The disappearance of beloved LGBTQ+ clubs in London is a painfully familiar scenario. Pour one out for the Black Cap, Joiners Arms and Candy Bar, all of which closed down in the last four years. But one you might not have heard of is The Caravan, a member’s club that offered a refuge for the gay and lesbian community at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain. That is, until it was raided by police and shut down in 1934.
As part of the National Trust and The National Archives’ project ‘Queer City: London Club Culture 1918-1967’, The Caravan will temporarily reopen close to its original site, taking over the Freud Café and Bar on Shaftesbury Avenue to mark the 50th anniversary of 1967 Sexual Offences Act. The walls of ‘The Caravan’ will be covered with photographs and court reports containing ‘scandalous’ accusations of ‘men seen cuddling’ in the club. There will be talks, debates, performances and a 1930s cocktail menu.
After the club's very public closure in 1934, a big, farcical court case followed; The Daily Mirror made a minor celebrity out of the club's owner Jack Neave. He known as 'Iron Foot Jack' on account of the metal device he wore on his boot to lengthen his right leg, and had many past identities as a strongman and escapologist. 'Queer City' is a chance to relive these stories, and offers a reminder that places like The Caravan are more than venues, they are threads in the rich, messy tapestry of London's LGBTQ+ history.
Queer City: London Club Culture 1918-1967 is at Freud Cafe Bar March 2-26. Find out more here.
Photos: The National Trust.