The number of local gay bars and pubs in east London is significantly decreasing. Many beloved establishments have been lost and those that remain have had to adapt. ELL has mapped the decline of LGBTQ venues in our boroughs over the past 30 years from 1985 to 2015. Follow the story this week to find out why this is happening and what it means for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
The gay scene in Croydon, unlike what you might find in other parts of east London, appears to be much more marginalised. While in Tower Hamlets, The Old Ship has a thriving community of both straight and LGBT patrons, and Hackney boasts the Dalston Superstore which is riding the wave of East London’s edginess, Croydon’s The Bird in Hand, now a gay-friendly pub, looks like an establishment in decline.
All blacked out windows and curious side entrances, the pub seems to be a throwback to the days where you might bury your homosexuality in a far-flung corner of Croydon; a good distance away from the nearest train station, and high street, and…pretty much everything.
Jo, the stoic landlady who didn’t want to appear on tape, explained that the pub has fallen on the same hardships as many other local pubs. The smoking ban has made customers think twice before leaving their house, choosing to drink and smoke in the comfort of their own homes rather than be exposed to the elements in the British winter.
The Bird in Hand is also a target for criminals, having been robbed, even at gunpoint, more than a dozen times during Jo’s tenure as landlady.
Ross Burgess, a gay rights activist in Croydon, remembered the Bird in Hand with his husband Roger: “It was very good 20 years ago. You had quite a long way to walk from the station before you walked into a gay pub so you weren’t identified, and it was a dark road and everything.”
And therein lies the problem for pubs like The Bird in Hand. Its relative remoteness may have served it well when it served as a semi-secret rendezvous for the LGBT community, but now, when people have the option of satellite TV, cheap alcohol and the option to smoke indoors in the privacy of their own home, perhaps a pub like the Bird in Hand is just too much of an inconvenience.
Ross and Roger are part of the Silver Rainbow group – an LGBT society for over-50s in Croydon. At one of their jovial monthly gatherings, Ross explains some of Croydon’s chequered LGBT history. It appears that even when other parts of East London had a number of gay establishments, Croydon’s gay groups were always renting out space for a night:
“At one time some of the gay groups used to use ordinary pubs for functions, particularly in Croydon – there was a pub called The Star – it wasn’t at all a gay pub, but the Croydon gay group used to hire it once a week, or once a month for discos”.
Croydon LGBT groups in the past and present are cast as a nomadic bunch – the Silver Rainbows meet at a different establishment each month – and with the difficulties facing pubs of all kinds, it’s hard to imagine that Croydon will be particularly attractive to the LGBT community any time soon.
However, throughout GayEastLondon week, there have been a number of positives to take away. While the overall number of gay bars and pubs are in decline, a lot of LGBT people that we spoke to said that these days, they felt comfortable spending time in straight bars.
There is still evidently a need for safe spaces for the LGBT community, especially those who are only recently coming out – and student societies like the LGBT soc in Lewisham are working hard to provide them – but ultimately, being gay in east London now seems more acceptable than ever before.
For more information on how the data behind this article was collected, see our methodology.