Behind London's Traditional Gentlemen's Clubs
Inside The Garrick Club
Behind every shallow street, past the tube stops and prowling in the midst of cluttered tourists, there’s a hidden past ghostly slithering. London, with its filthy meandering Thames and grey-cloud horizon, could never be described as exquisitely as the beauty of Paris. Wordsworth’s “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ sonnet, resembles the city in 1802 as a distant reality – a place a child invented. Despite its lost physical appeal, what other capital in the world can unleash a comparable quantity of story?
STRICTLY MEN ONLY - For British, traditional gentlemen’s clubs concoct images of suit-draped men reading newspapers while soothing a glass of whiskey in a dark-oak room, sat on pristine-polished furnishings. For hundreds of years, a strict policy of men-only (upper-class and honing a prominent job in society) have attended gentlemen's clubs to find relief amongst the everyday routine of life. Women at times were permitted, though usually wives and never as official members. The archaic concept of ‘all-male’ has erupted feminist discussion. Political leaders struggle to represent themselves as ‘modern’ when associated as members. In 2013, David Cameron turned his back on gentlemen's clubs - he resigned from White's, due to the men-only policy and released a statement declaring these men-only establishments "look more to the past”. Well connected men and women today, have an extensive range of private members’ club to explore, where both sexes can enjoy each other's company and unwind in an opulent environment. Albert’s is a particular royalty favourite and loved especially by Prince Harry. Contemporary members’ clubs are a hidden freedom for The Royals, as well as high members of parliament and well-known names. Go a few decades back however, there was another type of secret character who found solace behind London’s exclusive walls.
Top Left: Dining room of The Garrick Club, Bottom Left: Study in The Carlton Club, Top Right: Outside view of Boodles, Top Centre: Wellington room at The Carlton Club, Bottom Right: Outside view of White's Gentlemen's Club
"To Betray, you must first belong" - Spy, Kim Philby
THE FIVE BIGGEST SPIES - Heavy-drinkers and clumsy braggers – words acquainted with top spies during WWII. Much has been said about The Cambridge 5 –undercover Soviet moles who worked in key positions within the British government – including MI5 and the Foreign Office. How significant their Cambridge education was to their success is continually speculated, but where the members chose to spend their leisure is undisputed. Pall Mall – the centre of London’s gentlemen’s clubs, is where Cambridge 5 Burgess took fellow spy MacLean, at the Royal Automobile Club for lunch, shortly before they escaped to Moscow. The gentlemen’s club White’s, is also linked to the spies – some allege the place was where their recruitment with Russia was orchestrated. The lucrative appeal of these clubs – no names on the door and a lack of direction to location, was prime for secretive infiltrators.
"Smoking cigars is like falling in love..." - Winston Churchill
WHAT IT TAKES TO JOIN - Becoming a member – past and present, is no easy task. Although ‘gentleman’ in an obvious sense, alludes to strictly men, ‘gentle’ itself symbolises the expectations of each member. A British air of decorum, honouree discretion and peace between fellow affiliate. Not always found however, as gossip and infantile activities were also common occurrence. Combining a well-connected social status with a superior level of intellect, traditional London gentlemen's clubs appreciated wit and talent. Complex card games and stimulating debates shaped the noise inside the private interiors. Not least were the Cuban Cigars brimming smoke. Cigar shops were set-up to specifically cater. Gentlemen's Clubs acted as a cigar sanctuary. King Edward VII helped establish the Marlborough Club – one of the first gentlemen's clubs to allow smoking freely. Other clubs soon followed. His devotion to cigars moulded the breakage of tobacco taboo formed in Victorian times. We are positive Winston Churchill thanked Edward – at least to himself, for having made cigars a right of passage. The Romeo y Julieta Churchills Cigar is a classic Habano which is full of complex flavours like vanilla, espresso, cedar and chocolate. Due to popularity, Romeo y Julieta Cigars extended the Churchills range further, with wide, short and even a Romeo y Julieta Petit Churchills Cigar, for those without infinite time.
Top Left: Image depicting Edwardian dress, Top Right: Sir Winston Churchill, Bottom: Dining room at The Garrick Club
THE INSTITUTIONS FUTURE - Gentlemen clubs have managed to continue their mystique and elite appeal, though the future of the institution is heading to murky waters. Younger members who would have previously joined – resembling their father’s, are less attracted to the old-fashioned setting. In replacement, Private members’ clubs (accepting women and men) are targeting London’s upper-class society with a more diverse, trendy style. Whether forcibly or swayed by current society, certain gentlemen's clubs now describe themselves as private member. In the next century, it’s hard to say what people will call these limited locations . Though one thing certain, their traditional history will forever be roaming secretly around London.
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