Peggy Hancock [1923 – December 28, 2021].

Peggy Hancock [1923 – December 28, 2021].
OutStories Bristol are sad to relay news of Peggy's death aged 98.


Mary M Comley, always known as Peggy, was born in Hotwells, Bristol in 1923, the daughter of an engineering fitter. She was an intelligent child and did well at school. In 1938, at the age of 15, she was taken to a gay pub, the Radnor Hotel in St Nicholas Street by a male bisexual friend. It was the start of a lifelong involvement with gay men and their circles. She remembers sitting awkwardly in the Radnor drinking lemonade, possibly the last time she was struck with shyness in gay company. She married in 1944 and had two children, of whom her daughter Micha survives her. Her marriage did not last and by the mid-‘50s, needing to support herself and her family, she took work as the barmaid at the Radnor.


Peggy was a sort of mother hen to the gay men who crossed her path, partying with them and acting as a source of information, making sure they understood the dangers of cottaging [the main way of meeting then, other than pubs]. She never disapproved but sketched them maps of the best locations, with warnings of those most likely to be raided by the police. In return she gained a lifetime’s supply of devoted friends. She said in 2011 “Gays have made my life, they’ve cocooned me... when I’ve had tragedies they protected me.” Peg went on to work at other pubs which, under her influence, gained a reputation for tolerance and a ‘mixed’ clientele. She also declared enigmatically “There’s no such thing as straight”.


In later years she travelled, especially on yearly pilgrimages with gay friends to Palm Springs, Florida. In retirement she lived in a care home in Bath, but well into her 90s she continued to attend the weekly GayWest coffee shop, regarding the members as a sort of loose-knit second family. Meeting Peg it was impossible not to relish her zest for life, as she spilled her endless fund of half-remembered anecdotes, often mixed and retold in varying forms until it was impossible to be sure what was hard fact. All was larded with extremely colourful language. She claimed to know Cary Grant and Rudolf Nureyev. Who can forget Limejuice Lil, the prissy queens sat behind a dingy curtain at the back of the Radnor, the professional sportsman known in the bar as Katie Trollope, or the barmaid from the Rummer whose dubious morals led to her nickname Secondhand Rose?


She contributed enthusiastically to research for the Revealing Stories exhibition produced by OutStories Bristol and M Shed in 2013. She was one of three key figures chosen as the subject of portrait drawings by Malcolm Ashman for the exhibition; the portraits are now in the permanent collection of Bristol Museums.


Peg’s health deteriorated over the last months and by October 2021, unable to take food and managing only sips of water, it was clear she was reaching the end of her long life. It was characteristic of her that even then, she clung on until Christmas, dying on Tuesday December 28th. I remembered her words back in 2011, talking of her holidays to the November gay festival in Palm Springs: “I cant go again. I’m really too old now. [long pause] “Well... I might just go next year!”


We remember thankfully Peggy’s long life and beautiful spirit. With condolences to her family and many friends. Rest In Peace, Peggy.
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Thanks to Steve who sent this to me. I never met or even heard of this lady but within any community there will always be those who stand out from the rest and even if only locally, make a difference to many peoples lives. Some take and never give in return. Some give and give yet again and spend their lives giving, and we celebrate the lives of these kind hearted souls.



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