When and Where?
The "First Thursday" open sf/fan pub meetings in London, a continuing tradition since 1946, normally take place on the First Thursday evening of each month. Exceptions are noted below. Meetings run from around 5-6pm when people begin to arrive, and continue until closing time at 11pm. The gathering is entirely informal, and all are welcome. There is no admission fee or membership requirement.
Since April 2016 the regular venue has been The Bishop's Finger, 9-10 West Smithfield, London, EC1A 9JR. The meeting currently takes place in the upstairs room; unfortunately there is no lift. Roger Robinson "owns" the meeting as far as the pub is concerned, and regularly books the bar for First Thursdays. From April 2020 to Summer 2021 the meeting was impractical as an "all welcome" gathering owing to COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions on how many people could occupy "our" bar. Physical meetings resumed in September 2021, and the pub is currently booked to the end of 2023.
The replacement Virtual London Meeting organized by Alison Scott occupied the first-Thursday slot from April 2020, and from September 2021 became an additional meeting on the third Thursday of the month.
- About The Bishop's Finger
- Extra Meetings
- Fallback Venue
- London Circle/First Thursday History
- London entry in the SF Encyclopedia
Other group meeting links (see also below)
- British Fantasy Society
- British SF Association
- Broken Drummers (Discworld)
- Fortean Society
- London Science Fiction Research Community (also Twitter)
- Science Fiction Theatre (film)
- Skeptics in the Pub
- Spectrum: The London Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Group
- Super Relaxed Fantasy Club
- via Meetup.com
- ZZ9 (Hitchhiker's Guide)
What Are the Rules?
The First Thursday 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 may be present from 5pm or even earlier.
Many London pubs have hosted these gatherings: see London Circle/First Thursday History below. Although no one now uses the old name "London Circle" for the meeting, a few long-time attendees like to call it the Tun in memory of the 1974-1987 venue the One Tun and its successor The Wellington (1987-1992; 1993-1997), which in a slightly tiresome attempt at continuity some fans called the 'Ton. Just so, and equally bafflingly for newcomers, certain diehards in the One Tun era liked to call it the Globe or even the White Horse.
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. (Although the First Thursday meetings are plugged in BSFA communications and the BSFA meeting is listed on this London events page, there is no formal link between BSFA and First Thursday events – just a partial overlap in attendance.) Some other regular events appear below.
Here are some traditional exceptions (and non-exceptions) to the First Thursday schedule. The default venue is always the current First Thursday pub as detailed above.
Christmas Extra Meeting – a second gathering each December, currently held on the third Thursday of December. For 2023, the booked date is thus Thursday 21 December.
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. Or perhaps unusually crowded when Eastercon is nearby in one of the Heathrow hotels.
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 that year's London Worldcon.
Should The Bishop's Finger be closed or otherwise unavailable, the meeting moves to whatever nearby pub can accommodate it. 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. Yet another is The Inn of Court (formerly The Melton Mowbray), 18 Holborn, London, EC1N 2LE, which was the regular First Thursday venue from 2006 to 2016.
Other London Meetings
Regular/Annual Events in London
- All year Starfury conventions at Heathrow
- February/March Picocon at Imperial College
- Spring Sci-Fi London film festival
- Summer Clarke Award ceremony
- May/June BSFA/SF Foundation event, including AGMs [not always held in London]
- August Frightfest film festival
British SF Association (BSFA) Open Meetings normally take place on the fourth Wednesday of the month (but occasionally switch to other Wednesdays, so always check first). By tradition, there is no December meeting owing to the closeness of Christmas. 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 published – when announcement timing permits, which it rarely does these days – in the relevant month's issue of Ansible.
Since May 2019 the BSFA meetings have been held at the Central Station Public House, 37 Wharfdale Road, Kings Cross, N1 9SD (pub details here).
British Fantasy Society Open Meetings are held every few months – see their website for the latest information (and check frequently since announcements are often at very short notice). All are welcome. These meetings generally run from 6pm, with an official 7:30pm start time. Locations vary. See the BFS Events page.
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.
City Illiterates meetings are held on most Fridays – though not on the day after the First Thursday meeting or during Eastercon, Novacon etc. – in the Yorkshire Grey, 46 Langham St, Fitzrovia, W1W 7AX. Fairly equidistant from Goodge Street, Oxford Circus and Great Portland Street. Usually there are people there from around 18.00 to around 19.30 ... normally upstairs at the back. All welcome, but note that it's a very small and informal gathering, much less obvious than the First Thursday crowd.
Filk Meetings, which seem to be irregular, are documented at Rafe Culpin's website: filk.co.uk.
London Fortean Society meetings – see link.
London Science Fiction Research Community activities include a reading group on the first Monday of the month (except bank holidays, when "it tends to be pushed back a week"), 7pm-8:30pm, followed by drinks at a convenient pub. For specific details see the Facebook page linked above, or Twitter.
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.
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. The London venue was The Monarch Bar, 40-42 Chalk Farm Road, Camden, London, NW1 8BG, but according to the website this has closed and a new meeting place is being sought. Non-sceptics are welcome; there is a small admission fee. The Skeptic website events page also lists similar meetings in other cities.
There are now three series of London skeptics' meetings as follows:
- London (as above)
Super Relaxed Fantasy Club – see link. Informal gathering with author readings and Q&A sessions.
ZZ9 (Hitchhiker's Guide) traditionally has London pub meetings on the third Wednesday of the month. See the events diary.
History of London Circle/First Thursday 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 and Rob Hansen's website), 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.
- November 2001: After ten years of distribution of paper copies of Ansible at the First Thursday meetings without missing a month, David Langford decided to escape the wheel of Karma: see announcement in Ansible 172.
- 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: Following 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 online 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.
- January 2016. The BSFA meeting moved temporarily to The Reliance, 336 Old Street, London, EC1V 9DR, but The Artillery Arms remains the regular venue.
- April 2016. Because The Inn of Court (formerly the Melton Mowbray) would no longer allow fandom's exclusive use of the cellar bar, the meeting moved to The Bishop's Finger, 9-10 West Smithfield, London, EC1A 9JR. This move was originally announced for March, but the new venue was then double-booked and the Inn of Court had to be used after all – unsatisfactorily since the usual cellar bar had been hired for a private party.
- March 2019. The BSFA meeting had difficulty at The Artillery Arms when the newish management reserved only half the upper room for the meeting.
- April 2019. The BSFA meeting was held in The Star of Kings near Kings Cross: 126 York Way, London, N1 OAX.
- May 2019. The BSFA meeting moved to the Central Station Public House, 37 Wharfdale Road, Kings Cross, N1 9SD.
- April 2020. In the UK's first coronavirus pandemic lockdown, Alison Scott set up a Virtual First Thursday gathering using Zoom to replace the physical meetings for the duration.
- September 2021. Physical First Thursday meetings resume at The Bishop's Finger, with virtual meetings continuing on the third Thursday.
- December 2021. With the Covid-19 Omicron variant spreading rapidly, the planned physical Christmas meeting on 16 December moved to the established virtual platform.
- January 2022. Virtual meeting only.
- February 2022. Virtual only – an in-person meeting was ruled out by a paid booking of "our" room at The Bishop's Finger.
- March 2022. In-person First Thursday meetings resume
Much of the older historical information above is taken from Rob Hansen's history of British fandom, Then.