Almack's Regency Ladies' Club

First some exciting news!
RIO - Reviewers International Organization - or

Nominees for DEBUT BOOKS
Pistols at Dawn - Michele Young
click the link to see all of the other great nominees.

I thought after showing all of those wonderful gowns -- and don't forget to go to my website to see the rest of the gowns for March -- we might talk a little bit about the places ladies would go to wear them.

And first up is the hallowed halls of Almack's.

This is a picture of the building as it was at the time. Alas it has been replaced by an office building. But it has a plaque! Anyway, it was considered to be unpretencious. It was located on King Street and opened in 1765. Almack's wasn't only a ladies club, but during the Regency, its fame was mostly related to its exclusivity and of course it was a major spot for those on the marriage mart to see and be seen.
From the first, Almack's Assembly Rooms were governed by a select committee of the most influential and exclusive ladies of the ton, known as the Lady Patronesses of Almacks.
At different periods in the club's long history, there were six or seven of them. In 1814, they were reputedly:
* Lady Castlereagh
* Lady Jersey
* Lady Cowper (later married Lord Palmerston)
* Lady Sefton
* Mrs. Drummond Burrel (whose husband, a notable dandy, became Baron Gwydyr after 1816)
* Countess de Lieven (wife of the Russian ambassador)
* Princess Esterhazy (wife of the Austrian ambassador)
But there is lots of dispute about exactly who was a patroness and in what year.

Apparently it was after 1816 when Lady Jersey came into her own and things got much more strict, but it was interesting exactly what kind of thing could give offense. For example, Lady Caroline Lamb was barred from Almack's. This was not due to her making a spectacle of herself about Byron or even the suspicion of a suicide attempt in public. No, her crime was including the leaders of society in her novel Glenarven in unflattering guise.

Over the years a great many legends about Almack's have become treated as fact, some of them misinterpretations, such as stale bread and cake, because the sandwiches were cut thin day old (not stale bread) was used and dry cake, which simply meant cake without icing (frosting to North Americans).

Men were supposed to have dueled the patronesses husband's when their wives were excluded, though there is no actual record of that having occurred.

A rare picture I obtained is a floor plan of the inside of Almack's

Like many hallowed institutions, they start off as leaders and turn stuffy. Almack's was considered old-fashioned by many. Both the quadrille and the waltz were not danced at Almack's until long after they were accepted dances everwhere else. But woe betide if you didn't get a voucher. A voucher was issued by one of the lady patronesses. This was then taken to the owner of Almack's who would issue tickets to the balls. These tickets had to be bought. Balls were held on Wednesdays. There were also cards available for gentlemen, but no alcohol, very unusual for such a hard drinking era.

This last picture is said to be of the first time the quadrille was danced at Almack's and pictured are The marquis of Worcester, Lady Jersey, Claronald Macdonald and Lady Worcester.

I hope you enjoyed this brief ramble amongst the ton. There is so much more to talk about, and so little time. Spring is just around the corner.
Happy Rambles.

Gentlemen's Clubs Part III

There were many more clubs in London During the Regency.

I am going to touch on a couple of other famous ones, and on Thursday a list of some others that you might be interested in and provide a list of Hotels each catering to a different clientele.


During the twelve years of its life, from 1807 to 1819, no club was more notorious than Watier’s, It was located at 81 Piccadilly. While there are at least two different accounts of the origin of this club, the one I like the best is that after members of White’s and Brooks’s complained of the food to Prinny— the Prince Regent, the Prince helped his French chef set up a club where excellent food was paramount.
Watier’s was also known as The Dandy Club. Lord Byron wrote that although he was not a dandy, they were kind to him. He put it down to the fact that he had once been a dandy himself, although during this period he was considered part of the literary set.
Some of the famous dandies were of course Brummell, Mildmay, Alvanley and Pierrepoint.

Above is a picture of Lord Alvanley. He was not a handsome man, but he was extraordinarily good natured.
Byron speaks quite wistfully of the Dandy Balls that Watier’s got up and the famous masquerade at Burlington House and Garden for Wellington in a letter to Lady Blessington in 1823.

The play, mostly Macao, a version of vingt-et-un. was disastrously deep. Thousands passed from one to another with as much facility as marbles.

