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15May

Queer Spaces by Adam Nathaniel Thurman and Joshua Mardell review – a fascinating LGBTQIA+ architecture history

From clubs and pubs to aristocratic follies, from an Indian theatre to a Cuban ice-cream parlour, this creative book is a hymn to the gay-friendly buildings treasured by film-makers, artists and activists

Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire is one of the great lost wonders of British architecture, a neo-gothic giant with cathedral-sized interiors, built from 1796 to 1813, whose 90-metre tower collapsed and was rebuilt several times. It fell for the last time in 1825, since when the rest of the building has all but disappeared.

It also takes its place in Queer Spaces: An Atlas of LGBTQIA+ Places and Stories, alongside clubs, bars, railway carriages, bookshops, community centres, public parks, private houses and a Castro-era ice-cream parlour in Havana. Fonthill Abbey was built for his own use by an exceptionally wealthy man, William Beckford, whose prospective career in public life was ended when he was outed as a “sodomite”. He “consoled his unhappiness”, as the book puts it, by building his fantastical house, where he longed “for a ‘beatific vision’ in which a beautiful angelic youth would come forth from the heavens to embrace him with love and understanding”. As conspicuous as it was, its main purpose was to shelter him from a hostile world, creating instead a private internal universe of mirrors, stained glass, “lustrous multicoloured objets d’art” and carefully framed views out to the surrounding landscape.

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