Archie Walker: a hidden LGBT story in the Nettlefold family tree

Archie Walker: a hidden LGBT story in the Nettlefold family tree

February is LGBT History Month, so this seems the ideal time to explore the hidden story of a gay man in the Nettlefold family.

Archie Walker was the son of John Nettlefold’s sister Lucy.  A fragment of his diary for 1915, held at Westminster Archives, offers an insight into his life. Archie lived in Great Queen Street, London.  He was a bit of a spendthrift, and was in the process of squandering his inheritance from his parents on a dodgy business deal.  There is another facet of Archie’s life which only makes itself known ‘between the lines’.  Many of the restaurants and venues he attended were regular haunts of gay men, including the Café Royal and the Russell Square Turkish Baths, and he regularly uses expressions which could be interpreted as coded references to sexual encounters.  His social circle is particularly intriguing;  he was close friends with a gay man called Gerald Hamilton, a notorious crook who was regularly in trouble with the police for a variety of reasons including his uninhibited sex life.  Hamilton was placed in detention during the First World War because of his pro-German sympathies, and was even suspected of spying.  Hamilton later received a back-handed compliment when Christopher Isherwood created an unpleasant fictional version of him in his novel “Mr. Norris Changes Trains”.

Picture of Lucy Walker, John's sister and Archie's mother

Lucy Walker, John’s sister and Archie’s mother

Picture of John Nettlefold, Archie’s uncle

John Nettlefold, Archie’s uncle

For obvious reasons, the histories of LGBT people in the early 20th century are often veiled in secrecy.  In Archie’s case, his social haunts, his turns of phrase and his choice of friends strongly suggest that he was one of the many gay men who lived clandestine lives. Apart from this snapshot of his life in 1915, we know next to nothing about Archie, except that a few years later he and another young man were standing in the dock at the Old Bailey charged with gross indecency.  Both were acquitted.

Records from 1939 show Archie living in a shared lodging house with other single men, with the occupation of “actor, cinema”.  This sounds a little far-fetched, but there is an intriguing possibility.  Archie’s great-uncle, Archibald Nettlefold, owned Nettlefold Studios and was making films in the late 30s and early 40s.  Did the older Archie give his impecunious nephew a job as an actor?

We have no idea whether John and Margaret Nettlefold knew about Archie’s lifestyle, or indeed whether they were in touch with him.  We can be pretty certain, however, that Archie was not the only gay person in that particular generation of the Nettlefold family.  John’s niece Nancy shared her life with a female partner.

To find out more about Nancy, click here to read our blog about her remarkable life.

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