The Spotted Dog

The Spotted Dog
From the private collection of Vernon Page

An elderly landlady

In the late 1960s I frequently went to the ‘Spotted Dog’ pub at 13, Middle Street in the basement. I was 17 at the time but I must have passed as 18. Rather curiously the ‘Spotted Dog’ was run by an elderly landlady, who kept order and made sure that her patrons behaved themselves. In those days the pub had a front and back bar. A corridor led from the front door and the bars were accessed separately from this. It was laid out much the same as a house, with a walled-in staircase with a door leading to the upstairs quarters of the landlady. 

A ‘queer bar’

The bars were very small and the working area in the bar was an extremely tight space. There wasn’t any explicit gay appearance to ‘The Dog’ and if you had walked in there it would not have been immediately obvious that it was a gay bar, with the exception being that you would not have found any couples, straight couples that is, frequenting the bar. If ‘straight’ people did stray in, the guys inside would quietly snigger and have friendly bets about how long it would take them to realise they were in a ‘queer bar’.

Dare to go in?

I remember my friends – my straight, teenage friends – would talk about the ‘Spotted Dog’ but would never dare to go in. I think they imagined some utter depravity would befall them the moment their foot went over the threshold. It wasn’t like that guys, honest! 

Comments about this page

  • The Spotted Dog is one of Brighton’s oldest pubs, dating from the 18th century. It was reputed to have been a “popular soldiers house” frequented by the South Gloucester Militia, based in barracks on the corner of Little Russell Street and West Street. When the barracks were relocated the pub’s clientele diminished to the extent that in 1807 the publican transferred the licence to the Richmond Arms in 1807. Regards, Andy

    By Andy Grant (08/07/2012)
  • I don’t know where the idea came from that the Spotted Dog was a gay bar, True, homosexuals did frequent the place as they did in the Golden Fleece and the Greyhound, but they were in the minority, My friends and I often went to the pubs mentioned, as did a lot of people, We mixed and I can assure you there were no sniggers as mentioned. We had a good laugh all round, the gay men liked to camp it up and we enjoyed the banter. The writer obviously never went there.

    By Harry Atkins (08/07/2012)
  • I recall an episode in 1970 when, after moving to Bath, I was back down in Brighton for the night. The following day I was scheduled to pick up a girl I knew in Horsham and take her to London on my motorbike. Anyway, that evening I was sitting on a bench on the sea front near the bottom of West Street in my leather jacket when a man in his early thirties in a smart suit came up to me and asked me if I wanted to go for a drink. Seeing that I was confused by this unexpected overture, he explained that he was homosexual and that he thought I looked “butch”. I explained that I was straight, and with great politeness my new friend said he wanted to buy me a drink anyway and that there were no strings attached. Out of curiosity as much as anything I accepted, and he took me to The Spotted Dog, a hostelry that I had never visited whilst living in Brighton and indeed didn’t even know existed. It was clear to me when we walked in that it was very much a gay locale, overtly and unabashedly so at a time when being openly homosexual was far less prevalent than it is these days. Anyway, my companion, who was obviously a regular there, bought me a pint and we talked for a while about what I was going to do the next day, and he talked generally about the homosexual scene in London and Brighton, or the “queer” scene as it was still commonly known at that time even amongst its adherents. After half an hour I made to leave and he graciously said goodbye and thanked me for my company. This was the first time I’d ever encountered alternative sexuality, and I reckon the gracious nature of the encounter led to my own lifelong liberal views regarding that state. I’ve had numerous gay workmates and acquaintances of both genders since then and value them every bit as much as my heterosexual ones.

    By Len Liechti (09/07/2012)
  • I would just add to my previous comment, that I was talking about the late 1950s / early ’60s.

    By Harry Atkins (12/07/2012)
  • It certainly had a reputation for being a “queer’s pub”. A bunch of us from school “dared” to go in one evening. It was actually a great pub, and had the best selection of music on the jukebox.

    By Marc Turner (26/02/2013)
  • Dear Mr. Atkins, you claim in your comment that I never went to the ‘Spotted Dog’ so perhaps you could tell me how I know the layout, long since re-arranged, or how I knew that it was run by an elderly lady on her own, or how I knew that the serving area behind the bar was such a ‘tight space’? Your assertion that ‘The Dog’ wasn’t a gay pub is ridiculous as you will easily find the evidence for it being so on the internet:

    The ‘Spotted Dog’ was probably the most notorious gay bar of the 50s/60s and that history may well have extended back even into previous decades.

    By Vernon Page (03/05/2015)
  • My great grandma used to be the landlady of the Spotted Dog who I believe you are talking about. I have been talking about it all evening with my Nan (her daughter) who is 87 and has dementia. It is one of the most significant points in her life which appears to be the time she can remember the most. Her days as a girl living upstairs above the pub whilst her mother ran the pub downstairs. She even remembers the names of the regular punters! It has been lovely listening to all her memories. From what she tells me I’m sure it would be a very popular place these days – as it was back then. 

    By Jess Alford (31/08/2016)
  • Dear Jess, I have very fond memories of your great-grandma. She was very kind and had time for all her regulars. She took me under her wing, probably because I was the youngest in the pub, making sure I didn’t get into any difficult situations. At that time (1968-1970) she must have been in her late 60s or early 70s. An absolute gem as a landlady, a rare breed indeed.

    By Vernon Page (24/08/2019)
  • My great grandmother also ran the Spotted Dog ! But that was in the ‘30s when my great grandfather, Harry Bowley, held the licence. She also had a reputation as a no-nonsense landlady. I had similar conversations with my grandmother about living above the pub (maybe even born above it) and the characters she got to know. As a kid I didn’t understand why her male friends had names like ‘Dolly’, but its obvious now !

    By Adam Majsai (22/02/2020)

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