The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 1860-2 probably by the architect James Edmeston the elder, refitted in 1896 and again in the early 1980s, a noted performance space and LGB&T venue.
Reasons for Designation
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 1860-2 probably by the architect James Edmeston the elder, refitted in 1896 and again in the early 1980s, is listed for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: the building has historic and cultural significance as one of the best known and longstanding LGB&T venues in the capital, a role it has played particularly in the second half of the C20. It has become an enduring symbol of the confidence of the gay community in London for which it possesses strong historic interest above many other similar venues nationally;
* Architectural interest: it also possesses architectural interest in the handsome and well-designed mid Victorian curved facade, with a parade of arcades terminating in pedimented bays, which has a strong architectural presence despite alterations at ground floor level;
* Historic associations: built on the site of the England's best known place of pleasure for more than two centuries, Vauxhall Gardens; and this building's specifically acknowledged association, since the late C19/early C20, with alternative culture and performance;
* Interior interest: the structural decorative cast iron columns survive although the later 1980s fittings are excluded from the listing; there are original fixtures at the upper floors.
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern was built between 1860 and 1862, probably by the architect James Edmeston senior, since it was the first building to be constructed in his scheme to redevelop the site of Vauxhall Gardens, the pleasure gardens which had closed in 1859. In 1889 the Royal Vauxhall Tavern was bought by the publicans Poole and Venner who in 1896 employed the architect R A Lewcock to refurbish the interior; his scheme included the installation of a long curving bar that followed the line of the internal structural columns, and for many years provided a stage and performance space for drag artists. In the 1970s the local streets, which had been laid out by Edmeston on the footprint of Vauxhall Gardens, were demolished, leaving the Royal Vauxhall Tavern standing alone, while the ground behind was landscaped to form New Spring Gardens.
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, or RVT as it is commonly known, is a key LGB&T venue and symbol of the gay community, with a national and international reputation. From the later C19 the pub was recognised as an important drag and cabaret venue, building on the reputation for Bohemian and alternative entertainment which had been characteristic of the area, and particularly of Vauxhall Gardens since its inception in the 1660s. Many well-known drag artists have started their career or performed at the RVT.
Given the need for discretion at the time, it is difficult to give a precise date, but seemingly from the early 1950s the RVT came to be recognised as a major LGB&T venue. Certainly by the 1960s it was overtly so, providing a meeting place and entertainment platform, and a flagship for the gay community, and it was a site of resistance to homophobia during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s. The website http://www.rvt.community/ provides a detailed history of the building and its cultural significance.
Thriving in this role, in the early 1980s the pub was refurbished internally. Previously laid out with three smaller bar areas, internal partitions and the iconic curved bar were removed to provide a single open space served by a smaller bar against the southern wall and a larger stage, built against the rear wall of the building. Seating was built-in against the outer curved wall and in place of the horseshoe bar, island tables were created round each of the internal columns.
After Vauxhall Gardens closed, items, including ‘about sixty-one iron columns’, were sold at auction. It has been suggested that the six structural piers that support the first floor stair well and a further six used externally on the building may have been acquired from the Gardens. Illustrations of Vauxhall Gardens, including the frontispiece of the 1778 edition of the Vocal magazine, an engraving from the Lady’s magazine of 1799 and a drawing by the artist and social commentator George Scharf of 1827 show buildings with columnar arcades but, never intended as precise architectural drawings, none appear to provide clear certainty that these correspond with the RVT columns and piers.
Public house, 1860-2 probably by James Edmeston, remodelled internally in 1896 by R A Lewcock for the publicans Poole and Venner and again in the 1980s.
MATERIALS: stock brick with stucco dressings. Pitched, presumably slate, roofs are hidden behind the parapet and rear extensions.
PLAN: the building comprises pitched roofed wings in three storeys behind a curved street frontage. The pub has a single bar space, originally laid out as three separate bars, each entered from the street. To the right, a separate entrance gives access to the upper floors, which were formerly laid out as accommodation and probably a first floor function room on the street frontage.
EXTERIOR: the street frontage is in six bays, the upper floors articulated by giant order pilasters supporting pediments in the outer bays and in the inner bays a round-arched arcade above the second floor. The outer bays have rusticated pilasters framing a full-height recessed panel, within which is a pedimented first floor window with scrolled brackets, while the upper floor window has a shallow stilted arch with stucco rendered capitals and keystone. The inner bays have round-arched windows, on the first floor with moulded impost bands within each bay, and on the upper floor with a narrow cill band and moulded brackets. Most windows are horned sashes.
On the ground floor three entrances, of which the central doorway is now blocked, are flanked by engaged, fluted, timber columns on square bases, of which four retain their Corinthian capitals. Between the entrances are moulded panels; above all are overlights, of which the least altered are glazed with a central lozenge panel. The entrance to the right (south) to the upper floors has a later C20 architrave*. The plinth below the ground floor windows is faced in ox blood coloured tiles with darker flush panels, but has been painted in 2015. The fascia is later C20*.
INTERIOR: arranged in an arc and supporting the curved stairwell above are six cast iron cylindrical columns with Composite capitals. The bases are enclosed by C20 cladding*. Entrance doors have moulded architraves. Otherwise the bar area is a single space, remodelled and fitted out in the 1980s. This 1980s fit out* is of not of special interest.
An impressive closed string stair built against a curved inner wall, with turned newels and moulded balusters, rises from first to second floors. The principal room on the first floor, perhaps formerly a function room, has been subdivided and within it most of the internal joinery has been replaced. Elsewhere upper floors have moulded door and window architraves and doors of four panels. A number of upper floor rooms have round-arched cast iron fireplaces and grates with integral trivets or pot stands.
* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.