples, two lesbian couples and myself who worked there, so by then y’know things changing a bit in that way. But, I really wanted to get out of that situation. And anyway, I rea- I thought, ‘I could do that’, because I already did that myself and I already did my own, y’know, growing food and my own garden, and I thought, ‘oh I could do that’.
So anyway, luckily I got made redundant, and because I’d known, I think because I’d started to meet people who did other jobs, and I could see when the, the possibilities – so I went to college for two years, and then I started to work – and then it was about the time of the Enterprise Allowance, where you got help to start a business, so I started working for myself, but by then I was – by then I was in my late 40s and in a long-term relationship, and then I started my own business, but I think, myself, it was more because – because I were lesbian and I met different people and saw different lifestyles, I think that helped me to move on into that, so that was good, as well as being good from the y’know my lifestyle, it was good because it changed my whole y’know attitude to work and what I could do and what I couldn’t do, y’know. So that, I think that’s one of the best things – I mean obviously, this was a good thing, being lesbian, but that’s one of the best things that came out of those relationships, y’know, and then I worked for myself for the rest of the time. And I’d, also – well, I’d two years at college, and then I started, for rest of my working life I just did that. But I think if I hadn’t have, y’know, met all those people and done all those things before, I wouldn’t – my life wouldn’t have been as rich, really, and my working life. Y’know, then I met people from other countries – I met a fri-, when I went in the New Penny I met a fri- a woman from Sweden who I’ve been friends with her ever since, y’know, and been to visit her and everything. And she went to Charlie’s with us, and so – people that I know from those days I still, I do still know, y’know.
PS: I suppose you create a connection during that time that people of my generation don’t really have; it’s just a social thing for us, whereas for you it was survival.
LS: No, I know, because – I think the thing then was that you – yeah, that’s what, because what we did, we went in the pubs, and we went to the clubs, and that’s our, and especially like the discos – oh and then more latterly we started having lesbian balls, and in Bradford in particular, we started a lesbian ball and so everybody’d dress up and it was just lesbians doing the ballroom dancing and everything, and then it, it kind of developed and moved over to Leeds and then it became like a gay – I think they had a bit, it was like a gay ball, I don’t know what they called now, I’ve forgotten, but it was at the Town Hall. It were quite big for a number of years, every year.
PS: So what was the ball like?
LS: It was like proper dance music. We had the Lavender Café Orchestra playing and everybody doing, like, waltz, and people learned how to do ballroom dancing, and it was really good. And that went on for quite a number of years, did that.
PS: How did they dress, and how many years?
LS: They’d just dress, really, in anything that was like really – people would wear sort of like tails, and dickie bows and things, and people’d dress up in really fancy dresses and things, yeah. That did go on for quite a few years, did that, but then I think it’s like all things – people volunteer to do these things and I think it becomes quite a big job. So, I don’t really know – I do wonder myself now, what young people do, in te- I suppose they just maybe go to mainstream discos and things like that, whereas it was, everything was all – it was just lesbian and gay people that were there. But because I’m old now, I don’t go to anything like that anyway, so I don’t really know what it would, what it’d be like. I think in some ways it was harder, being lesbian at that time, because it was really difficult to tell anybody – in fact, some of my family, I don’t have a big family anyway, but some people would have died and I’ve never told them that I’m lesbian. And they might even – I don’t know what they would think, y’know. I think it’s quite difficult to tell people, it’s easier to tell people where you might meet ‘em now, but to tell people that you’ve known like for all your life, it’s quite difficult really now, for me. But I don’t think, maybe it’s not for young people, I don’t know.
PS: What was the most difficult thing about – why did you think it was so difficult coming out?
LS: Well I think it, people weren’t accepted as much was it? I always remember though, when I were really, really young, my mother once told me this story about two women that she knew that always used to kiss each other when they said cheerio, and I really logged, I really logged that, and I thought, ‘oh, that’s good’. Y’know, and I don’t know why my mum were telling me that, but I think she thought it was strange that these two women used to kiss each other when they left one another, but she’d obviously seen it, but when she told me, I thought, ‘oh good; that sounds good’. And I was really young when I, and I was really young when that – so anything that you would hear or see, I’d kind of log it and know it, but I would’ve, I wouldn’t spend time at like at work with anybody that, that people were saying, because people used to talk in a sort of derogatory way about it. Which I think people still do, y’know, I think people – I still hear people y’know say things.
