The Gentlemen’s Clubs ~ Part Two

In this second article, I look at some of the – perhaps – lesser-known clubs frequented by gentlemen in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Gentlemen’s clubs had existed since Shakespeare’s time, although the word ‘club’, to mean a place of conviviality, is more recent. Samuel Pepys writes, in his entry for 26 July 1660, of a visit to ‘Pell Mell’:


“We went to Wood’s (our old house for clubbing), and there we spent till ten at night.”


In these few words, the diarist provides us with not only an early reference to Pall Mall being known for ‘houses of entertainment’, but also an early employment of the term ‘clubbing’, to mean calling at one or more clubs. What is more fascinating, is that when John Timbs was writing of the London Clubs in 1864, Pall Mall had maintained (quoting Peter Cunningham), “what Johnson would have called its ‘clubbable’ character”, while even today there are clubs on that street and in the locality.


However, for the golden era of the Gentlemen’s Clubs, we must look towards the beginning of the eighteenth century. The original The Spectator, launched in 1711, (the political magazine dates to 1828 although the name was quite possibly revived by its founding editor) did, with wit and insight, keep the clubs’ stories for posterity. In the ninth edition, Joseph Addison records:


“Man is said to be a sociable animal; and as an instance of it we may observe, that we take all occasions and pretences of forming ourselves into those little nocturnal assemblies, which are commonly known by the name of Clubs. When a set of men find themselves agree in any particular, though never so trivial, they establish themselves into a kind of fraternity, and meet once or twice a week, upon the account of such a fantastic resemblance.”



Rev. Joseph Spence, in his Anecdotes, Observations and Characters, relates an instance which reveals much about the men who frequented such establishments.


‘There was a club held at the King’s Head in Pall Mall, that arrogantly called itself “The World.” Lord Stanhope, then (now Lord Chesterfield) Lord Herbert, &c. &c. were members. Epigrams were proposed to be written on the glasses, by each member after dinner; once when Dr. Young was invited thither, the doctor would have declined writing, because he had no diamond: Lord Stanhope lent him his, and he wrote immediately—’


“Accept a miracle, instead of wit;

See two dull lines, with Stanhope’s pencil writ.”—

Dr. Young.


In his descriptive book of London in 1807, David Hughson refers to what, historically, is considered the first mansion to be used as a club for the entertainment of gentlemen. He wrote: “Adjoining to Carleton House Gardens, are those belonging to the residence of his Royal Highness, Henry Frederick, late Duke of Cumberland, brother to his present Majesty [George III].” He goes on to state that the house, having been built for Prince Edward, Duke of York, was sold following the death of the Duke of Cumberland. “…and is at present occupied by a subscription club, and called the Albion Hotel. The fronts of the above two houses are in Pall Mall.”


The Albion Hotel was Number 86 and became part of the War Office; its creation as a subscription club was the beginning of the ‘Club land’ which came to be centred around Pall Mall and St. James’s.



The Kit-Kat Club


If you are partial to a certain brand of chocolate biscuit, you may be surprised to learn that the appellation of the club was, in all likelihood, derived from the name of a pie maker or the mutton pies he baked. Historical sources have varying opinions.


Formed probably around 1700, the titled members of the Kit-Kat (otherwise called Kit-Cat, Kit-Catt and Kit-Katt, with and without the hyphen) met originally at a tavern on Shire Lane. Running parallel with Bell Yard and by the Temple Bar, the lane has long been lost beneath the Royal Courts of Justice. The Cat and Fiddle was the house of noted pieman Christopher Katt (or Catt, or even Catling) and his mutton pies were known as ‘kit-kats’. Thirty-nine noblemen and gentlemen met to discuss literature, art and Whig politics, including ‘the Dukes of Somerset, Richmond, Grafton, Devonshire, and Marlborough’; ‘the Earls of Dorset, Sunderland, Manchester, Wharton, and Kingston’; the Earl of Stanhope; Viscount Cobham; Lord Halifax; Sir Robert Walpole and Sir John Vanbrugh; writers Joseph Addison, William Congreve and John Locke, as well as artist Sir Godfrey Kneller. Many of the latter’s ‘kit-kat’ portraits of the members are at Beningborough Hall in Yorkshire, courtesy of a collaboration between the National Trust and the National Portrait Gallery.


