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The 1990s: When Islington rivalled Soho for clubbing

PUBLISHED: 14:40 15 September 2016 | UPDATED: 14:40 15 September 2016

Trade at Turnmills nightclub in the early 1990s. Picture: Anne Marie Garbutt

Trade at Turnmills nightclub in the early 1990s. Picture: Anne Marie Garbutt

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“Islington is becoming ‘like Soho’ because so many clubs and bars are being allowed to stay open all night, according to a local councillor.” This excerpt, from the Islington Gazette in October 1996, is hard to believe 20 years on.

"Borough is turning into second Soho": Islington Gazette in October 1996

After the council’s licensing sub-committee shut down Farringdon superclub Fabric last week, many have kissed goodbye to a scene that once marked Islington as a destination night out for clubbers.

Among many others, there was the Aquarium in Old Street, which had a swimming pool, the Complex in Parkfield Street and, possibly most famous of all, Turnmills in Clerkenwell Road – just around the corner from Fabric.

“It’s very disappointing as that choice has gone,” says Anne Marie Garbutt.

Last year, she ran an exhibition on Trade, the popular Turnmills gay “night” that ran until the early hours – of the afternoon.

Trade at Turnmills in the early 2000sTrade at Turnmills in the early 2000s

She continues: “I feel very sorry for young people today who want to go out clubbing.

“It was a fantastic time for me. I made so many friends. People made careers out of the club scene.

“It’s a part of our cultural heritage, but it’s disappearing.”

Opened as Gaudi’s restaurant in 1985, it became Turnmills nightclub in 1990 – and a year later it was the first to be granted a 24-hour licence.

"Smartie Partie" was a Saturday club night at Turnmills from 2003 to 2008

Though there were a number of run-ins with the council and courts, Turnmills was a club that attracted the stars. Madonna and Bono were patrons. But above all, much like Fabric, it was a “club for clubbers”.

“Turnmills had more of an underground feel,” Anne Marie says. “Fabric was huge, I couldn’t believe the size of it. You could say it was more commercial in terms of how it attracted tourism to the area.

“It was such an exciting time, especially around the Clerkenwell area. There were different clubs, open on different nights.

“And bars would open as a follow-on from this, hoping to attract the crowds before or after the clubs opened or closed.”

An advert for Trade's 10th birthday at Turnmills nightclub in Clerkenwell RoadAn advert for Trade's 10th birthday at Turnmills nightclub in Clerkenwell Road

But no club night in Islington has ever stood out more than Trade and its “fiercely up-for-it gay crowd” between 1990 and 2002.

The party would start at 4am on a Sunday, running until 1pm.

“I loved everything about it,” adds Anne Marie. “The music, the crowd – it had all the elements you need to make a good club.”

Turnmills closed in 2008 when the club came “to the end of its natural life”. A few clubs remain in Islington – but sadly the scene may be disappearing for good.

Islington Museum seeks material and photos for a new archive on Islington’s LGBT social scene. Email alex.smith@islington.gov.uk


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