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Name Change Alert!
After being closed for refurbishment in May and June 2015, the established First Thursday meeting venue (the Melton Mowbray) has re-opened under a new name, The Inn of Court. Meetings are booked there for the rest of 2015. The main problem reported on 2 July – a very hot day – was that the cellar bar air conditioning didn't work; many fled to cooler venues.
When and Where?
The "London Group", "London Circle" or just "First Thursday" open sf/fan pub meetings in London, a continuing tradition since 1946, take place on the First Thursday evening of each month. Exceptions are noted below. Meetings run from 4pm or 5pm when people begin to arrive, and continue until closing time at 11pm or later. All are welcome.
Since January 2006 the regular venue is the cellar bar of The Inn of Court pub, which opens at 6pm; early birds can use the ground-floor bar before then. This pub's name changed from The Melton Mowbray in mid-2015.
- About the Inn of Court
- Street map
- Exceptions to the First-Thursday schedule
- Fallback venue
- London Circle history
The Inn of Courtis on Holborn, not far from Chancery Lane tube station. Address: 18 Holborn, London, EC1N 2LE; phone 020 7405 7077. Paul Treadaway says: "The cellar bar will fit 100 people. It's a Fullers 'Pie and Ale House', so the beer is all Fullers [...] and the food menu funnily enough has several different kinds of pie, along with various non-pie options. Food is served until 8pm, so arrive before then if you want to eat." Warning: the cellar bar and its entrance are easy to miss if you're new to the pub.
To get there by London Underground: Take the Central Line to Chancery Lane Station, leave the station using Exit 3: High Holborn (South Side) and continue east along the south side of Holborn for about 100 yards until you find the Melton Mowbray on your right.
- 15 July - 1 November 2015 Alice in Cartoonland (exhibition), Cartoon Museum
- 15 July 2015 Alice from Wonderland to Sunderland with Bryan Talbot, Cartoon Museum
- 15 July 2015 ZZ9
- 17 July 2015 "From Manland to Womanland" (conference), Brunel University
- 17-19 July 2015 Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism, Royal Observatory, Greenwich; application deadline 28 February.
- 22 July 2015 BSFA
- 29 July 2015 Geek Pub Quiz, Savoy Tup
- 6 August 2015 First Thursday
- 7-9 August 2015 Nine Worlds Geekfest, Heathrow
- 19 August 2015 ZZ9
- 27-31 August 2015 Frightfest (film), Leicester Square
- 3 September 2015 First Thursday
- 16 September 2015 ZZ9
- 1 October 2015 First Thursday
- 17 October 2015 Gollancz Festival, Waterstones Piccadilly
- 21 October 2015 ZZ9
- 2 November 2015 First Thursday
- 12-15 November 2015 Gatecon (Stargate/Farscape), Brentford Lock
Further Ahead – omits monthly meetings
Should The Inn of Court be closed or otherwise unavailable, the meeting moves to whatever nearby pub can accommodate us. The Sir Christopher Hatton, used for the Christmas 2005 meeting when it was The Goose, is one possibility. Another is The Castle at 34-35 Cowcross Street, London, EC1M 6DB, used for the May and June 2015 meetings during refurbishment at The Melton Mowbray.
What Are the Rules?
The meetings are open to all. Informality prevails. There are no talks or events, just a lot of people drinking and chattering. On first Thursdays, sf fans are present from 5pm or even earlier. If nervous, look for reprobates fingering proofs of British SF Association publications or handing out sinister sheets of paper – convention flyers or fanzines.
If you prefer more structured events, centred on a talk, panel or interview, try the monthly BSFA meetings held on the fourth Wednesday of each month except for December.
Exceptions to the First-Thursday schedule
Roger Robinson is the "owner" of the meeting as far as the current pub is concerned, and regularly books the cellar bar for First Thursdays.
Christmas Meeting – a second gathering each December, traditionally on the Thursday before Christmas Eve but sometimes a week earlier for greater general convenience. Someone needs to inform the pub well in advance. For 2014, the date was 18 December, the usual pub venue was unavailable and the meeting was held in The One Tun. For 2015, the date is 17 December; venue uncertain since the pub management prefers a paid Christmas party booking (if it can get one) to a group of sf fans who merely drink a lot.