Christopher ‘Kit’ Catt’s pies became a feature of the Club’s suppers and in The Spectator, Joseph Addison clearly denotes them as the source of the nomenclature. In the prologue to a comedy in Volume 9, it says: “A Kit-Kat is a supper for a lord.” Nevertheless, Dr. King, in Art of Cookery, published 1708, considers the honour goes to the pieman himself:


His glory far, like Sir-Loins, Knighthood flies.

Immortal made as Kit-cat by his Pies.


This all seems fairly cut and dried, but there is yet another possibility. It is conceivable that the club stemmed from an earlier institutional practice. According to John Timbs, in 1699 one Elkanah Settle designated a manuscript poem thus: “To the most renowned the President and the rest of the Knights of the most noble Order of the Toast.” Timbs states that the verses assert “…the dignity of the Society; and Malone supposes the Order of the Toast to have been identical with the Kit-Kat Club…”


A further possibility is a purported ‘friendship’ between the pieman and bookseller Jacob Tonsen, whereby pastries were offered to poets and authors either by the one or the other. Did Tonsen have a first refusal on new works? Meetings apparently became weekly and since Christopher traded under the sign of the Cat and Fiddle, it is not beyond the bounds for one wag to have put the two together.


Whether or not those well-bred gentlemen deigned to pass ‘along the narrow and filthy pathway of Shire-lane,’ the Kit-Kat Club possessed a set of toasting glasses. Each was ‘inscribed with a verse, or toast to some reigning beauty; among whom were the four shining

daughters of the Duke of Marlborough—Lady Godolphin, Lady Sunderland, Lady Bridgewater, and Lady Monthermer…’ The list also included the ‘witty niece’ of Sir Isaac Newton, the Duchess of Bolton, Lady Carlisle and Lady Wharton. It would appear from an epigram written by Dr. John Arbuthnot, the Queen’s physician, that he considered the name of the club to come from this after-dinner custom rather than from the celebrated maker of ‘mutton pyes’.


“Whence deathless Kit-Kat took his name,

Few critics can unriddle:

Some say from pastrycook it came,

And some from Cat and Fiddle.

From no trim beaus its name it boasts,

Grey statesmen or green wits,

But from this pell-mell pack of toasts

Of old Cats and young Kits.”



The members of the Kit-Kat Club were middle-aged and respectable; Horace Walpole (whose father Sir Robert was a member) described them as ‘generally mentioned as “a set of wits”’, while Timbs declares they were ‘in reality the patriots that saved Britain’. Himself a member, as stated above, it was Joseph Addison’s view that all celebrated clubs were founded on eating and drinking, which are points where most men agree, and in which the learned and the illiterate, the dull and the airy, the philosopher and the buffoon, can all of them bear a part.” To illustrate this point, he went on, “The Kit-Kat itself is said to have taken its original from a Mutton-Pye. The Beef-Steak and October Clubs are neither of them averse to eating and drinking, if we may form a judgment of them from their respective titles.”


This, we may assume, was the root from whence the gambling clubs of the Regency sprang.

The club met at the Upper Flask, Hampstead Heath, during the summer and moved to Barn Elms, the home of Secretary Jacob Tonson, when a special clubroom was built to house the Kneller portraits. It was still standing in 1817, but not long after that date was connected to a barn and converted into a ‘riding-house’. Some sources state that the club also met at the Fountain Tavern on The Strand.




