Also located in St James’s street, was Brooks’s gentlemen’s club. Where White’s was the unofficial headquarters of the Tories (Conservatives), Brooks’s became such for the ‘liberals’, or Whig party in London’s Regency-era politics.
Given the exclusivity surrounding membership of White’s, it’s not surprising that not all of England’s upper crust were admitted to the membership. Those who were not ‘one of White’s’, soon found a solution.
In January 1762, two gentlemen (Mr Boothby and Mr James) were blackballed from White’s. Not to be deterred, the gentlemen founded their own ‘private club’ at 50 Pall Mall. By March 1764, this group had split again. The twenty-seven remaining members became the founding members of a society located at 49 Pall Mall. This site had owned been a tavern owned by Mr Almack, and the club was known by this name (not the Almack’s, where women made their debut – gentlemen’s clubs did not ever admit women). While the club was intended as a social club, its main activity – for which it became notorious in a way White’s did not match – was gambling.
Almost a decade on, in 1777, wine merchant and manager of Almack’s, William Brooks, organised and funded the building of clubhouse in St James’s street. These works were completed in 1778 and Almack’s membership took up residence in their new surroundings. From that point on, the club was known as ‘Brooks’s’. In 1889, a neighbouring premises in Park Place was purchased and added to the club to create the corner building Brooks’s appears as today.
The All-night Card Room:
The newer club house offered several rooms, including the Great Subscription Room, the Small Drawing Room – and the main draw: the Card Room. This last room was known for its all night card games, and the rise and fall of the fortunes of many a liberal lord. It was not uncommon for card games such as whist and hazard to continue on for days and nights, nor for members to stake entire estates on the outcome of these marathons (yes, whiskey, wine and brandy were involved).
With club accounts usually deducted from any winnings, the members did not see the bills. You can imagine how difficult it must have been to keep track! The Betting Book, like the one at White’s, chronicles many frivolous and foolish wagers. In 1785, one lord laid down 2 guineas on the odds that another would pay up when “his lordship fucks a woman in a balloon one thousand yards from the Earth.”
(No update on that one as yet.)
Links to The Hellfire Club:
Brooks’s association with the more liberal of the aristocracy lent it more notoriety. There is a historic connection between the Whigs and the more scandalous societies founded on irreverence and, frankly, blasphemy. The infamous ‘Hellfire Club’ drew some of its members from Brooks’s and Boodles’s – an association that would not have been tolerated at White’s (or, at least, not revealed).
This scandalous club was known for outrageous behaviour and immoral leanings. Unlike Brooks’s, Boodle’s, and White’s, the Hellfire Club did admit women – after a fashion.
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