Four-Horse Club
Originally one of the clubs frequented by the notorious Earl of Barrymore, the Four-Horse club had been a wild group of young men who enjoyed bribing coachmen to give them the reins to the vehicles and then driving them at break-neck speeds along the very poor British Roads.
By the early nineteenth century it was a respectable club for superb drivers. At its peak it only had some 30-40 members.
It was often also called the Four-in-Hand Club, the Whip Club or the Barouche Club - the last from a description in "The Sporting Magazine" of Feburary 1809.
Club rules stated the barouches should be yellow bodied with 'dickies', the horses should be Bays, with rosettes at their heads and the harnesses should be silver-mounted. However Mr Annesley - a club member, drove roans, Sir Henry Peyton drove Greys so the color of the horses wasn't as strictly enforced as the color of the carriage.

The uniform of the club was strictly enforced. A drab coat that reached to the ankles with three tiers of pockets and mother of pearl buttons as large as five shilling pieces. The waistcoat was blue with yellow stripes an inch wide, the breeches of plush with strings and rosettes to each knee. It was fashionable that the hat should be 3 1/2 inches deep in the crown.
The first meeting of the Four-Horse club was held in April 1808 and subsequent days of meeting were the first and third Thursdays in May and June. The members assemble at Mr. Buxton's house in Cavendish Square and drove to Salt Hill to dinner at the Windmill first and then the next time at The Castle alternating between the two.
The procession was always the same. Club rules stated that each member in single file, no overtaking was allowed, and no one to exceed a trot. The procession set out from London to Salt Hill at noon, following along the Bath Road. It was 24 miles to Salt Hill so the club lunched at the Packhorse on Turnham Green and then took further refreshment at the Magpies on Hounslow Heath. They ran to Salt Hill where they remained overnight.
There popularity of the Four-Horse club began to wane around 1815 and it was disbanded in 1820. It was revived briefly in 1822 and finally died out in 1824.
The last post on this subject on Thursday, and then we take a look at the Flora and Fauna of October.
Happy Rambles.

Gentlemen’s Clubs – Part II.


I promised this on Monday, but the excitement of getting the contract for my next book quite took over the rest of my life.

Boodle. Now there is a name to conjure up an image. Portly. Large red-veined nose and definitely bald. And jolly.

Let’s us see what history says about it. But first, here is a picture of how the club looks today. Far more elegant than White’s don’t you think?

Named after its first manager, Boodle’s began in 1762 and is of course located in St. James, number 28 to be precise. It started as a political club, like many of the others, but that didn’t last long. While the Beau and Wellington and Wilberforce held memberships, it was mostly frequented by country gentlemen who came for the excellent menu and for gambling. The last very nearly goes without saying. As you can see quite clearly from the picture, it also had a famous front bow window.

Men dropped unbelievable sums of money wagering on games--- cards and dice.
Hazard was a dice game.
E.O a wheel game E.O. stood for even-odd. It was made illegal in 1745
but that did not stop the clubs.
Faro- also illegal
Whist was the forerunner of modern bridge.

These are only some of the games the gentlemen played. I will have longer article on them another time.


Brooks’s rose phoenix like upon the ruins of Almack’s Club, and hoisted the Whig colors at number 60 St James Street. No bow window and to me it seems a much more solomn looking building than the other two we've looked at. Don't you just itch to peek inside. I would love to dress up as a man and slip through the hallowed portals as Caro's nemisis did in No Regrets. Now that is not very kind of me, because you will have to wait until November 2007 to find out what I mean.

It was here that Chales James Fox and other great Whigs, won and lost hundreds of thousands, frequently remaining at the table for hours.

Brooks’s, too, boasted of the name of the Prince of Wales on its roll of members, but his Royal Highness withdrew when his friends Tarleton and Payne were blackballed, and founded for himself and his friends a new club, to which his house-steward Weltzie, gave his name. Sheridan, in spite of the opposition of George Selwyn, became a member of Brooks’s, and wrote a rhymed epitaph on the founder:

“Alas! That Brooks, returned to dust,
Should pay at length the debt that we,
Averse to parchment, mortgage, trust,
Shall pay when forced—as well as he.
And die so poor, too! He whose trade
Such profit cleared by draught and deed.
Though pigeons called him murmuring Brooks,
And dipped their bills in him at need,
At length his last conveyance see,
Each witness mournful as a brother,
To think that this world’s mortgagee
Must suffer judgment in another!
Where no appeals to Courts can rest,
Reversing a supreme decree;
But each decision stands confessed
A final precedent in re.”