The Club


Another renowned literary club and, indeed, called The Literary Club following the death of David Garrick, it originated in 1764 from dinners held at the Leicester Square home of Sir Joshua Reynolds. The regular meetings of artists, statesmen, wits, authors and scholars evolved into a society, suggested by Reynolds and seconded by Dr. Samuel Johnson, which met at seven o’clock on Monday evenings until 1772, when it was changed to Friday. Somewhere about this time it was decided that during the sitting of Parliament members would dine together only once a fortnight. Initially the club met at the Turk’s Head in Gerrard Street, the number of its members limited to nine.



The original members, in addition to artist Reynolds and essayist Johnson, were author, playwright and poet Oliver Goldsmith; Dr. Christopher Nugent; Topham Beauclerk; Bennet Langton; writer and future Member of Parliament Edmund Burke; author John Hawkins and Under-Secretary at War Anthony Chamier. The following year, they were joined by Samuel Dyer, who became the first elected member. It was decided to increase the membership to the optimal number of twelve and thus writers George Colman and Thomas Percy, with barrister Robert Chambers, joined the select group. The idea was that should two members meet, they might converse and pass an agreeable evening without the need of further company.


In 1773, the membership was increased to twenty, then to twenty-one by the latter part of 1775. The new members included David Garrick; author and diarist James Boswell; Charles James Fox; Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury; author Edward Gibbon; 1st Earl of Charlemont and economist and philosopher Adam Smith. By March 1777, the number had become twenty-six and in November the following year it increased to thirty; in May 1780, the club boasted thirty-five members and the decision was then taken on a maximum of forty.


In 1783 the landlord of the Turk’s Head died and the club removed to Prince’s in Sackville Street, thence to Baxter’s (later Thomas’) in Dover Street. After a sojourn at Parsloe’s on St. James’s, 1799 found them further along at the Thatched House. The members list recorded by James Boswell in 1791 included Lords Spencer, Palmerston and Charlemont; Charles Fox, Bishop Thomas Percy, Joseph Warton, Edward Gibbon and Joseph Banks.


Many famous names graced the members’ list during the nineteenth century, including Alfred Tennyson, but possibly the most celebrated one to be excluded is Sir Winston Churchill, who was ‘considered too controversial’.

The remainder of this article may be read at A Regency Reticule










Come to the Party!

The Welsh Boys Release Party

I am so excited!! At last my first Welsh Boys novel is ready to fly. (I hope it doesn’t crash land instead.)

All my lovely readers and followers, please invite your friends to a virtual picnic in Rhandor Forest, where you never know what you might find!

My beautiful picture

This novel (not telling you the title just yet) is a contemporary paranormal story, featuring shape shifters, but I have some fabulous authors coming to help me celebrate and most of them write historical romance and fiction.

Welsh Boys Meme 2

Short Blurb

Matthew Swift, veteran of the Iraq wars and invalided out of the army following an act of heroism, is struggling to adjust to civilian life. Sparks fly when he meets alternative therapist Shani Stevens, but then they are stranded by unprecedented storms and must help each other.

Both have scars, yet slowly they learn to trust. Mutual sympathy and understanding soon grow into an abiding passion, but Matt has a secret he cannot reveal…

Welsh Boys Meme 3

Don’t miss out. It promises to be the crush of the year!

My beautiful picture


Photographs (C) Heather King

The Gentlemen’s Clubs ~ Part One

The Georgian aristocracy lived life to the full. They loved eating, drinking, carousing, partying, racing and… gambling.

During the Regency, most – if not all – of these could be enjoyed in one of the growing number of gentlemen’s clubs which thrived in the fair city of London. According to Captain Gronow, in his Anecdotes and Reminiscences, written at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the West End of London was home to only a few, prestigious such establishments. These were White’s – the oldest and most elite – Boodle’s, Brooks’, Watier’s, the Guards’, Arthur’s and Graham’s.

These bastions of male society sprang, in the main, from gatherings of like-minded gentlemen in coffee houses and taverns. The Jockey Club is said to have had its beginnings at the Star and Garter on Pall Mall, while Brooks’ and Boodle’s began at two neighbouring taverns owned by William Almack in the same area, and White’s originated as a chocolate house on Chesterfield Street, off Curzon Street in Mayfair.

