Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The eccentric club

 The Eccentric Club was the name of several London gentlemen's clubs, the best-known of which existed between 1890 and 1986. For much of its history it was based at 9–11 Ryder Street, St James's.

The first Eccentric Club had its roots in the Society of Eccentrics which existed from 1781 to the 1820s. They were an offshoot of The Brilliants and were described as a convivial Club who met at a tavern in Chandos Street, Covent Garden. They were later renamed into The Eccentric Society Club, meeting at Tom Ree's in May's Building, St. Martin's Lane, as well as several other addresses around Covent Garden until the Club was finally dissolved in 1846.
At May's Building they 'flourished at all hours' and among their members were many celebrities of the literary and political world; they were always treated with indulgence by the authorities. An inaugural ceremony was performed upon the making of a member, which terminated with a jubilation from the president. The books of the Club, up to the time of it's removal from May's Buildings, are stated to have passed into the possession of Robert Lloyd, a hatter of The Strand who was well known in his day as a writer, inventor and keen appreciator of philosophy.
From 1781 through to 1846, the Eccentrics numbered upward of some 40,000 members, many of them holding high social position, such as Charles James Fox, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Lord Melbourne and Lord Brougham. On the same memorable night that Sheridan and Lord Petersham were admitted, Theodore Hook was also enrolled; and through this Club membership, he is believed to have obtained some of his high connections. In a novel published in numbers, F. W. N. Bayley sketched with graphic vigour the meetings of 'The Eccentrics' at the old tavern in May's Buildings

The third and longest-lived Eccentric Club was established by the theatrical costumier Jack Harrison on 21 November 1890 and disbanded in 1986. Immediately upon its foundation, it occupied the old premises of the Pelican Club in Denman Street, Soho. In 1893 it moved to 21 Shaftesbury Avenue. In 1914, the club moved to the former Dieudonné's Hotel at 9–11 Ryder Street, where it remained until its closure.
The club adopted the night-owl as its symbol. It was noted for the generosity of its members, who raised £25,000 for limbless soldiers during World War I, and every Christmas, Westminster's poor would queue up outside the Eccentric club for free meals.
Like many London clubs, it went through a period of financial hardship in the 1970s. The club closed its doors in 1984, ostensibly for a period of renovation, but was forced into liquidation in 1986.
In 1985, many of the club's membership were elected to the East India Club,  where some of them continue to meet occasionally to this day in the American Bar which has a backward-running clock (a replica of the original which was once at the Eccentric Club). This is in keeping with numerous other London clubs of the nineteenth century which have lost their premises, but continue to meet as a society in an existing club; other examples include the Authors' Club now meeting in the Arts Club, the Portland Club meeting in the Savile Club, and the Canning Club now meeting in the Naval and Military Club. However, a considerable number of members refused to join the East India Club and instead joined the Royal Automobile Club and the Oxford and Cambridge Club, almost all members of the Eccentric Golfing Society went to the Ealing Golf Club.

A number of members of the old Club and some new enthusiasts from other London clubs, with a blessing of Lord Montagu, the last President of the old club, in August 2008 founded the Eccentric Club UK. In November 2008, the Club successfully secured the patronage of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who was a Patron of the Eccentric Club between 1980 and 1986. Prince Philip has since dined twice at the club.
The re-founded club now has regular meetings at the Savile Club and has recently resumed its traditional annual activities, including a snooker match and cricket match with the Savile Club. The revived club has registered the words "Eccentric Club", "Nil Nisi Bonum" and the old club logo as own trademarks.

 Welcome to the Eccentric Club (UK), formerly known in its various incarnations as The Illustrious Society of Eccentrics, The Everlasting Society of Eccentrics, The Eccentric Society Club and, finally, The Eccentric Club.

For more than two centuries the Eccentric Club was one of the most important institutions of British society. Its name is a long established and reputable brand, its members were amongst those who helped to shape British culture into what it is today, and its history is inseparable from that of Great Britain itself...

Founded a number of times by seemingly unrelated and socially different groups of people, for centuries it served as a meeting point for many great and original minds, pioneers of thought in artistic, literary, theatrical, scientific, legal and political circles, providing an amicable environment for their recreational and creative pastime as well as a testing ground for novel and controversial theories and approaches to the issues equally important to British society and all of the mankind.

The present club has been revived by a group of enthusiasts, members of the old club and a few other London clubs, in 2007 (the old club has closed in 1984), and was officially re-launched on the 29th of August 2008.

The organisers were congratulated on their endeavours by HRH Prince Charles of Wales, Their Royal Highnesses Princes William and Harry of Wales, HRH Prince Michael of Kent, Lord Montagu, Lord Bath, Count Nikolai Tolstoy-Miloslavsky, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, actor David Prowse, performer Elton John, writer Peter Underwood, writer Nicholas John Storey of The Retrocentric Club.

Following the re-launch, the Club Secretary had private meetings with HRH Prince Michael of Kent at Kensington Palace who expressed his interest and support for the new club, and with Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (the last President of The Eccentric Club in Ryder Street) who has entrusted to the new club's Committee his archive of documents related to the old club, thus symbolically establishing the link between the two organisations.

HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and HRH Prince Charles for many years were the Club’s Life Honorary Members. On the 25th of November 2008 HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has decided to grant his Patronage to the Club.

