Community News

Oscar Wilde honoured with Rainbow Plaque

Besi Besemar July 24, 2019

Russell Tovey unveils permanent Rainbow Plaque dedicated to Oscar Wilde at Clapham Junction Station.

Photo: Joel Ryder
Photo: Joel Ryder

RUSSELL Tovey, actor and Patron of not-for-profit arts organisation Studio Voltaire, unveiled a permanent Rainbow Plaque commemorating Oscar Wilde on Platform 10 at Clapham Junction Station, a project by Wandsworth LGBTQ+ Forum and Studio Voltaire.

The Rainbow Plaque is a national scheme that identifies key moments and figures of LGBTQ+ history. This is the second plaque of its kind, the first commemorated Anne Lister, diarist and same sex marriage pioneer, (recently depicted on the BBC’s ‘Gentleman Jack’) at the Holy Trinity Church in York, first unveiled in February 2018.

Wandsworth LGBTQ+ Forum conceived of the idea for the Oscar Wilde campaign during a screening of Rupert Everett’s The Happy Prince at monthly Queer film club Out at Clapham. The film follows the final years of Wilde’s life, including his conviction for ‘gross indecency with men’, and depicts Wilde’s transportation from Wandsworth Prison to Reading Jail in 1895, where he was subjected to homophobic abuse on the centre platform of Clapham Junction Station for 30 minutes. The event was deeply traumatising for Wilde, as he detailed in his 1897 autobiographical letter, ‘De Profundis’ (extract below).

“On the 13th November 1895, I was brought down here from London. From two o’clock till half-past-two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction in convict dress, and handcuffed, for the world to look at. I had been taken out of the hospital ward without a moment’s notice being given me. Of all possible objects I was the most grotesque. When people saw me they laughed. Each train as it came swelled the audience. Nothing could exceed their amusement. That was, of course, before they knew who I was. As soon as they had been informed they laughed still more. For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob. For a year after that was done to me I wept every day at the same hour and for the same space of time.” –  Oscar Wilde, 1897.

At a time when LGBTQ+ people are still under threat, notably with the May 2019 homophobic attack on a same-sex couple on a London bus, the plaque acts as a reminder that hate crime is not tolerated in the rail industry, and is supported by Network Rail.

David Robson, Chair of Wandsworth LGBTQ+, said: “As a community forum we felt we had to respond to this historical wrong. The Rainbow Plaque is a wonderful scheme through which we can use culture to make our hidden histories (good and bad) visible. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on how far the LGBTQ+ movement has come and honour those who have suffered. I hope we begin to see Rainbow Plaques popping up all over the country as a result.”

A crowdfunding campaign was launched at the recent exhibition The Oscar Wilde Temple, by artists McDermott & McGough at Studio Voltaire in Clapham. This immersive work of art was a secular space, honouring Wilde as one of the earliest forebears of gay liberation.

Russell Tovey, Actor and Patron of Studio Voltaire, who unveiled the plaque, said: “Schemes like the Rainbow Plaque are so important in reclaiming LGBTQ+ history, and it’s wonderful to be a part of this. Oscar Wilde’s talent, wit and courage has inspired so many, including myself, and it’s wonderful to see the community coming together like this. I’m proud to support Studio Voltaire and their work.”

Joe Scotland, Director of Studio Voltaire, added: “Studio Voltaire are proud to work within our local communities to champion inclusivity and help give a platform for marginalised voices. Oscar Wilde remains an inspiration to many, and this important local incident should be remembered. Studio Voltaire’s recent installation ‘The Oscar Wilde Temple’ by McDermott & McGough, was envisaged by the artists as a space of sanctity and celebration for the LGBTQ+ communities. This plaque comes from similar motivations to commemorate the LGBTQ+ community’s endurance, past and present.”