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Queer Archaeology of York-St Thomas’ Church, Osbaldwick

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Here lyeth the body of

Mr Richard Wright who lives as

Partner with William Hutchinson

Gentleman, of the City of York

In great Union for 35 years

Remarkable for justice and fidelity

Who died April the 5th A.D. 1747

Aged 60 years

Here also lieth the body of

William Hutchinson Esqr

Who Departed this life

January 5th 1772

Aged 89

Whilst little remains in the historic records for Richard Wright and William Hutchinson, their final resting place together can be found at St Thomas’ Church in Osbaldwick, York.

After some digging at the Borthwick Institute for Archives to try and find these two men, I found several birth, marriage and death certificates with the correct time frame – however, whether or not these records relate to the men we are looking for, it cannot be determined (although you are welcome to try and connect the dots!). Those men in the records who are married to women were unlikely to be the men we are looking for. This left us with a range of freemen and apprentices in various trades. One record we can be almost certain of is the will of William Hutchinson, which shows he has a considerable amount of property and wealth in York and was a benefactor to the village of Osbaldwick leaving money to the poor children.

Here’s what we can glean from their gravestone: As they were both buried at St Thomas’ Church, it is highly likely they were both of the Anglican faith. They were not married, but ‘in great Union’ which suggests that their status as partners was accepted within the community if not by law, at least at the time of Richard’s death. Homosexuality in the eighteenth century often appeared in court records, many men being condemned for ‘attempted sodomy’. Whilst illegal at the time, this couple may be proof of other smaller communities, who saw acceptance in their choices of partner. They lived as partners for 35 years, after all. 

William Hutchinson is not titled ‘Mr’ but rather ‘Esqr’, short for Esquire. This was historically a courtesy title, given to respected men of a higher social rank. In combination with his will, it shows that William was part of the landed gentry, and was the wealthier of the two men. Dying at the age of 89 in 1772 places William’s birth in the year 1683. Richard was born in 1687. So, the age gap wasn’t vast. It brings to light questions concerning how the two men met. Did they work together? Did Richard possibly work for William? Did they simply know each other within their community, or through family friends? Also, did the two men always identify as homosexual, or was it only each other they found attraction to? The nature of their relationship, whilst clearly intimate, may not have necessarily been a sexual one. Men and women of the 18th century did not view sexuality and gender the same way as we do today – men were criminalised for sodomy, cross-dressing was actually quite common, and romantic female friendships were the norm amongst young women. 

Overall, it is meaningful that the two men share a gravestone, nearly 30 years apart, the archaeological investigation of the burial revealing how the grave was reopened for William to be buried with Richard. William, and his community, made the conscious decision to bury him with his late partner, so we can assume that affection was still there in William’s heart. 

Written by Jess Burchett

‘Queer Archaeology of York’ is an article series.

Read more:

Queer Archaeology of York- Anne Lister