Moulin Rouge

72 Worrall Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8. Circa 1970 – October 1976.

Known as the ‘Moulie’, the Moulin Rouge occupied a former swimming pool off Whiteladies Road. The swimming pool was boarded over to form a huge dance floor making it one of the largest gay clubs in Britain. Its complex history has been researched mainly through the files of the Worrall Road Area Residents’ Association at Bristol Record Office.

Moulin Rouge club - bar

Bar with food wicket in far left corner and DJ station on balcony.
Photo: Malcolm Jemison (iphotoguys.com)

The site had a long history as a sports and then a bingo club since 1934, and since 1962 as a dance club.  By 1966 it was a striptease club called Lesters; in September 1966 the owners opened a second club, the Moulin Rouge, at the rear as a discotheque but it was not gay. The Kray twins were reported to be regular visitors during the late 1960s. In February 1969 Terence O’Brien, a Knowle scrap dealer, took over the lease. Within a few months drag acts were showing and a fancy dress ball was held (probably meaning a drag ball). There were frequent problems with the licence and in April 1970 it became the Drum club, “with an African flavour”. Noise nuisance was a problem; by October 1970 the Drum moved into the city centre and the Moulin Rouge reopened.

Moulin Rouge club - stage and entrance end

Stage and entrance viewed from balcony above bar
Photo: Malcolm Jemison (iphotoguys.com)

This is probably when it became ” a club now run exclusively for the use of Homosexuals” (Worrall Road Residents Association letter, March 1971). By Spring 1971 Reg Valentine was manager and the club had 1400 members, regularly attracting 500 people on Saturday nights for an entrance fee of 50p. Later it was managed by Dave Alexander and Mark Wainwright. Dave Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in Star Wars, worked as a bouncer at the Moulin Rouge in its early days.

One man remembers his first visit in the early 1970s; he was refused entry because he didn’t look gay and couldn’t name any other gay venues. If you made it past the door staff, there was the salad to negotiate. Under the terms of the licence drink could only be served with food. Customers were issued a plate of wilted salad, strictly not to be eaten; you kept it in front of you for a while then returned it to be served up to the next customer! The club had its matron, Miriam O’Brien, wife of the owner, who lived in Wells Road, Knowle where she ran a sort of boarding house for displaced young gay men.

Tony Ford - DJ at the Moulin Rouge

Tony Ford – DJ at the Mouli

Custom dipped in the mid-1970s as new venues opened in the city centre. In April 1976 the body of Christine Druce was found drowned in the city docks; she was last seen alive in March leaving the Moulie. There were other violent incidents at the club too, and in October 1976 the Moulin Rouge lost its licence after concerted opposition by the police and the Residents’ Association. It stayed open for a few more months despite the lack of a licence. There were several attempts to reopen it in 1977: the first was withdrawn because of Dave Alexander’s death, and the second after plain-clothed policeman were allowed entry without membership and served alcohol after hours. Lester’s Strip Club continued for some time, but the site was finally cleared for housing in 1986.

 

A drag queen remembers her first visit to the Moulin Rouge:

I remember skiving off school and getting the train to Bristol from Swindon (much as Diana Dors would have done 20 years before me). I was only 15 and had this huge story made up of how I was 21 (age of consent back then) and had been in an “affair” with some guy who had died, and how we never went out on the scene, haha. […] Every Saturday I managed to miss the last train home to Swindon and instead party the night away at The Moulin Rouge up in Worrall Road. What a club that was, the biggest in UK at that time. It was HUGE.

I remember arriving at the Moulin Rouge one foggy Wednesday night in January 1971/2 at 7pm , not knowing what a gay club was, dressed up in evening suit complete with bow tie and cummerbund aged all of only just 15. I was greeted by Dave Alexander who told me it was members only and a committee night to elect a new committee and to come back on Friday or Saturday night, which I managed to do. Having bust my flies getting off the train at Temple Meads (days of puppy fat and a hairless face) on this occasion Dave Alexander’s partner Mark Wainwright was on the door with his bleached blonde long hair and sunglasses, I asked him if he had a safety pin, explaining my predicament. “Don’t worry love, it pays to advertise” he retorted, and took me through into the bowels of the club where he introduced me to some Queen who explained that she was having this fabulous costume flown in from Hong Kong for the Valentines drag ball and she was going to be a human taper… and thus began my journey into GAY subculture and CLUBLAND. Glam Rock was reigning supreme at this time, and Ms Bowie was number one Queen.

