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20 June 2021

The Black Cap, Camden

A pub in Camden Town, London, at 171 Camden High Street.   It was first licensed in 1751 and was originally called the Mother Black Cap, after a local supposed witch, one Jinny Bingham (c.1600- c.1680), known as Mother Damnable, whose parents had been hanged for witchcraft and procuring a death.   Another pub, the Mother Red Cap, was also named after her.  

From the mid-1960s The Black Cap was a well-known gay pub, and later became known for its drag-queen cabaret. Its most famous performer was Mrs Shufflewick (who was often taken as a cis woman) who did a Sunday Lunch performance during the 1970s.  After she died in 1983, the upstairs bar was renamed The Shufflewick Bar - the management also paid for her funeral.  

Other performers included Lilly Savage, Danny La Rue and Regina Fong.  

Three murderers frequented the pub:

The gay Dennis Nilsen killed at least 12 young men and boys from 1978-1983.  One of his victims was Carl Stotter who performed at the Black Cap as Khara Le Fox. Nilsen started to kill him, but then let him go.  Stotter testified at Nilsen’s trial in 1983 (which resulted in a Life Sentence) - however he never got over the experience and became alcoholic and died age 52.  Nilsen died in prison age 72.

The heterosexual divorcee Anthony Hardy (The Camden Ripper) also frequented the Black Cap.  He murdered the woman he was living with and two female sex workers in 2002.  He has been given a whole life tariff and thus will never be released.

Also in 2002 Thomas McDowell, a homophobic male prostitute met a German trainee rabbi in the Black Cap, took him home and murdered him.   It is recommended that he never be released.

The pub continued as a venue for queer culture until 2015, when it was proposed to convert the building into flats.  However there has been a campaign to raise £3 million to purchase the pub and partner with an LGBTQ+ operator to operate it.

  • Richard Benner (dir). Black Cap Drag, with Shane and Laurie Lee.  UK/US 42 mins 1969.  
  • Mrs Shufflewick.  Live from the New Black Cap.  LP 1972.  Online.
  • Polly Perkins.  “Camping it up in Camden Town”.  The Stage, 5 July 1973.  
  • Patrick Newley.  “A drag pub to cap it all”. The Stage, 25 January 1996.  
  • Lawrence Senelick.  The Changing Room: Sex, drag and theatre.  Routledge, 2000: 231, 370.
  • Patrick Newley. The Amazing Mrs Shufflewick: The Life of Rex Jameson. Third Age Press. 2007.
  • "Historic Drag Pub Camden's Black Cap Closed Down By Owners". This Is Cabaret. 2015-04-13.  Online.
  • Martin Plaut &Andrew Whitehead. “The story of burlesque at the Black Cap”.  Kentishtowner, September 30, 2015.  Online.
  • Michael J Buchanan-Dunne.  “The Deadliest Pubs in London”.  Murder Mile Tours, 20/5/2016.  Online.  
  • Dan Carrier.  “Rival bids to buy Black Cap pub as famous venue is put up for sale”.  Camden New Journal, 21 November 2019 Online.  

 EN.Wikipedia       WeAreTheBlackCap     

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