H Montgomery Hyde

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H Montgomery Hyde
Harford Montgomery Hyde (14 August 1907 – 10 August 1989), born in Belfast, was a barrister, politician (Ulster Unionist MP for Belfast North), author and biographer, who lost his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom as a result of campaigning for homosexual law reform.


Born on 14 August 1907, on the Malone Road in Belfast, Hyde was schooled in England at Sedbergh, Cumbria. His father, James Johnstone Hyde was a linen merchant and Unionist councillor for Cromac. Hyde had great pride in his family's connection to the Irish linen trade. Although his mother came from a Protestant Home Rule background, all were involved in the 1914 UVF gun running, the 7-year old Harford being a dummy casualty for first-aid practice. He attended Queen's University Belfast where he gained a first-class history degree, and then Magdalen College, Oxford and a second-class law degree. He was a distant cousin of Henry James.

He was married three times: in 1939 to Dorothy Mabel Brayshaw Crofts (divorced 1952), in 1955 to Mary Eleanor Fischer (dissolved 1966) and finally to Rosalind Roberts Dimond. By his will, the residue of his estate was left to his widow Robbie and his papers to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Political career

Hyde had planned a parliamentary career since the 1930s and actively scouted for seats until the war intervened postponing an election until 1945. He then applied for the South Belfast Unionist candidature and was unfortunate enough to miss the nomination by one vote. Five years later, North Belfast was to select him. He could have expected to hold his seat for a quarter of a century or more. In the event, he represented the constituency for just nine years. His maiden speech was on the uncontentious subject of the unenforceability of Northern Ireland maintenance orders in Great Britain, and the consequent problem of border-hopping husbands.

He was a UK delegate to the Council of Europe Consultative Assembly in Strasbourg from 1952 to 1955, majoring on simplifying European visa and border controls. He was also an incessant traveller, a visit in 1958 to East Germany and Czechoslovakia getting him into difficulty with political exiles when he lamely defended himself saying, "there are terrible things going on. Cultural matters are a safe subject in common."

Hyde was Unionist MP for Belfast North, elected in 1950,and re-elected in 1951 and 1955.


He was deselected by his party in 1959 after arguing in favour of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in a debate about implementing the Wolfenden Report on 26 November 1958: a debate he had been most prominent in seeking. Indeed, Hyde was the most vocal of any MP in the 1950s about homosexual law reform.

Hyde’s reselection failed to be ratified by 171 votes to 152. By 19 votes, the Unionist Party lost its one respected voice at Westminster and abroad, and the only MP who ever advised his people of changing times, while attempting to modernise and moderate Unionist opinion. The Belfast Telegraph reported, “Mr Hyde’s rejection is a result of criticism amongst constituents over his attitude over certain problems particularly the Wolfenden report, capital punishment and the return of the Lane pictures to Ireland; further there was a feeling he did not visit the division sufficiently.” One view expressed was that as the vote was so close he might have carried the day, had he been present.

Two days later, from Belize city, Hyde complained that it was a “rank discourtesy holding the meeting without him,” especially as there were 3,000 members in the constituency. His wife in London the next day said, “I shall advise him to cut out the rest of his tour if that is possible and deal with the matter on the spot.” She had however written earlier to him in Jamaica: “SO THAT’S THAT. I’m sorry darling perhaps it’s for the best. No more politics. No more Belfast politics. Oh bliss.” Hyde did make efforts to have the decision overturned by Unionist Party headquarters on procedural grounds but he had no high-level political support. Although he had made little secret of his progressive views during the capital punishment debates, the campaign for access to the Casement diaries and his writings on Oscar Wilde, Hyde’s political undoing were his parliamentary interventions and outspoken views on the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Book on the Trials of Oscar Wilde edited by H Montgomery Hyde (published 1948). Copy held in Magdalen College, Oxford.

He contributed a half-hour speech to that 1958 debate covering both aspects of the Wolfenden report. He concluded by demanding equality for the homosexual and the prostitute. Earlier he quoted a letter from a consenting adult who had been gaoled and released, only to be informed on again, losing his new job. He pointed out "three popular fallacies that have been exposed by the Report": that "male homosexuality always involves sodomy", that homosexuals are "necessarily effeminate", and that most relevant court cases "are of practising male homosexuals in private." Only one hundred men a year, he said, were convicted of sex in private with consenting adults. Hyde's reform efforts at decriminalising homosexuality in England and Wales were not to be successful for another ten years. It took 25 years until 1982 for the same to happen in Northern Ireland. In later life, he became somewhat disillusioned with the cause of Irish Unionism.

He famously moved a motion in Westminster calling for a tunnel to be constructed between County Antrim and the Scottish coast. He spent 40 minutes outlining its advantages. Echoing Jules Verne, he pronounced: "The dreams of yesterday are the realities of today".

Hyde later in 1972 authored the first history of homosexuality in Great Britain and Ireland, The Other Love: an historical and contemporary survey of homosexuality in Britain, perhaps his most memorable and long lasting work. With its rich and detailed narratives, “fusing legal knowledge with illustrative anecdotage,” it was the most extensive book on the subject. Antony Grey, secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS) provided case histories and cuttings from the society’s files for its contemporary section.