London’s Other Entertainments
While I was convalescing and unable to fly I spent a little time unearthing secret or lesser-known places tucked away across the city.
Upstairs in London pubs, in basements and tunnels, odd societies are surviving, from a secret sketch club under a station to a flaneurs’ lecture class above a pub. I’ve spoken of the Model Railway Club – the world’s oldest – housed in King’s Cross, run by enthusiasts and ex-railway personnel who have worked on some layouts, like the epic Copenhagen Fields track, which shows trains in the inter-war years, for decades.
Too often, ‘club’ means ‘bar’. Every city now has a few secret cocktail joints; the Turkish Bathhouse in the city is now a drinking hole, and there’s a one in the Discount Suit Warehouse in Spittalfields, but drinking is not exactly brain food. Which is why I like the Sohemians at the Wheatsheaf, who provide talks and discussions on a variety of esoteric London subjects, from Soho in the sixties to the music clubs.
Likewise, the First Tuesday Society hold events for the terminally curious and the Cinema Museum (now under threat of permanent closure) hosts screenings and events for a wide range of forgotten, cult and silent films. But there are others dotted about, like the bohemian Savage Club, founded in 1857, which has six categories for membership; art, literature, science, law, music and drama.
There are a vast number of venues where you can attend talks in London, including the Conway Hall, the British Library, Bishopsgate Institute, the British Academy, Gresham College, Guildhall, the Royal Society and the National Archives. Museums, art galleries and other institutes have annual programmes that each offer a hundred lectures a year.
I’m aware of a few of the more informal venues in central London that host clubs in their upstairs rooms, and outlined the kind of quirky topics they cover in ‘The Victoria Vanishes’. I miss the Duke Mitchell Club which met in the Golden Lion – Mitchell was one of the world’s most obscure film directors – and showed the strangest films I’ve ever seen, but it was perfect if you wanted to see the Turkish time travel film ‘Tomorrow I will Scald Myself with a cup of Tea’, or wanted to sit through public information films featuring the cast of Grange Hill showing you how to use computers.
The roll-call of such clubs changes constantly, but most have Facebook pages. If you know of any unusual ones, do mention them here.