Clubs and Club Life in London

Time again to dust off my shelves~~
Clubs and Club Life in London, originally published in 1872 (my copy is from 1908), has a subtitle that drew me to it ~~ with anecdotes of its famous coffee house, hostelries and taverns from the seventeenth century to the present time.  This interesting book, by John Timbs, was written to preserve the history of these establishments. This is a lengthy book with 508 pages and a large table of contents. It’s page after page of brief synopses of clubs, coffee-houses and taverns from the early 1600’s up until the time of the book’s publication. 

The earliest club mentioned is The Mermaid Club (1603)  which met in the Mermaid tavern and whose members included Ben Johnson, Sir Walter Raleigh and Shakespeare. Apparently wit-combats occurred between Ben Johnson and Shakespeare at this club according to a Mr. Charles Knight, who was a youth when witnessing these exchanges. I too did not know the definition of wit-combat, but from what I can figure out it is a battle of wit using rhyme. I think this is my new favorite word!

The Calves’ Head Club was founded in “ridicule of the memory of Charles I” in the late 1600’s.  Street Clubs were formed in the early part of the 1700’s and were made up “of inhabitants of the same street ; so that a man had but to stir a few houses from his own door to enjoy his Club and the society of his neighbors….the streets were then so unsafe that the nearer home a man’s club lay the better for his clothes and purse.”

Mug-house Club, a political club, was formed in the early 18th century  by gentlemen lawyers and statesmen. This account comes from “A Journey through England” in 1722: “They have a grave old Gentleman, in his own gray hairs, now within a few months of ninety years old, who is their President and sits in an arm’d chair some steps higher than the rest of the company to keep the whole room in order. Here is nothing drunk, but ale, and every Gentleman hath his separate mug, which he chalks on the table where he sits as it is brought in…..the room is always so diverted with songs, and drinking from one table to another to one another’s health, that there is no room for politicks, or anything that can sow’r conversation.”

The Roxburghe Club (1812) was founded from the sale of the library of John, Duke of Roxburghe. The object of the 21 member club was the reprinting of rare and ancient literature, although my book suggests that their dinners were more important to the members than literature. They were known for consuming large quantities of food and drink and partying until the wee hours of the morning. There is a list of “Tostes” (toasts) from their first dinner and by far my favorite is, to “The Cause of Bibliomania all over the World”. I might have to try that one the next time I’m making a toast!

There are so many interesting tidbits in this book that I love to pull it off the shelf from time to time and dip into it. I’m so glad that Mr. Timbs had the foresight to record these facts and anecdotes before they were lost to history.


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