Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Friday, 5 January 2007

The Traditional Gentlemen's Club

Readers of this blog will know that The Monarchist is an Old World stiff with a taste for Old World things. Stone edifices, ancient orders, historical regiments, colourful heraldry, etc - those unappreciated bits and pieces of glory and splendor that the fleeting modernist willfully ignores when not attempting to tear them down with his wrecking ball. You can add to this list the quaint Old World civility of the traditional gentlemen’s club, which as an institution has a stronger chance of survival than any of those other worthies, including the monarchy, precisely because it is not in the public sphere. Even with blow torch in hand, the modernist hasn’t the faintest prospect against the hidden pleasures of the private club.

untitledI’m not yet a member of one of these esteemed clubs, but having been raised in an Officer's Mess and missing it, will one day hopefully find my way. In the meantime, I rely on a close personal friend who hangs out at the swanky Rideau Club, and who by reciprocal benefit, is also entitled to transitory membership in most other gentlemen clubs across the English-speaking world. The spirit of that great line from The Sound of Music applies here: "I like how the rich live. I like how I live when I'm with them".

But the truth of the matter is, for a $1,500 per year annual membership fee (more or less), you don't have to be so well-to-do to afford it. For the price of a London hotel, better to stay at the Carlton Club than fork out a hundred pounds at the Four Seasons. So long as you appreciate the old ethos of “gaming, gossip and good dress”, along with fine dining, smoking cigars, drinking port and other manly pleasures, you're well on your way. On the other hand, the blackballing tradition is still prevalent in many of the clubs, and some of the London ones are still downright impossible to get into, even if you happen to be stonkingly rich, on the not unsound pretense “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted” (- Garrick Club's motto):

...anyone hoping for membership must be proposed and seconded by existing members just to be placed on a waiting list. No proposal and seconding by existing members means you will not even be considered for membership – even having all the money in the world would have no sway with these establishments. Once at the top of the waiting list – which usually takes a few years – the proposal goes before a committee where there is still a very high risk that a proposed member will be blackballed and - as was proved by the Prince of Wales when he proposed a friend at Whites a few years ago - even a royal nomination does not guarantee membership. In this instance, the proposer of such a candidate is usually also expected to resign as he has failed to withdraw his ‘unsuitable’ candidate, although royalty may manage to avoid this rule!
Historically, such clubs were for the aristocratic and elite, and the first establishments were founded in London. Although no longer purely a sanctum for the males of the English upper classes, very little has changed:

The original Gentlemen’s clubs were established in the St James’s area of the west end of London in the 18th century, and this is where the oldest and most blue chip clubs – Whites, Boodles, and Brooks's – can still be found today...

Women are still not permitted in these establishments or are only permissible through a separate entrance. Other clubs - and those probably considered by members of the aforementioned three to be second tier - still tend to be characterized by a specific constituency. Some of London’s most notable include the Garrick (authors, actors, and barristers), the Carlton (Conservative Party members), the Athenaeum (civil service, clergy, and academics), and the Beefsteak (intellectuals). More recent modern additions such as the Groucho Club, Century, and Soho House cater to a younger, more media-minded set of members. A unique aspect of the majority of the traditional clubs is that any discussion of business or trade is strictly forbidden – a rule which is usually strictly enforced.
A cursory glance at a few noteworthy clubs:

- Forget about trying to get into Boodles, Brooke's or White's. In the latter case, the Prince of Wales or David Cameron won't let you in. Elites only.

- Athenaeum Club, London, boasted such notables as Churchill, Kipling, Palmerston, Dickens, Cecil Rhodes, Sir Walter Scott...for many years was seen to represent the peak of the public intellectual.

- The Meighen Lounge, Albany Club, Toronto. The Albany Club is one of Canada’s oldest private clubs. Founded in 1882 by Sir John A. MacDonald and named after the Duke of Albany.
- The Weld Club of Perth, Australia was established by former British military officers in 1871.

Other noteworthy clubs:
- The Carlton Club is home to members of the Conservative Party
- The Oxford and Cambridge Club, London
- Visit the rooms at the Union Club, Victoria, British Columbia
- The Reform Club, London
- The Australian Club, Melbourne
- The Garrick Club, London
- The Caledonian Club. "A little part of London that will forever remain Scottish"
- The Royal Air Force Club
- The Naval and Military Club, London
- The Commonwealth Club, private club of the Royal Commonwealth Society
- The Savage Club, London. Clubbers are known for their drunken merriment and call each other "Brother Savage"



William E. Demers said...

Great clubs you have mentioned. The Toronto Club was also a great gentleman's club in the past, although women are now allowed in.

I am fond of many Old World ideas and I hate how people are upset that a group of men would want to socialize together in privacy. It's even more upsetting that they get very emotional about it and call it discriminatory.

People should be allowed to associate with whomever they wish, without an angry mob of Liberals telling them they're elitist jerks.

Andrew Cusack said...

I am told the Commonwealth Club used to be a proper club but, sadly, was completely gutted by modernisers a few years back and replaced by minimalist all-white boredom. It's all "contemporary" now. The RCS has really declined, from a combination of gentleman's club and learned society (originally the Royal Empire Society) to a debased, politically-correct organization obsessed with the dreaded multi-culturalism.

The Monarchist said...

Oh dear. The Commonwealth Club has been duly scratched out, and will henceforth not be on my list of places to stay whilst in Londontown. I hope the Commonwealth Club in Sydney, Australia, has not been similarly debased, assuming they are associated.

Another one in Toronto that I forgot to mention, and which I've been a few times, is the National Club, still in the original building in the central core, replete with Old Dominion character. Unfortunately the original building of the Rideau Club in Ottawa burnt down, and they've never found a suitable replacement. Instead they rent an opulent penthouse office tower overlooking Parliament Hill, which is not quite the same thing. In MacDonald, Laurier or Borden's day, they would have built another stone building with the money of their members. Even though its members include the Governor-General, Prime Minister and various Captains of Industry, the will is just not there. They could have taken over the old American Embassy right across from Parliament, for example.

Incidentally, there must be some fine gentlemen establishments in New York, no?

Younghusband said...

I was curious as to why the Commonwealth Club had been crossed out, especially as it is the private members' club of the Royal Commonwealth Society. The pictures of it provided in its website are absolutely dire though; the Beijing airport has more soul. It claims to be "the first club of its kind to open in London for several decades and as such is totally unique", possibly in its having been influenced by hospitals.

The Monarchist said...

I have limited the crossed out part to the club and not the society. It does sound rather ghastly plain to recommend as an Old-World Gentlemen's Club.

Anonymous said...

While doing research for a novel in which the protagonist goes to England during WW2, I came across this article.

Very informative and educational! Even though I am an American, I've always been of the Victorian and Edwardian era in the UK's history.

The idea of a traditional gentlmen's club is wholly appealing. It's shame that no such thing exists here in America.
Gentlmen's club here refers to very low class strip halls. Now, I've no problem with the female form,quite the opposite, I enjoy it immensely.

Anyway, I'm straying away from the point of my posting. I spent a great deal of time reading the rest of your entries and have enjoyed them immensely. I'm going to subscribe using Google Reader.

Keep up the good work!