There are many tales of gambling by the most famous men of the day here at this club, fortunes won and lost, and debts owed to the fashionable moneylenders Howard and Gibbs, sometimes known as cent percenters. When one remembers that ordinary folk could go to debtors prison, the risk for these men was very great indeed.

With your indulgence, I will continue with my tour of the Gentlemen’s clubs, cover some of the famous ones and some of the less known.
Until next time, happy rambles.

The London Club Scene

When you say it that way it sounds rather modern, doesn’t it. But I am talking about the 1800’s.

On a recent visit to England, DH and I traveled up to London from one of the villages in Kent on the train. I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how clean modern and efficient it all was. It was certainly a far cry from the day when I used to travel to the City to work every day. Mind you, we did take advantage of the cheap day ticket, traveling up at back to Victoria in between the rush hours.

We planned our route through the St. James area, the area most frequented by men in the Regency era using “Georgette Heyer’s Regency England” by Teresa Chris, a wonderfully vivid description with references to all Ms. Heyer’s beloved characters and a walking tour of London. I highly recommend this reference work if you can find it. As you can see, it was an overcast day, and we felt the occasional rain drop. This sky is so typical of England in the Spring.

Since no regency novel is complete without a visit to one of the Gentlemen’s Clubs in St James, we started at White’s— for it is there that Simon St. John, the hero of my book “Pistols at Dawn”, first showed that a good and loyal friend lay beneath his hard façade. Finding a very inebriated Lethbridge at White’s one evening Simon helped his friend home and defended him when they were attacked by some very nasty footpads in one of London’s back alleys.

White's began in 1693. It is at 37 St James Street and this is what it looked like the day we visited. I must say I was disappointed to find it wrapped in polythene, like someone’s left over dinner. But look. There is the bow window, where Mr. Brummell, the Beau himself, and Lord Alvenley, founding members of he famous bow window set would pass judgment on lesser mortals passing by in the Street. It gave me chills, I must say. By the way, that bow window was not added until 1811.

White’s was only one of the gentlemen’s clubs in the Regency, but a very important one. Well it had to be if Beau Brummell belonged to it. The picture to the right is a portrait of the Beau. In order to be a member, one had to be nominated “put up for membership” by someone who already belonged. Then the leaders of the club voted. Woe betide you if you were “blackballed” by someone like Brummell.

There were strict rules of conduct in the clubs.
Number one. No women. I wonder if it stemmed back to the English public school system, where boys developed such strong friendships that were separate and apart from any kind of social interaction with women and therefore they felt most comfortable in an all male environment. Of course they also indulged in too much drinking and gambling, although the worst of that went on in the less salubrious hells where pugilists rubbed elbows with the nobs. I think if you read the excerpt from “Pistols at Dawn” on my website, you will see that Simon certainly regretted his visit to one of those hells.

Each club had its own betting book. When a gentleman proposed a wager, it was duly written in the book. When the day of reckoning came, the loser had to pay his debts at once, or consider himself dishonored. He would never be able to show his face in polite society again.

Here are a few of the bets taken from White's betting book:
Mr. Greville bets Lord Clanwilliam ten guineas, that Lord Stewart will be married to Lady F. Vane in six months.—June 18, 1818 [Clanwilliam paid].
Sir Georrge Warrender bets Lord Alvanley five pounds that Colonel Stanhope and Mr. Lucy will be found by a committee of the House of Commons not duly elected.-June 28, 1818. [Alvanley paid.]
Mr. Mills bets Lieutenant General Mackenzie a pony, that Lord Stewart goes to Vienna before he marries Lady Frances Vane. [Mills paid].
Lientenant-General Mackenzie bets Lord Yarmouth sixty guineas to fifty, that the Duke of Cambridge has a child before the Duke of Clarence.
Lord Sefton bets Sir Joseph Copley fifty guineas, that Lisbon and Cadiz will be in Buonaparte’s possession on or before the first of April next.—Jan. 17, 1809 [Copley paid.]

Did you see the reference to a "pony" Not it is not a horse. Send me an e-mail telling me what that means and I will put you in my draw for a free copy of Pistols at Dawn.

Well that’s enough information for one night. Next day — let’s pay a visit to Boodles.