Chocolate-house-london-c1708 (Cadbury pub.)

Chocolate House, Cadbury



Originally called ‘Mrs. White’s Chocolate House’, White’s was opened in 1693 by Francesco Bianco (also known as Francis White), an Italian immigrant. At the time, hot chocolate was expensive and therefore a commodity enjoyed by the wealthy. From the start, White’s attracted the most influential members of the haut ton and it soon became better known as an exclusive gambling club. After occupying several locations on St. James’s Street, in 1778 it took up residence at numbers 37-38, its home to this day.


White's_Club_St_James's_Street_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1375768 Paul Farmer

White’s Club, Paul Farmer


Fortunes have been won and lost within its genteel rooms, the play frequently being for high stakes. Cards were the medium of choice, the preferred game being whist.

While the membership boasted most of the noblest names in the country, wealth, birth and wit did not guarantee acceptance to the hallowed rooms. When a new member was proposed, a ballot took place. At least twelve members voted with either a white ball (acceptance) or a black ball. One black ball meant the applicant was denied. It was soon the ambition of every young gentleman new on the town to be elected.

That famed arbiter of fashion, Beau Brummell, who became a member in 1789, made the club into the haunt of the dandy set, whereupon the celebrated bow window and the table directly in front of it, became his preserve. He dictated whom might sit there and decreed that no gentleman should acknowledge anyone passing by in the street. However, it was not unknown for the dandies to pass pithy comments on any gentleman and ogle any woman bold enough to be walking by. This group of elite dandies included Lord Petersham, Lord Pierrepoint, 2nd Baron Alvanley, ‘Poodle’ Byng, the Duke of Argyll, Lord Worcester, Lord Sefton, Lord Foley, ‘Ball’ Hughes and Sir Lumley Skeffington. After Brummell’s removal to the Continent in 1816, Lord Alvanley took over the Beau’s seat and it was at this time he purportedly made the famous bet of £3,000 with a friend on the outcome of two raindrops running down the bow window. White’s Betting Book has seen many bizarre bets over the years, on social matters – marriages, deaths and gossip – sporting events and, in particular, developments in politics, both at home and on the Continent.

White’s was for some time a citadel of the Tory party, as Brooks’ was for the Whigs, yet many members of the club either belonged to the other party (and the other club) or had no political affiliation. From about 1832, the club renounced such leanings and has remained apolitical ever since.

To read the rest of this article, visit my blog A Regency Reticule

(C) Heather King

Pictures courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Stop Press!

Heather King – Proofreading

I am thrilled to be able to announce my new proofreading/critique service!

Specializing in Historical Fiction and Romance, and with a lifetime’s experience of working with horses, I can help authors spot those little modernisms which creep in!

Contact me via this website or through my new Facebook page:

Happy writing!


Twelfth Night Revels

The Conclusion of the Twelve Days of Christmas

I tell of festivals, and fairs, and plays. Of merriments, and mirth, and bonfire blaze; I tell of Christmas-mummings, new year’s day. Of twelfth-night king and queen, and children’s play; I tell of valentines, and true-loves-knots, Of omens, cunning men, and drawing lots— I tell of brooks, of blossoms, birds and bowers, Of April, May, of June, and July-flowers; I tell of May-poles, hock-carts, wassails, wakes. Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal cakes; I tell of groves, of twilights, and 1 sing The court of Mab, and of the fairy-king.

Robert Herrick

Christmas in Georgian times extended from Saint Nicholas’ Day (6th December) to the Epiphany (6th January). The twelve days of Christmas concluded with Twelfth Night, the sixth of January being the twelfth day after Christmas and therefore also known as Twelfth-day. To quote my copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:

Twelfth-day OE The twelfth day after Christmas: the sixth of January, on which the festival of the Epiphany is celebrated; formerly the closing day of the Christmas festivities.

Twelfth-night OE The night of the twelfth day after Christmas (6 January) marked by merrymaking.

