Lancing Days are Over - Issue 10 . Summer 2001
On 8 April this year, the Sussex Lancers MSC (Motor Sports Club) formally dissolved its membership. This brotherhood of gay men - with a common interest in leather, denim, rubber and uniform - has been entertaining its members for the last 20 years in the Brighton area.
As well as making a final donation to the Sussex Beacon (local AIDS hospice), the Sussex Lancers MSC have donated all their materials assets as well as the balance of funds to Brighton Ourstory Project. We now have the honour of looking after two boxes of treasures marked 'Trophies' and 'Odds and Ends'. But who exactly were the Lancers and what did they do?
The club started life on 15 December 1980, as a motorcycle/sports club for like-minded gay men. As Ian, the last secretary of the Lancers explains: "When they were set up, it was useful to have a reason for wearing leather that was more mainstream." Leather clubs exist all over the UK, and the Lancers catered for those based in Sussex. With the proximity of Brighton to London, maintaining a local club of a specialist nature hasn't always been easy.
As their first newsletter reports in October 1984, at a meeting with other clubs in Birmingham, "We took the opportunity to scotch the rumours that Sussex Lancers had folded." One of the things that saved them was a regular place to meet. The Lancers spent the first few years congregating at the 42 Club, at 42 Kings Road, between the two piers. But in August 1984 they became officially based in the downstairs bar at Whispers Club, 74 St James Street. The following year the club was renamed The Villagers Club, and it became synonymous with the local clone and leather scene that established itself in the 1980s.
Over the years the Lancers organised monthly themed events (Bound To Serve bondage night, Rocky Horror Revival), as well as occasional trips to other leather clubs in the UK and abroad. The Trophies box donated to Ourstory contains pendants and awards presented in friendship and brotherhood, between other clubs over the period 1988-1993.
The other box of Lancer memorabilia contains minutes of meetings, conferences, the RIP IT OFF poster pictured, and four albums of photographs. The photographs show typical events you would have attended as a Sussex Lancer. They include the Brighton Bound weekends, which involved motorbike runs onto the Sussex Downs and local beaches, where picnics and specially devised group 'games' would be staged.
In 1987 the Lancers made their first appearance at Gay Pride in London. As then committee member Anthony remembers, "The banner looked magnificent and the needlework was much admired during the walk down Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square."
The Lancers also started its local AIDS charity work around this time. A benefit for the Sussex AIDS Helpline in July invited the local leather community to "Celebrate Independence Day with men who built America! Cops, Marines, Cowpokes, Lumberjacks!"
That August the Lancers' infamous Rip & Strip night made its first appearance in their newsletter. "What a great night it was, I don't think I've seen the place so full, or so bare! As a committee member I managed to keep my hat on," records 'John The Ripper'. These popular events became part of the more general gay men's scene, and still occasionally occur today.
Spanner in the works
As the Lancers moved into the 1990s, things changed. There was a blow to personal liberty in the form of 'Operation Spanner' which resulted in gay men indulging in consensual sado-masochistic acts going to prison. There was also the growing impact of HIV/AIDS on the leather sex scene, and the ensuing tragic loss of life.
Despite the closure of Villagers club (it's now the Pink Pamper), the Lancers rode on throughout the decade, gathering at the Schwarz bar in the New Europe Hotel on Marine Parade; and setting up a presence on the Internet. The Lancers' final secretary, Ian, has fond memories of the club:
"At its height in the late Eighties the club was one of the biggest in the UK with nearly 150 members. Ironically it was the growth of an open commercial leather scene that ultimately led to the decline in the Lancers membership. The Sussex Lancers made a difference to the lives of many leathermen in Brighton and Sussex. Good friendships were made and much fun was had by all."
Ourstory have already been promised an extensive collection of Sussex Lancer newsletters, and we welcome other donations concerning this unique group of sexual adventurers.