Clubs and Clubland

If even the best hotels are just not good enough for you, or if you need a long-term lodging in London (but can't afford or don't want to be bothered by keeping a house), consider joining a club.

"The building is a sort of palace, and is kept with the same exactness and comfort as a private dwelling. Every member is a master without any of the troubles of a master. He can come when he pleases, and stay away as long as he pleases, without anything going wrong. He has the command of regular servants without having to pay or manage them. He can have whatever meal or refreshment he wants, at all hours, and served up with the cleanliness and comfort of his own house. He orders just what he pleases, having no interest to think of but his own. In short, it is impossible to suppose a greater degree of liberty in living." - Walker's "The Original."

Only members of the Gentry or Aristocratic social classes can join most clubs. Some of the notable London clubs as of the early 1890s include the following (along with their entrance fee and annual subscription fee):

8 St. Martin's Pl., Trafalgar Sq. Founded 1857 with the object of encouraging exploration and travel. The mountaineering and educational qualifications for membership are severe (Climbing 50%, EDU 16+). Entrance £1, sub £1.
Army and Navy
36 Pall Mall. Almost always known as "the Rag," for military men only, Napoleon III is a member. Entrance £40, sub £10.
69 St. James's St. Founded 1756, no foriegners, no guests, hard to get into. Entrance £31, sub £10.
17 Hanover Sq. Art, literature, and science, very uproarious on Saturday nights. Entrance £15, sub £6.
107 Pall Mall. Intellectuals, scientists, CofE bishops, judges, poor food ("all the arts and sciences are understood there, except gastronomy"), extremely grave and respectable (but Richard Burton is a member!); best club library. Talk Dinners monthly in season; 16 year waiting list (EDU 16+ required)... Entrance £31, sub £8.
Dover Street. Recently founded, to provide athletic facilities: swimming pool, squash court, Turkish bath, etc. Members take part in many golf matches, rugby, football, cricket, etc. matches.
24 King William St., the Strand. Founded 1735; dinner club with excellent food and conversation; "there is no particular object in this club, nor is there any particular qualification", despite which members are typically peers, politicians, diplomats, writers, actors, and academics; to be a member, one has to be "a relation of God - and a damned close relation at that"; no gambling, no visitors, and all waiters are called 'Charles.' Entrance £10, sub £5.
28 St. James's St. Founded 1762, a bastion of County society & the lesser peerage, no library, very good service.
60 St. James's St. Founded 1778, politically liberal, many aristocratic members (600 in number); guests only allowed in a small room just inside the door. Entrance £31, sub £11.
30 Charles St., St. James. Founded 1890, members must have at least one Scottish grandparent, or have "the closest association" with Scotland. Arbroath smokies, haggis and bashed neeps are on the menu.
127 Picadilly. Founded 1891, becoming a "members" club in 1895. Members must has served as officers in the cavalry or Royal Horse Artillery.
94 Pall Mall. Conservative politicians & financiers, and in fact essentially the Conservative party headquarters; peers and M.P.s preferred; no guests, no bedrooms. Entrance £30, sub £10.
City of London
19 Old Broad St. Shipowners, businessmen, bankers & financiers, usually not open evenings. Entrance £31, sub £10.
74 St. James's St. Every member must be, of course, a Conservative; however, solicitors have difficulty joining. Entrance £33, sub £10.
Dover Street, London W. Somewhat exclusive yet rowdy, members are largely idle rich young men. There is a bar, two smoking rooms, and a dining room where the throwing of bread rolls is de rigeur. Games of indoor cricket quite often take place in the corridors and entrance hall. The club sponsors an annual golf tournament.
East India United Service
14 St. James's Sq. Founded 1849. Soldiers, sailors, churchmen, and civil servants who served Britain in India. Entrance £31, sub £8.
21 Shaftesbury Ave. (over Christie's auction house). Founded in 1890; most members are actors, musicians, music hall performers, etc.. Open till 4 am.
14 Charles Street. Established 1887, for gentlemen and ladies who have made journeys of exploration and discovery, at least 500 miles distant from London. One of the first "cock and hen" clubs.
15 New King St., Covent Garden. Fine food, 650 artistic, literary and theatrical members; no rooms or female guests. Entrance £21, sub £10.
Grafton St. A proprietary grill club, for good dinners, smoking and conversation. Entrance £5, sub £3.
Lombard St. Business & finance, good food and cellar, a status symbol for the City -- members are merchants, bankers and other gentlemen "of known respectability". Entrance £21, sub £8.
70 Pall Mall. Only current & retired officers of the Grenadiers, Coldstream, and Scots Guards, very strict protocol is observed. Entrance £31, sub £11.
