The Gentleman’s Clubs, by Brenda Webb

The Gentleman’s Clubs, by Brenda Webb

Mention White’s, Boodle’s or Brooks’s in a story and my ears perk up. At once I picture staid facades hiding smoke-filled rooms and intrigue amid expensive carpets, wallpapers, and leather and mahogany furniture. When I read of Mr. Darcy being offered a cigar or glass of brandy, or having supper whilst talking business with his contemporaries, it is equivalent to reading about 007 holding forth in a casino. Yes, my Mr. Darcy is right up there with Ian Fleming’s hero, and it is no great leap to imagine Darcy dressed to the nines and turning heads—men’s as well as women’s. After all, Beau Brummel’s fashionable clothes influenced his contemporaries, so they must have been paying attention.



How did men about town spend their time before these three became the clubs of choice in London? I suppose we shall never know the answer to that question, but I would like to share some of what I learned about the haunts of the elite (at least the men) in the Regency era.



Gentlemen’s clubs were for amusement, politics, and play, and not the matter-of-fact meeting places of general society.These interior pictures are of Brooks. I have included them because this is how I imagine a proper gentlemen’s club should look. Keep in mind that there were many other less notable clubs during the Regency and much more information available than I could share here.




Boodle’s is a London gentlemen’s club, founded in 1762, at 49–51 Pall Mall, by Lord Shelburne, the future Marquess of Lansdowne and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The club came to be known after the head waiter, Edward Boodle. (One has to wonder how that came about.) I have never written Mr. Darcy as a member of this club, for I could not picture him telling his staff that he was “off to Boodles.”

During the Regency era, it was known as the club of the English gentry, while White’s became the club of the more senior members of the nobility. It has never been identified with politics and it was reputed that Beau Brummell’s last bet took place at the club before he fled the country to France.



Brooks’s pre-eminently the clubhouse of the Whig aristocracy, occupies 60 St. James Street. William Brooks, a wine merchant and money lender who acted as manager for Almack’s, had the clubhouse constructed. Paid for at Brooks’s own expense, the building was completed in October 1778, and all members of Almack’s were invited to join (well, all the men). Brooks’s gamble paid off, as the existing members swiftly moved into the new building and the club then took Brooks’s name.

Brooks’s main attraction was its gaming rooms and gambling all day and all night was not unheard of. I have always been intrigued by the betting books which are often mentioned in Regency stories and one extraordinary entry from 1785 is as follows:

“Ld. Cholmondeley has given two guineas to Ld. Derby, to receive 500 Gs whenever his lordship (Use your imagination here. I had no idea they used that word back then!) a woman in a balloon one thousand yards from the Earth.” There is no indication that the bet was ever paid and I have to wonder how they would have checked the validity of the bet had it been claimed!



White’s Club. Illustration from Old and New London by Edward Walford (Cassell, c 1880).


White’s, the great Tory club, located at 37 St James’s Street, London, is the oldest and most exclusive gentleman’s club in the city. It began in 1693 as a chocolate shop established in Mayfair, by an Italian immigrant named Francesco Bianco.

The hot chocolate emporium went under the name Mrs. White’s Chocolate House and from it tickets were sold to the productions at King’s Theatre and Royal Drury Lane Theatre as a side-business. By the early 18th century, however, it had transitioned from chocolate shop to an exclusive gambling house where fortunes were won and lost.

Those frequenting it were known as “the gamesters of White’s” and Jonathan Swift once referred to the club as the “bane of half the English nobility.” Moreover, White’s is famous for having a bow window on the ground floor where Beau Brummell ruled until he left for the Continent in 1816.

About 1870 the club was offered for auction and changed hands. Afterward, it is stated, “there was a great falling off in the number of members proposed for election; and after being so many years the great resort of the dandies, it is rapidly becoming the stronghold of what may be called fogeydom.”

Fogeydom? What a sad picture of the White’s I love to write about in my tales.