PS: How do you compare your experiences of coming out when you were younger to now?
LS: I don’t know – oh, you mean for me coming out you mean?
PS: Yes, you personally.
LS: Oh I think for me now it’s easier because I don’t care what –
PS: Is that an age thing, or a societal thing?
LS: I think it’s an age thing, but I think it’s all knowledge isn’t it, and knowing what you, what’s, y’know that it’s nowt to do with anybody, really. I’m always been a bit two minds, cos I just think, on one level I think it’s nothing to do with them, but on the other hand, why shouldn’t you say that’s what you’re doing? Cos everybody else is saying aren’t they, y’know. But I still find it really difficult, if somebody says like, ‘oh I’ve been away for the weekend’, and they say, ‘oh who’ve you been with?’ – I still find it really difficult to say, ‘oh I’ve been with my partner’. I still find it, that, really difficult, whereas other people, they just say it – I’ve seen, I’ve observed other people doing it, and I’ve thought, ‘oh yeah, that’s what everybody, y’know, that’s what people do’, but when you come from that time where I used to think, ‘oh, if I have my hair in this particular way, or if I do it, or if I do something this way then people’ll know’... Y’know, but really, what doesn’t bloody matter does it, whether – I mean now, I don’t –
PS: Then it did, now it doesn’t?
LS: Yeah, but I think it is more – and I think it might for some people, even now, it might, because I think it might be difficult for some young people now, just because they are young people, y’know, and everybody wants to fit in, don’t they and everything, whereas I don’t care now, so it doesn’t matter [laughs] Y’know, my partner now is 20 years younger than me, as well, so that’s another thing. Y’know cos there is a di- y’know we do look different, y’know so that, whereas before – I mean I have had quite a few relationships but unfortunately now some of the people, y’know one of my early relationships has died and it’s hard to, y’know really hard to grieve isn’t it, when it’s somebody that you had a relationship with years ago, they’re not here anymore; it’s really hard is that, but I suppose that happens when you’re getting older that that’s, that’s gonna happen isn’t it really? But it is a bit strange, I think, yeah.
PS: And, you talked about the Leeds scene, and the Bradford – you obviously did a lot of West Yorkshire –
LS: Yeah, I think the scene in, I think, for me, the scene in Leeds seemed to be more political. But I talked to people from Bradford, who’ve been involved in, in things that I didn’t know about, so maybe it was the same there, but I just didn’t know about it. I think because I worked in a factory, I were really, didn’t really know anybody who was involved in anything political things, really, so I think that had a bearing on it.
PS: And did the scene – what did the scene do for you, overall, as a young lesbian?
LS: I weren’t that young, was I? Well really, it’s not that young is it? I think it was just somewhere to – I’ve always been looking to be in a relationship, so it’s somewhere you’d meet somebody, and also in the early days, like at Charlie’s, people used to go and ask people to dance – well you wouldn’t do that now, I mean people don’t do that now, but it were just like being in a heterosexual sorta ballroom where people go and ask somebody to dance, so you’d go and ask somebody to dance.
PS: And how did that make you feel?
LS: It’s just – I don’t know, I thought that was alright, I quite liked that. But I know it’s not so much like that now, so I don’t know how pe- I don’t know how people actually meet anybody now, given that we had the – y’know, the clubs and the, y’know, the discos and the bars and everything. But maybe, well there is still a disco going on in Hebden Bridge that’s been going on for years, so that still goes on.
PS: Do you attend that, do you go there?
LS: No, I don’t. I have been – I think I went – it was the 30, I think it might’ve been the 30 years anniversary and I did go to that, and that was a bit interesting. But I don’t really like the music though and the music –
PS: Did you go when you were younger?
LS: Not – no not really, not to Hebden Bridge, no. Occasionally, but not so much. Yeah.
