Gay Life: This way for the sex and seediness of Soho village

Organised walking tours of lesbian and gay Soho began yesterday, designed to celebrate the homosexual heritage of what has become London's gay village. Clare Garner visited the hunting grounds of Oscar Wilde and Charles Laughton.

A band of sightseers, with more than a handful of dog collars between them, gathered together yesterday to be guided solemnly through celebrated cottaging country and the17th-century world of Molested Mollies.

Stephen Crane, a virger at St Martin-in-the-Fields, strode ahead, dodging traffic and weaving a path through the labryinth of Soho in central London. His two-hour historical tour of gay hot spots - organised by Kairos, a "spiritual project" for lesbian and gay communities - begins at his church and winds up in Old Compton Street, now centre of the "village" gay life. He pieced it together after scouring records in the British Library.

Left into Wardour Street, right at Ann Summers and into Old Compton Street. "A lot of 18th-century Soho is still here," said Mr Crane, remarking on some ornate shutters. But a lot is not. One is struck by how the cruising landscape of Oscar Wilde, Cole Porter and Noel Coward must have been wonderfully devoid of themed pubs.

"Over the road," he said, pointing his umbrella in the direction of a branch of a French-style cafe chain, "is where 2Is coffee bar used to be. That's where Cliff Richard and the Shadows used to work and where he was discovered."

Into Dean Street, where the serial killer Dennis Nielson picked up rent boys in the Golden Lion pub, and the newly wed actress Elsa Lanchester, living at No 28, famously told her husband, Charles Laughton, that he should get rid of the couch on which he had confessed to "entertaining" young men.

At Charing Cross Road, Mr Crane conjured up an image of Molly Trials on the street in the 1600s. "Most Mollies [an old word for homosexuals] were pilloried at Charing Cross - and it wasn't just vegetables that were thrown at them. It was dead cats, dead dogs, iron and broken glass. Often people died."

On to Soho Square, where William Beckford lived in the 1820s and wrote Vathek, a tract of sin, sorcery, seduction and sex. "He was the richest man in England and also openly gay, which was astounding for that time," Mr Crane said. Beckford spent his time in the Seven Dials, a place he called "the Holy Land" where he could "kiss the relics". "It's always been a seedy area," added Mr Crane.

References to lesbian haunts are rare, but a cafe called The Box, apparently holds a regular women's night. It was, in an earlier incarnation, called As You Like It, and a second home to Quentin Crisp.

At the launch earlier, Neil Whitehead, general secretary of Kairos, explained that the aim of the tours is to raise money. Participants are invited to give pounds 5 towards a Kairos spiritual community centre.

Soho Square yielded another hot spot: No 3, which now houses the British Board of Film Classification, was once the home of Richard Payne Knight, author of a book on phallic worship: The Worship of Priapus.

The tour takes in St Martin's Court, where Pocket books had a gay section before 1967 and Oscar Wilde lived, and St Martin's Lane, where a scene from, Victim, a film about the blackmailing of homosexuals starring Dirk Bogarde, was shot. Kettners restaurant also features. Once the haunt of Wilde and Bosie, it is: "more of a pizza place now, I'm afraid".

Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - SThree Group - Leeds

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: SThree Group has been...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - SThree Group - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: SThree Group has been...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - SThree Group - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: SThree Group has been...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Computer Futures

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London