Pearl, drag queen

Moulin Rouge club - David Alexander  + friends (420x336)

Middle row: Moulin Rouge manager David Alexander (left) and his partner Tony of the time at their St Paul’s home.
Photo: Malcolm Jemison (back row, far right)

Malcolm Jemison remembers:

Every Sunday a group of us would go to the Radnor or the Ship for a few drinks, then end up at David Alexander’s house on Claremont Street in St Paul’s for a home cooked Sunday lunch while watching the weepy romantic Sunday afternoon movie on the BBC.

 

 

Page lasted updated: 1/10/2013

  12 Responses to “Moulin Rouge”

  1. This was the first gay club I visited, in 1970, and was thrilled by it but was still living at home so could not get off with anyone. To get round this for my next visit, I “arranged” to be away for the night but actually went to the club, fully expecting it to be as crowded as before and no difficulty in finding someone to put me up for the night. To my horror, the place was almost empty, so I had to go with someone, anyone, because I could not go home. Served me right for the subterfuge.

    The club, in a disused quarry, was a converted swimming pool, as has been mentioned, and had a sunken dance floor over the old pool area and seating at a higher level down both sides, presumably on the old pool spectator area. To get to the bar at the far end you had to walk the entire length of the place, usually with all eyes staring at you.

    The bouncer was a huge, burly straight man, but terribly nice and wouldn’t tolerate any homophobia. The club had a truly awful DJ who constantly played party records – perhaps not the hokey-cokey, but something like that. A real pain. And there was also a weird boy who kept doing hand-stands – all very embarrassing.

    I remember seeing Patrick Cargill there with an entourage of little boys – how he got them in the place I don’t know.
    The local residents were outraged that a gay club was in their midst, and often complained to the police or council. I hope today they reflect on how shamefully they behaved.

    • I was there when Patrick Cargill arrived with his entourage of ‘painted’ little boys. He sat down and spoke to me for about half an hour, until I said something that made him realise I was not another little boy to be added to his entourage, his attitude changed, very abruptly, he was quite rude. Of course I had no idea that he thought he was chatting up an under age boy, and was not merely chatting to me, a lesbian in her mid thirties!

      No mention in the history above of a salient point, that the Moulin Rouge had taken a case to the High Court because of harrassment by the police, the consequence of which was that the Police had no right of entry to the premises and had to request permission to enter, which accounted for at least one of the mentions of ‘violent incidents’ mentioned above!

  2. Thanks Dale – I had no idea about the police harrassment case, as there was no evidence for it in the Residents Association file. There was an appeal of 1971 against a licence refusal, which Reg Valentine won, but that’s all. We’ll see if we can trace further evidence.

  3. How this brings back memories. I attended the very first Gay evening here with a group of friends from the Radnor. It was certainly an eye opener for a 20 year old. I remember seeing so many (mostly mimed and not very well) drag acts here and the place was packed on most Saturday evenings. Coach parties from all over the south west and Midlands would descend on Saturday nights. In fact it was sometimes impossible to park in the huge car park – that was originally the quarry floor. I remember a coach load of coal miners arriving from south Wales – in DRAG! After the club shut for the night many of us followed the coach to the Severn Bridge Service area where the miners, still in drag, caused a sensation!

    Sometimes, before it got too busy, the DJ would play ‘classical’ music and I kid-you-not when I say that many of the ‘older’ gentlemen would Viennese Waltz around the floor. Can you imagine that happening now!

    How well I remember Terry sitting at the bar of the ‘cocktail’ lounge getting more and more drunk and eventually falling asleep, resting his head on his enormous tummy whilst still sat at the bar – with Miriam calling him for every name you could think of. Many memories of Reg and David in their turn and the elderly doorman (not the ‘Green Cross Man’) wearing what can only be described as a ‘second-hand Odeon doorman’s uniform’ – complete with ‘Benny Hill’ style peeked cap!

    There is mention here about Patrick Cargill, who I did not see but recall Peter Wyngarde (the actor who played Jason King, and lived near Stroud) sitting in the ‘cordoned off’ cocktail bar with his groupies insisting that no-one be allowed into the area. He soon got fed up when he realised that no-one was paying him any attention. Some things do not change!

    Also fond memories of the late, great Mrs Shufflewick, who appeared here on a regular basis. He could only perform if he was a little (!) inebriated and on one occasion was so drunk he could not complete the act. He was told that on subsequent visits he would not be sold any drink prior to his show so he used to being a cricket bag FULL of bottled Guinness. Wonderful.

    A barman, whose name was David – but we called ‘wiggy’ on account of his rather noticeable hair-piece, falling down the open flap into the cellar area (that was the original swimming pool) and someone quickly shutting the flap and leaving David there for some time ignoring his protestations to be allowed out!

