Athenaeum Hotel

In the beginning different group of people began to meet by custom in different coffee houses a me of them n 1 ea.rne almost political centres or propaganda, though t ..easy lo over estimate their political significance. Sull, m l675. Charts II tried, and failed, to suppress them. At the time of the Dutch wars, Pepys was asked to float atrocity stories in the houses where they would spread like leprosy. Most, then, were in the City. Drydrn held sway at Will’s in Covent Garden; in St Jamess, Whites Chocolate House flourished from 1693by 1755 it had become exclusive, no longer as it were an open cafe, but a closed shop for members only (this is far from a trades union invention), and the club as we still know itand White’s itself is still on its original site was in being a sodality, a solidarity of people with certain common interests. Some of the interests were frivolousin the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries gambling, in some of them, was the major frivolity, on occasions on a life destroying scale, more generally as a mild zip in an already deep seated metropolitan ennui Mr Cavendish bets Mr II. Brownrigg that he docs not kill the blue bottlc fly before he goes to bed.”

More essentially, the clubs were clearing houses of information; here inside information was released and filtered out to the world; climatcs of opinion brewed. For probably the vast majority of their members to day they arc no more than luncheon clubs, and status symbols, and of course, hives of agreeable gossip. Yet at several of them it may well be that decisions with national repercussions are confirmed, perhaps even arrived at, almost daily by two or three gathered together in the great dining rooms, the bars, or over the minute cups of (generally indifferent though always scalding) coffee in the saloons.

In the public mind the clubs are faintly absurd, persistently glamorous, and perhaps (as all dosed shops must be) rather sinister (bastions of privilege and snobbery; hotbeds of blackballing). Be that as it may, to the public eye at least the club facades in St James’s are a pleasure.

Starting from our vantage point at Waterloo Place, let us survey briefly the dubs in their setting. At Waterloo Place, on the cast sidethe United Service Club, founded in 1815 for the great fraternity of veteran officers from the Napoleonic wars, and cased in a massive building that is basically by Nash (1827) but more obviously of Dcdmus Burton’s alterations of 184s Doric columns, Corinthian portico, an interior of vastness with a most ample staircase, and portraits about that seem to be mainly of uniforms, plumes and facc hair.


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