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Queer Today, Gone Tomorrow: The LGBTQ+ Spaces Nottingham Has Lost

22 July 20 words: Caroline Barry

As Nottingham gets set to celebrate Pride 2020 in a very different, online-only way, it’s probably time to remember that the city hasn’t always had such an open gay scene. With a long history of secret bars, hidden backrooms and, erm, gay flats, it’s important to remember just how far Notts has progressed. We asked Chair of Nottingham Pride, Leigh Ellis, and David Edgley of Nottingham Rainbow Heritage to share their memories of some of the LGBTQ+ spaces we’ve lost...

The Pavilion Club, Shardlow 1971-1983

David: In the late sixties some local people were investigating various potential venues to see whether any would work as a base for a gay club. They settled on adapting a cricket pavilion in Shardlow. The location had two merits: firstly, it was equidistant between Nottingham, Derby and Leicester; secondly, its out-of-the-way position gave comfort to a lot of people who were very closeted. The residents of Shardlow soon sussed the nature of the club and called it the “Handbag Club”. It ran – with some ups and downs – until 1983, when it was burned down by a fire which was probably caused by an electrical fault.

Gatsbys, Huntingdon Street 1983-2009

David: The main pubs of the seventies and early eighties followed a tradition of using a ‘back bar’ or a bar described as a ‘private party’. Gatsbys was opened as a gay pub in 1983 by the Bradley Family – Hilda and her sons. For several years it was often so packed that movement was difficult, breathing was an effort and hearing someone near to you was impossible – so people loved it.

La Chic/Part Two (Now Albion House), Canal Street 1973 - 1985

David: Among the memorable events were a mud-wrestling night and an Easter Hot Cross Buns competition. The contestants – hidden on the far side of a screen – pulled their pants down and had their assets graded as they poked through the screen. 42 loo seats were stolen over a four year period, all from the Ladies. Apparently, they were passed through the toilet windows and treasured as souvenirs.

Part Two had many famous guests – some were there as performers and some simply came along to have a night out. They included Olympic gold medallist John Curry and footballer Justin Fashanu, who was reprimanded by Brian Clough for going to “that bloody poof’s club”.  There was also Eartha Kitt, who arrived at Nottingham Station (extremely drunk) dragging a mink coat across the platform.

For several years it was often so packed that movement was difficult, breathing was an effort and hearing someone near to you was impossible – so people loved it

The Victoria Centre Flats, Victoria Centre 1972 - still in use as flats

Leigh: They were referred to as fairy towers or Vaseline villas. It's completely different now, but I never had a problem getting a flat there. You could always get one, but it required you to go to the housing office and fill in a form and then, in six months, you got your flat. The stipulations were that you were working and you were single. You never used to know where your next packet was coming from at times, and there was such a community that if you got your electricity cut, you'd run an extension cable through the windows outside into your neighbours flat. They would let you use their electricity until you had enough money to pay the bill.

L’Amour, St. James’ Street Dates unknown

Leigh: After Gatsby’s, at roughly about 11pm (which was closing time), you'd walk through the city to St. James's Street, to a club that was then called L’Amour (I believe it’s now The Cookie Club). After you’d knocked on their big, blue door a shutter would open and there’d be a drag Queen looking at you. You’d pay your two pounds to get in, and it was fantastic.

L’Amour had two main floors, and then there was a third floor, which was kind of derelict but well-renowned for being dark and filled with things that go bump in the night...

Casblanca/Kitsch. Greyhound Street 1995-?

Leigh: Kitsch used to be on Greyhound Street. It got itself into trouble with BBC’s Panorama for dealing drugs, particularly ecstasy around about ’95 or ’96. It was starting to move away from Dolly Disco, Stock Aitken Waterman or Madonna, and moving toward dance, garage as well as dabbling in a bit of trance.

Admiral Duncan (AD2) 74 Lower Parliament Street 1980 - 2015

Leigh: This was during a time when people pushed the boundaries of dress and Leigh Bowery-inspired clothing, which the Admiral Duncan clicked on to. They did a major refurb, changed their name to AD2 and bought themselves a fancy new carpet. That became really popular. 

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