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From A-Z to Gay-Z

Now and again I write in the hope that one of our readers is going to be able to offer further enlightenment. Today’s topic is gay city maps, made specifically for a gay audience. As far as I know, the ‘London Gay City Map’ issued with the 1982 Spartacus International Gay Guide for Gay Men, was the first time a mainstream publisher (in this instance John Bartholomew and Son) licensed the use of their cartography as a base map for this purpose. It may also have been the last for a while, as the gradual evolution of the social landscape which made publication uncontroversial for a major commercial company received a sharp check with the onset of the AIDS crisis. It is one of the maps which Tom Harper and I chose for our History of the 20th Century in 100 Maps (London: British Library, 2014, pp. 186-187) and it may well feature in the British Library’s exhibition of 20th Century maps, curated by Tom, this autumn.

We wrote then that maps in earlier editions of the Spartacus guides had been traced or copied without attribution, but we had been unable to locate any earlier separately published gay city maps. So I was delighted to discover this Gay-Z of London, published by the Man to Man bookshop in Notting Hill c. 1977.

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As an example of the cartographer’s art it’s a shocker, but that’s hardly the point. One of the most striking developments of map-making in the 20th century is that where commercial firms would not get involved for monetary, political or other reasons, access to cheap colour printing made it possible for special-interest groups or even individuals to produce and distribute their own maps as never before. Much of this output remains unrecorded.

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The map is undated, but 1977 seems about right based on internal evidence from the map itself. The Man to Man Bookshop opened in Notting Hill in May 1974 (See Rupert Smith, Physique: the life of John S. Barrington, London: Serpent’s Tail, 1997, p. 192). There are one or two nightspots and other establishments which are conspicuous by their absence. For example, the bookshop Gay’s the Word was opened in January 1979, and a later edition of the map might be expected to mention it. The advert announcing over 1000 performances of the Rocky Horror Show at the King’s Road Theatre provides the best clue. Allowing for matinees, and working on the assumption that the ad would be updated every couple of hundred performances or so, a date in late 1976 or 1977 seems most likely.

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As with the Spartacus map, with its chilling references to venues to be visited ‘At Your Own Risk’, the Man to Man Gay-Z contains occasional jolts for the modern reader, most particularly the tri-lingual reminder on the inside covers of precisely what was and was not legal in the UK at the time. I would be surprised if many maps like this were distributed before the mid 1970s, and it would be astonishing if any were produced before the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. However, this is where it’s over to you! I would be most interested to learn about earlier examples, and to see comparable examples of maps from other cities, in the UK and overseas. Leave a comment or use the contact form to upload pictures.

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