Reference code(s): GB 0074 ACC/2371
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
Title: BROOKS'S CLUB
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 34.5 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Brooks's Club | members club
Fox Club | inner dining club of Brooks's Club
St James' Club | members' club
Society of Dilettanti | members' club
Bachelors' Club | members' club
Brooks's Club, 60 Saint James' Street, Westminster, London had its origins in the establishment of Almack's Club in 1764. The foundation of this Club was due to the blackballing for membership at Whites Club of Mr Boothby and Mr James. They left and set up their own facility at 49 Pall Mall, London in a building leased by William Almack and called it Almacks. (No. 50 Pall Mall was also a club, run by Edward Boodle who would go on to establish Boodles Club in Saint James'). This "tavern" was originally frequented by 27 young men called "Macaronis" with the purpose of wining, dining and gambling. As such this Club, like many other clubs in the early nineteenth century, emerged from the tradition of coffee and chocolate houses. (Almack himself then went on to open some assembly rooms in King Street, Saint James').
In 1773/4 William Brooks, wine merchant and money lender, became the Master (manager) of Almacks establishment. In 1776 he commissioned the prolific architect Henry Holland to build a new Palladian style club house which was completed in 1778. (Attempted plans and a perspective of the finished club done by Holland for Brooks are held at the Sir John Soanes Museum, London). At the same time the Club changed its name to take on that of its Master and became known as Brooks's. The interior of this building remained fairly unchanged until 1889 when No. 2 Park Place, Westminster which had been purchased a few years before, was converted and adapted as part of Brooks's.
Brooks's had restricted membership which was by election only and on payment of a yearly fee. In its new location it grew in strength and by 1791 there were 450 members. It counted some of the most prolific social and political figures of the day amongst its membership, including the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Palmerston, Lord Beesborough, William Wilberforce, David Garrick, Horace Walpole, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Richard Sheridan, Beau Brummel and the Prince Regent. The most celebrated member of Brooks's was Charles James Fox. He was elected at the age of 16 while still an undergraduate at Oxford and it is thought that due to his influence and discussions with the Prince Regent Brooks's became a Club with strong Whig sympathies and could be said to have become the unofficial Whig headquarters. ("Whig" was a name applied to adherents of the major English political party of the same name from 1689. It was was later superseded by the term "liberal"). Ironically it was Fox who elected a member of the opposition party for Club membership, the Tory MP William Pitt, later Prime Minister! In contrast to the Whigishness of Brooks's Whites Club nearby was known for its many Tory members, although in practice men were often members of both.
Brooks's was not established as a political club, unlike the Conservative Club or the Carlton, even though it became one and produced countless Prime Ministers and Cabinet members. Its main function was to provide social activities for its members. It was notorious in Fox's time for its gambling with some sessions lasting 22 hours and the stakes being very high. The betting was not only on horses however, as betting books reveal that any topic from war, weather and women were also considered valid bets.
Dining, with fine food, expensive wine and quality tobacco was another important facet to the Club. This is reflected in the establishment of the Fox Club. This was an inner dining club within Brooks's commemorating Charles James Fox. It seems that these dinners were a continuation of the "Whig Club" which existed at Brooks's when Fox was alive. It continues to allow members to follow what Fox stood for. Membership is restricted to 50 and is drawn almost entirely from Brooks's existing members. Two dinners are arranged annually, no speeches are given and no women are allowed to attend.
The amalgamation of Brooks with St. James' Club was the biggest event in the Club's history in modern times. It brought together two very different cultures, Brooks's with its Whiggish, traditional outlook and St. James' which was considered more artistic and cosmopolitan. In 1859 Earl Granville, a "diplomatist", made moves to formalise meetings which had already been taking place as a result of friction at the Travellers Club when most of the corps diplomatique resigned. The diplomatic services were canvassed and a new club was established with some 300 members from the foreign and English diplomatic services. The Club's original inspiration of the diplomatic corp had been wounded by war in 1914 and 1939 and membership numbers declined. Despite improvements to their club house and admitting women for dinner it could not make ends meet and was forced to consider leaving its building in Piccadilly and joining with another club. In October 1975 Saint James' closed its doors and the members went to Brooks's.
Just as Brooks's took in St. James' the latter also acted as a refuge for clubs in need of a home. In the summer of 1940 the Bachelors' Club in South Audley Street, founded in 1881, was bombed out and St. James' took in its members together with Mansfield the barman who had been there since 1902! The two Clubs were not finally amalgamated until 1946. As the names suggests members of this Club had to be bachelors and re-submit an application if they got married. There presence at Saint James' livened the Club up and established backgammon as a key feature of its activities.
St. James' Club had already set a precedent for taking in other clubs such as the Society of Dilettanti. This was founded in 1732 by a group of young men who had visited Italy on a grand tour. They assumed a responsibility to promote art and culture especially fostering an interest in classical antiquity. This lead to the neo-classical movement and the funding of archaeological expeditions. Today the membership is limited to 60 and 6 honorary members. In 1978 a charitable trust was set up by the Society to issue grants for deserving arts projects. The Society did not have premises of its own for a long time and once it did was forced to move around every few years. From 1922 it enjoyed the hospitality of St. James' Club, Piccadilly. On the closure of Saint James' in 1975, when it was almagamated with Brooks's, the Society accepted the invitation to transfer its pictures and hold dinners at Brooks's. This was a very suitable place as since Brooks's foundation in the first decade no less than 40 members were also elected members of the Society. Today the Society holds five dinners a year at Brooks's.
