Thursday, June 26, 2008
The Gentlemen's Club
Since the gentlemen's clubs were the only location where eligible men were - temporarily at least - safe from the ambitious match-making mamas of their day, it's hardly surprising that they feature so prominently in novels written about the Regency period. The clubs were bastions of male solidarity where members could enjoy the company of their peers, savour a decent glass of claret and, perhaps most importantly of all, indulge their love for gambling.
The best known and oldest of the clubs is, of course, White's, which developed from the original White's Chocolate House and dates back to 1698. The original building burnt down and the club moved a few doors along St. James's Street, where it still exists today. Famed for its bay window, the territory of the fashionable Brummell and his cronies, members were elected to Whites by a committee of twelve and competition for inclusion was fierce. The famous courtesan, Hariette Wilson, is reputed to have said that no man was refused entry if he could tie a good knot in his handkerchief, keep his hands out of his breeches pockets and say nothing.
But if the young bucks felt safe behind the hallowed portals of White's, the same could not be said for another club, where attendance by the fashionable was all but mandatory and mamas and their charges were at liberty to work their wiles upon their hapless victims against the backdrop of the most exclusive marriage-mart within the ton.
Almack's high-born patronesses ruled with a rod of iron. They met weekly to decide who should be allowed admittance and obtaining vouchers if you were not amongst the favoured was all but impossible. Birth and fortune alone did not necessarily guarantee admission, whereas beauty, wit and a reputation as a graceful dance might persuade a patroness to favour one's cause. The rules for conduct laid down by the patronesses were rigidly adhered to. Anyone arriving after eleven o'clock, no matter who they were, would be refused admission. But in spite of the unremarkable suppers and carefully regulated dancing, Almack's was still the place to find a marriage partner and remained in vogue for the duration of the Regency period.