A Gay Old Time In Cambridge

Riccy Jeffs 31 January 2008

There’s more to the Cambridge Gay Scene than Tuesday night Life. Riccy Jeffs tells us about Cambridge’s past before Precious*.

One thing that has not changed in the past 100 years is that most people know a gay person; what has changed is that only now do people realise they know them. The gay scene is as old as civilization, yet in the past, gay people had to be secretive because it was illegal and punishable by execution.

Back in 1725, gay Cantabrigians would travel to London “molly houses” to meet other gay people. Mother Clap’s was a famous, illicit, gay bar in Holborn at the time and was raided by the police regularly.

The current stretch of comparative freedom for gay people began in the first half of the 20th century, with the modernist writings of the Bloomsbury Group, a remarkable set of upper-middle class thinkers. But over the following decades gay people were forced into being medically treated for what psychiatrists thought was an “illness”. John, a current Cambridge resident, remembers the way his partner was treated prior to his death in 1997: “It was terrible, treated like he was criminally insane. He never fully recovered from the shock therapy, broke my heart.”

By the middle of the 1960s, a small number of gay people had formed protest groups and the law began to change. “We used to go on a jolly to London” remembers Keith, one such protestor. “We’d have our placards and cause a right stink outside of Parliament.” Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967, a social stigma remained. Gay people began to congregate and the modern Gay Scene was born.

Some students will remember The Bird In Hand as the gay pub in Cambridge but the Town and Gown, Burleigh Arms, The Fountain, The Anchor, Scaramouche and The 451 Club have all had stretches as gay venues. Steven was a regular at The 451. “Back then you still had to be careful. There was a spiral staircase each side of the bar so you could do the rounds to see if there was anyone you liked on parade. It was packed every night but the place was painted black and you used to go home with dirty elbows from leaning on the walls!”

In 2005 The Rose and Crown, on Newmarket Road, was refitted to serve the gay community and it has built up a large client base from all around East Anglia and further a field. Staff members are not just bar people but entertainers in their own right and entertainment is provided almost every evening.

Sofonda Cox and Pixi are the resident drag queens, and often don their frocks and parade around looking glamorous. Other gay events in Cambridge include The Dot Cotton Club (which has been running at The Junction for 16 years), Fusion, formerly known as Precious, the student night at Club22 and the newest addition, Blush at Cellar Bar 8.

It is incredibly important to keep the gay scene alive in Cambridge, as often gay people can feel isolated and scared to express their sexuality. Many straight people also like to visit The Rose to have a good time and show their support. One thing’s for sure: there’s always a party happening on the Gay Scene.

Riccy Jeffs