Liberation Disco with Ana Matronic celebrates rich LGBT history

The Hampstead Old Town Hall has been making history for 140 years and continues to do so today.

From sheltering Londoners from German air raids, hosting Suffragette meetings, holding Gay Liberation Front discos, to now home to an arts organisation whose mission is to provide inclusive, innovative arts experiences, the Old Town Hall has contributed to radical change-making in society.

To honour the LGBT+ history of the building and those who pushed the boundaries and supported the community, Wac Arts is hosting a Liberation Disco.

The late-night party will open with a set from queer icon DJ Ana Matronic of the Scissor Sisters, pop DJ sensation DJ Neil Prince and will feature cabaret acts such as the fabulous Dolly Trolley Drag. Early bird tickets are still available.

Ana Matronic performs at Manchester Apollo. (Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage)

Starting in 1907, Hampstead Town Hall has a long history of maintaining a place for prominent figures in history to have voice.

In 1907, the people of Hampstead elected London’s first female councillor, Reina Lawrence, who worked tirelessly to improve housing, sanitation, and infant mortality rates as well as represent women in government to show that women can and will have their voices heard.

In 1913, Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the founders of the Suffragette Movement, gave a public speech at the Town Hall.

An undercover policeman reported the meeting and archived the speech as evidence of Pankhurst’s active involvement in the movement.

Pankhurst spoke of the need for women to be represented in the government through the right to vote and for the basic and simple right to be respected as valued individuals in society.

The front cover of a book by 1950s Don We Now Our Gay Apparel book cover (Art Ball)

At the same meeting, Henry Nevinson, the founder of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, opened the meeting stating that he believed women had been betrayed by the government.

Pankhurst’s speech defended their use of violence by stating “And I want you, not to see these as isolated acts of hysterical women, but to see that it is being carried out on a plan and that it is being carried out with a definite intention and a purpose”.

With this in mind, the Suffragettes later bombed a post office box down the road from the Town Hall.

Later, between 1947 and 1955, the Old Town Hall hosted many fancy dress balls for the Hampstead Arts Society, which turned into an LGBT+ haven during a time of oppression since homosexuality was still illegal in the UK.

The queer community was able to express themselves freely at the Town Hall with no fear of being judged for who they were. A right that we still face challenges around today.

In a write up of the 1947 ball, The Sphere newspaper declared “Hampstead goes gay” with a description of the events being “for artists by artists”.

1947 The Sphere (Art Ball)

The fact that these balls were held in the Town Hall indicates that the community valued and wanted the LBGT+ community to feel welcome and safe in their neighbourhood.

This also allowed the LGBT+ community to actively lobby for their voices to be heard to the local politicians.

The balls were a place of fun, political lobbying, and community building and therefore allowed the people of Hampstead to grow closer together and fight for each other’s voices to be heard and rights to be protected.

Just five years after the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 passed, the Old Town Hall hosted a Gay Liberation Front disco in 1972 to continue its support and celebration of the LBGT+ community.

Later in 1977, the Town Hall hosted the famous drag theatre troupe, Bloolips.

As a nod to the historic men and women who walked the floors before them, Wac Arts is holding a 3 days arts and events festival, the WAWA Weekender.

1947 The Sphere (Art Ball)

The festival will celebrate all that Wac Arts has accomplished over the 40 years that the charity has been running as well as the rich, radical history of the building.

The festival will host free workshops, discussions around inclusive arts practise and what is relevant to audiences today, shows including performances from actors such as Simon Callow and parties galore.

Ticket are available here.