God Save the Queen’s Head

Once upon a time, too many years ago, I was a shop boy on Chelsea’s trendy King’s Road. Days on the tills and nights on the tiles were the best probation for a young gay man about town. Back then, I pulled quite a crowd in a small local saloon appropriately called ‘The Queen’s Head’ along the even more appropriately called ‘Tryon Street.’ It was a time when safe havens for happy homosexuals were few and far between and the pub provided a venue for people from all walks of life to meet and natter over a sweet sherry with the promise of more. Out of necessity, the gay scene was a great social leveller. The lord and the navvy would mingle happily without deference or embarrassment. What you were trumped who you were. This is when I served my apprenticeship and why kissing arse has never been my style. These days, the gay scene has been commercialised, internationalised and diversified beyond recognition with big business chasing the pink pound, leading to the decline of the little boozers away from the main drag with their no-frills bonhomie. Such is the case for the Queen’s Head, probably Britain’s oldest gay pub, with a pink lineage stretching back to the buttoned-up Fifties. It no longer draws in the punters from far and wide and relies too heavily on an aging crowd who, like me, are in constant danger of permanently dropping off their bar stools. Takings are down.

The inevitable happened. Developers stepped in with plans to convert the building into luxury flats. Time to make a killing. After all, this is Chelsea, a place with some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. Locals were having none of it, gay and straight alike (and those in between). There was a groundswell of opposition supported by a well organised petition. I signed it for old time’s sake. I’m glad to report that the wise burghers of Kensington and Chelsea (my old employers) saw the writing on the wall and turned the planning application down. The pub has been saved – for now.

I’m not one of those old fairy farts who bleat on about how much better it was back in the day. It wasn’t. Many (if not most) gay people lived in fear of prosecution, exposure, blackmail and violence. I’m glad the scene is out of the closet and on the high street. However, next time I mince down the King’s Road, I’ll definitely be popping into my old trolling ground for a pint or two. Why don’t you join me? If the gay community really does have a culture worthy of the name, the Queen’s Head is surely part of it.

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25 thoughts on “God Save the Queen’s Head

  1. Trying to pinpoint the location….was it up the top end towards Worlds End and away from Sloane Square?

    From an Ex Kings Road shoe shop girl (those are very versatile madam, very town and gown)


      1. Must have missed that one. If drinking down the Kings Road we would normally go to Blushes. There was another pub and a basement club too but I really can’t remember what they were called. All such a long time ago now


  2. How I would love to join you! I know that pub! For me Chelsea was such a glamorous place, back in the day… But I noticed during my extended stay in London last year that MANY pubs have gone under. Roehampton (where I grew up) in SW15 used to have five pubs about 10 years ago; now it has one.


    1. It’s true. People’s habits have changed. We’re the wine bar generation. I’m pleased to say that Norfolk is bucking the trend with more pubs opening than closing.


  3. When we returned to the UK 13 years ago, I was really excited at the prospect of being able to visit pubs. The novelty soon wore off. Either pubs have changed a lot since the 80s, or I have.


  4. I used to visit that particular Queen’s Head (Tryon Street if I remember correctly) in 1960. My mum lived at The World’s End, Chelsea. A very flamboyant gent with lavender coloured hear was a regular at the Queen’s Head: Quentin Crisp. I also used to see him at a coffee bar at Seven Dials (near Leicester Square), can’t remember its name. VERY FEW gay haunts in London in those dark days. Quentin, as the TV movie made clear, was a man ahead of his time. Heaven (not the Charing CRoss disco, the other heaven) must be a lot brighter for his presence!


  5. Everything used to be so atmospheric back then, or is it just our age ? do young people these days have atmospheric ? Will they be looking back on such things and wondering where it all went ? The noise, the bad smell and so many bad times, yet looked back on they where fantastic times how strange that time has distorted it all. I used to meet amazing characters in the pubs back then if only I could of retained some of the conversations it would make for a great book.


  6. Too far away for me to imagine the lovely Chelsea, but you write so nostagically and personally about it, I wish I was there. I have never been in your neck of the woods either. Drat. Maybe some day.Sounds warm and inviting.


  7. Nice pub but since the elderly Irish manager has taken over not so nice ; maybe soon the pub will return to its former glory ; when the old Irish manager moves to a better place : he forgets he was young once : don’t be scarred off by his face lol


  8. This was my introduction to the gay scene. It was a wonderful pub in the 80’s. So diverse. Models, shop boys who could have been models and wizen old owls. I fell in love with the manager of Office Shoes on Kings Road here


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