Laurie Williams recalls the 1940s
“One source of information was Laurie Williams who would tell me about gay sex during the blackout in Birmingham in the war; there was active cottaging and cruising; a circuit of notorious toilets to visit; clubs that were accessed by going up the back stairwell of an Indian restaurant; all sorts of illicit events and parties, big house parties most weekends. That was the gay social life that people had.”
“The gay village in Birmingham in the 1940s was at Temple Street such as the Imperial Hotel that had a gay bar. Apparently W H Auden used to drink in The Temple Bar in the 1940s. There have always been gay pubs even if they didn’t officially say that they were gay. There were some notorious cottages in the 1940s and during the war the black out gave opportunity for all sorts of sexual licence. The American soldiers were lined up at the ‘Silver Slipper’ – a subterranean toilet, half moon in shape, at the junction of Hill Street and Stephenson Street. It was called the Silver Slipper because there was a ballet supply shop opposite whose window display had a pair of silver slippers. From what Laurie Williams and others had said there was a ring of toilets that were active. There was another one called ‘The Bovril’ at the other end of New Street Station - there was a large hoarding with a permanent Bovril advert on it hence the name.
Just before they demolished the Silver Slipper they removed two partition walls that uncovered two cubicles with gay graffiti on the walls from the 1950s. It was exactly the same as the graffiti from the 1980s and 90s… men searching for sex or men writing stories of what they had got up to. Transvestites looking to meet - there’s always a Sandra looking for a Tracy!
Contributed by: Lyn David Thomas, 47