Church Lane, behind St Michael's Spurriergate

Heading down Coney St, we arrive now at St Michael's Spurriergate, and our area of interest is Church Lane, the backstreet. Church Lane once housed a public bathroom that came to be a gay cottage – in other words, a meeting site of gay lovers in the city. “Cottaging” as it was known, was the act of having casual sex in public toilets, and came from the Victorian era word “cottage” meaning a small public toilet block, also nicknamed a “tea-room.”

This particular cottage was the meeting site of Stuart Feather, whose parents ran a chip shop in Acomb, and John Chesterman from Dringhouses in 1956. A year later, when the Wolfenden Report on the state of legality of homosexuality was published, Feather and Chesterman sat down in Dean’s Park near the Minster together to read it.

As stated on the UK parliament website, the Wolfenden Report read:

“[T]hat there ‘must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law's business' and recommended that homosexual acts between two consenting adults should no longer be a criminal offence."

As this was happening, one of Feather’s work colleagues saw them and deduced their connection. Feather was outed at work, and received a demotion with a pay cut alongside being ridiculed. 

The couple moved to London in the 1960s, and in 1970 went to what was only the second ever meeting of the Gay Liberation Front, a group formed in 1969 in New York City after the Stonewall Riots and later becoming international. Chesterman became the founder of “Gay International Times”, later “Gay News.” Feather and Chesterman also organised the first Gay Pride Parade through Highbury Fields in 1972, which counted about 200 participants.

Chesterman died in 1996, and Feather continued to gain fame through participation in the gay cabaret and drag theatre group Bloolips