Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Revisiting The Gentlemen's Clubs of London by Anthony Lejeune From 1980, to re-edition in 2012

  From 1980, to re-edition in 2012

Clubland is another country, redolent of the past but, for its few thousand often influential inhabitants, an integral part of life. It is a place either luxurious or a bit shabby, full of serendipitous historical relics and portraiture accumulated over three centuries, offering splendid wine and food at various levels of delight and disappointment. Covering more than 30 clubs, The Gentlemen s Clubs of London is illustrated with new photography, archival material and engravings of both grand vistas and quaint details. The narrative is a distillation of old records and recollections, published histories and accounts, clubland anecdotes and not least the author s own experience as a veteran clubman of many years standing. For those who have never stepped inside clubland s marble halls, there will be many revelations for clubmen themselves, the chance to exalt the advantages or bemoan the peculiarities of their own institution. With its beautiful new photography and archival material, this is a book to treasure.

 The clubs of London - for nearly three centuries home from home to a remarkable range of characters - have never looked more inviting than in this sumptuously illustrated volume, a long-awaited new edition of a book first published in 1979. The Garrick with its glorious theatrical paintings, Boodle's with fires burning in the grates and impressive red leather chairs, the Reform with its abundance of marble, the Oxford and Cambridge with its white and gold Saloon, the Travellers with the most beautiful columned library in London, and the Beefsteak with an open timbered roof like a medieval great hall: with the loss of so many aristocratic mansions between the two world wars and the devastation of the City's livery halls during the Blitz, these are London's grandest and best- furnished interiors. London clubs owe their origin in large part to a hospitable Scotsman William Macall who created Almack's, for a while the capital's most fashionable assembly rooms. In Pall Mall he appointed Edward Boodle to run one part and William Brooks ran the other. Though it sounds like an 18th-century club, Buck's was conceived in 1918 in war-ravaged France by Captain Herbert Buckmaster and other young Blues officers who decided that if they made it back to England they would start a club. This they did the following June in an 18th-century terrace house still retaining the atmosphere of a home. P. G. Wodehouse was to say in old age that, apart from its lack of a swimming pool, Buck's was the nearest thing to his idea of the Drones Club. White's, the oldest surviving club, started life in 1693 as White's Chocolate House, run by Francesco Bianco. The RAF Club began with a £350,000 gift from Viscount Cowdray which enabled the club to buy the lease of 128 Piccadilly and is now kept alive by the largest membership of any club - 17,000 and almost 8,000 associate members. The Caledonian Club, founded in 1891, came to its present premises in 1946, a splendid Georgian Revival mansion of 1912 built as a very grand private house. The kitchens of the Reform Club designed for the club's famous chef Alexis Soyer were 'spacious as a ballroom and white as a young bride' according to Viscountess Mandeville. The Guards Club owed its foundation in 1810 to the concern of the Prince Regent and the Duke of Wellington who felt that Guards' officers returning from Spain needed an alternative to the gambling hells in St James's and the chop-houses and taprooms where they were wont to get into drunken brawls. The Garrick was founded in 1831 by the writer and art collector Francis Mills as a 'society in which actors and men of education and refinement might meet on equal terms' and moved to its splendid palazzo in 1864. Lejeune tells a nice story of two Guards' officers who sank into comfortable armchairs at the Oxford and Cambridge Club (while their own club was closed). One exclaimed: 'These middle class fellows know how to do themselves well.' Slowly the elderly member opposite lowered his newspaper to reveal the Duke of Wellington, Chancellor of Oxford University. To Lejeune one club is superior to all others - White's. When an anxious member asked Wheeler, the genial long-serving barman, if the bar was still open, he replied, 'Bless my soul, sir, it has been open for 200 years'. --The Times

"Great idea, very poor book"
By Paul C on 3 Jun 2012
"I was hugely looking forward to this book, and became progressively more annoyed when its publication date kept being pushed back by months at a time. The reason soon became clear. This has all the hallmarks of a rush job, with an increasingly grumpy publisher eventually forcing his author to produce enough words whatever the cost to quality or accuracy. The introduction to the text - a great chance to reflect on the revival of clubland since the original edition of the early 1980s - is very disappointing. Its byline - Anthony Lejeune and Friends - smacks of aforementioned bodge job. The pieces on the individual clubs are lacklustre cut-and-paste rehashes of the original edition. Most information included is available for free on Wikipedia. The new photographs are lovely but some pages of plates are filled out with pictures of random items that are only tangentially relevant to the subject in hand. Hugely disappointing and a waste of (rather a lot) of money."

"Disappointingly full of errors"
By C W. Raper on 9 May 2012
"What a shame. The issue of an updated version of Anthony Lejeune's classic book on London Clubs should have been a great opportunity to celebrate the survival of so many of them, and to produce new photographs. The photographs are there, but the rest is a great disappointment. The text is a bowdlerised version of the original, lacking much of its wit. There are some odd omissions (why has the RAC been dropped?). And there are far, far too many unforgivable mistakes. A bust of Hermes in the Library at the Travellers' is described as "the head of a beautiful woman". The late Victorian drawing room of the Oxford and Cambridge Club, originally part of the house of Princess Marie Louise, is described as being by Smirke. The fireplaces in the same room are dated to a decision of the Committee in 1836... One could go on.
The new photos are generally excellent, but really this is a sloppy production that does no favours to Anthony Lejeune's reputation. The original version of the book can still be bought second-hand, and is a much better purchase."

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