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Gentlemen's Clubs

London's Gentlemen's Clubs reached their heyday in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They originated in the 18th century as coffee shops where London's rich young aristocrats met to talk, drink and gamble, and by the 19th century had evolved into exclusive clubs.

The two main locations of these clubs were on Pall Mall and on St James's Street. Some of the clubs still exist today, for example the Atheneum, the Travellers Club and the Reform Club on Pall Mall and Whites, Brooks and the Carlton Club on St James's Street.

The Gentlemen's Clubs epitomise the stereotype of a Victorian London peopled by men clad in pinstripe suits, smoking cigars and drinking port. And even today the archaic rules and rituals are often still in place. This means that most are subject to strict and elaborate membership restrictions, out of bounds for women - and closed to the public.

Nevertheless, often the buildings themselves are quite elaborate and decorative so it is quite interesting to wander along Pall Mall or St James's Street just reflecting about the exclusivity of it all.

A particularly well known club is the very Conservative Carlton Club, made famous by the fact that Margaret Thatcher had to be made an Honorary Man in order to join!


Today's Gentlemen's Clubs
Athenaeum
107 Pall Mall, SW1
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

This is the Gentlemen's Club for the "intellectually elite" and so it is named after the ancient Roman Athenaeum, which was the Roman centre for the study of literature and science. Over the years numerous Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, literary figures and church leaders have been members of the Athenaeum.

Brooks
60 St James's Street, SW1
Nearest Tube: Green Park

This ultra-exclusive social club was particularly well known in the 17th century for the gambling exploits of its members - Horace Walpole is often quoted as saying 'a thousand meadows and cornfields were staked at every throw'.

The Carlton Club
69 St James Street, SW1
Nearest Tube: Green Park

This very Conservative Gentlemen's Club became particularly well known in the last couple of decades due to the fact that Margaret Thatcher had to be made an Honorary Man in order to join!

It was also considered by the IRA to be important enough to be a target and so was subjected to a bomb attack in 1990.

Reform Club
104-105 Pall Mall, SW1
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

This was the Gentlemen's Club for liberals in the 19th Century, and its members were behind the 1832 Reform Act. It is also where the Jules Verne hero Phileas Fogg took his bet to travel 'Around the world in 80 Days'.

Even today it is considered to be one of the most liberal of the Gentlemen's Clubs for it is one of the few that allows women members.

Royal Automobile Club
89 Pall Mall, SW1
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

This Gentlemen's Club was founded in 1897 'for the Protection, Encouragement and Development of Automobilism'. As such it is the newest of the Gentlemen's Clubs and it has a reputation for being less class-conscious than many of the other clubs.

Travellers Club
106 Pall Mall, SW1
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

This Gentlemen's Club was founded in 1819 to act as the meeting point for gentlemen who had returned from travels abroad. It is essentially a non-political social club and the only one of the Gentlemen's Clubs to offer guided tours to the public.

Whites
37-38 St James's Street, SW1
Nearest Tube: Green Park

Founded in 1695, this is the oldest of the Gentlemen's Clubs. The membership is traditionally made up from the higher ranks of the aristocracy and from the upper echelons of government. It was here that Prince Charles held his stag party.




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