Ranelagh Gardens, Fulham. 40 acres nr. Putney, six miles from the center of London, this new club (1869) caters to sports of all types: croquet, swimming, badminton, lawn bowling, American skittles, boating, fencing, squash, cricket, archery, fly casting, and esp. pigeon shooting April through July. Members must be "received in general society," female 'guests' have essentially full privileges. In 1874 this club will be the site of the first polo match played in England, about the same time as the first lawn tennis games ('sphairistike'). Entrance £15, sub £5.
Junior Carlton
30 Pall Mall. Conservatives and "gentlemen of position" only, many peers and M.P.s, very politically active; they have just last year moved into a huge new building, impressive and oppressive; the library contains Disraeli's (Shadow Cabinet) Table. Entrance £39, sub £10.
Junior United Service
11 Charles St., St. James. Only military officers, many from the Indian Army. Very easy about guests. Entrance £40, sub £7.
London Athletic
Stamford Bridge, Fulham. Members partake of various sports and exercises (running, boxing, fencing, rowing, gynastics, etc.). Indoor practice takes place in the "Iron House" on the club grounds. Entrance £10, sub £2; middle class persons may become members.
St. John's Wood Road. Sporting types - and home of the Marylebone Cricket Club, center of cricketing; the Gentlemen vs. Players matches have been organized by this club since 1806 - but a grandstand for the public was only felt needed since 1866; in 1874 the Tennis and Rackets Sub-Committee will draw up the rules for lawn tennis.
National Liberal
1 Whitehall Place. Opened 1887, closely associated with Gladstone; very taken with the "Irish Question.".
National Sporting Club
43 King Street, Covent Garden. (Re-)established 1891, the "sport" is boxing, and wagering on boxing (which only became legal in Britain that year). Connected with the Cafe Royal.
Naval & Military
22 Hanover Sq. Military officers only, but a very friendly atmosphere, no 'rank pulling'; many Regimental dinners and wedding receptions held here. Entrance £36, sub £8.
18 Hanover Sq. Open to those who have served, travelled, or resided in the East, and are "noblemen, M.Ps., and gentlemen of the first distinction and character". Entrance £31, sub £9.
Oxford & Cambridge
71 Pall Mall. Graduates only (EDU 15+). Entrance £42, sub £8.
Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho. Founded 1887, very raffish and 'fast', interested in wine, women, gambling and song; many pugilists and theatrical types - and the Prince of Wales.
1 Stratford Place. 250 old, rich whist players, many doctors & lawyers - nobody in England plays bridge until introduced here in 1894. However, "no game of hazard shall be played, nor shall dice be used in the club." Entrance £10, sub £7, EDU 15+.
Wine Office Court. Reporters and journalists. Subscription £3.
14 Park Place, St. James's St. Conservative senior dinner club, very select, long waiting list, opens 7 p.m. One of the rules provides "that no member bring a stranger into the Club under any pretence whatever." Entrance £2, sub £5.
104 Pall Mall. Politically liberal, very high class (members must be "socially eligible"), excellent food, tremendous architecture, Phileas Fogg's club. Guests allowed only in the Strangers' Room. Entrance £40, sub £10.
Royal Thames Yacht
7 Albemarle St. Est. 1775. To encourage yacht building and sailing; the Prince of Wales is the Commodore. Entrance £21, sub £7. The club members may fly a special flag from their yachts.
King St., Covent Garden. Members must be writers, artists, musicians, theatrical performers, scientists or lawyers. Entrance £5, sub £5.
15 Savile Row. Recently founded, an intellectual lot (EDU 16+), whose object is "good fellowship"; it is said that no one can get in unless they are an atheist, or have written a book. Roast beef and beer for dinner; all present dine at one table. Entrance £10, subscription £5.
39 Dover St., Piccadilly. Members are landowners in Scotland, or gentlemen otherwise connected with that country by property or marriage. Entrance £10, sub £7.
8 St. James Sq. Sporting types; a focal point for rugby and cricket.
St. James's
106 Picadilly. Mostly diplomats, much genteel gaming till all hours. Entrance £26, sub £11.
St. Stephen's
34 Queen Anne's Gate. Just founded this year, with support from Disraeli, as a convenient club for Conservative M.P.s. Entrance £21, sub £10.
Thatched House
86 St. James's St. Established 1865; deliberately apolitical. Entrance £26, sub £10.
106 Pall Mall. No guests in the club! Members must have travelled more than 500 miles from London, many are from the Foreign Office. Entrance £32, sub £10.
85 Picadilly. Aristocratic racing set, also excellent whist players (both for money). Entrance £31, sub £15.
Trafalgar Square. Very jolly. Entrance £31, sub £7.
United Service
116 Pall Mall. "The Senior;" field grade military or naval & up, no guests to dinner (except invited by the club), very 'stuffy,' all of the staff are former enlisted men. Entrance £40, sub £7.
United University
1 Suffolk Street. 1,000 graduates of Oxford or Cambridge (EDU 15+); one of Gladstone's favorite clubs. Entrance £31, sub £8.
Wellington St., Strand. Horse-racing and other gambling bookies club - in fact, a great part of the commission betting in Europe takes place here. Entrance £5, sub £5.
37 St. James's St. Founded 1693, long waiting list, no bedrooms available, excellent dinners and wine cellar. Entrance £19, sub £11.
Pall Mall. For travellers, big-game hunters and explorers.

