- Jamie Johnston
Black Cap, Camden
My workplace has been featuring lots of interesting articles during LGBT History Month and I asked my colleague, Jamie Johnston, if it would be okay to share his blog post. He kindly agreed and here he is talking about the history of the famous Black Cap in Camden, London.
London lost 58% of its LGBT+ night-life spaces between 2006 and 2016, and one of those was my local, the Black Cap. The Cap dates back at least as far as 1751, and from the mid-1960s onwards it was one of London's most famous and successful LGBT+ social spaces and drag and cabaret venues nicknamed 'the Palladium of drag'.
The centre of a community
It launched and fostered the careers of performers including Mrs Shufflewick, Hinge & Bracket, Danny la Rue, Regina Fong, Lily Savage, Julian Clary, and Graham Norton. And remarkably for such a venerable institution it managed to remain up-to-date, hosting some of the most innovative and diverse cabaret of the early 2010s during the residence of Meth and the Familyyy Fierce, and attracting visits from several winners of Ru Paul's Drag Race.
The pub was also a second home (sometimes more welcoming than their first homes) for LGBT+ people of all ages and backgrounds in Camden and beyond. It acted as a sort of unofficial community centre by hosting meetings and activities for a wide variety of grass-roots groups including the Camden LGBT Forum, the Metropolitan Community Church; FTM London; the Leftfooters Football Club and London Lesbian Kickabouts; Opening Doors London; and London Gay Symphonic Winds.
But in the property market of the early 2010s, a distinctive Victorian building on the busiest part of Camden High Street was always going to be worth less as a pub, however successful and important, than as luxury flats. When the owners of the Black Cap started applying for residential planning permission in 2012, customers tried to protect the pub by having it designated an Asset of Community Value. After failing to overturn the designation, the owners closed the pub without notice on 12 April 2015.
The story didn't end there…
Hundreds of people gathered outside the pub the following Saturday to protest, and that became the first of a series of 'vigils' that campaigners have held outside the Black Cap almost every Saturday since. Campaigners have managed to block attempts to turn the building into flats, a café, and a 'New York style wine bar', have gathered over 10,000 signatures on their petition, and have also secured further protection for the pub and cabaret space in the form of a sui generis planning classification. At last, in August 2017, the owners agreed to offer a 25-year lease to anyone interested in reopening and running the Black Cap as an LGBT+ pub and cabaret again.
It isn't yet clear what will come of this; for now, the building stands empty, with ugly metal shutters on its windows and weeds drooping from its upstairs window-boxes. But the campaigners still gather outside every Saturday afternoon to keep the spirit of the Black Cap alive and enlist the support of passers-by, and they'll tell you that it's only a matter of time until, one way or another, this landmark of LGBT+ geography and history opens its doors again. Maybe this year…
To find out more about the campaign, visit weareblackcap.com or search Twitter or Facebook for WeAreTheBlackCap.
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