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Boris backs listing bid for UK's oldest gay pub

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The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has come out in favour of a campaign to give the UK’s oldest gay pub, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern (RVT) in London, listed status

The Mayor called the RVT in Lambeth a ‘lynchpin’ of the capital’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community for more than six decades which ‘must’ be saved.

Speaking about the campaign organised by the group RVT Future, Johnson said: ‘This week, New York gave the Stonewall Inn landmark status, recognising its place in that city’s history. The Royal Vauxhall Tavern has been a lynchpin at the heart of London’s LGBT community for more than six decades.

‘The RVT’s unique contribution to the vibrancy of London life should also be celebrated. It is a beacon that is known around the world and must be made a listed building so it can continue to shine for years to come.’

A number of prominent architects  including Simon Atkinson, Nigel Coates, Fernando Rihl and James Soane have joined the campaign organised by performers and producers to list the famous venue, which it is claimed was once visited in secret by Princess Diana who was smuggled into the RVT by Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.

Coates described the pub’s possible destruction as ‘unthinkable’ both from the ‘architectural point of view and for its enduring popularity as an alternative venue’.

The building was bought last year by Austrian property developer Immovate, whose portfolio includes luxury conversions of historic buildings into residential or office spaces.  According to campaigners, the firm has so far failed to reveal details of the plans for the site, however Immovate has said that if the RVT was given listing status the venue would have to close, claiming that it even minor repairs would become ‘too expensive’.

The campaign has also been given support by Ian McKellen; Paul O’Grady (who developed his legendary character Lily Savage at the RVT); Lambeth councillors David Amos, Jack Hopkins, Vaila McClure and Joanne Simpson; New York performer Penny Arcade; author Neil Bartlett; Conservative minister Nick Boles MP; shadow culture minister Chris Bryant MP; Labour global LGBT envoy Lord (Michael) Cashman; Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey; Stonewall chief executive Ruth Hunt and local vicar Revd Alison Kennedy.

The result of the RVT application is expected in the next few months.

Nigel Coates, RCA Emeritus Professor of Architecture
‘An island of dignity in the whirling indifferent interchange that is Vauxhall, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (or RVT) is a poignant reminder of the architectural elegance that characterised much of 19th century London. The possibility of its destruction is unthinkable, both from the architectural point of view and for its enduring popularity as an alternative venue.’

Fernando Rihl, co-founder of architectural practice Procter-Rihl and vice chair of the nearby Wyvil Estate Residents Association
‘The demolition of the RVT is not only going to be a loss of an interesting example of Victorian Public House architecture but it also means the removal of a community venue that is highly active in the local area. The replacement of a typology with another block of flats seems unnecessary due to the extreme urban density already evident in the area.’

James Soane, director and co-founder of Project Orange
‘It is irreplaceable. When it has gone all history is erased, all the memories consigned to the past and the sense of place sanitized.

We’re in danger of losing the qualities that make London a great city

We are in danger of losing the very qualities that make London a great city; its diversity both physically and culturally, its sense of tolerance and its ability to grow with the past as opposed to erasing it.’

Ben Campkin, director of UCL Urbdan Laboratory
‘The pub is one of the oldest surviving LGBT venues in the UK, with a long history as a space of political freedom and activism, and is therefore of great cultural significance to the LGBT community in London and beyond. The popular LGBTQ club scene in Vauxhall today grew from the presence of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and its identification with the Pleasure Gardens. It also represents a continuum of entertainment history on the site from the opening of the first public gardens during the 17th century to the present.’

Alexis Kalli, architectural assistant at Levitt Bernstein and RVT Future member
‘There is a distinct lack of a recorded history of the LGBT community. Till relatively recently it was not safe or legal to be part of such a group of like-minded people and the little heritage that has been allowed to exist on the fringes is now at risk. It’s unlikely that there will be a building that architecturally expresses the heritage of the LGBT community externally so the only opportunities for historic sites are going to emerge from our cities’ hidden spaces in perhaps unremarkable buildings, but these places are of national importance and contribute to the collective story of the UK.

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