    Please correct me if I am wrong but I think Reg was a ‘drag queen’ who later went on to run the High Roost hotel just outside Cheltenham. We became quite close as my partner Peter Watkins worked for him.

    Writing this has taken me back over 40 years and I have remembered many things that I had not thought of since that time.
    They were great, carefree days, and we made many, many friends – so many of whom are, alas, no longer with us.

    Stephen Rigby

  4. We know reg valintine he’s still going although quite rude still

  5. Hi,
    really interesting reading about the Moulin Rouge club.
    I remember going there many years ago (I guess mid 70’s) and being really excited. The place seemed so big and sophisticated, lol!
    I lived in Wolverhampton. The Moulin was so famous that the local gay club (the Silver Web) came down en masse in a coach. Fab!
    But where exactly was the club? I have looked on Google streets but can’t figure it out! Whiteladies Road? If the club was demolished to make way fro new houses like I have just read on here were are those houses? Can only see older buildings.

    Please come back to me.
    Ken

    • Thanks for your recollections, Ken. The ‘Mouli’ was on Worrall Road, off the top of Whiteladies Road. It was demolished and the site is now occupied by bland houses. Search “72 Worrall Road BS8 2TU” in Google Maps for a map and recent street view photos.

  6. Wow so good to see the photos of this Gay Club.. I was taken to the Moulin Rouge in Cliffton by my very frist Boyfriend Jeff when I was 16 yrs old in 1972 . He was a Bristol lad who was working in Bridgwater where I frist met him.We went with friends Syd and John..Had some great times there..That was the days a guy would asked if you wanted to dance and buy you a drink.. I loved the music and it was great to see guys dancing together.. I can recall Sapphire doing drag as Diana Ross ,singing “Touch me in the Morning” I thought it was just great! I remember Mark Wainwright at the door, long Blonde hair and sun glasses.Always had a big smile.He used to call Jeff (my Boyfriend) Long Fellow because he was over 6ft tall. I can still remember Tony Ford the DJ and the 70s music he played..like ” Dancning on a Saturday night” My boyfriend was always worried about a Police Raid on the club,because I was underaged (a Chicken)..and of course he was having full sex with me..which was against the Law.. The Moulin Rough was one of the very best clubs ever! X

    • As a young girl around 10 yrs ol.d my sister and I used to go to the Moulin rouge regularly and assist the drag queens in their shows. We would serve behind the bar and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. Not suitable for a young girl I hear you say but you would be wrong. Everything was very tasteful when we were around as we were Mark Wainwrights favourite nieces. Great memories and the best uncle in the world.

  7. Wow, all these posts, photos and info have brought to mind my first ever venture into gay life; and it was the Moulin Rouge in 1972. I was a law student at Bristol Poly and lived in a tiny flat at the back of the ABC cinema in Whiteladies Road. It was the last year of my degree and in January ’72 I finally plucked up the courage to find the gay club I had heard rumours about. Heart pounding, part fear, part excitement, dressed in typical hippie student gear of the time I was indeed refused entry. Neither too could I give the right answer when asked where I drank in town. The student union bar was not the right answer. Disappointed, I was told to return a couple of days later; 48 hours has never ever seemed so long. Next visit I was allowed in and my world changed………..

  8. Brings back many happy memories. Sapphire was a camp black man in a time when you saw few gay black men
    Often went to moulie with straight pals as it was good for late drinks.
    Great atmosphere but terrible music.
    If you didn’t cop off there you made a trip to anchor road cottage !
    Cottaging was huge then. Pre tinder
    The owner later had a gay club near queens square which I believe is now a swingers club.
    It wasn’t easy to be gay then few people were out !
    But there was promiscuous sex !

  9. OMG! What memories! Ken is right in describing the Moulie as seeming ‘big and sophisticated’. It felt like an aircraft hangar but the so-called ‘cocktail’ bar (just off the foyer) provided a slightly quieter retreat from the loud music and energetic dancing on the dance floor. I was amazed to read that it closed in 1976: having only ‘come out’ two years before that (at the age of 19), I must have immersed myself in Bristol’s gay scene more fully and enthusiastically than I remembered, LOL. But it was definitely THE place to go in the city at that time – especially for disco. Donna Summer was at her height and ‘Love to love you, baby’ felt like the Moulin Rouge’s anthem. Thanks, guys, for reviving so many awesome memories, especially Sapphire (described by John – above – as a camp black man). You’ve taken me back to my youth! Now I need to check out other venues from that time – like The Ship, Oasis and The Elephant. Google search is going to be busy this afternoon!

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