In London, starting in the Regency Period (1811-1820), and extending through the Victorian Period (1837-1901), gentleman’s clue enjoyed their heyday. The clubs were collections of men with some aspects in common. Some were political, some full of artists and literary aficionados, sports enthusiasts, or military men. They were quite exclusive, with selective membership rosters, sophisticated dinners, no women allowed, and an atmosphere of pomp and circumstance so enjoyed by true Brits.
The exclusive clubs were located along Pall Mall and St.
James. The most famous of all to
Regency Readers is White’s. White’s
Chocolate House was founded in 1693 and started as a public coffee house.
A fire destroyed the building in 1753, and White’s was moved to St.
James Street. Although politics
played a part in the club’s membership roster, at most times, including the
Regency, White’s was a social club. Beau
Brummel gazed lazily out the bow-fronted window at White’s and made judgments
as the fashionable of London walked by, hundreds of years before Mr. Blackwell
ever thought of a worst-dressed list. The
club allowed cards, drinking, and dinner, and was most notable for it’s
betting book where gentleman cast their wagers on anything and everything.
Boodles was a club that started in 1762 as a political club, but quickly established its name as the club without scandal. It was stodgy, refined, and completely English. Servants wore black knee-breeches, there was a “dirty room” for those who had the misfortune to attend dinner in less than the proper attire, and coins were boiled before they were given to members.
Brooks was one of the more popular clubs during the Regency. And yes, it best known as a gambling establishment. Charles James Fox, a heavy politico and gambler extraordinaire, was a frequent visitor. History has it that he played for 22 consecutive hours and lost 11,000 guineas. Eventually, the man was overcome by his debts, but in the true spirit of friendship, his club buddies bailed him out (presumably so they could win off him again).
The most famous of all was originated by Sir Walter Raleigh and met at the Mermaid Tavern on Bread Street in Cheapside. Shakespeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, and Donne were members. Ben Jonson and Shakespeare were frequent verbal sparring partners, Jonson the refined academic, and Shakespeare the quick-wit. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall!
Sadly, the days of a refined gentleman’s club are fading rapidly. In 1900, there were more than 200 clubs in London. Most are now gone.