This edition was printed in 1973. The current internet entry states that the fifth of January is Twelfth Night, being the eve before Twelfth Day. Although some of the various sources I have consulted also consider the fifth to be Twelfth Night, my family have always taken decorations down on the sixth. It has become the custom to ‘undeck the halls’ on Twelfth Night; it is supposed to be bad luck to leave them longer and further, if an item is overlooked, it must remain in situ the whole year. In centuries past, it was considered safe to leave the decorations up until Candlemas (2nd February).

I suspect the confusion over the date has arisen from the fact that the fifth is the eve of Twelfth-day and the appellation of Twelfth-day has been lost in the mists of time, now to be merged with Twelfth Night. It all depends on whether you believe the twelve days of Christmas begin on Saint Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) or Christmas Day itself. To my way of thinking, if Twelfth Night is the twelfth day after Christmas, then counting begins the next day – the twenty-sixth.


William Hone, in his The Every-Day Book of 1825, has this entry for the fifth of January:

This is the eve of the Epiphany, or Twelfth-night eve, arid is a night of preparation in some parts of England for the merriments which, to the present hour, distinguish Twelfth-day. Dr. Drake mentions that it was a practice formerly for itinerant minstrels to bear a bowl of spiced-wine to the houses of the gentry and others, from whom they expected a hospitable reception, and, calling their bowl a wassail-bowl, to drink wassail to their entertainers. These merry sounds of mirth and music are not extinct. There are still places wherein the wandering blower of a clarionet, and the poor scraper of as poor a fiddle, will this evening strain their instruments, to charm forth the rustic from his dwelling, and drink to him from a jug of warm ale, spiced with a race of ginger, in the hope of a pittance for their melody, and their wish of wassail.

He also includes the following in the same entry:

Mr. Beckwith relates in the Gentleman’s Magazine, 1784, that “near Leeds, in Yorkshire, when he was a boy, it was customary for many families, on the twelfth eve of Christmas, to invite their relations, friends, and neighbours, to their houses, to play at cards, and to partake of a supper, of which minced pies were an indispensable ingredient ; and after supper was brought in, the wassail cup or wassail bowl, of which every one partook, by taking with a spoon, out of the ale, a roasted apple, and eating it, and then drinking the healths of the company out of the bowl, wishing them a merry Christmas and a happy new year. (The festival of Christmas used in this part of the country to hold for twenty days, and some persons extended it to Candlemas.) The ingredients put into the bowl, viz. ale, sugar, nutmeg, and roasted apples, were usually called lambs’-wool, and the night on which it is used to be drunk (generally on the twelfth eve) was commonly called Wassil eve.” The glossary to the Exmore dialect has “Watsail—a drinking song on twelfth-day eve, throwing toast to the apple-trees, in order to have a fruitful year, which seems to be a relic of the heathen sacrifice to Pomona.”

For the sixth of January, William Hone details the Epiphany, when the three wise kings visited the infant Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem. He then goes on to describe the twelfth-day schedule of pastry cooks in London:

In London, with every pastrycook in the city, and at the west end of the town, it is “high change” on Twelfth-day. From the taking down of the shutters in the morning, he, and his men, with additional assistants, male and female, are fully occupied by attending to the dressing out of the window, executing orders of the day before, receiving fresh ones, or supplying the wants of chance customers.

Before dusk the important arrangement of the window is completed. Then the gas is turned on, with supernumerary argand-lamps and manifold wax-lights, to illuminate countless cakes of all prices and dimensions, that stand in rows and piles on the counters and sideboards, and in the windows. The richest in flavour and heaviest in weight and price are placed on large and massy salvers; one, enormously superior to the rest in size, is the chief object of curiosity; and all are decorated with all imaginable images of things animate and inanimate. Stars, castles, kings, cottages, dragons, trees, fish, palaces, cats, dogs, churches, lions, milk maids, knights, serpents, and innumerable other forms in snow-white confectionary, painted with variegated colours, glitter by ” excess of light” from mirrors against the walls festooned with artificial “wonders of Flora.”

