8: The Colony Room


41 Dean Street

Between 1945 and 1955 the relative sexual freedom felt between the wars was put into reverse as the state made a conscious effort to reconstruct the nuclear family.

British courts unleashed a wave of prosecutions against homosexual men for gross indecency, a vague legal term used to criminalise any kind of sexual activity between men, and pretty much covered everything outside of anal penetration (which had its own law).

The number of men prosecuted for gross indecency rose to 2,500 a year and in the autumn of 1953 there was a further crackdown. In just a few months nearly 5,000 men were arrested on charges of either gross indecency, solicitation, or sodomy.

Queer-friendly venues retreated from the public gaze of Piccadilly Circus to the back alleys of Soho and became evermore exclusive. The district became notorious for the eccentrics, artists and gangsters who rubbed shoulders in Soho’s numerous drinking dens, creating the bohemian atmosphere that the area is still famous for.

In 1948, Muriel Belcher secured a 3-to-11pm drinking license for the Colony Room bar as a private members' club. Belcher's sexuality attracted many homosexual men to the club, many of them brought by her Jamaican girlfriend Carmel.

The day after The Colony Room opened, artist and homosexual Francis Bacon walked in and became one of its founding members. Belcher joke-adopted Bacon as a daughter and gave him free drinks plus a budget of £10 a week to bring in friends and rich patrons.

Unsurprisingly, The Colony Room became Bacon’s second home and was a gin-soaked refuge for many of London's artists, poets, drunks and queers.

Although filmed in 1965, this short clip gives you an idea of what The Colony Room would have been like in the 50s. It also shows Muriel Belcher at 0:38

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