Secret gay club from 1930s recreated
Drag artists and wild bohemian parties don’t immediately spring to mind when you think of the National Trust.
But attempts to bring to life the history of “sidelined communities” have resulted in the recreation of a secret London gay club from the 1930s.
Performer Ralph Bogart says the audience response so far “has been magnificent”.
“People come in not really knowing what to expect but leave feeling massively elated, entertained and educated about how important this sort of thing is.”
Back in 1934, the Soho club provided a secret meeting space for gay people at a time when being “openly out” could end in prison.
“Places like this were safe spaces, members clubs were created for the LGBTQ community to enjoy each others company, so – even though it was risky – this was really a safer place where they could relax and be themselves.”
The Caravan, a “queer friendly” members club, has been recreated on almost the exact site of the original.
It is a collaboration between the National Trust and The National Archives.
Photographs, court reports and police papers have been used to show how the club might have looked and felt, with the finished result offering a unique insight into that time.
Diverse records specialist Victoria Iglikowski said: “The National Archives collections and the police records actually build up a picture of the freedom and the possibilities that these spaces really provided.”
Outraged locals complained to police that the club was “a sink of iniquity” frequented by “sexual perverts”, according to the archives.
Surveillance reports from the time have officers describing it as “a filthy place where disgusting practices are openly boasted of”, warning that “to the lay individual the mere visiting such a place would tend to corrupt their morals”.
The club was only open for a few months before it was raided and more than 100 people arrested.
Queer City: London Club Culture 1918-1967 is part of the National Trust’s year-long Prejudice and Pride programme, a project designed to tell the history of many similar clandestine LGBTQ spaces in and around Soho.
“This is certainly not your usual coastline, cream teas and country houses,” joked National Trust creative director Joe Watson.
“What we’re really doing with that is marking the sexual offences act of 1967, so 50 years from that and what we’re trying to do is bring to the fore some of the stories of otherwise side lined communities.”