Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Pages of sumptuous privilege

gents clubsThis gazetteer of the most august of London’s gentleman’s clubs is simply beautiful. I had to read it on my netbook since the publisher had run out of review copies, but even viewed through that clumsy interface The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London is still a fabulous-looking book. The photographs make it. The text is pretty good too: informative, anecdotal, giving good historical background livened up with nice stories of bonkers behaviour by chaps of all eras, but the photographs by Khaled Kassem are what you’d buy this book for.  This is a book to settle down with in a club armchair, uninterrupted by demands to do the washing-up, because, in this world, the washing-up is always done by someone else.

If you like Country Life interior spreads, or National Trust picture books for grown-ups, this one is for you. Oh my, the alluring sophistication of the bar at the Arts Club, the stupendous pillars of the Athenaeum, the friendly communal dining table of the Beefsteak Club, the relentless tartan detail of the Caledonian Club, the dramatic black and white marble squares of the Guards and Cavalry Club, the palatial frontage of the Farmers Club, the elegance of the indoor swimming pool of the Lansdowne Club, the spiral staircase of the National Liberal Club, the iridescent blue and gold interiors of the Oxford and Cambridge Club, the vastness of the RAF Club’s Cowdray Lounge, the enormous museum-like entrance hall of the Reform Club, and the perfection of the staircase at the Savile Club, oh what glories there are in this book.

boodle 12The only club featured here that I’ve visited myself is the Naval and Military Club on St James’ Square, where my friend Elwin has often entertained me to dinner, and listened with amusement to my feminist arguments crash-landing against his view of the world. I love that club, especially the dining-room upstairs, and the warren of corridors leading to the elegant and snug Ladies’ Powdering Rooms, which are enough to make me want to join the WRNS.

But very few of these clubs would accept me as a member, me being female, and I couldn’t afford the fees in any case, not being in a lucrative profession. Since a London club really is a thing of usefulness and comfort for ever, for those of us who visit regularly but live elsewhere, I remain a cheerful and modest member of the Penn Club.  In the meantime I can look at this book and dream.

Anthony Lejeune, The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London (London: Stacey Publishing, 2012), ISBN: 978-1-906768-20-1

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About Kate

Writer, reviewer, literary historian and publisher at Also a Bath Quaker.

4 comments on “Pages of sumptuous privilege

  1. David
    March 8, 2013

    Thanks, Kate – apart from some dodgy drinking / voyeuristic dens in London student days, haven’t ever crossed the imposing portals of any ‘proper’ Pall Mall etc establishments.

  2. Jackie
    March 8, 2013

    What a great idea for a book, as it’s a world that most of us will never see, even if they live near London. I had no idea there were so many and of such variety of atmosphere.
    Here’s hoping I can find the book at library here across the Pond, I’m curious to see some of these places. Thanks for the entertaining review.

  3. Hilary
    March 9, 2013

    I remember the feeling I had when I visited the Masonic Hall in Lomdon – amazement that I had been let in, which just goes to show how much I had exaggerated in my mind freemasonry’s already excessive secrecy and exclusivity. I’m sure this book has some of the same frisson for a female reader. It’s a peek into a world from which in many parts we are excluded. It sounds like a wonderfully indulgent book!

  4. kirstyjane
    March 11, 2013

    This sounds fascinating, and tunes nicely into two loves of mine — Wodehouse and Fox (Charles, not George) — I hope I shall come across a copy to gaze at. Thanks so much, Kate!

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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