Kensington & ChelseaNews

Listed former gay pub in Earl’s Court deserves saving, says nostalgic ex-patron

By Adrian Zorzut, Local Democracy Reporter

A former gay pub dubbed one of the oldest in London has been given Historic England status, to the delight of at least one man who said he would love to see it restored to its former glory.

But it’s now overrun with squatters with a future that is far from certain.

The Boltons (also known as The Bolton) in Earl’s Court Road, secured a Grade-II listing for its “architectural significance” in November and was the first ever to receive a Building Preservation Notice (BPN) by Kensington and Chelsea council, protecting the property from works for six months.

Now one former patron is calling on the owners to restore the shuttered landmark and strike a deal with squatters to preserve the building.

For Bruno de Florence, 68, The Boltons was a place where you could be ‘as gay as you wanted to be’. The retired website developer moved to Earl’s Court in the 1990s to lap up the area’s thriving gay scene and Bohemian vibe, which he said has since disappeared.

He said: “Everything has shut down in Earl’s Court. There are no more safe spaces. Everyone is online now and it is a disaster. It is breaking down social relationships.”

The Boltons was just one of the venues making the area “the gayest place in the world”, according to Mr de Florence.

The venue opened in 1892 but didn’t become a gay bar until the 1970s. In the 1980s, it gained something of a reputation for sleaze and was eventually shut and renamed in the 1990s, when it stopped being a gay bar.

But for Bruno, The Boltons was the place to take friends after work, and he visited at least two to three times a month. He said despite the presence of male sex workers, there was still a “jolly” vibe to it.

He said: “It was a gay-friendly atmosphere. You didn’t feel threatened. It was a safe space where you weren’t afraid to walk around hand-in-hand with your boyfriend.

“No one there looked at you in an odd way or a threatening way. It was unique. You could be anyone you wanted to be.”

A picture of The Boltons, lit up in LGBTQ colours (Picture: Linda Wade)

Now The Boltons is shut, boarded up and occupied by squatters, who apparently moved in over the last 18 months. Those occupying the building, who appeared to be in their early 20s and relatively well dressed, claimed to be homeless but refused multiple requests for an interview and said they would only leave under a court order.

Owner Devonshire Investment Holdings (DIH) is fighting to have them evicted and is pursuing this through the courts.

Felicity Devonshire, who runs DIH, said she was shouted at and given the middle finger when she first tried to enter the property.

She said: “If someone came into your home and used all the electricity and lighting and gas – how would you feel? They say they’re homeless but they’re not just homeless, they’re living off people.”

Kensington and Chelsea councillor Cem Kemahli, lead member for planning and public realm, said: “The recognition of this historic pub as a listed site stands not just as a tribute to its architectural importance but also celebrates its role as a cherished hub within the LGBTQ+ community. The preservation of buildings like this one echoes our history and diverse communities in the borough”.

Pictured top: Bruno de Florence at The Bolton (Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga)

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