The area of St James, just south of Piccadilly is known for a number of things including the home of many private clubs. Some of these have a long history, but they usually have one thing in common; they are exclusive. This means and has meant in the past that some were for gentlemen only and you couldn’t join if you were not someone who represented the establishment, such as a politician, bishop or a member of the aristocracy.
If you want to check them out, unless you already know their address you are unlikely to identify their location. This is because they do not have any nameplates outside, just in case it might attract the wrong sort of person. That probably means most of the rest of us. One club does not even have a number on the outside. But the present exclusivity is nothing to a club that no longer exists.
Almack’s Assembly Rooms
The club in question was known as Almack’s Assembly Rooms. It had its membership and it had its rules. And that meant, in their opinion, it did not matter who you were, you had to follow the rules. So, in the past, the Duke of Wellington was refused entry on account that he was dressed to a suitable standard. I was rather hoping it was because he wanted to bring his horse in with him. On another occasion, no lesser personage than the Prince Regent was also refused entry as he had turned up too late in the evening.
Another feature of these clubs or rather, a feature of the members is their propensity to want to lay bets on pretty much anything. And there are a few amazing examples, which I stress are historical, although who is to say that such things still happen. They ranged from the just silly to ones made in very bad taste.
On one occasion bets were taken on whether a waiter at another club was a son of a bishop and had gone to Eton. He scored a “yes” on both counts. That’s a silly one. On the other hand, when a person collapsed outside one of the clubs, some of the members waged whether he would die or not. That’s the sick end of the spectrum.
However, let’s finish on a bizarre wager. A member boasted to his fellow members that he could hit a golf ball from the Royal Exchange, neat the Bank of England to the club’s front door in under one thousand strokes. His bet was taken up. He won the bet as he made the distance in two hundred and seventy shots. I would really like to see them attempt that today.