PS: Is there anything else you wanna add?
LS: No I think that – well I’m sure when I think about it afterwards there’s probably loads of things that I haven’t kinda thought about, but nothing sorta comes to mind at the moment.
PS: When did – before we end it – when did you first realise, what was the first thing that made you realise that you were a lesbian?
LS: I think I just kind of always knew it, really. I can’t, I just can’t – I can’t remember a time – but I don’t think I called it, I don’t think I would – well I didn’t know the word ‘lesbian’, but I knew I were attracted to women. So I think I just always knew it, right from – certainly from being – I would say definitely from being maybe 10 or 11, maybe even younger, I don’t know. But also as well I think because I, because I actually lived – I didn’t have any brothers and sisters, and I lived with my mum and my grandad, so I kinda lived in what I think was a very unusual situation. I didn’t know anybody else who lived with their mum and their grandad. So I never kind of felt that I was sorta being… pushed into any, any role, really. I didn’t ever really think, y’know, I felt like I could do as I wanted – I couldn’t entirely, because I had to stay at home to look after, because my grandad were quite old and my mum had the rheumatoid arthritis, so I had to stay at home to look after him, so I couldn’t really do what I wanted, although they always thought that I did. But in a way I could sort of – nobody knew, I could dress, y’know – I’ve got photographs of myself at about maybe 13 or 14 and I’ve got really nice jeans on, and checked shirt, y’know so I don’t think – I think my mum always would’ve liked me to’ve, you know, she’d say, ‘oh well I’ll be really upset if you don’t buy that dress’, but really I could always wear what I wanted really, nobody – I didn’t get too much pressure, and certainly didn’t get pressure to get married, cos I think they wanted me still to be at home, really, so there was no pressure for anything like that, y’know, I didn’t have to – I’d have boyfriends, but I kinda once thought, ‘oh no, this isn’t, this is not quite, really, right, or not what I wanted’, but sometimes I would do things so it, y’know didn’t look… but I’d always been more interested in the, y’know, in the girls than the boys, yeah definitely.
PS: Alright, and I actually have one more question: you mentioned earlier about the ball – do you know where that was held originally?
LS: The first one that was – I was thinking about this actually today when I went to the railway station in Bradford. I think it was held at the Victoria Hotel, which is opposite the Interchange in Bradford, and I think that was the first lesbian ball that we had there. That’s my memory of it. And then after, then after that I think we started to have them at the Victoria Hall in Saltaire, after that one. But I think the first one was definitely there, cos I know, y’know, some of the people that organised it.
PS: And overall what do you think your experiences of growing up lesbian in West Yorkshire were like, overall?
LS: I think when I was – I think when I was younger it was quite difficult, yeah. I think it was really difficult, but like now it’s not [laughs]. But I think then it was, and when I talk to, y’know my friends that are from Keighley as well they would say the same, y’know that it was quite difficult, y’know if you didn’t – I think now it’s, now it’s all over the place, isn’t it? Great, yeah, it’s great. Well yeah – the first book I read was The Well of Loneliness, yeah, I know and I really liked that, yeah I really liked that. Yeah I think I do, I think I have a bit of an interest now I suppose and y’know the sort of clothes that I might – I think I might’ve worn different clothes at that time, with hindsight, then what people wear now. I think I might’ve dressed a bit differently, I’m not right sure, y’know – cos people always, people always, they always went, always trying to stop me going in the ladies loos. They’re always trying to stop me, always shouting after me, ‘oh, excuse me!’ Y’know, and so and then I just think, sometimes I think to myself, ‘oh it would be quite good to just walk about dressed about as a highwayman’, because you could have really, you could just wear highwayman’s clothes, and it’s no different – they’d still be trying to stop me going in, wouldn’t they, but that would’ve been alright, wouldn’t it? I might’ve done that in another – I might’ve done that in, if I were younger now I might’ve done something like that, yeah that’d be good. I actually live now quite near to where Anne Lister, the famous Anne Lister lived, I’m just up the road from her now, so I’ve kinda moved, I’ve moved nearer to the lesbians now – the lesbians from history.
PS: Thank you.