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REGENCY GENTLEMEN’S CLUBS
by Alicia Rasley
In the Regency era, it was said whenever an interest or political persuasion was shared by two or more men, a new club was formed. There was a club for ancient supporters of the Jacobite cause (the Mourning Bush), for short men (the Little Club, with an entry door only about five feet high), for literary and scientific gentlemen (the Athenaeum, 1824), and even for gentleman coachmen (the famous Four-In-Hand Club, 1809, before that known as the Whip Club). Only the names survive of other clubs, but those names speak volumes—the Humbugs, the Je ne sai quoi Club, the No Pay No Liquor Club, the Great Bottle Club. These provided a retreat from the world of care, of worry, of women. Regency men, as gallant as they were as suitors, all too often preferred their club to their home. One Regency bride wrote in her diary, “We have now been married exactly a year, in which my husband has dined with me but once. Every other night he has dined at Mr. Brook’s Club.” (You can find more great anecdotes in the book Gentlemen’s Clubs of London.)
Here follows a map of Clublandsincluding the famous, the infamous, the foolish. Founding dates, if known, are given.
(Let’s meet there! Grace Elliott takes a contemporary stroll through Clubland.)
The most famous club, White’s, offered a cornucopia of activities—a bit of politics (Tory), a lot of gambling, a lot of drinking (a White’s barman asked by a new member if the bar was open replied, “Bless my soul, sir, it’s been open 200 years!”). Founded in 1698 as a chocolate house, White’s remains the quintessential London Club three centuries later. Prince Charles had his bachelor party here (a dull affair with no stripper or exploding cakes, it broke up before midnight).