When the National Trust and National Archive’s collaborate you’d expect there usual crowd of Barbour wearing, cream tea eating over sixties to be huddle together over boxes of archives in a stately home wouldn’t you? Well the collab between the two powerhouses has been a bit of a shocker with their recent joint offer – Queer City. Using the photographs, court reports, police papers and witness statements The Caravan ‘London’s most bohemian rendezvous’ has reopened for March 2017 and best of all for an evening you can become a member and head back to the thirties.
Giving an insight into the clandestine queer clubs of the city in the 1930’s the project showcases the club culture of the 1930’s when being openly gay would lead to prosecution and imprisonment. Heading into the club above Soho fave Frevd bar the recreation is a step back in time, passing your name to the door tender and moving behind draped fabrics into a smoke filled room or music, laughter and chat a number of immersive theatre performers adorn the space and waiters provide cocktails inspired by the era. Sexual innuendo features in all of the performances and references to the main participants of the day are noted in the decoration – the original owner of the club Jack Neaves was a strongman and escapologist and a sculpture of him holds up the ceiling whilst names of those noted in the court documents are names of the performers. It’s an exciting recreation of a historical moment in time.
Nonetheless the scary reality of the clandestine clubs are also recognised, the front of the bar is littered with quotes from the archives of the assumed ‘digusting and revolting’ club. And an actor takes me into a backroom to berate me and write a police report on my decision to attend such a club. It’s a stark reminder that we are only fifty years from the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain and many prejudices remain today.
This project forms part of a larger one from the National Trust their prejudice and pride project explored how many of their properties have been ‘shaped by those who challenged conventional ideas of gender and sexuality’ and follows an even larger movement in UK heritage organisations in 2017 to reflect on the legacy of those whose stories may not have been fully told fifty years since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act.
All great projects and great work from the institutions and especially from this collaboration I experienced a really innovative way to look at the history of a group through experience and this was an excellent way to bring archives to life.
It's only open until 26th March so get in there quick!