Gentlemen Club’s were social gathering places for many men in Regency England. Unlike the clubs in the U.S. today, there were no exotic dancers. Women were not allowed. Men in Regency England often belonged to one or more of these establishments. Nevertheless, these clubs were more than just places to escape female society and partake in gaming and gossip. These clubs served as meeting places for business, political strife, or social climbing. Party leaders, artists, poets, publishers, barristers, and people with many common interests met in these places to speak “off the record” and to network with like-minded individuals of influence.
In my time travel, Destiny Series, the three lords purchased an old coffee house and refurbished it into The Back Room Gentlemen’s Club. Inside one of the club’s rooms, there lies a time portal. This portal brings travelers from the past and future and drops them in the center of the men’s club in the early 19th century.
These establishments were luxurious with rich upholsteries, marble fireplaces, and thick carpets. The club was a place filled with gambling, gossip, and indulgent behavior. Where the food is top quality and the membership is exclusive.
The three most famous clubs of Regency England were White’s, Brook’s, and Boodle’s. The common denominator between these three clubs is the fact that they were the clubs that allowed gambling. All clubs had their own bylaws and rules on conduct and behavior, which had to be followed or you could lose membership and be permanently blackballed.
But like all establishments, these top three clubs were each known for certain clientele.
White’s is the oldest and most exclusive gentlemen’s club in London. The Italian immigrant, Francesco Bianco, originally established the club off of Curzon Street in Mayfair in 1693. It was called Mrs. White’s Chocolate House and they sold hot chocolate. The club began to sell tickets to events in town for the King’s Theatre and the Royal Theatre on Drury Lane. This selling of tickets led to the transformation of White’s to an exclusive club by 1736. In 1753, White’s relocated across the street after the original club burned down. White’s was moved to 37-38 St. James Street, and from 1783 it was known as the unofficial headquarters for the Tory party. Due to its growing popularity, a second club was formed called the Young Club, the two clubs merged in 1781.
The structure is built of Portland stone with a slate roof. Consisting of three stories, it is the Victorian version of the Palladian style, with French elements.
White’s was perceived as the intellectual leader and the most exclusive of the three. Although White’s was also considered by some to be the bane of the aristocracy, for many men lost more than they could afford to lose, bringing shame and poverty to their families. While, White’s catered to the Tory party, Brook’s catered to the Whig party. There were, however, some men that belonged to both clubs. Members were elected and voted upon by using a system of white and black balls secretly deposited into a special box at each election. A single black ball denied you membership, hence the term to be blackballed. The Prince of Wales once favored White’s until his friend Jack Payne was blackballed.
In many romance novels, I have read of White’s infamous bow window and the table that sits there. This window was added to the structure in 1811, and this privilege seat is mentioned in one of my novels. It was a table that could be seen by passer-byers and used by the club’s most socially influential. Beau Brummell was known to be a constant ornament to this special table until he moved to the continent to avoid debtor’s prison. Lord Alvanley took the honor after Brummell’s departure. I should also mention the infamous White’s betting book, where men bet on sports, political developments, and who’d beget the first heir between friends. Brook’s also had a betting book, and I’m sure other clubs recorded similar wagers.
The members of White’s deemed whist a dull game and gambled deeply in hazard, faro, and other games of chance.
Brook’s Gentlemen’s Club was founded in March 1764, by twenty-seven prominent Whig nobles. The clubhouse was built in yellow brick and Portland Stone in a Palladian style. The interior is neoclassical in design. It is located on St James Street, London, England and is one of the oldest gentlemen clubs in London.
Brook’s was known to have a political atmosphere, due to the young, founding members whose fathers’ were deeply entrenched in the Whig party. Through fatherly influence, these twenty-something year olds were indoctrinated in politics and the concept of liberalism from an early age. As you can imagine, hopeful Whig politicians began to flock to Brook’s, and within a few years it was an unofficial headquarters for the Whig party.
Due to the vastness of the founders’ wealth and influence, Brook’s gained a reputation for wild behavior and excessive gambling.
The Prince of Wales joined Brook’s so that he could talk to Charles James Fox and enlist his support in Parliament, which speaks of the clubs political influence.
Boodle’s was founded by Lord Shelburne, the future Marquis of Lansdowne and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in 1762 and located at 49-51 Pall Mall, London. The club was moved in 1782 to the clubhouse at 28 St. James Street, London, England. The club’s namesake is taken from the headwaiter that worked there named Edward Boodle.
Boodle’s is second to White’s as London’s oldest gentlemen’s club. This club was said to have been frequented by country squires and the fox hunting set. Heavy gambling took place at Boodle’s, but the club was not associated with a political party.
Other Regency Clubs
The Royal Society was known as a meeting place for scientists, engineers, explorers, botanists, and astronomers of their day. It was also frequented by soldiers, poets, bishops, musicians, and writers.
Alfred Club was said to attract men of letters and writers. Lord Byron was a member of this club to which he found it, “Literary, pleasant, and sober.” In 1811, the Alfred Club had 354 men on their waiting list.
Four Horse Club was known to cater to the younger set who knew how to handle the ribbons of horses with expert skill and they tended to race around recklessly at high speeds. At its peak, the club only held 30-40 members.
Watier’s was founded by the Prince of Wales chef in 1807. The club was known for its fare and deep gambling, but closed in 1819. From what I’ve surmised, the closing was due to the high level of gambling.
A special thanks to Venetia Murray, An Elegant Madness