Photographs, court reports, police papers and witness statements on The Caravan and other clubs of the era will be used to re-create the striking bohemian interior of the underground club. Queer City is a unique collaboration between the National Trust and The National Archives that will re-create ‘London’s most bohemian rendezvous’, The Caravan, a queer friendly members club. The recreation will take place at the well-known Freud Café-Bar on almost the exact site of the original club. The Caravan, ‘the most unconventional spot in town’, existed at a time when being openly gay frequently led to prosecution and imprisonment. In 1934, it was raided and closed by police. This project seeks to tell the important story of many similar clandestine LGBTQ+ spaces in and around Soho.
This exciting reconstruction will form the focal point of a month of tours of LGBTQ+ heritage sites
Selected from The National Archives’ extensive collection, these documents reveal great detail and insights into club culture and the everyday prejudices facing the homosexual community at the time. This exciting reconstruction will form the focal point of a month of tours of LGBTQ+ heritage and queer club culture throughout Covent Garden and Soho. Examples of these documents will also be displayed downstairs at Freud Café-Bar.
As well as tours, there will be an exciting programme of themed talks, debates and performances capturing the spirit of The Caravan and wider queer club culture. Evening openings will allow a strictly limited number of ticket holders to enjoy club ‘membership’ where the expert bartenders of Freud Café-Bar will be providing a bespoke cocktail menu complete with drinks drawn from clubs of the era.
Following on from the successes of previous projects by the Trust to change the perception of heritage including 2015’s Brutal Utopias and 2016’s Edge City: Croydon, Queer City shows that the Trust does not just work simply with country houses and coastlines.
Joseph Watson, London Creative Director for the National Trust comments, “While the project will be an opportunity to celebrate the partial decriminalisation of same sex relationships, it will also confront the realities of those lives that were fettered, destroyed, or worse, by prejudice of that era. It provides a timely reminder of the importance of side-lined cultures to our national heritage.”
Rowena Hillel, Education and Outreach Officer at The National Archives comments, “The National Archives holds a wide-ranging collection of documents offering important insight into the experiences of LGBTQ+ communities throughout history. We are delighted to be collaborating with the National Trust to tell the story of Soho club culture with a recreation of the bohemian Caravan club so very close to its original location.”
Queer City is just one part of the National Trust’s year-long ‘Prejudice and Pride’ programme which will tell the stories of men and women who challenged conventional notions of gender and sexuality and who shaped the properties in which they lived. In London, its other major activity will centre on Sutton House and Breaker’s Yard in Hackney. ‘Sutton House Queered’ has been developed with, by and for LGBTQ+ people and includes an exploration of shifting identities in Alice in Wonderland, a summer School of Anarchy looking at queer activism, and a Save the Last Dance season, mourning lost queer spaces in London and beyond.
The National Archives 2017 What’s On programme will feature events exploring the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, the changing queer experience across the twentieth century, LGBTQ+ clubs and spaces before the act, and how these were policed. The National Archives holds the original government correspondence leading up to the passing of the 1967 Act, and also the 1957 Wolfenden Report which will be central to wider debate in this commemorative year.
Queer City: London Club Culture 1918-1967 Thursday 2nd – Sunday 26th March 2017
Image credit: The Caravan club, Crown copyright courtesy of The National Archives, Ref: DPP 2/224.