Object of the Month:
Hampstead Town Hall (1950), unknown photographer
Our Object of the Month is this photograph of Hampstead Town Hall from 1950. At first glance, you might wonder how this might relate to the LGBT+ community, however this grand building has a unique and little-known history.
Originally built as a vestry hall in 1878, it soon became the headquarters for Hampstead Borough Council. Around the time this photograph was taken, the Town Hall hosted a series of avant garde fancy dress balls, arranged by the Hampstead Arts Society between 1947 and 1955.
The first was advertised in the Sphere newspaper under the headline “Hampstead Goes Gay”, these balls became rare opportunities for people of the LGBTQ+ community to express themselves. A Pathé clip of the 1951 ball, which you can watch below, shows men and women in glamorous outfits, participating in a fancy-dress competition and dancing. The film ends with a man wearing tights and glittery eye makeup with the narrator commenting “And if any of you girls want to know where to get stocking like that, we don’t know his address!” Homosexuality was not decriminalised until 1967, so life before then would have been stifling and dangerous for LGBTQ+ people. Events such as this offered a safe environment in which people could express themselves together.
Although these balls ended in 1955, Hampstead Town Hall continued to be a centre for change. In 1972, just five years after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act was passed, the West London branch of the Gay Liberation Front hosted a disco at the venue. Today, it is home to the WAC Performing Arts and Media College which has continued to celebrate and support the LGBTQ+ community through a series of popular events, workshops and discos.
For more information please visit the WAC Arts website here
Image: Hampstead Town Hall (1950), unknown photographer