So, if the cakes were made for Twelfth-day and Twelfth Cake was the highlight of the Twelfth Night celebrations, it therefore seems reasonable to conclude that Twelfth Night is the night of the sixth of January.

Twelfth Cake

According to tradition, a large, iced fruit cake (the forerunner of the modern Christmas cake) was baked with a dried bean and a dried pea inside it. Every person in the household was given a slice. The man who got the bean was declared the Twelfth Night King and the girl who got the pea was the Queen. They ruled until midnight, irrespective of their normal status, so for a few hours even servants could lord it over their masters. It was an opportunity for banter, foolish jokes, ridiculous orders and much merriment. Sometimes a coin was used in place of the bean and William Hone describes a method whereby revellers choose at random tickets and characters for the feast. Popular characters were Mrs. Candour (whom Jane Austen played in 1810), Sir Gregory Goose, Sir Tunbelly Clumsy and Miss Fanny Fanciful. The use of tickets became more prevalent as the nineteenth century progressed.

The original ‘Lord of Misrule’ from the Middle Ages, who held sway over a wild court, and later metamorphosed into the ‘King of Bean’ is still upheld today by the British Armed Forces – officers and NCOs wait on and serve the men their Christmas dinner.

As can be seen from the excerpt above, in the first part of the nineteenth century the Twelfth-cake became particularly elaborate, covered in sugar frosting and trimmed with gilded paper. It was frequently ornamented with sugar-paste or Plaster of Paris figures.

Following the choosing of the King and Queen, the party began, with mummer’s plays, masquerades, dressing up, games such as Blind Man’s Buff and Puss in the Corner, story-telling, singing and dancing. A Twelfth Night ball was likely to be the grandest occasion of the year and often took the form of fancy dress or a masked ridotto.


Wassailing and the Wassail Bowl

Wassail or ‘waes-hael’ is a salutation meaning ‘be of good cheer’ and is used when drinking someone’s health or offering wine to a guest. The Wassail Cup or Bowl was similar to mulled wine and was made of ale, sugar, spices (especially nutmeg), toast and roasted apples. The Wassail Bowl (also termed ‘Lamb’s Wool’, from the corrupted La Mas Ubhal, meaning ‘the day of the apple fruit’) was offered to guests as part of the Twelfth Night celebrations. Groups of poor people would often go to the grand houses in the district and sing traditional wassail songs for drink or money.

In counties famed for the production of cider, such as Herefordshire, it was the custom to surround the largest tree in the orchard and sprinkle it with cider whilst singing and chanting. The Herefordians had another ritual performed on this night. They would light twelve bonfires in a wheat field, along with one larger than the others. Surrounding this large bonfire, toasts were made to the company in old cider and the fires wassailed as above. The object of this was to ensure the health of the trees and thus the following year’s harvest.

Wassail bowl is passed around the host's table


Passing the Wassail Bowl after dinner

To read more of this article, visit my blog A Regency Reticule

Heather’s Herald

Welcome to Heather’s Herald, Blog Page for Heather King

 Elegant Regency Romance To Sweep You Away

My most recent release is a novella called Treasure Beyond Words, a traditional Regency Romance.

Having trusted the wrong man, bluestocking Miss Amelia Burcott is forced to seek employment as a governess in order to support herself and hide from the polite world. Little does she suspect, when she joins the household of the Earl of Raftesbury, that her new employer has a secret as great as her own and has need of a special woman to help him conquer his past.

Hugo Marchbanks, son of the Earl of Raftesbury, had never expected to succeed to his father’s title with two hale and hearty brothers before him. Yet following the wars with the French, he returns to the family estate not only in that position, but guardian to seven children.

Somewhat nervous of feminine company, Hugo finds himself drawn to Amelia in a way unprecedented in his life before. She is quiet and restful, yet he detects a mischievous sense of humour. Then an excursion with the children reopens an old wound and he finds himself blurting out his secret…

Treasure Cover