New Year – if 1 January (the UK New Year's bank holiday, with the country in shutdown mode) should be a Thursday, the January meeting is traditionally displaced to 8 January. This last happened in 2015 and will happen again in 2026.
Maundy Thursday – the London meeting takes place as usual but is likely to be somewhat depleted if the annual UK Easter SF Convention (Eastercon) is far from London.
Extra Meetings may be declared at more or less any time by anyone who can persuade enough people to turn up – to meet some sf celebrity passing briefly through London, for example. It would be wise to check with the pub in advance. The most recent such meeting was on Thursday 21 August 2014 for the benefit of overseas visitors to the London Worldcon.
Other London Meetings
Regular/Annual Events in London
- All year Starfury conventions at Heathrow
- February Picocon at Imperial College
- Spring Clarke Award ceremony
- Spring Sci-Fi London film festival
- May/June BSFA/SF Foundation event, including AGMs [not always held in London]
- August Frightfest film festival
- October Sci-Fi London Oktoberfest film festival
British SF Association (BSFA) Open Meetings normally take place on the fourth Wednesday of the month (subject to change or cancellation if this clashes with other events or public holidays – by default there's no December meeting). Meetings nominally begin at 7pm, with fans likely to be present from 5pm onward. Non-BSFA members are welcome; there is no admission fee. Speakers are announced on the BSFA site and/or the infrequently updated BSFA LiveJournal Page, and published – when announcement timing permits – in the current Ansible.
BSFA Venue. From August 2013 until further notice, the meetings are in at The Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, London, EC1Y 8ND. Pub details here. The current organizer and speaker-to-pub is Audrey Taylor.
Forthcoming BSFA meetings:
- 22 July 2015 – Rebecca Levene
British Fantasy Society Open Meetings are held every few months – see their website for the latest information (check frequently since announcements are often at short notice). All are welcome. These meetings run from 6pm (for an official 7:30pm start time). Locations vary. A popular recent choice is The Mug House, under London Bridge.
Forthcoming BFS London meetings
- 5 June 2015 BFS Open Night
The Broken Drummers (Discworld) – "We meet on the first Monday of each month at The Monkey Puzzle, 30 Southwick Street, Sussex Gardens, W2 1JQ. Nearest stations Paddington and Edgeware Road." Free to all; official start 7pm but some arrive earlier. These meetings are not listed in the calendar at top right of this page.
City Illiterates meetings are held every Friday – again, not public holidays etc; Good Friday is the obvious example – "in the Windmill Public House in Mill Street (just south of Oxford Circus, off Conduit Street which is off Regent Street) ... usually there are people there from around 18.00 to around 19.30 ... we're usually in the ground floor back room," writes Brian Ameringen. All welcome, but note that it's a very small and informal gathering, much less obvious than the first-Thursday crowd. These meetings are not listed in the calendar at top right of this page.
Filk Meetings, which seem to be irregular, are documented at Rafe Culpin's website: filk.co.uk. These meetings are not listed in the calendar at top right of this page.
London Fortean Society meetings – see link. These meetings are not listed in the calendar at top right of this page, except occasionally by special request or whim.
London Sci-Fi Pub Meet – I didn't hear of this one until 2011 (and its habitués had apparently never heard of the various older meetings), but it seems to have been going for a while as a Saturday afternoon/evening event, monthly at The Shakespeare's Head, Holborn. See title link for dates; unfortunately this now requires a Facebook login, excluding those who don't care to sign up there. These meetings are not listed in the calendar at top right of this page.
London Skeptics in the Pub: UK sceptical movement meetings (there is or was some overlap with sf fandom) are regularly held in London. Dates and times may vary: always check their website. As of July 2010 the current London venue is The Monarch Bar, 40-42 Chalk Farm Road, Camden, London, NW1 8BG. Non-sceptics are welcome; there is a small admission fee. The Skeptic website events page also lists similar meetings in other cities. Pub details These meetings are not listed in the calendar at top right of this page.