The history of Brooks's is inextricably linked with that of many other clubs, social and political organisations and figures. Brooks's was the youngest of the first three main clubs built before the Napoleonic wars (Whites and Boodles) and did not diminish in stature and importance over the years. The early nineteenth century saw a steady growth in club membership and the growth of numbers of clubs that had permanent and exclusive premises. St. James' Club and Bachelors' Club may no longer exist as a result of their mergers but their legacy lives on. Brooks's continues to develop and grow in number in the 21st century. The Fox Club still holds dinners there, as does the Society of Dilettanti and it remains based in the club house William Brooks commissioned for it more than two hundred years ago.
Scope and content/abstract:
The records in this collection, 1734-1997, cover the activities of five individual clubs which over 200 years or so were created and merged. Brooks's Club makes up the bulk of this archive. Its records contains those of its inner club, the Fox Club. In 1975 St. James' Club joined Brooks's bringing with it the furniture, art and members of the Society of Dilettanti and the Bachelors' Club which it had taken in years before. In addition to these there is of course mention of many other British and foreign clubs which had links with these five. 'Clubland' is a place of many interconnections between members and the establishments themselves. They often share a common historical heritage as well as members and the collection hints at these links.
The focus of any club is its members and this is reflected in this collection. The members are very well represented, even through records which are not created by them. Chairmen, committees, secretary's and staff are all concerned with providing a good service. They exist to serve the needs of the members and respond to their questions. The large amount of correspondence, minutes, suggestion books and notices illustrates the sort of concerns the membership presented to the management structure. The property has to be maintained, the food, wine and entertainment needs to be provided and of good quality and subscription accounts need to be managed.
The members had to get elected in the first place and the ballot and candidate books detail this process. The main purpose of these clubs was to provide a meeting place in London for like-minded gentlemen who could chat about politics and current affairs but also enjoy themselves. Many of the records are concerned with the pursuits of drinking, eating and gambling. Dinners, routs, card and backgammon games were an integral part of club life. Amongst the archive material are the "betting books". These are infamous amongst members and record wagers (sporting, political and personal) set as far back as 1770s. They represent the ethos of early club life.
This collection is a fascinating and detailed look at several institutions which in the early nineteeth century had within their membership the major social, economic and politcal players of the time and which continue to hold their attraction for those people today.
(It is evident from the records that throughout the history of Brooks's it's name has been spelt in a variety of ways by historians, reporters and members alike. 'Brooks', 'Brookes' and 'Brooks's' have all been used. For the purpose of this list the latter spelling has been used as it is the most commonly found one and is also how the Club is known today. Similarly, St. James' Club is known by this title rather than by its fully expanded title of 'Saint James' Club'. These are the spellings applied in the list unless it has been used specifically in a different format contemporary to the documents).
ACCESS AND USE
Language/scripts of material: English
System of arrangement:
The records have been arranged to follow the hierarchical structure of each Club, placing the Clubs which are still active at the beginning of the list and those which were absorbed or amalgamated with others subsequently. In some cases, loose inserts were found in volumes. These have been placed in envelopes and packaged together with the relevant volume in one box. Where this has occurred, only the volume has been listed.
The collection contains the following record groups:
BROOKS'S CLUB ACC/2371/BC:
Chairman, Trustees and Masters ACC/2371/BC/01;
Committees and meetings ACC/2371/BC/02;
Ephemera and printed material ACC/2371/BC/08.
FOX CLUB ACC/2371/FC:
ST. JAMES' CLUB ACC/2371/SJC:
Committees and meetings ACC/2371/SJC/02;
SOCIETY OF DILETTANTI AND BACHELORS' CLUB ACC/2371/SD:
Secretary, committees and members ACC/2371/SD/01.
Conditions governing access:
To access these records, permission should be requested from the Secretary of Brook's Club, Saint James's Street, London SW1A 1LN. Some records containing personal information, especially relating to members, are subject to closure periods.
Conditions governing reproduction:
Copyright of these records rests with Brooks's Club, London.
Please see online catalogues at: http://search.lma.gov.uk/opac_lma/index.htm
Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:
Approximately 50 linear feet (117 boxes) of material which was not considered to be of historical value and worthy of long term preservation were disposed of.
Immediate source of acquisition:
Records deposited in February 1987, with further deposits in February and June 1990.
See Brooks's. A Social History, ed. Philip Zeigler and Desmond Seward, Constable, London, 1991, LMA reference 42.6 (BRO) and Brooks's, 1764-1964, Henry S. Eeles and Earl Spencer (Country Life, London, 1964) LMA reference 42.6 (BRO).
Date(s) of descriptions: June to August 2010.