Many clubs will allow female guests for meals, and some have ladies as associate members. Women's clubs (all of recent date) include:

The Alexandra
12 Grosvenor St. Members "must not be precluded from attending Her Majesty's Drawing Rooms." Entrance £3, sub £3.
The Empress
Dover St. Very active in charity, also interested in horse-racing and sport.
Ladies' Carlton
5 Grosvenor Place. Conservative women; has a swimming pool.
Ladies' Army and Navy
27 St. James Place. Wives and daughters of servicemen; very active in fox-hunting and other equestrian activities.

Odd customs, rules and traditions abound; one nearly universal rule is "no tipping." Waiting lists for membership run from months to several years long; while the rules are varied and complicated, essentially all clubs require a 90% 'aye' vote of all members present to admit a new member.

Many younger sons of the upper class, with incomes of 'only' £200 to £400 per year, find residential club dues and fees (typically totalling £20 to £100 per year) to be the most economical way of setting up a proper London lifestyle. A fine dinner, only 5 shillings in a good club, can cost four or five times that in a hotel restaurant. And, there are other benefits, like ancient wine cellars, billiards tables, card playing at all hours, the squash court, and the club tent at Ascot ...

Another amenity offered by some clubs (notably White's) are betting books. Some of the wagers are in poor taste, or entirely ridiculous (White's was known, in Regency times, for booking bets on saucers thrown across the street into another club's front windows).

There are many famous clubs (though none on the above list) which possess no premises, or only a single dining room, or a room in another (larger) club, even though they may employ a chef and have a large wine stock. These clubs mostly meet for dinners: the Dilletanti Society (arts & literature - "the nominal qualification for the Dilettanti is having been in Italy and the real one being drunk" according to Walpole, and there is still a boyish, secret society element), London Pitt Club (very old), Shikar (adventurers, founded 1908), Literary, Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and Cranium, are some examples.

Tattersall's has a "Subscription Room" which is in effect a private betting-club; admittance to membership is by election from a committee, and costs £3 3s. This club, founded 1776, and now located in Knightsbridge Green, is the major horse auction mart in England (for riding, hunting, racing and other "bloodline" horses, that is).

Various clubs allow use of some or all of their facilities to members of certain other clubs. Almost all clubs allow members to bring guests (though often only one at a time); a few allow gentlemen of one type or another (military officers, or high nobility, for example) to come by as guests "uninvited," so to speak. Most extend honorary membership to members of the Royal family, and foriegn ambassadors.

Several overseas clubs are considered on a social par with London's best clubs: the Royal Cork Yacht Club; the Nouveau Cercle, Jockey Club of France (very aristocratic), and Travellers' in Paris; the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo; the Caccia in Rome; the Casino in Berlin; the British-American Club at Biarritz; the Union in Port Said; the Madras in India; the Tanglin Club in Singapore; the Knickerbocker, Harvard, Brook, Wall Street, Players', Union, Bankers' and Yacht Club in New York City; the Union and Harvard in Boston; the Reading Room in Newport; the Olympic Club in San Francisco; and the St. James in Montreal among them.

Primary Sources: The Gentlemen's Clubs of London, by Anthony Lejeune; pub. Macdonald & Janes, London, 1979; Dickens's Dictionary of London 1888, by Charles Dickens; pub. Macmillan & Co., London 1888 (in facsimile by Old House Books, Newton Abbot, 1993); Baedeker's London and Its Environs, by Karl Baedeker; pub. by Karl Baedeker, Leipzig, var. dates; Kelly's Handbook to the Upper Ten Thousand 1879, 5th Edition; pub. by Kelly and Co., London, 1879.

Gaslight: 1889 Index Page