London’s Other Entertainments

London

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.

9 comments on “London’s Other Entertainments”

  1. Allan Lloyd says:

    When my son-in-law was appearing in a play in the West End a few years ago one of the perks to the job was temporary membership to a club fairly close to Leicester Square, where he took us to dinner after the performance. I have never managed to find the entrance to the club again. It was down an alley which was so narrow that you almost had to walk sideways to get down it. I don’t remember any name on the doorway, but when we went in we climbed several sets of oak stairs and ended up in an Edwardian-style dining area and bar, overflowing with famous thesps, whom I tried hard not to stare at.

    It really was like travelling back in time, and was nothing like the major clubs, like the Travellers, where I went to a talk organised by the Anthony Powell Society last year. It really was a place to go to relax after a performance, and the atmosphere was informal and friendly. It was a bit like those disappearing bookshops that appear in fantasy stories, and I wish that I could find it again.

  2. Stuart Williams says:

    That sounds like 2 (Two?) Brydges on Brydges Place, a very narrow alley which runs off the bottom of St Martin’s Lane at the end of The Coliseum. An ex-colleague took me there years ago. It is a fantastic place.

  3. Allan Lloyd says:

    That sounds like it. My memory was playing tricks and I remembered it being the other side of Leicester Square.

  4. Ken Mann says:

    Tomorrow I will scald myself with a cup of Tea is Czech (I think).

  5. Roger says:

    As a flâneur – amateur, of course: a professional flâneur is merely a sociologist going for a walk – I can say that a flâneurs’ lecture class – even above or in a pub – destroys the whole point of the activity.

  6. Peter Tromans says:

    Can’t help it, I love models. The trains, the track, the buildings of The Model Railway Club are incredible, truly epic.

  7. Denise Treadwell says:

    Sounds so interesting hidden, clubs , societies, and groups. The Victoria Vanishes, was the first book I read and then I had to have more.

  8. Wayne Mook says:

    In Manchester I’m a member of a film club The Society of Fantastic Films, sadly I’ve not been for a while, they still meet the last Friday of each month at The Seven Oaks on the edge of China Town, upstairs. Last time there I saw Euterpe the Killer Piano and the rest of the film was as much fun.

    Wayne.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Ah, yes, and the husband did not get lost going to the Model Railway Club for a fine evening out apparently. Gatherings such as these are what make a city civilized.
    We used to go out to the University of B.C. on Sat. evenings for the Vancouver Institute lectures. Membership available but not required to attend and the lectures range from “How Salmon find their Way Home” through Freud’s Philosophy to talks on Mathematics and Chemistry – where I discovered that even the notation is different from what it was “when I went to school.” The New Zealand cabinet minister speaking on the changes to their voting system was astounded that several hundred people would come out on a Sat. night to hear about voting systems. “We have lots of things that are much more fun to do on a Sat. night.” It’s a 3/4 hour drive out there, though, and we haven’t been for over a year now.

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