Gentlemen's Club

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lobby of the Athenaeum Club - engraving from 1845

A gentlemen's club is an association of mostly male members of the British upper class .


The first clubs emerged in London's West End , around Pall Mall and St James's Palace , which is why the area is still sometimes referred to as clubland . The clubs took over the role that coffee houses played in the 18th century and reached the height of their social importance in the late 19th century. In the course of democratization, the requirements for social affiliation were increasingly relaxed, so that some clubs now opened their doors to broader middle-class classes and, at the beginning of the 21st century, also to women.

Even if the clubs are now far from their former influence, they have recently experienced a kind of renaissance. More and more politicians and business people in Great Britain, but also in other parts of the world, are meeting there for discussions and conferences on current problems. For example, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair , Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard have spoken at the Commonwealth Club in London .

On the continent, there were new clubs founded in the early 20th century, which the British took as a model. Examples of this are the Anglo-German Club, Hafenclub and Übersee-Club in Hamburg, the Kieler Kaufmann in Kiel (now a hotel), the Industrie-Club Düsseldorf , the Herrenclub, Export-Club and the Kaufmanns Casino in Munich.

After the liberation from National Socialism , the Club zu Hannover was added in the British occupation zone in 1945, for example in Hannover .


Usually they were founded by people with similar views, preferences, or interests. For example, members of the Tories and later the Conservatives met at the Carlton and White's Club , while the Whigs and later the Liberals met at Brooks’s and Reform Club . The literary and the elite Athenaeum Club established themselves as the homesteads of scientists and writers, and later the Savile Club as a less prestigious surrogate for the latter . The Travelers Club made it a prerequisite for membership that its members have been abroad at least once, 500 miles as the crow flies from London. Accordingly, there were also numerous diplomats among its members. The Oxford & Cambridge Club and the City University Club in the "Square Mile" unite graduates of the two famous elite universities, the Caledonian Club men with four Scottish grandparents and close ties to Scotland . In the Army & Navy Club ("The In & Out"), Naval & Military and the Royal Air Force Club , the military meet, in the Marylebone Cricket Club friends of this traditional English sport, in the Garrick Club actors.

The first clubs were still largely aristocratic. The admission of new members generally required the advocacy of at least one member who was already a member of the club. Those who “recommended” themselves, such as the actor David Garrick to the Literary Club, had to expect sharp protest, if not rejection, for this reason alone. The so-called blackballing , which is hardly practiced any more, was also infamous : the members cast black and white balls into a kind of urn in a secret ballot - a single black balling, and the candidate failed. This is what happened to British Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine at Pratt's and Times columnist Bernard Levin at the Garrick Club . Groucho Marx commented sarcastically on leaving the Friars Club by saying that he did not want to belong to a club that would make someone like him a member ( q: Groucho Marx ).

With the increasing spread of the club as an institution, the criteria were, of course, relaxed. Anyone who could claim the title of gentleman would find a club that would accept it, unless there were severe "objective obstacles" - which sometimes included the need to earn a living with your own hands.

For a long time, apart from a few exceptions like Almack’s , the clubs were purely a male domain. For many, this is still true today. The Reform Club has been accepting female members since 1981; the Athenaeum Club decided to do so in 2002. At Carlton, women can only become "associate" members with limited rights; the same applies to the Travelers Club. In the Savage Club , they are allowed only on Tuesday and Wednesday night.


The bar in the Savile Club

In the clubs there was less public entertainment like music or the like; rather, they served primarily as a “second home” where the gentlemen could relax, meet their friends, play board games and have a meal. Members of the upper and upper middle classes, even with moderate incomes, could enjoy a great and sophisticated atmosphere. The houses of the richest clubs were often built by the same architects and furnished by the same artists as the noblest aristocratic residences. The clubs also offered their members refuge from all kinds of domestic and marital adversity. Some members spent a large part of their lifetime in the club, which often also offered overnight accommodation.

Some clubs were for their gambling famous, such as the Brooks's for his whist - and Hasard -Abende. The Almacks Club, one of the few that accepted women from the start, regularly attended dance events. At White's Club, on the other hand, the main bet was - Lord Alvanley bet about £ 3,000 - that a certain raindrop on the window pane would be the first to reach the window frame. In the Reform Club, Jules Verne lets play the famous bet that is the subject of his novel Journey around the world in 80 days .

Of course, national if not world history was written in the clubs every now and then. In 1911, for example, the Conservative MPs at the Carlton Club elected their new chairman, Andrew Bonar Law . In 1922 the Conservative Party's decision to leave the coalition led by David Lloyd George was made at an informal meeting at the Carlton Club .

Well-known clubs


  • Arnold Bender: The English. Fischer, Frankfurt 1977, ISBN 3-436-02557-7 , pp. 69-73.
  • Anthony Lejeune: Gentlemen's Clubs of London. Macdonald And Jane's, London 1979, ISBN 0831738006 .
  • Brian Moynahan: Ladies to the front. In: Geo Special. No. 2/1984, p. 44ff.
  • Seth Alexander Thévoz: Club Government: How the Early Victorian World Was Ruled from London Clubs. IB Tauris, London 2018, ISBN 978-1-78453-818-7 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hugo Thielen : EY, (2) Ludwig. In: Dirk Böttcher , Klaus Mlynek, Waldemar R. Röhrbein, Hugo Thielen: Hannoversches Biographisches Lexikon . From the beginning to the present. Schlütersche, Hannover 2002, ISBN 3-87706-706-9 , p. 112f. u.ö .; online through google books .