Today we want to discuss the book The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London by Anthony Lejeune and Malcom Lewis, who provide us with insight into the institution of the Gentleman’s Club and its London origins. This second edition of the book from 1984 starts out with the quote:” STARE SUPER VIAS ANTIQUAS” or in plain English: “I stand in the track of my ancestors.” This conservative motto is very characteristic of the authors’ view on life in general and English Clubs in particular.
History of London’s Gentlemen’s Clubs
Even though today the term “gentlemen’s club” is sometimes associated with clubs of lesser repute, back in the 17th century, their purpose was entirely different. Such clubs were first and foremost West End establishments where gentlemen could meet likeminded and situated peers, gamble, discuss, eat, and simply enjoy life. During their peak, about 400 clubs existed in London, of which very few have survived.
Gentlemen’s Clubs of London – The Book
This book was written over a period of more than 10 years during the 1960s and 70s. When it was finally published in 1979, several of the clubs Lejeune and Lewis had portrayed for their book project had already died or had merged with other establishments in order to survive. Nevertheless, they decided to keep them in the book. Today, there are about 60 clubs left. A good overview can be found at Wikipedia as well as at the Association of London Clubs.
In the introduction, Lejeune covers the history of clubs, and the general attitude towards all things modern, like gas, electricity and the telephone. A club ought to be the “echo of a more civilized way of living”; simply a place where “people still prefer a silver salt-cellar
which doesn’t pour to a plastic one which does.” Of course, he has a variety of anecdotes and so we learn that in the 1850’s the Brooks’s (a club) decided to inscribe the name “Brooks’s” on its note paper, which was otherwise blank or with a gilt-edge for private correspondence. A member remarked that if that was to happen, the old character of the club would be altogether lost. This is another good example of the mindset towards progress at London Clubs. In the following, we are presented with three old maps of London which point out the clubs’ locations. We also find more history and some pocket
cartoons before the first club, in fact The American Club, is portrayed. Most clubs are introduced on 6 pages full of black & white pictures, anecdotes, quotations and insights about the unique history of the club. We also learn that The Earl Mountbatten of Burma supposedly was a member of no less than 19 London Clubs. Towards the middle and the end of the book, we find a few rather small color photographs. The reader also learns a lot about the club scene in general, such as the procedure of admittance to the clubs, noting that in most clubs, a member could reject another individual from becoming a member if he was “unclubbable.” That could have been the case if applicant ran away with a member’s wife or committed some other crime that blew against the prevailing winds.
With 296 pages, this book gives a very nice overview of this rather secretive institution. Even today, only very few men experience them, and so, it is hardly surprising to see that even after the fourth edition was published, this book still yields prices north of $200 on amazon.
Luckily, the retired Anthony Lejeune paired up with the longstanding club patron Hubert Picarda in order to issue a thoroughly updated and extended edition of the book, which should be available in June 2011. It will also feature some new photographs, mostly of the club’s interiors. Fortunately, at £26.25, it will be much more affordable. At this time amazon USA does not provide a price yet but I am sure this will change shortly.
With the new version coming on the market soon, I think The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London makes for an informative, richly illustrated coffee table book that is interesting for men far beyond residents of London.
Title: The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Stacey International