There are now three series of London skeptics' meetings as follows:
- London (as above)
ZZ9 (Hitchhiker's Guide) currently has London pub meetings on the third Wednesday of the month – pub details here, general events diary here.
History of London SF Meetings
- 1937: Regular fan meetings begin, Thursdays supposedly being chosen because this was John Carnell's half-day off work. Venue: the J. Lyons teashop at 36/38 New Oxford Street, with occasional switches to the Express Dairy next door at number 40.
- August 1938: Meetings move to "The Flat", Arthur C. Clarke's, Maurice Hanson's and William Temple's home at 88 Gray's Inn Road, also known as "The Ego Centre". A breakaway group of non-teetotallers soon began drinking in the nearby Red Bull.
- December 1939: Last meeting at The Flat before its remaining fan inhabitants moved out.
- October 1940: Last known meeting at the Red Bull. See Editorial in Futurian War Digest 2, which indicates a fortnightly rather than weekly schedule by this time. Meetings were irregular, nomadic and poorly documented throughout the rest of the war.
- March 1946: First post-war pub meeting, set up by John Carnell and Ken Chapman, at The Shamrock in Fetter Lane.
- April 1946: The meeting moved across the road to the larger White Horse. As the year continued, the meetings became weekly and the name "The London Circle" emerged. Riffraff like Arthur C. Clarke were now attending.
- December 1949: London Circle overview (Science Fantasy News 4).
- September 1951: L. Sprague de Camp visits the London Circle (Science Fantasy News 9).
- December 1953: Meetings moved from the White Horse (3 Dec) to the Globe in Hatton Garden (10 Dec), to which the popular landlord Lew Mordecai had been transferred. Clarke's 1957 sf collection Tales from the White Hart camouflages the pub names as the White Hart and the Sphere.
- October 1959: The London Circle was formally disbanded (see Skyrack 9), although informal London Group meetings at the Globe continued exactly as before. Some dissidents began rival twice-monthly meetings in private homes as the Science Fiction Club of London, which continued until mid-1968.
- December 1973: A huge crowd gathered at the Globe to celebrate the 20th anniversary of meetings there. But this pub was now scheduled for demolition. (See Checkpoint 39.)
- June 1974: The final first-Thursday meeting at the Globe, plus an extra on 12 June to welcome Isaac Asimov.
- July 1974: First of many first-Thursday meetings at the One Tun, Saffron Hill (near Farringdon tube station).
- January 1987: By now the One Tun had long been perceived as too crowded, and a display of homophobia by the landlord triggered – or provided an excuse for – the search for a new pub. (See Ansible 48.)
- February 1987: Sorties to various London pubs led to the choice of the Wellington on Waterloo Road, opposite Waterloo Station.
- September 1992: Extensive refurbishment of the Wellington drove fans out in search of somewhere else.
- November 1992: The Hamilton Hall on Liverpool Street Station was adopted as least worst of various unsatisfactory choices.
- March 1993: The Hamilton Hall barred fans from its one tolerable area in favour of a private party, and there was a vote to go back ...
- April 1993: Back, with much reduced numbers, to the now redecorated Wellington.
- February 1997: The crowds of nonfans at the Wellington (in its posher incarnation) having swelled to the point of intolerability, there was a march to the smaller but much emptier and friendlier Jubilee. This was the venue until ...
- January 1999: General agreement to move to the nearby Florence Nightingale pub, where our hospitable Jubilee landlord Kevin was transferred on 9 January. This follows the historical precedent of December 1953.
- September/October 1999: Brief return to the Jubilee while the Florence Nightingale was redecorated. The consensus was to make this the basic fallback position while meetings were in this part of London: if for any reason the FN is closed, walk down York Road to the Jubilee instead.
- January 2001: The monthly fourth-Wednesday BSFA meetings moved away from the Florence Nightingale to The Rising Sun pub, Cloth Fair, London EC2.
- December 2001: Kevin left the Florence Nightingale for a pub unsuited to large fan meetings. The new FN management agreed to continue the tradition of giving fans the upstairs room free for first Thursdays.