In May 2009 the Eccentric Club has managed to secure itself an informal agreement with the Arts Club of 40 Dover Street, Mayfair, allowing the Eccentric Club members to use the Arts Club premises (with some minor limitations), thus ending the Eccentric Club's temporary homelessness.

In less than a year from its re-launch, the Eccentric Club’s membership exceeded 100 individuals in the UK and 11 other countries worldwide.

...To bring the Eccentric Club back to life in the 21st century was an amazing and exciting challenge. Just like the original founders many years ago, we had to start from the very beginning – finding patrons, acquiring the right members, raising the funds, organising the events, seeking the clubhouse to meet in. But the mere idea of a possibility of succeeding at such an eccentric task and saving with the Club a huge chunk of British and, indeed, international cultural history carelessly abandoned and ignored for many years, was making it really worth all our efforts.

The newly restored Eccentric Club aims to honour the famous charitable traditions of its predecessors. We believe that today, in the times of common globalisation, it is essentially important to support our local, national and European charities which far too often remain undervalued and underfunded whilst the larger international organisations' needs seem to be taking a priority.

Finally, we believe that it is essentially important to highlight and celebrate the eccentricity itself, as it was understood by our predecessors – an innate ability to ignore the well-trotted routes of the others and invent own original ways, find surprisingly fresh approaches to the long decided issues, proudly demonstrating to the rest of the world the great mosaic of possible solutions and points of view. And, as we know from the history, the world has often followed the eccentrics and acknowledged their genius...

FAMOUS MEMBERS OF THE CLUB: Charles James Fox, William Lamb (Lord Melbourne), Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Charles Stanhope (The Earl of Harrington), Henry Peter Brougham (Baron Brougham and Vaux), Theodore Hook, James Sheridan Knowles, Lord Denman, Lord Campbell, William M. Thackeray, Jack A. Harrison, Sir Charles Wyndham, Viscount Burnham, The Earl of Lonsdale, The Earl of Birkenhead, Lord Montagu, Lord Bristol, The Duke of Westminster, Sir Frederick Wells, Sir James Miller, Sir Herbert Tree, Sir George Alexander, Sir Walter de Frece, Sir Seymour Hicks, H. Montague-Bates, G. N. Barnes, George Milne, Walter J. W. Beard, Thomas Honey, Percy Leftwich, W. E. Garstin, A. J. East, Ernest Stuart, Dudley Hardy, Julius M. Price, Lionel Brough, John Hollingshead, M. and Jean de Paleologue, Henry Ainley, George Robey, Dan Leno, Little Tich, Sir Henry J. Wood, Sir Landon Ronald, Sir Gerald du Maurier, Fred Bishop, Bill Gavin, Dick Upex, Bud Flanagan, Tommy Trinder, Ben Warris, Joe Davis, Jack Trevor, James Moore, Louis Scott, George Graves, Talbot O'Farrell and many many others.

In total, 35 Lord Mayors of London were Honorary Life Members of the Club.

H.R.H. The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, K.G., K.T.

attends the Dinner at
The Eccentric Club
On the 17th of February, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, K.G., K.T., has visited the Eccentric Club in Dover Street, Mayfair, London, and had a Dinner there with just 28 of the club members, some of whom had to travel to the Dinner from Belgium, France, Monaco, Poland, Morocco, South Africa, Devon and Midlands!
First time HRH The Prince Philip was elected the Eccentric Club's Honorary Life Member in 1980 on the occasion of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme Dinner held at the old club in Ryder Street.
In November 2008, HRH The Prince Philip has granted his Royal Patronage to the newly revived Eccentric Club and was re-elected as its Honorary Life Member.
The Grand Order of Water Rats, which shared for almost a century its premises and cultural traditions with the Eccentric Club, will also be celebrating this year the 50th Anniversary of His Royal Highness's involvement with the Order in his capacity as the Companion Water Rat.
The Dinner at the Eccentric Club was a very private event, most enjoyable by everyone present. It was the very first visit of our Patron to the club, and, for most of us, our first acquaintance with him as a person, a very warm, witty and charming person...
Regrettably, due to the limitations of the available space, only a quarter of the club members were able to enjoy the event, they included many of those who used to belong to the old club in Ryder Street, children of the former members which joined the revived club, members of the Club Committee and some of the most active new members, including the Eccentric Club Events Co-ordinator in Devon, the performing poet, Mr Colin Shaddick.
A number of names of those present were cherished by the media over decades: Ronnie Carroll, David Shilling, Peter Golding, Tahir Shah. But, equally, there were new and forthcoming eccentric stars amongst the guests.
The Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (the last President of the old club), who was going to deliver the welcoming speech, and Mr Brian Clivaz, the Arts Club CEO and the Eccentric Club Committee member, who has spent a great deal of time and effort in preparing the event, both were unable to join us, to much of everyone's regret, due to the unexpected health problems.
The grace was read by The Reverend Roderick Leece of St George's Church in Hanover Square.
The menu was specially designed for this occasion and was based on the popular traditional dishes served at
the old club.
The Prince, who was accompanied by Sir Brian McGrath, his Extra Equerry, was presented with the portrait of Her Majesty The Queen by Christian Furr, one of the club members.
The traditional Loyal Toasts were proposed by the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman, but the final toast was "To The Eccentric Club!" and everyone present, including His Royal Highness, had no hesitation to join it.
Photography by Robert Koltowski

No comments: