In the 1940s, Derby was something of a Mecca for gay men who came to the town by train. Gay friendly bars (although these terms were not yet recognised) included The Alexandra Hotel on Siddals Road with parties in the now vanished function room upstairs. Now demolished pubs in Litchurch Street and Leonard Street were also well known to the discreet few.
The 1950s saw the Half Moon at Sadlergate Bridge (recently a Subway sandwich shop) become a regular haunt with stand-up singers entertaining with bawdy songs to a piano. The nearby ‘Gentlemen Only’ Tudor Room to the rear of The Old Bell Hotel on Sadlergate, catered for a mix of notable professional Derby men and disgreet gay men in a smoky atmosphere with a real log fire. The Old Bell continued to attract more discerning gay men until the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 which outlawed men-only bars.
With the movement leading up to the Sexual Offences Act 1967, a reluctant acceptance of the LGB&T community started to evolve. A mixture of gay men and working women frequented The Corporation Hotel in the old Cattle Market but they were only tolerated in the corridor. An unwritten moral rule prevented gay men from entering the bar itself. Eye contact was made with few words exchanged but relationships would flourish in the drunken atmosphere of the many public urinals within staggering distance.
After ‘legalisation’, a number of town centre bars welcomed gay men and lesbians, though never exclusively. Most popular was the Green Lane House near Ranby’s (formerly Debenhams) which lasted until the mid 1970s; the blackout of the three day week bringing an exciting atmosphere. The Tiger Inn in Lockup Yard followed with weekend discos in the upstairs room. As the roof leaked, dancing was around a bucket to catch the rain! The Spotted Horse in Victoria Street replaced these for a year or so with drag acts and amateur entertainment long before karaoke.
The Globe Inn on Sacheveral Street was a small terraced beerhouse opposite the old Derby Playhouse. Run by Vera Brown and her female partner, this attracted a number of local straight people, theatrical performers of all backgrounds, and an equal number of the LGB&T community. A nearby cottage known as ‘The Palace’ (a converted Air Raid Precautions hut) meant there were many cold and thirsty gay men who sought the warmth of the Globe’s hospitality, which sadly closed in 1980 to make way for Lara Croft Way (not actually built for another 30 years).
In 1979, two Conservative City Councillors established a new concept at the Green Lane Gallery, by combining an art exhibition space with a relaxed gay bar. For a few years, it was the only gay bar in the whole of Derbyshire attracting large numbers to special event nights. This was joined in the early 1980s by The Rising Sun on Friar Gate catering for a younger crowd which lasted under three separate ownerships until 1991 when straight licensees changed its image and its name to ‘The Friar Gate’. It is now the (straight) Bishop Blaise.
There were a few attempts to hold ‘gay nights’ at straight night clubs including the former ‘Talk Of The Midlands’ on Mill Street, later ‘Bertie’s’ and ‘Gossips’. The name ‘Gossips’ was later used for a gay venue at Green Lane/Gower Street junction which lasted only a short time in the 1990s.
Around 1990, the former Arboretum Hotel (renamed the Olde Avesbury) went gay. Poorly attended except on Saturday nights when the upstairs function room was packed for a disco with a male stripper performing. After closure the building became part of the Crown Derby works.
The 90s also saw a number of Derby pubs come under the aegis of Nigel Barker. The most significant was the Victoria Inn on Midland Place. The ‘Vic’ had a large room to the rear and succeeded in getting an entertainments license from the City Council to hold male stripper nights each Tuesday.
Dave Collins and Keith Daykin took over the former Great Northern Refreshment House on Curzon Street in 1992 and renamed it ‘Freddies’ Bar’ after Freddie Mercury of Queen.
The building dates from the mid 1890s and as The Great Northern Refreshment House originally provided refreshments (along with beer) to the Great Northern Railway workers (the goods yard for the Great Northern Railway being oppostie). Over a period of time, it became known as The Refreshment House.
To this, they added a nightclub originally known as Ouido’s in the former restaurant, ‘Guido’s’ also in Curzon Street. Ouido’s soon became ‘Curzon’s’ which doubled in size by expanding into the adjoining premises. The Crown opposite Curzon’s became perhaps Derby’s most popular and successful gay venue under the same ownership and works with the Club to make Curzon Street Derby’s own ‘Gay Village’, occasionally expanding into the green open area for special events.
Curzon’s – The Early Years
Curzon’s nightclub first opened in December 1990. Under the stead and experienced hand of the original club owner, Keith Daykin, Curzon’s started off as a compact nightclub offering the expected usual fare of entertainment, decor and music that reflected its time.
In 1997, Curzon’s underwent a major a redevelopment programme and doubled in size but kept up the well earned reputation of a place to be, and to be seen.
2006 saw further redevelopment and redecoration that gave the club a new, trendy feel, and finally, the long awaited unisex toilets downstairs. In complete contrast to the old, the 1st floor of Curzon’s is now a great chill out area complete with big screen TV, leather sofas, soft lighting and an ideal place for that chat with friends, old and new alike.
The ground floor of Curzon’s hosts the main bar and dance floor with both a state of the art lighting and sound system. Curzon’s nightclub has always been at the cutting edge of music, ranging from dance and club classics to the present day tastes of hip hop, R’n’B with always a nod to those camp, floor filling, cheesy pop tunes.
The Crown, situated on Curzon Street, dates from around 1820, and became a licensed premises in about 1875. It was originally the home of the manager of an adjoining bakery business (long since gone). The stepped front elevation is a result of the narrow front garden being included into the building to extend the bar area.
This village was extended for several years by the addition of The Vine on Ford Street, cashing in on new legislation in 2003 to open later and change its name to The Late Bar. It became popular with the increasingly lesbian community but like so many venues, it eventually closed.
Freddie’s was always blighted by the same proposed inner ring road that had closed The Globe and eventually closed its own doors in 2007 before being demolished. The Green Lane Gallery survived the ring road blight but had long since changed into a child care establishment.
Opposite The Gallery site is The Duke Of York which became a rival to The Crown and Curzon’s for a couple of years until 2010. ‘The Duke’ was a popular venue with a younger crowd and hosted the start of the first ‘Derby Goes Pink’ pride carnival in 2008. In the same ownership, The Union Blue on Agard Street catered for those less attracted to loud music. A nightclub venue, Boogie Nights lasted for only a few months on Becket Street.
In 2007, Robert Morris set out to make The Liversage Arms on Nottingham Road into ‘The Steel Cage’ – a full fetish bar duly licensed by Derby City Council for nudity. Derby proved not ready to support something quite as radical as this and it closed after a number of management problem but not without creating some ‘life’ memberships and a milestone in Derby’s LGB&T history.
The Pavilion Club
The Derby gay scene has always attracted people from surrounding towns and cities and similarly Derby gays have often travelled to Nottingham, Leicester, Sheffield and beyond.
However, in the late 1960s, there was no gay club in Nottingham, Derby or Leicester. This gap in the market was filled by a unique venture in The Pavilion Club in a disused cricket pavilion at 123 London Road, Shardlow. Owned by the members and run by the members. It opened in 1971 and was christened The Handbag Club by local residents. Originally, it developed out of a pub night called the ‘Bona Ome’ club which was tried out in several pubs in places like Langley Mill, Sneinton and Shardlow.
Sadly, arson caused the club’s closure in 1983, but the insurance proceeds continued to support LGB&T causes for decades including the premises of Derbyshire Friend, known to this day as Pavilion House.
The idea of a club owned by and run by its members was the model for the Nightingale Club in Birmingham which continues successfully to this day.