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A man for all seasons

Edward Carpenter was a progressive visionary who was well-ahead of his time, writes PETER LAZENBY

Edward Carpenter (1844 -1929) was a cultural and political activist who for over 40 years formed a strong bond with the people of Sheffield — he lived in Millthorpe, Derbyshire, only a few miles away.

A man ahead of his time, Carpenter campaigned and wrote throughout his life on many issues of social concern.

Mainly remembered as a pioneer of gay rights campaigning, he also advocated socialism, environmentalism, feminism, vegetarianism, trade unions and workers’ education.

He opposed imperialism, vivisection, war and capital punishment.

Carpenter envisioned a world free of class struggles, pollution, animal abuses and homophobia and a simpler, more sustainable way of living — a way of life he embraced himself.

Through his many friendships Carpenter crossed the divisions of class, gender, sexuality, race and creed.

Men and women from across the world and from all walks of life became connected through him and his activities in Sheffield and at his home.

He campaigned for women’s suffrage and sexual emancipation. He lived an openly gay life, and his writings are credited with contributing to the foundation of the gay liberation movement of the 20th century.

A group in Sheffield has formed the Friends of Edward Carpenter to raise funds for a memorial.

Kate Flannery is one of the organisers. “His vision clearly resonates in our world today,” she says, “his home at Millthorpe became a meeting place for socialists and free thinkers, intellectuals, writers and humanitarians from across the world, including Gandhi, Siegfried Sassoon, EM Forster and Walt Whitman.

“The signatories to his 70th and 80th birthday cards include almost every important labour and trade union figure of the day.”

But, she says, Sheffield never gave Carpenter any civic recognition. The Friends group plans to put that right.

“We will commission a work of public art that uses local materials and talent, that has integrity and that will ensure a respectful place of pilgrimage, meditation, celebration and memorial in the heart of the City of Sheffield,” she says.

“We have already begun discussions with Sheffield Council and are considering a position in Tudor Square. To make this a reality, we are raising money and connecting with a diverse population of interested people locally, nationally and worldwide to achieve this.”

Donors already include broadcaster Sandi Toksvig, entertainer Julian Clarey and biographer and cultural historian Fiona MacCarthy.

Public service union Unison and the Co-op have also made donations.

“The Friends of Edward Carpenter have worked closely with Sheffield Council, Sheffield Libraries and Archive Service, Sheffield University and Museums Sheffield organising events and activities,” said Ms Flannery.

“We are staging musical, literature, arts and social events. We have received some fantastic support.”


The Friends group has a website at


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