Banned 1930s Queer-Friendly Club 'Reopens'

James Drury
By James Drury Last edited 86 months ago

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Last Updated 01 March 2017

Banned 1930s Queer-Friendly Club 'Reopens'

All photos by Sophia Schorr-Kon

In a time when being openly gay was punishable by imprisonment, the Caravan club in Soho was an illicit haven for LGBT people.

But in 1934 it was raided by undercover police, and 103 men and women were arrested.

Although most of those who appeared in court were found not guilty on the condition they never went to such a club again, Billy Reynolds and Jack Neave who ran the club were sentenced to 12 and 20 months hard labour in prison.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which partially decriminalised homosexual activity, the National Trust and the National Archives have recreated the venue almost exactly on the same spot as it stood — Freud's cafe in Soho.

Photographs, court reports, police papers and witness statements on The Caravan and other clubs of the era were used to re-create the striking bohemian interior of the underground club.

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.

Joseph Watson, creative director for the National Trust in London said: "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."

The recreated club is the final stop on a month of tours of LGBTQ+ heritage and queer club culture throughout Covent Garden and Soho organised by the National Trust. There's also a programme of events designed using archival material to re-imagine what might have happened at the illicit club.

To book tours or evening events, see the website.