- June 2002: After complaints and confrontations over a number of Florence Nightingale issues at the 6 June meeting, the landlord cancelled future "fannish first Thursday" bookings of the upstairs room. A new venue is sought; the Jubilee welcomes us in the short term, but a larger pub will surely be needed.
- August 2002: The meeting moved to the Silver Cross in Whitehall (see Ansible 181). Meanwhile the Skeptics meetings moved from the Florence Nightingale – look for the latest information on their website.
- September 2002: The on-line Ansible ran Tony Cullen's photograph of a Silver Cross regular ...
- February 2003. After repeated problems with the Silver Cross, a breakaway group moved to The Barley Mow, 50 Long Lane, between Farringdon and Barbican tube stations, which had topped an informal poll for alternative venues.
- March 2003. The Barley Mow was generally adopted.
- January 2004. BSFA meetings moved from The Rising Sun to The White Hart.
- March 2004. Following a February flyer campaign, most First Thursday fans returned to the The Florence Nightingale. The Barley Mow had repeatedly let fans down by double-booking, closing the upstairs room, etc.
- June 2004. BSFA meetings moved from The White Hart to The Star.
- February 2005. The Florence Nightingale was found to have been closed, supposedly for demolition [though the building still remained intact in late 2010]. Fans adjourned to The Jubilee, with tentative plans to return to The Silver Cross in March.
- March 2005. The Silver Cross was used but found unsatisfactory. An Eastercon flyer campaign promoted Walkers of Holborn, unilaterally booked for April onward. Paul Treadaway looks back to 1946: "Walkers is adjacent to where the White Horse once stood on the corner of Norwich Street and Fetter Lane. Furthermore, according to the local CAMRA branch, it was built as a replacement for the White Horse (presumably as part of a deal between the developers and the brewery, whereby the White Horse and other buildings were demolished and an office block built on the site), and is incorporated into the building that now stands on that corner. So the meetings are coming home, in a sense ..."
- April 2005. First meeting in Walkers of Holborn, generally regarded as a great success.
- 7 July 2005. London "7/7" bombings on the first Thursday. Walkers, understandably, did not open; the nearby Melton Mowbray closed in the evening; a small meeting, with six fans present, took place in The Printers Devil across the road from Walkers. (The Printers Devil was one of the pubs surveyed in 1974 as a possible replacement for the Globe.)
- 1 August 2005 (Monday). Extra meeting to mark this year's Glasgow Worldcon, which actually began on the First Thursday date.
- December 2005. Walkers of Holborn was sold in mid-November and closed for refurbishment as a wine bar. The meeting therefore took place in the nearby Melton Mowbray, chosen as the regular First Thursday pub from January 2006. Since it was booked for 22 December, the Christmas 2005 gathering was in the Goose.
- 6 April 2006. On the First Thursday itself, the Melton Mowbray informed fans of a double booking that evening, and the meeting was hastily moved to The Printers Devil – for this month only.
- February 2008. Monthly BSFA meetings moved from The Star – which no longer had an upstairs function room – to The Antelope.
- January 2012. Monthly BSFA meetings moved from The Antelope – whose upstairs function room is in accordance with tradition (see above) being converted to a dining area – to The Melton Mowbray cellar bar. Thus, after twelve years of separation beginning in January 2001, the BSFA and First Thursday meetings are again in the same pub.
- September 2012. The monthly BSFA meetings moved again, partly owing to refurbishment of The Melton Mowbray cellar bar, with the new venue being The Argyle. The First Thursday meeting is reportedly unaffected.
- August 2013. An unexpected change of policy by The Argyle (see September 2012 above) transferred the monthly BSFA meetings to The Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, London, EC1Y 8ND.
- May and June 2015. With the Melton Mowbray closed for refurbishment, these two meetings were held at The Castle, 34-35 Cowcross Street, London, EC1M 6DB.
- July 2015. Return to the refurbished Melton Mowbray, whose name has changed to The Inn of Court.
Much of the older historical information above is taken from Rob Hansen's history of British fandom, Then.
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