In conclusion, I leave you with this picture of St. James’s Street showing Brooks’s on the right and Boodle’s on the left, and a quote from that era: “From the beginning there were too many aristocratic clubs and private mansions in St. James’s Street to leave much room for plebeian inns and hostelries on either side of so highly respectable a thoroughfare.”


I hope you enjoyed seeing actual pictures of the three most popular gentlemen’s clubs in the Regency era (then and now) and learning a bit about them. Do you have a favorite?

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21 Responses to The Gentleman’s Clubs, by Brenda Webb

  1. I love these places! I think my favorite is Brooks’, because it looks like a mini-country house. It would do very nicely as my place in London!

  2. Now what I really want to know, since it was a Men’s Only”, were they serviced exclusively by men? Did they possibly have women clean in the off hours? I’m curious because it would be so fun to have a little gossip among the women about what really went on. Then again, I supposed the wives of the men who attended may have gossiped over what their husbands repeated, intentionally or not. LOL. I loved the pictures and yes, I can hear the bond music playing as Darcy walks in wearing his dark suit with his immaculate white shirt and fashionably tied cravat. He hands his hat, gloves & walking stick to the footman and voila! Great fun! Thanks, Brenda.

    • I am glad you asked about women working there, Jen., for White’s chef from the early 1900s was Rosa Lewis, a model for the central character in the BBC television series The Duchess of Duke Street. So, yes, they allowed the women to work for them. 🙂

  3. As usual, a fascinating post on social history in Regency times, Brenda.

    I would imagine that the walls of the rooms at these clubs would become quite dark due to all of the cigar smoke. My Dad was a heavy smoker of cigarettes and had to redecorate the living room at home every three or four years, so I imagine a large number of gentlemen smoking cigars would do something similar.

    Personally, I thank goodness for the public smoking ban we have in the UK. It makes a trip to the pub or a restaurant a much pleasanter experience. Do you have one in the USA? Or would it be one of those things done at a state level?

    • I had not thought of that Anji, but you are SO right! I have been the homes of those who smoke a lot and the walls are yellow with nicotine. I can only imagine, too, that many of them died from ingesting second hand (if not first hand) smoke, Sad really. Yes, we do have bans on smoking in a lot of our cities (in public places) but, unfortunately, not all. My son lives in Nashville, TN and he complains about the smoke since he has allergies and some asthma. I believe the “country music” industry forwards the idea of “good ole boys” who smoke.

  4. Thanks so much for this wonderful post, Brenda! It’s so fascinating to learn more about the clubs that crop up so often in Regency fiction, and all the background information as well as the juicy gossip was a delight to read. I love your novels and your writing style, you really make me feel like I’m travelling back in time, both with your writing and with the deliciously informative posts about all manner of detail, from bathing machines to what people used for matches. All those little details not only bring Regency flavour to the story but make the characters seem like real people that you met, walked with and talked to, as they went on with their daily lives. Thanks for taking us with you in your travels 🙂

    • So sweet of you to say Joana. 🙂 I really enjoy the historic part of writing stories and there is so much to learn and use in our stories. I am hopeful that someone will read something they didn’t know about in my posts. Thank you for always taking the time to comment, girl. Hugs.

  5. So I guess we could say they were the original group man caves. I guess I prefer White’s.. Boodles?? just the name made me laugh. this was interesting. thanks for sharing it

  6. Quite interesting article. I sort of pictured it as such as I read novels. Reading newspapers, smoking cigars, betting on whose getting married, etc.
    Thanks for the article and photographs.

  7. Loved your post, Brenda. The pictures added so much to our understanding. However, great minds run along the same lines. Yesterday on my blog, I talked of The King of Clubs, which was a famous Whig conversation club, founded in 1798. In contrast to its mainly Tory forerunner The Club (established by Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke and Sir Joshua Reynolds), it was a predominantly Whig fraternity of some of the most brilliant minds of the day. For an early description of the club see W.P. Courtney’s description in ‘Lord Byron and his Times.’ One may see it here:

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