Islington's Pride: Mapping Islington's queer community

Every record tells a story:
Mapping the queer community of Islington

Many of you will have been compelled by this long year of lockdowns to get out and walk your neighbourhood. Perhaps it has accelerated a thirst to diversify your knowledge of the world and what can be found on your very own doorstep.

A new website has just been launched which will help you do both, showcasing the history and impact of the LGBTQ+ community in that most radical of London’s boroughs, Islington. The interactive map, created on Humap, a new heritage mapping platform, features two walking trials through the places where queer history was made, as well as an immense amount of information on the clubs, campaigns, people and places of the LGBTQ+ community in the borough for well over a century.

Seán McGovern had greater ambitions; to reach outside the museum walls and bring the collection to the streets of the borough with walking trails around Islington that visitors could follow on a map.

The map was commissioned by Islington’s Pride, a project run by Islington Council’s Heritage Services, devoted to collecting and celebrating Islington’s LGBTQ+ heritage. Based at Islington Local History Centre in St John’s Street, Islington’s Pride has been collecting all sorts of materials: flyers, posters, newspaper clippings and books and the collection continues to grow. But its curators, particularly project lead, Seán McGovern had greater ambitions; to reach outside the museum walls and bring the collection to the streets of the borough with walking trails around Islington that visitors could follow on a map.

Islington’s Pride Edith Craig record

With funding in place from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and looking for an engaging way to integrate the collection into Islington’s everyday life, Seán reached out to the digital agency behind Layers of London to see whether a site could be created in a similar vein. It needed to be visually interesting, easy to use, and have a lasting legacy as a repository for not just digitised records but the oral testimonies they were planning to collect. Islington’s Pride had identified around 150 sites of significance across the borough and a selection of these were to have physical-digital markers combined with digital-only markers, an approach which followed the borough’s much appreciated project to place street plaques commemorating the fallen residents of Islington during the Great War.

Core to Humap is the organising, grouping and presenting of content in interesting ways, so adapting early features like collections (where records with something in common are grouped together) to create trails was a relatively natural progression. Thinking more holistically, the Humap team also had to consider how individual trail records would be presented outside their walking routes. Humap is non-hierarchical in terms of records – a record on the map needs to stand alone, regardless of whether it is part of a collection or trail – they needed to make sense out of context. The trail functions need to work on smartphones and devices as people wander the borough.

Despite its inherent complexities, Humap has been built to offer the same content regardless of device, presented in a useful and appropriate manner, and trails are no different in this respect. Clients can create connected records into a themed trail, which users can walk, visiting locations as they learn about them through each record. And a really key feature of the map, as testified by Seán, is that it is incredibly easy to create new entries and so adding more to them as further information emerges becomes a headache-free task. This allows for the site to get stronger over time without becoming a burden to its admins.

Delayed due to Covid, the site was finally launched 1st June 2021 along with the physical markers themselves. A select project group gathered outside Islington Town Hall, as Islington’s Mayor, Troy Gallagher, himself an out gay man, opened the plaques and movingly talked about the progress that had been made since he himself had come to London and what had been lost and what gained since then.

Islington’s Pride trail QR coded plaques

And there is so much to look at. Starting with the legendary club night Trade at Turnmills on Clerkenwell Road which begun in 1990, it was London’s first gay after-hours club and the first venue in the UK to have a 24-hour music and dance license. Trade ran from 3am to 1pm on a Sunday and was a wildly popular part of the emerging gay rave culture of the 1990s. From this record, you can click through to the rest of the borough’s clubs via the tag ‘nightlife’, a spread of pins showing the fun times to be had over several decades. Or how about architecture? The Ziggurut building on Saffron Hill is a converted Art Deco print works standing on the site of Mother Clap’s Molly House in the 18th Century and now home to many gay couples, a layered history not obvious until you see it in its place.

The first trail starts at 40 Islington Street with Edith Craig, an actress, costume designer, theatre producer, and director and an active campaigner and early pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement. Craig was involved in the foundation of the International Suffrage Shop, a feminist bookshop and publisher. Marching on up Upper Street past the London Gay Men’s Chorus, the Paradise Club, Gummi Bar, the King’s Head Theatre, it takes us right up to Highbury Fields where the first gay rights demonstration in the UK took place, organised by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF).

Islington’s Pride Clerkenwell and Finsbury trail

The other trail winds in a circular fashion around Clerkenwell and Finsbury from Islington Museum and Local History Centre, the home of Islington’s Pride, round to The London Lesbian and Gay Centre near Smithfield, passing on the way the home of pre-Raphaelite artist Simeon Solomon at Sans Walk and The Charterhouse, current home of Stanley Underhill, a priest who faced great odds to come out as gay.

The borough was calculated to have a 20% queer population in the 80s and so it is no wonder that there is such a concentration of such people, places, campaigns and clubs in the area, attracted to the non-conformist (in the widest sense) milieu of this North London quarter. The site will grow over time as more records are added and more trails are created from them and will remain an excellent source of information about both London and queer heritage. Once in the map, it is hard to tear yourself away as you click through the links, view the images and read the testimonies within the records.

If you have your own heritage collection you want to display in a similar way, via trails, collections, pinned records (and of course layered historical maps), then Humap is a great place to put them. Easy to create, easy to view and easy to maintain, Humap is priced to suit different needs, at individual, community or institutional level. Just reach out to Miriam at [email protected] for a live demo and a discussion of your requirements. Everything makes more sense on a map!